Give $100 of value for $10 in return

So last week I was doing some streamlining with the number of stuff I carry on me. Call me picky but carrying a phone and a wallet 1.0 is a nuisance. It is one too many occupied memory registers that could be used for something better to worry about. So I decided out with the wallet and in with a ultra-slim self adhesive credit card wallet 2.0 for my iPhone. Garbage collection complete. Now whenever I get the urge to check if my credit cards are with me, I know by default that if my phone is with me my cards are too.

But what’s this got to do with giving $100 of value for $10 in return? Well it’s what I found during this cleanup process inside wallet 1.0 that I want to share with you. I found this note…

100-to-10-postit_s

“How can I give $100 value to 1m people and ask for $10 in return? Give value!”

The backstory

Circa 2008, I still remember when I 1st wrote this note on that yellow postit. I was a young snotty kid in search for “the secret to business success”. Ploughing through books, videos and seminars including the actual The Secret movie, I found zilch. Zero. Nada. Until I ran into a successful business owner who said to me “Find a way to give $100 of value for $10.”. I heard a pin drop (metaphorically speaking of course). Something so simple yet profound. It left an impact on me and thus had to be noted on paper so I could recall it every so often.

This is not a revolutionary idea nor is it a new one. But it helps me focus on what matters when it comes to making money through a vehicle like business or startup or whatever the fancy word will be tomorrow. The more this note soaked in, the more I realized we all have seen this in some other forms in the last few years during the startup gold rush.

Make something people want – YCombinator

If you are familiar with the good work of YCombinator then you already know of their motto “Make something people want”. You may also remember the famous advice by PG (Paul Graham, YC Founder) to AirBnBs founders; PG told Brian Chesky to go and speak with their NYC customers to find out exactly what their needs were and then deliver it. i.e. “Make something people want”. It’s not revolutionary. But it serves as a reminder to us, to be laser focused on the customer, execute and create magic.

10:1 (value to investment) Ratio

What I love about the 100:1 or 10:1 (value to investment) ratio is it helps you build a cash cow business. Building a profitable business gives jobs, changes lives and usually has a social impact. If you can give a 10:1 ratio of value:investment to your customers then; (a) you won’t have to compete on margins with the “me too startups” and/or (b) get into price wars with other companies/startups. You may recall from school business 101; price wars end with the one with the deepest pockets. From a customer point of view, getting a 10x in value is an opportunity cost worth putting money on.

“Rule #1: Build Proprietary Technology That Is 10x Better” – Peter Thiel

This is #1 Rule from Peter Thiel’s famous book, Zero to One, around business philosophy on creating a successful company. It is a great way to think about how your business creates value. If your not shooting for the stars then what’s the point. Now notice how the 10:1 rule fits into Thiel’s 10x better thinking. Of course it’s not easy to achieve those sort of ratios but when you do you know you are onto something special.

Venture Capital

The Startup gold rush has given anyone with an idea a reason to start a business. Venture Capital is often used as a means to fuel rockets (performing startups). We all believe our ideas are rockets. However the only rockets are those that have a competitive advantage like; (a) unique distribution, (b) talent and/or (c) 10x/10:1 customer value ratio. VCs love these because a VC firm is for profit; check out how VC funds work for an overview of the Venture Capital world. What I’m saying is that if you start a business with the 10:1 ratio you will have market elasticity in your favor and metaphorically speaking VCs knocking down your doors.

“Fortuna audaces iuvat”

Fortuna audaces iuvat

Fortuna audaces iuvat

So let’s wrap this up…
It feels like if you put in the hard work and create a product that gives $100 of value for $10 (or somewhere abouts there) then..

  • Customers will love you,
  • Investors will love you,
  • Market will love you,
  • Employees will love you,
  • And the media + the startup community will love you.. and maybe dissect you (in a good way of course).

What’s not to love about solving a hard problem?

Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

~ Ernest

Term Sheet Economics and Control

Term Sheet Economics & Control: A Blueprint for your future relationship with your Investor

Before I was blind and now I can see. I finally got to read Brad Feld‘s book Venture Deals and now understand the ins and outs of a Term Sheet. I wish I read it earlier. This book is loaded with important content every founder who ever wants to raise money or has raised money should know. Venture Deals helps you understand the VC Game better. Life is a game. You either level up or get lost in its artifacts. Raising money is one of those big games that will affect you for years to come.

The content below is a breakdown of stuff I learnt about Term Sheets from the Venture Deals book with some of my own sprinkle of stories among it. You may also want to read about “The Players” to understand investors and their drivers.

We often hear the word “Term Sheet” being thrown around when raising money. So what is it and what do you need to understand about it?

A Term Sheet is a Blueprint for your future relationship with your investor.

When raising money the VC you are dealing with should only care about:

  1. Economics: This is the return at a time of liquidity + the terms that directly impact the return
  2. Control: Mechanisms that allow VC to exercise control over business / veto decisions.

Anything else Brad says, “they are blowing smoke”.

Term Sheet Economics and Control

If you see something missing then this is assumed to be less relevant in the grand scheme.

1. The ECONOMICS of a Term Sheet

Price

Price per share is the ultimate measure of what is being paid for the equity bought. This is sometimes called valuation and it comes in 2 forms:

  • Pre-money: value before investment and
  • Post-money: pre-money + investment.

Example: “I’ll invest $5m at $20m” – post money yields selling 25% of your company while pre-money is 20%.

Brad says, “Always clarify. I assume you mean $20m pre-money?”. The difference here is 5% of your company. That is nothing to sneeze at.

Dilution

Fully diluted / employee pool / option pool

  • The size of the pool eats into the company’s valuation. This is Trap #2.
    • “I’ll invest $5m at $20m pre-money with 10% option pool” gives you a $18m pre-money valuation.
    • Have an option budget listing hires until next round. This minimizes VC risk of future dilutions.

Warrants

This is the right to buy shares at a predefined price for X years. Warrants are commonly used during a bridge load to shame position until future investor comes in.

How VC’s value companies

It’s important to understand that valuing companies is hard. There is no exact science. A company is really worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. For example; VC (private investor) agrees to invest X at Y valuation or after an IPO the public investor wants to buy X shares in your company at value Y.

But how does a private investor (a VC) work out the value?

  • Early Stage (Seed): Experience of entrepreneurs amount of money being raised and perception of overall opportunities.
  • Mature (Series A+): Historical financial performance and future financial projections.

Supply vs DemandIf you want a great valuation think back to school when you learnt fundamental concepts of economics and tip the supply relationship in your favor.

  • Get several VCs interested in your financing (Demand vs Supply)
  • Experienced entrepreneurs == less risk == higher valuation. Also remember this when looking for a cofounder for your new venture.

Liquidation Preferences

This is a term used in venture capital contracts to specify which investors get paid first and how much they get paid in the event of a liquidation event such as the sale of the company. 2 parts to this:

  1. Actual preferences: money x times returned
  2. Participation
    • Full: Double dips. Means the investor will get their return outside everyone else (common) and then also participates in the options split (less common).
    • Capped: Cap when x times $ returned
    • No: No double dibs just return based on their company ownership.

IPO removes liquidity event since an IPO is a funding round and prefered stock counts to common stock.

In early stage of financing, its actually in the best interest of both the investor and the entrepreneur to have a simple liquidation preference and no participation.

Pay-to-Play

Investors must participate in future financing (paying) in order to not have their preferred stock converted to common stock (playing) in the company.

Vesting

Is the process by which an employee accrues non-forfeitable rights over employer-provided stock incentives or employer contributions made to the employee’s qualified retirement plan account or pension plan.

  • Typically stock and options will vest over 4 years with 1 year cliff (1 off 25% vesting at year 1).
  • Cliff encourages the individual to be with the company for at least 1 year to get their stock. After the 1 year stock then vests on a monthly basis.
  • Founders vest 1 year upfront at financial and then 36 month after. This 1 year upfront is to incentives them for their hard work pre-funding.

Employee Pool

Also known as option pool is a way of attracting talented employees to a startup company. It is reserved for future insurance to employees.

Anti-Dilution

A provision used to protect investors in the event a company issues equity at a lower valuation than in previous financing rounds.

You may hear Weighted average and Ratchet-based anti-dilution They are common in financial and focus on mining their impact and build value in your company.

2. The CONTROL of a Term Sheet

Board of Directors

The board is your inner sanctum, your strategic planning department, and your judge, jury and executioner all at once. Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) has a series of podcasts about the Board which I highly recommend.

Protective Provisions

These are veto rights that investors have on certain actions by the company. eg. sell the company, change board size, pay dividend, borrow money etc. These don’t eliminate ability to do them, but simply require consent of the investors.

Sometimes, a Drag-along Agreement may be present which gives the rights to a subset of investors to drag the rest of investors and founders to a specific action eg. sale of a company (fire sale).

Conversion

VCs (preferred shareholders) have the right at any time to convert their stake into common stock. Conversion is done if a sale deal is better for the investor. Once converted, they can’t go back.

TIP: Do not allow investors to negotiate different automatic conversion terms for different series of preferred stock. This can end up in IPO nightmare. Equalize the automatic conversion threshold among all series of stock at each financing.

And that concludes the Blueprint for your future relationship with your investors, the Term Sheet. So, when raising venture capital, make sure you are focused on:

  1. Economics: This is the return at a time of liquidity + the terms that directly impact the return
  2. Control: Mechanisms that allow VC to exercise control over business / veto decisions.

Anything else is just blowing smoke.

Feel free to leave comments below.

Credit goes to Brad Feld‘s book Venture Deals which helped shed insight into the VC landscape. This should be on every founder’s book shelf and a prerequisite reading material for all entrepreneurs wanting to raise capital.

~ Ernest

Venture Deals - The Players - VCs

The Players in Raising Capital

So you moved to Silicon Valley, ignited your awesome idea and are now looking to raise money. You heard that money grows on trees in Silicon Valley ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Money Tree

Before you jump in, learn the game. Learning the game will help you understand

a. Who the decision makers are and
b. What drives them

so that you can create good luck in your favor. And then maybe, maybe… it may feel like money grows on trees in Silicon Valley. The following is partially based on what I learned by reading Brad Feld‘s book Venture Deals. A book I highly encourage every founder read.

Life is a game. You either level up or get lost in artifacts. Raising money is a big game.

THE PLAYERS: VCs

A VC firm is made up of the following players. You ultimately want to get to the decision maker – the MD (Managing Director) or GP (General Partner).

Venture Deals - The Players - VCs

Some VC firms will also have Entrepreneur in Residence (EIRs). For example: Check out Social+Capital EIRs: http://www.socialcapital.com/team/ — these are experienced entrepreneurs parked at VC firm scouting a new opportunity for themselves via the VC firm’s portfolio companies. This is a smart means to move talent in the investment portfolio vs plucking people from the wider ecosystem.

VC Fund Structure

Let’s clear the air a bit first. VC firms are NOT a charity OR FREE MONEY. They are a for profit organization that must perform for their investors (known as the LP – Limited Partner). A poorly performing VC firm ceases to exist at year 10 (known as Zombie fund – see below).

The structure

VC Fund Structure

How venture capitalists make money

Since a VC firm is for profit it must make money for its investors. So from the diagram above you can see that there can be multiple funds. Each fund will charge:

Management Fees – 1.5-2.5% across each fund. eg. A $100m fund with 2% management fee yields $2m in management fees per year. This typically pays for company expenses and wages.

Venture Deals - The Players - Fees

Then after “commitment period” (roughly 5-year mark) the % (percentage) decreases. On average that may equate to 15% (15m) committed capital in fees for a $100m fund.

Management fees are independent of its investing success. This is why you may have heard that it takes 10 years to kill a VC firm.

 

 

Carry Interest – 20% and dwarfs management fees. This is the Profits a VC firm gets after returning the money back to the LPs. eg. $100m invested. 3 x return = $300m. 300m – 100m = $200m in profits. Therefore $200m x 0.8 = $160m goes to LPs and $40m to VCs. LPs will often ask the GP to invest into any fund they set up roughly 1-5% of their own capital. This is a demonstration of confidence.

Clawback: LPs can ask for any carry interest for a non-performing fund mid fund. So a VC has to find all the parties involved and recover the carry interest.

I hope you can see how money acts as leverage in this game. VCs cannot simply throw money around. Bad decisions can cost a VC future fundraising efforts. Therefore, as an entrepreneur show the VC how you will make them money!

How time impacts fund activity

There are 2 concepts that govern a VCs ability to invest:

1. Commitment period, also known as investment period.

    • New investments window in a new fund is 0-5 years. The fund might close earlier if all capital is deployed. After year 5, the fund might invest more only into existing investments from its Reserve (more on that below).
    • If a VC has only 1 fund after 5 years this is referred to as a Zombie VC. As an entrepreneur wanting to raise money always ask about fund age. If you identify a Zombie VC leave. Since they are no longer investing and are just fishing (wasting your time).

2. Investment term

    • This is the length of time that the fund can remain active. Average is 10 years.
    • Anything above 12 years, the LPs can vote to replace the GP managing the fund.
    • Poorly performing funds can be sold off to other VC firms to accelerate the fund returns. Sometimes a VC will push their portfolio companies for a liquidity event to return money to their LPs.

And you (the entrepreneur) thought you had pressure.

Reserves and cross-fund investing

This is the amount of capital that is allocated to each company that a VC invests in. For example; $1m Seed + reserve a theoretical future amount of the fund to invest in follow-on rounds. A Reserve creates 2-way dynamics: On one side it helps with follow on rounds and on the other the LPs wants their capital fully deployed.

Venture Deals - The Players - Reserve

A reserve helps avoid a cross-fund investing. Cross-fund investing allows the VC to use 2 different funds to invest in the 1 company. These type of deals are rare since they lead to pricing issues between the funds and how returns are treated.

If Reserve is underestimated, VC will pick favorite companies to move $$$ into.

This is why it’s pivotal to keep your investors updated through monthly investor updates on how their capital is being deployed. If you forget about them they will forget about you. Aim to BE THAT FAVORITE COMPANY! It will help you with future funding and establish you a solid reputation.

Monthly investor updates yield plenty of good karma

Value other people’s money. But since you gotten this far you must have some EQ. So try to automate the number gathering exercise vs spending hours counting the beans. Either way, investor updates should also be a part of your overall company communication strategy and not a burden. Here are a few templates to get your started:

THE PLAYERS: Angel Investors

These are high net worth folks who are mostly active in the 1st round of investing eg. pre/seed stage. They do not participate in future rounds. There are also Super angels, who are active investors often experienced entrepreneurs with a prior exit under their belt. Some may end up raising a smaller fund and be referred to as micro-VC.

An active angel (the lead) might also set up a syndicate. A syndicate is a collection of angel investors who want to participate in a funding of your company. AngelList is famous for not only housing a directory of startups but also allowing angels to create syndicates and thus service capital to startups where VCs might not. Check out AngelList: https://angel.co/syndicates

As of writing (Apr 2016), AngelList has:

  • $159M Invested in startups
  • 387 Startups funded
  • 178 Active syndicates and
  • 2,927 Active investors

THE PLAYERS: Lawyers

A Lawyer is someone that every startup needs. A great lawyer can keep you from falling into traps. Some lawyers will work with startups for free, deferring their fees until capital is raised.

There are plenty of freely available startup documents online that can help with any legal matters and provide clarity around the service you are getting. From
https://www.ycombinator.com/documents/ to https://www.orrick.com/practices/emerging-companies/startup-forms/Pages/default.aspx and https://www.clerky.com/

THE PLAYERS: Mentors

Mentors have a no fee agreement and help because someone helped them before.

Every accelerator in the country has mentors. Take a look at these top 3 accelerators and their line up of mentors:

One of the secondary benefits of joining an accelerator is you get to work with these mentors.

Another way to get advice that a mentor provides is by “Mass Mentoring”. Soaking up all the publicly available content from Quora, Hacker News, Medium, Reddit or Private blogs. This will give you a base and a sense of understanding that 1:1 mentorship cannot.

So that’s it. Hope this has shed some clarity over the players in the investment space in Silicon Valley. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments space below.

Credit goes to Brad Feld‘s book Venture Deals which helped shed insight into the VC landscape. This should be on every founder’s book shelf and a prerequisite reading material.

~ Ernest

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Secrets of a childhood Strider Balance Bike. A great reminder for us all Why Less is More.

When I was a toddler, my parents bought me a traditional bicycle with training wheels. A balance bike at the time was not invented yet. The training wheels were there so I would not tip over and hurt myself. The traditional childhood is like this when it comes to learning to ride a bike. We all remember that 1st bike. How it felt, the freedom to move faster and further. But to move you had to pedal while relying on the training wheels to keep us upright. It was tough at first.

Rynek in Sandomierz, Poland - birth town

Rynek in Sandomierz, Poland – my block on the right

The pedals kind of got in the way. Brakes were activated through the lever on the handlebars and sometimes moving the pedals backwards would also activate the brakes. Oh boy, that was a lot to take in. But we did right. I remember the early wobbles as I tried to learn to balance. Knowing the training wheels were there helped, but it still made the hair raise up on my back. Then once I got enough courage I would ram straight into a wall of the building where we lived, many times. Arms and knees were bleeding. What an experience.

Enter the Balance Bike

Fast forward to today; when I became a father, and my kid (Josh) was ready at a ripe age of 2 we did something different. We got him a balance bike. Have you heard of Balance Bikes? Yeah neither did I until Urszula kids occupational therapist from SensoryLifestyle.com mentioned it. Few Googles later I was up to speed.

“A balance bicycle, or run bike is a training bicycle that helps children learn balance and steering. It has no pedals and no drivetrain.”.

The bike has NO pedals. NO drivetrain i.e. chains or gears. And NO brakes! It’s as simple as it gets. A frame with wheels, a seat and handlebars. Even the wheels are basic. Heck, the WHOLE bike is basic. It’s like they started with a standard bicycle and said… let’s strip it down till we cannot anymore. Down to the core essentials.

Less is truly More!

Strider Balance Bike Standard Bike
Balance Bike Normal Bike

Unlike a traditional bicycle where you might have to push the child or support them, with a balance bike there is minimal supervision. Josh started sitting on the seat and walking the bike. Like the Flintstones. Then he progressed to pushing his feet off from the ground and balancing. Soon he was coasting around turns and speeding along pathways. All in about a month. A child learns to balance faster when they don’t have to pedal. Pedals also get in the way. I saw Josh fall over few times trying a normal bike with pedals, before ending up on the seat and looking at me to push him.

Check out this video I made of Josh riding a Strider Balance Bike in Shoreline Park, Mountain View

The Power of Simplification in Software Development

As a software engineer and a maker of many things, I am always intrigued by simplification. In software we often “refactor” code to make it smaller, better and faster. When working on technology products, we often say to blow away features to make a large application light. Less is More. Products users love often simple. Not complicated. And usually serve a single purpose.

When we discuss product design, we also talk about building habits (ref Hooked book). What is the simplest behavior which can lead to a reward. It’s hard building sticky products feature heavy. People get overwhelmed and lose interest fast. Many books, many blogs and many words are exchanged by makers in Silicon Valley about the power of simplification. Most products suck because this simple approach to simplifying the product is often ignored by the ego. If you want to learn more about features vs. benefits, please read my prior blog post on SPIN Selling.

Less is More

And right here in front of me stands the BEST reminder of the power of simplification. It may not be a technology product, but it sure carries the same weight. Less is More.

Necessity > Novelty. For a 2-year-old learning to balance is a fundamental motor skill development milestone. If you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend you read SensoryLifestyle.com or google this topic.

1. knowing the rules of the game and 2. using the right tools; is how we get results.

Technology Products

When we think of the two best technology companies in the world, no doubt Apple and Google fall into that spot.

  • Remember the beauty of Apple’s iPod? It was its simplicity.
  • When you visit Google.com, the page is simple. The only thing you can do is Search. Simple right?

Let’s also look at Cars. Who is the most innovative car manufacturer? I believe it is Tesla Motors. They haven’t done anything revolutionary. No, really they haven’t. They just simplified the car. If you know a bit about engines, you will know that a piston motor is complicated. It has many moving parts. And many things that can and do go wrong. Now, the electric motor is winning. It’s simple. A magnet, coil and apply electricity.

Benefits > Features

I’m going to finish on a final note. When we simplify, we remove features. Features do not sell. So don’t worry about stripping down your product. Instead, focus on the benefits. And sell on those. The stripped down bare bone balance bike Josh rides cost ~$130 while a regular bike with gears, pedals, balance wheels et al, cost ~$80. The price difference is nearly 50%, yet guess which one wins hearts?

~ Ernest

book-spin-selling-highlighter

The secret art of SPIN Selling. Why traditional sales models don’t work for larger sales. Let’s retrain your brain to sell like a boss.

SPIN Selling, a book by Neil Rackham has been on my shelf for the last 3 years. Never touched. No, actually I did. I wiped the dust off it few times. And each time I looked at it I got a feeling deep down that I needed to read it. Well that day came. This month (February 2016) actually. Ever since I improved my reading speed from 300 to 480 wpm, I have been on a mission to read more books.

SPIN Selling teaches why traditional sales models don’t work for larger sales. With real-world examples, informative cases and clear lessons learnt, the book develops on what turns into a successful SPIN strategy. This book is a must for anyone. Even for software engineers who may have no intention to sell. You don’t have to be in sales to find value in this book. The books journey takes you to a better place where you learn that selling is simply problem solving for a prospect. Instead of spending time with a machine you spend time with a human.

Entrepreneurship

In the early days of a startup, entrepreneurship can be summed up into 2 words: hustling & hacking. You need to be selling and building product that fits user expectations. Selling doesn’t require a product to be ready, as you will soon find out. Selling, or Hustling begins with problem solving. Especially large sales. You need to understand existing customer situation, problems, difficulties, dissatisfactions, points of dissatisfactions with existing solutions and/or general difficulty. This will lead you to uncover their true core needs so that you can offer a better, faster and cheaper solution.

Common selling mistake

Focusing on Features and Advantages instead of Benefits.

Focusing on Features creates Price concerns. Let me repeat this again..

Don’t f**kin focus on features!

Only exception is when you are seeing something of little value. And where the customer has a disassociation between the product and you. If you mess up and the customer gets into a price discussion you will end up dropping the price to meet them. Dropping price is a path to business disaster. You are in sales to make money not loose money. Plus a bad sale creates a liability on the company’s book. It would have been far easier & smarter to learn how to sell Benefits to avoid price concerns and objections.

The SPIN Selling Framework

SPIN Selling is a nice framework any hustler should follow to close most sales. Especially a large sale. Small sales are relatively easy to close.

SaaS (Software as a Service) world

In the world of SaaS (Software as a Service) what may at 1st appear to be a small price point (eg. $5 per month) is actually a large sale when you consider the LTV (Life Time Value) could be 1-2 years and thus the actual sale is $120 x the number of seats purchased. Therefore, having the tools to close such deals could be a business changing opportunity.

To visualize the SPIN Selling Framework, I created the following 1 page chart. Read it left to right. The process starts on the left with Situation questions and ends at the Need-Payoff (far right) side. I still recommend you read the SPIN Selling book to learn how the theory works in practice.

SPIN Selling Framework

SPIN Selling Framework – Click image to enlarge it

Before you call the prospect

So now you are educated in SPIN Selling and can’t wait to hit the road. Hold on a sec there soldier. There is 1 more step in your training.

To be prepared is half the victory.
~ Miguel de Cervantes

Before you make a sales call to a client, get prepared. This means: 

  1. Write down at least 3 potential problems which the client may have
  2. Write down some actual Problem Questions that you could ask to uncover each of the potential problems you’ve identified
  3. Write down what difficulties might arise for each problem. This means Implication Questions that might get the prospect to see the problem as large and urgent to solve and
  4. Write down 3 Need Questions for each implication

Now you are ready. Go and solve problems!

~ Ernest

Get the book

Stop reading with your mouth. Use your eyes. How I went from 300 words per minute to 480 in 10 Days. Your road to faster reading.

I started at 300 wpm (words per minute) with 80% comprehension and by the end of the book was up at 480 wpm with 80% comprehension. Outlined below is the road to faster reading and how you too can go from 300 words per minute to 480 in 10 days.

I never thought of myself as a fast reader. Yet I had no quantitative data to back my feelings. Feelings are subjective right. I think this feeling came from the fact that English was not my 1st language. Polish was. And as 2016 arrived I set a goal to be reading more books this year. Maybe like Bill Gates does, knocking over at least 1-2 books per week.

book-library

But to get there I needed to start with a small goal of at least 1 book per month and then go up from there.

So this is the way I see it:

More Books => Faster Reading == Better Comprehension => More Blogging

Then Casey Neistat reminded me of something Seneca said about time and how we use it:

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.” ~ Seneca

I think I can do this!

BIG opportunity. Think back to what life was like only 100 years ago where only distinguished and affluent had access to knowledge. Now we all do. But today we are time poor. But there’s a way.

“The road to knowledge begins with the turn of a page.”

We all know foundational skills are important. A house without foundation is a sitting duck. What if what I learnt at school was wrong. Or out of date with modern times. Or not enough. It was time to go back to basics of reading and find out what I could do better when reading. So I picked up a book by The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale called 10 Days to Faster Reading. Fitting title for what I wanted to achieve. The book starts crushing school fallacies. They include “you have to read every word”, “hear the sound out words in your head”, “don’t skim, that’s cheating”, “you need to completely understand everything you read”. Ok book, you have my attention.

read-book

The basic foundations

What does an average reader actually look like? They read at 200-300 words per minute. Take a look here.

100-200 Slow reader – move their lips and probably read to themselves
200-300 Average reader – whisper when they read
300-400 Good reader – may talk a little when they read but not as much as average reader
400-500 Above average reader
  • Humans talk at 100-150 words per minute.
  • Humans THINK upwards of 400 words per minute.

What happens to the delta between talking and thinking? Well, that’s your wondering brain as you read. Hence, why slow readers sometimes fall asleep while reading.

Good comprehension

Reading speed alone isn’t enough. Good comprehension is also required. Good comprehension falls between 70-90%. If your comprehension is below the 70% then you need to work on your vocabulary.

Your comprehension is better than you think. We underestimate our abilities. The brain works in mysterious ways. Thus, you should TRUST your brain more and believe that you are capable of better comprehension.

The 3 most common passive reading habits:

  • Mind wandering
  • regression and
  • subvocalization

It is impossible to eliminate them. But you can reduce them. First by becoming aware of their presence and then by learning to read fast while trusting your comprehension. 1 & 3 can be reduced by using techniques to read fast. Remember that you brain works at a faster pace. Don’t give it the delta to wander around (ie. day dreaming). And 2 trust your mind that it understood the context of the message. Contrary to what you were taught, you don’t need to read word by word.

Techniques to Faster Reading

What I found useful throughout the book is the end of chapter tests. Each chapter introduces you to a technique with wisdom followed by a reading test. You should do the reading test. It gives you quantitive data on you reading speed and comprehension using a lookup table in the appendix. This played a role in giving me confidence I could do this. Goodbye old school fallacies.

“Your brain is prewired to learn language. But not reading. Learning to read faster is like understanding how to decode words in a more efficient way.”

Technique 1: Pacers

Use your hand, a pen or a blank white card to increase your reading speed. These are called Pacers. Think of a pacer as a stick shift. Pacers force the eyes to move in a directed pattern down the page to help you get up to speed. Pacers function like a pace car in a race. You know, that 1st car which guides the rest around the track to a certain speed before moving out of the way.

The general rules for any pacer is:
Keep your pacer moving down the page not across and Do not stop or go back.

PS: a finger as a pacer is also ok.

Technique 2: Widen your Track

To read fast you need to see more words. Access your peripheral vision. You don’t need to be focused on 1 word at a time. Phase Flashing is a means of grouping words together into thoughts. The book has a technique there to teach you this called The Eye Span Pyramid. Give it a shot. Even if its just to see how wife your peripheral vision is.

Technique 3: Concentrate, Focus!

Focus. Find a quiet place where you can concentrate. Reading in bed won’t work. You sleep in bed. You will quickly drift away there. Anything lying down is going to put you to sleep. Cut off all distractions like background music. You also need to be sitting up to stay awake. Ever tried to meditate while laying in bed? Yeah you fall asleep pretty fast.

I found the library is a perfect place to concentrate. It is quiet and has a purpose for studying/reading. It has that energy around it that it’s what people do there and forces you to concentrate and read while sitting up. If you need a tool to help you focus on 1 thing at a time then take a peek at GSDfaster’s Pomodoro Technique. It uses a timer to help you focus on 1 thing for a period of time. Sitting down for hours often breaks your focus. This way you group your reading into periods of 30 minute intervals with breaks between. No burnouts.

Technique 4: Have a Purpose

This is more powerful than you might realize at first. Ask yourself:
“WHY am I reading this?” and
“WHAT might I need this information for?”

This is a powerful motivator. It helps you uncover your purpose and responsibility. It literally says: this is important. It must be done. It’s like a personal trainer. If something isn’t important then it can be done at any pace and at any time. The WHY and WHAT set a level of importance and urgency.

Technique 5: Reading Between the Lines

Speed up your reading and comprehension by stopping on the white space just above each line. Not on the line of print.
Example – see pic below; which is easier to read?

strike-through-words-above-vs-below

“Faster reading then becomes a tool to help you get the comprehension you want.”

There are other techniques in the book you might want to explore. The ones I mentioned above resonated with me.

Turbo Comprehension: Getting to the Gist

It’s no use reading fast if you cannot understand what you just read. The context. The score in the book states that anyone with <70% comprehension lacks vocabulary. Better comprehension is proportional to the breath of your English vocabulary.

Here are 2 useful techniques:

Use the 5Ws and H: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Pre-View or read looking for these to give you context. These clues will give you about 40% of the key information. The remaining 60% is filler, fluff or explanation.

Expand your Vocabulary. The more words you know the better. When you come across a word you don’t understand reach for the dictionary and learn it. A Dictionary is a great tool to learn new vocabulary. Especially if English is not your 1st language. The more words you know the easier it is to not only read faster but also with great comprehension. Comprehension takes 3 forms – Literally, Interpretively and Applied. Make sure your comprehension spans all 3. The book has great examples on these.

“It takes time to save time.”

End of Chapter: Time Trial

The book has time trials at the end of each chapter to test your words per minute (wpm) and comprehension. At first, I was resistant but soon I became a convert and found this section super useful. There is nothing like tracking and comparing progress. Especially if it improves and you start seeing the value in what you are learning. So how did I perform? Better than I imagined. I started at 300 words per minute (wpm) at 80% comprehension and finished up on 480 wpm.

My scorecard

Day Content WPM Comprehension
Day 1 Pg8. All About Reading 300 wpm (1:18s -> 1:20) 80%
Day 2 Pg26. Battling the Worry Bug 265 wpm (1:28s -> 1:30) 80%
Day 3 Pg50. A True Athlete 345 wpm (1:08s -> 1:10) 80%
Day 4 Pg69. The History of Speed Reading 369 wpm 80%
Day 5 Pg122. It’s All Relative 345 wpm (1:03s -> 1:10) 80%
Day 6 Pg131. The Ties That Bind 400 wpm (56s -> 1.00) 70%
Day 7 Pg159. Books Join the Electronic Wave 400 wpm (56s -> 1.00) 90%
Day 8 Pg177. A Few Words 480 wpm (47s -> 50) 80%
Day 9 Pg192. April Fool’s Day: A Real Kick in the Pants 480 wpm (49s -> 50) 80%

Now that I have quantitive data, I can make better decisions. This changes how I felt about my reading ability, speed, and comprehension. I feel more positive about myself than I did before. This is a huge win!

My top 3 takeaways

  1. Trust my brain that it will understand (comprehend) what I read.
  2. Use a pacer to keep my eyes and mind focused on content.
  3. It is ok to skim. Ref point #1.

Final note. Reading this book alone is not enough. You need to do the end of chapter exercises and then practice. The book is a wealth of knowledge breaking down old barriers and giving you tools you wish you had earlier in life. Now that you know, you need to program your brain through repetition of movement and activity. Apply these techniques and thought patterns daily to get faster!

Happy reading!

~ Ernest

Book mentioned in the blog post: 10 Days to Faster Reading by The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale.

Google Self-Driving Car Project

A roundabout with a stop sign? Confused? So was this Cute Google Self-Driving Car. Enjoy this video!

Mountain View, California. The heart of Silicon Valley. Where in our local streets, you can actually find roundabouts. Yes the type you see everywhere in Australia and UK. Not the norm for US. But, something is difference. The Roundabouts here also have a Stop sign. Yes, the traditional stop sign you see at just about every street in the USA. Now we know a roundabout’s purpose is to keep traffic moving while a stop sign’s is to stop traffic. The 2 together are counter intuitive right? Even for a Google Self-Driving Car.

Now what would happen when you have a roundabout and you must give way to your left? Confused? Me too. Even for the new 100% automated robots cruising the local streets of Mountain View. Those cute bubble Google Self-Driving Cars. These cute self-driving cars have been around Mountain View for the past few months. They are the future of transportation. An awe of inspiration to see. A Borg like intelligence, developed by mankind up the road at Google HQ, is making autonomous decisions in transporting humans. This is the pinnacle of human innovation! They are still in closed Beta mode. Carry max 2 people. One day I hope to get an opportunity to order a lift from my smartphone.

So back to the roundabout and stop sign issue. We know the scene. We know the car. Now check out the video my wife recorded of this Google self driving car getting confused as it pulls up to such a roundabout with a stop sign. PS. I did some edits to the video to add character in good spirit. Enjoy!

Your Life with a Smartphone filled with distractions. Here’s how to focus, get stuff done and stop the noise.

It feels like it’s never going to stop right? Information overload. Who isn’t bombarded with too much stimuli from the fast paced world we live in? Stop the Noise!

A friend recently tweeted this article from AFR. The article is about an individual who “liberated” himself from the noise of his distracting smartphone. His solution was to replace his smartphone with the old school Nokia phone capable of SMS and phone calls only. Maybe some WAP too 😉

nokia-phone-old-school

Is this extreme? Yeah I think so. Are there simpler methods to quieten down your world without going as extreme? Sure there are. Many actually. Let’s take a peek at each.

Your smartphone

Your smartphone is calling you for your attention every time an email arrives across all your n email accounts. From your uncle’s cat tweets to your cousin Billie posts about the latest pizza he had for breakfast. Oh let’s not forget the calendar on your phone nagging you about that meetup you have tomorrow night. Oh the distractions. They all arrive on your smartphone in the form of a buzz, vibration or light flicker. Yes you can get your phone to blink the camera light. The switch is under Accessibility settings.

Stop the Noise

Note: the following instructions are for the iPhone only. I’m sure Android has similar.

  1. Turn on DND (Do Not Disturb) by swiping your screen up and pressing the moon icon. Your phone will stop buzzing and/or vibrating. Make sure you add your favorite contacts inside your contacts app so at least they can reach you via phone.
  2. Turn off most apps Notifications. Head into your phone’s Settings > Notifications and turn them off. Be smart. And decide which of the top 5 apps you need to bug you. Every time you install an app it gives sneaks in full Notifications. Unless you are explicit when you first run the app. Most peeps press Ok hence the Notifications burden.
  3. When focusing, place the phone face down. This will stop the stream of notifications invading your lock screen from disturbing you. If something is urgent they will call you. If the person is important (favorite) contact the call will by pass DND mode.

And that’s it! Your phone is now quieter.

Get Productive!

  1. Offload all the nonsense in your head for processing later. This way you can focus on the task at hand. Use a tool like GSDfaster app which has GTD at its core of collecting stuff into a trusted source. GTD is a method that works well for me and countless others. When our short term memory contains 7+ to-dos, a FIFO (First In First Out) algorithm kicks in. You only realize this later. When that deep uncomfortable feeling creeps in. That thing you forgot pops up and you panic in a “drop everything and do this before I forget” mode. Not an effective way to function in today’s busy society. Offload everything from your head into a trusted source. Focus and get things done faster stress free.
  2. Focus on 1 thing at a time for a set period of time. The feeling of having completed something is relieving. Remember that multitasking is a misnomer. Humans have one processor with many threads spawning processes every few seconds. Hold on, that’s like a traditional computer. Yap. The way multitasking works in humans is these chunks of stuff get processed by context switching. Unlike a machines, you have limited energy. So most folks never end up completing stuff to feel that relief of achievement. Best method I’ve found to help you focus is The Pomodoro Technique. It forces you to do 1 thing in a set period of time.
  3. Unplug & Relax your body and mind with exercise, meditation and/or sensory deprivation. This is how you unplug & recharge you batteries after a long day. It also helps you learn to focus better. My favorite form is exercise and the isolation tank for sensory deprivation. Both are easy to get into and have immediate results.

Sensory Isolation Tank Pod

Finally I’m going to leave you with an important tip. Busy is just an excuse. We are all busy. We make time for things through prioritization. Next time you want to say you are busy carefully think about it for few seconds before answering. More on this in a future post.

So there you have it, some great techniques and tools to reduce the noise, stress and get more stuff done in 2016!

~ Ernest

My Green Card Journey: E3 to H1B to GC

6 years in the US, 1 x E3 visas and 2 x H1Bs it was time to bite the bullet and get a Green Card. 1 hiccup (delay) along the way, 1 year after applying for a Green Card and $12K later we got our Green Cards. Here’s how this journey went.

I left Sydney (Australia) and arrived in Silicon Valley in 2009. The plan was simple and short. Get Couponstar Ltd acquired by Coupons, Inc., profit, then go home. 2 years max. Unfortunately life doesn’t always work the way we want it to. Fast forward to 2015, 6 years later, our H1B renew maxed out (6 years). It was time to move to a Green Card or go home back to Sydney.

Go home or stay

Going back to Sydney was off the cards. There was so much more we wanted to do in the US/Silicon Valley. Going back to an E3 (like H1B but only for Aussies) meant I would continue to be tied to a US company while in the US; golden handcuffs. I learned that most things in life do not go to plan and we cannot predict much with certainty. Tying one self to an entity that governs your life is also not an astute life decision. So a Green Card it was.

September 2014 – My Green Card Journey begins

We reached out to Peter Roberts at Roberts Immigration Law Group. Peter came highly recommended by a good friend from Y Combinator (YC). Peter is an outstanding immigration lawyer who does work for YC and other startups. He also recently (Dec 2015) did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Hacker News here. Worth a read if you want more info on immigration to the US.

Peter is based on the East Coast but the distance wasnt a barrier. Throughout this process I never met Peter face to face. It was all done via email and phone calls. Maybe one day I can personally meet Peter.

Our 1st call with Peter left up feeling extremely positive about the process and Peter. That feeling we had was a result of Peter’s experience and his ability to communicate complex processes in a way that made sense. Peter advised us there are 3 Green Card routes I can take but only 1 will allow me to possibly get a Green Card.

Green Card Options

1. PERM (Employer Sponsored Labor Certification) – employer sponsors the employee. Note, you must be an employee and not hold more than a typical employee nugget of equity in the company. If you are a co/founder of a company this route will not work for you since that nugget of equity is substantially more than a typical employee’s.

Also to obtain an approved PERM Labor Certification, the employer must prove (through newspaper advertising and other recruiting methods) that they were unsuccessful in recruiting a qualified U.S. worker for your position.

2. Extraordinary Ability Green Card – EB-1 – you must demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. You are demonstrating that your entry will substantially benefit prospectively the United States. No offer of employment is required for this category but if you are running a company in such value adding field then you want to demonstrate this correlation.

3. Marriage – to an American citizen. This is the fastest and cheapest way to obtain residency in the US.

Option 3 via Marriage was out. Option 1 via PERM was also out due to my equity ownership in my startup. This left me with Option 2; Extraordinary Ability (EB-1) on the basis of a career of acclaimed work in the field of endeavor.

As a Software Engineering working in the Health sector and cofounding Medlert, a logistics and communication platform for hospitals and ambulance companies; my lawyer had confidence this route would work. This was amplified by the fact that I also have had the pleasure to talk at various industry events on technology disruption in healthcare and the opportunity to work with great investors. Now to meet this extraordinary ability, I had to meet 3 out of the 10 listed criteria outlined below to prove “extraordinary ability in my field”.

Planing for a Green Card – Start Early!

I often recommend people start thinking and planning their Green Card as early as possible. Especially if you plan to satisfy the requirements of EB1A – Extraordinary Ability Green Card. Add value to the US economy either through the company you represent, industry contributions and/or relevant publications. Also start blogging to establish your own brand. TIP: You can list your blog in EB1 requirements.

If you plan to obtain your Green Card through PERM (Employer Sponsored Labor Certification) then also start early. Not just working hard but building something key/special around your name. Again a blog helps to create that unique persona and separates you from the rest. Remember this is all going to help your employer when you apply. They need to list your position open for few months and then prove to the US gov they failed to find someone like you. So make yourself unique, special. One of a kind!

October 2014 – and so it begins… documenting our life

To kickstart the whole process our immigration lawyer sent us a list of everything they needed to begin the submission process. From documents to photos to a medical exam. A medical exam I hear you say; yeah a medical exam to make sure we are immunized against a US specific list of viruses.

Power TIP: I found that starting a shared folder on Dropbox was far better than emailing documents to Peter. Most email clients have a limitation on document size which you will most likely hit. Dropbox doesn’t. Furthermore, using Dropbox allowed me to digitize and categorized all these important documents into the 1 place. The search in Dropbox also helps when you need to find any document or picture fast. If you have never used Dropbox just follow this link to get started with few gigs of FREE storage: https://db.tt/QDC0nvU

The to-do list

1. Schedule a medical exam. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) outlines physicians who are authorized by USCIS to administer this medical exam. The USCIS-authorized physician performing the medical exam needs to complete Form I-693. Vaccination requirements can be found here. After the exam, you need to send the Medical exam results in sealed envelope back to your lawyer.

2. Passport photos. 8 photos each. See photo instructions to make sure you get the right ones.

3. Birth Certificates – Since Urszula and I were both born in Poland (but lived in Australia for most our lives) we needed to obtain birth certificates from Poland Civil Registry Office (Urząd Stanu Cywilnego) that has jurisdiction over the place of occurrence. That is complete copy (odpis zupelny) not an abbreviated copy (odpis skrócony). The abbreviated copy provides insufficient data for the US Embassy. This is important. Then have a local translator translate them. We used online …

A complete copy of a birth record provides the following information: the last, first and middle names of a child, gender, the place and date of birth, the full names of the parents, dates and places of their births, their places of residence, mother’s maiden name, whether or not the parents were legally married.

4. Marriage Certificates. A complete copy of a marriage certificate with the following information: the full names and previous marital status, places of residence, places and dates of birth of the concerned couple, the full names of the parents, the names of two witnesses, and the married name of each party.

5. Employment history. Past and current. Including employment authorization prior jobs e.g. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-797 approval notice(s) and visa(s) and Form 1040 from Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It’s good to keep these in your Dropbox.

6. Copy of all passport pages; even if blank. I used my iPhone to take photos and again threw them up on Dropbox. No need for a scanner like the old days 😉

7. Copy of back side of our I-94 cards.

See why having all this in Dropbox is helpful. There is a lot of documents to share with your immigration lawyer. Email just doesn’t cut it especially if you need to check back and see whether something was already provided or not.

8. RILG – Immigration Questionnaire. This is a 7 page document full of questions like:

  • Information about U.S. Employer inc founders, equity, investors, funding, revenue and what the company I co-founded does.
  • Information about Employment is about your Role. From a detailed job description to your salary, benefits & stock.
  • Information about Employee is about You. Where you live, SSN, spouse etc..
  • Complete copy of employee’s and employee’s family’s current passports, including blank pages and I-94 admission “cards” if in U.S. (available online).
  • Copy of any USCIS approval notices and any other relevant documents (for example, Form I-797, Form I-20, DS-2019, EAD, etc.) relating to current and past U.S. immigration status (both non-immigrant and immigrant) of employee and employee’s family.
  • Copy of employee’s CV. Yeah that’s you. We are all employees even of our own company.
  • Copy of employee’s tertiary diplomas (and transcripts) from any universities or post-secondary schools attended in United States or abroad.
  • Copy of any professional licenses or certificates held by employee.
  • Copy of corporate establishment documents of U.S. employer (such as certificate and articles of incorporation).
  • Copy of U.S. employer’s business plan and/or pitch deck.
  • Copy of U.S. employer’s most recent 409A valuation report.
  • Copy of press (online, print, etc.) about U.S. employer.
  • List of U.S. employer’s major clients, current and projected revenues for each client, and copy of contracts with same.

Satisfy the Requirements of EB1A – Extraordinary Ability Green Card

  • “Published material and press about prospective employee and prospective employee’s work.”
    • This is very specific to your employer/company but try to tie it to great good and US economy.
  • “Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance, including patents and provisional patents.”
    • I have 1 Patent under the belt. Apparatus and Method for Network Based Remote Mobile Monitoring of a Medical Event.
  • “Authorship of articles in professional journals or other major media”
    • Personal blog like The Road to Silicon Valley is acceptable inc.
    • other media I appeared in like VentureBeat and News.com.au.
  • “Participation on panel, or individually, as judge of work of others”
  • “Speaking engagements/conference presentations.” Here is an example of few I listed on my application:

    • TriCON 2014, San Diego. Topic: The Future of Medical Transport
    • PINNACLE 2014 EMS Leadership & Management Conference, Scottsdale, Arizona. Topic: New Perspectives on EMS Reimbursement & Focus Group
    • ZOLL Summit 2014, Denver, CO. Topic: Mobile Technology in Medical Transportation
    • Evening with The Social+Capital Partnership: Personal Health Edition, Topic: A Mobile First Approach to Disrupting the Archaic Emergency Response Ecosystem.
    • Redline Executive Summit 2014, Orlando, FL, Topic: Connected Healthcare
  • “Noteworthy work/achievements at U.S. employer and previous employers”
    • This is basically your work history. Mine included being a CTO of a company acquired by a US entity (Quotient Technologies formerly Coupons.com) to founding Medlert, a company in the Healthcare space doing something disruptive.
  • “Letters from prior employers documenting 10 years of employment – i.e., confirming dates of employment and positions held and providing description of role and accomplishments”
  • “Names of 10 potential reference writers understanding that primary purpose of letters is to talk about potential impact/value of U.S. employer’s products and/or services and secondary purpose is to talk about employee’s role/importance in success of company and its products and/or services”
    • Before you include anyone as a reference you should always reach out to them to get their approval.
    • Mine included GPs of the VC firms that invested in Medlert (Social Capital Partnership & Subtraction Capital) and few other notable figures in the industry that we worked with.
    • It is pivotal that you network. Business is about people. And these people may one day be your references in where ever life takes you.

As mentioned above, even before you apply for a Green Card, make sure you are:

a. You are deeply engaged in your industry/profession eg. talk/present at industry events.

b. References – Important to have industry and accomplished references here. Build deep connections. Business == People. Make sure the reference you include in your application have seen you work and can backup your claims.

December 2014

The lawyers submitted all this information listed above to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and provided us with a Green Card application receipt notice in the form of Form I-797C.

Next Steps; assuming all the paperwork is moving forward, USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment (finger prints) for you to have your biometrics electronically captures at a USCIS Application Support Center (ASC). The notice for this arrives by mail. Your lawyer should also alert you of this so you don’t miss it.

Most time is spent waiting with other immigrants at the USCIS. The actual finger printing process is fast. If you ever came through immigration in the US you would have already been familiar with this process.

May 2015

The I-140 national interest waiver petition has been approved. Woohoo! This means that I-485 “Green Card” applications should be approved soon as well. At this point we were thinking any week now. But little did we know what would come next.

June 2015 – Hiccup!

USCIS asked us to provide different versions of our birth certificates. Remember what I said above about providing sufficient birth certificates. We provided abbreviated copies (known as odpis skrocony in Polish) and USCIS wants us to provide complete copies (known as odpis zupelny). This means we needed to apply for them at the nearest Polish consulate or directly at the Civil Registry Office. The former turns out to be a 3 month turn around process, few hundred $$$ later and 0 guarantee of success. A joke right. So we reached out directly to our family in Poland to help us organize it from the actual city council we were born in. Note we are Australia citizens for most of our life yet where we hatched was a big deal. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A month later we had the complete copies of our birth certificates. Sign of relief. But this wasn’t the end of that. We now needed to translate the Polish complete copies and have them notarized. I found https://www.rev.com/certified-translation/birth-certificate-translation/polish and gave them a try at $27 per page with a 48 hours turnaround. Unfortunately the 48 hours turned into 1 week.

We sent everything to the lawyers. And waited for our Green Cards.

September 2015

Our Green Cards have arrived! Sorry for the wacky pic but it was the 1st pic I took lol.

Ernest Semerda holding his Green Card

The whole Green Card process took close to 1 year. And half way through this journey our H1Bs expired. Apparently this is ok and deportation was never an issue 😉

How do I feel? Like Ultron!

“I had strings. But now I’m free. There are no strings on me.” ~ Ultron

How it feels to have a Green Card ~ "I had strings. But now I’m free. There are no strings on me.” ~ Ultron

Visa == Chains

A Visa is a chain to an employer. If you are an employee on a Visa you may be getting the short end of the stick. I will explain this in a future blog post and why it’s pivotal you are off a Visa ASAP. This is one of those things hardly anyone talks about but is an issue that affects you personally. Knowing your rights and options helps.

Total Investment

Immigration Lawyer
Peter Roberts
Email: proberts@robertsimmigration.com
Website: http://robertsimmigration.com/

Legal Fees:

  • $5,000.00 for I-140 NIW petition
  • $2,250 for the principal’s I-485 application
  • $2,000 for the spouse’s I-485 application

USCIS Filing Fees:

  • $580.00 for I-140 petition
  • $2,140.00 for I-485 applications

Miscellaneous Expenses:

  • Copying, mailing, tracking, etc.: $150.00

Rev Translation Service

  • URL: https://www.rev.com
  • Certificate Translation $54
  • Notarization $20
    • $74 x 2 – 1 for Ula and 1 for me

Total: $12,268.00 and 1 year to get those Green Cards.

Power TIP #2: Have a good GTD system in place. Human memory limitations means you will not remember all of the above items. Create a to-do list aka Project as it is know in the GTD world and collect stuff to do there. I used GSDfaster which is a productivity app with the GTD method as it’s core. Full disclosure; I built GSDfaster. Get app from here.

Power TIP #3: Check out http://www.simplecitizen.com/ — they simplify the whole US immigration process. This is a brilliant startup idea! I have never used their service but I understand the pain points they are solving and it makes total sense.

If you have a different experience or want to share yours please do so below. Would love to hear your story.

~ Ernest

EQ: Emotional Intelligence, 3 Brain Theory & Leadership

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. A skill now highly regarded as a necessity for great leaders. Traditionally analytical skills measured by IQ tests were considered as the pinnacle of leadership missing probably the most important quality of a leader, EQ.

Recently I gave Daniel Goleman’s book called “Emotional Intelligence” a spin. In his book, Goleman explains how emotions play a much greater role in thought, decision-making and individual success than is commonly acknowledged.

Let me explain.

Paul MacLean – 3 Brain Theory

Dr. MacLean said we do not have 1 brain but 3. Each brain evolved over time one by one over the older brain until there were 3 distinct brains interconnected with their own purpose and function. This is called the Triune Brain Model.

The 3 brains – starting in the center

3 brains - primitive, emotional & rational

1st – Reptilian (Primitive) is at the brain stem, root brain. This controls breathing, heart and organ functions. It is a part of the brain which cannot be reprogrammed since it regulates your body. Its goal is to make sure you stay alive and reproduce.

2nd – Limbic (Emotional) sits over the primitive brain and is impulsive and powerful. It controls how you feel to certain stimulus. Knowing something is right in your heart. It connects information to memory and works best during emotionally charged context. It serves the primitive brain giving pleasure to natural survival needs.

We like to believe that our decisions are based on our thought but in reality they are based on our “emotional state of mind”, how we feel at the time.

It’s important to know that there was an emotional brain long before rational brain.

3rd – Neocortex (Rational) is the newest part of our brain and is also referred to as the “thinking brain”. It sits on top of the emotional brain and it controls higher level processes such as logic, reasoning, creative thinking, language etc.

Neocortex tends to be swamped by the brains beneath it, especially the emotional brain on which it sits & connects to directly. The emotional brain is known to hijack your rational mind when it its basic needs for survival & reproduction are threatened sending a storm of messages to the lower brain to execute pre-programmed instructions in a fight or flight response. E.g. Fear sends stress signals to all parts of the brain immobilizing the body.

I’m sure by now you can see the importance of the 3 brains and their impact on us and people we lead.

A Japanese tale

There is a nice Japanese tale about a samurai and a zen master. The samurai wanted to know the difference between heaven and hell. The monk replied to the samurai “I have no time to waste with a lout like you”. The samurai flew into a rage and pulled his sword in anger yelling “I could kill you for your impudence!”. “That”, the monk replied “is hell”. Startled, having realised what the monk said the samurai put his sword away, bowed and thanked the monk for his insight. “And that” the monk said “is heaven”.
This illustrates the crucial difference in getting caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are getting swept away by it.

Socrates injunction “know thy self” speaks to this keystone of emotional intelligence. Awareness of ones own feelings as they occur and self-awareness as an ongoing attention to ones internal states – being aware of our moods and thoughts about that mood.

How to manage your emotions?

Here are a basic set of set of steps you can follow to learn to control your emotions and in turn understand the emotions and drivers of the people you lead.

  • Cease and challenge the emotion (e.g. anger) before reacting to it.
  • Realize that you cannot stop emotions flooding your mind. Emotions happen too quickly and outside your rational mind. But you are in total control of how you will react.
  • Have an open mind and realise that you may not understand the other story where the emotion was triggered. The situation might not be as bad as you perceive it.
  • Each thought triggers more emotions. So use the power of distraction to stop it.

Why is this important?

  • We are all affected by the 3 parts of our brain in making and dealing with decisions and people.
  • As a leader understanding how this affects you is fundamental in understanding your followers, those that you lead. How can you lead people if you do not understand basic fundamentals of how your emotions drive your world. Understand 1st, then apply.
  • Being an effective leader means you understand that people are emotional creatures and at times can get swamped by their lower brains in response to various environmental triggers.
  • Intentions and Behaviours are 2 different things. Behaviours are sometimes triggered by lower brain functions. Never make conclusions based on them, rather on the “true intentions” of the said individual, their rational mind. Have an open mind.

Emotional Intelligence

Before you can be effective at this you must understand your own emotions better just like the samurai in the Japanese tale. Once you learn to manage your emotions you will have a profound deep understanding of the people around you and how to best respond, motivate, lead and inspire them. That my life explorers, is true Emotional Intelligence.

emotional-intelligence-bubbles

Goleman in his book on Emotional Intelligence shares great stories and examples on EQ. If you haven’t already, spend some time immersing yourself in this knowledge. You will be surprised what you learn.

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~ Ernest