Over the past few months I’ve gotten to slow down a bit, spend some more time with my kids and enjoy a lot of coffees with a wide variety of people here in the city. The range of interesting new people I got to meet and projects I got to learn about was inspiring, particularly as lifelong New Yorker who cares deeply about continuing to grow the consumer product presence and community here in New York City.
While I really enjoyed taking a bit of a break, I knew that soon enough I’d find something that got me super excited and I’d be itching to dive back into making things and building a team again.
About 2 months ago, I was lucky enough to be introduced to an incredibly talented, experienced, team working on solving big problems that sit at the nexus of a few of my personal passions — mobile technology, health and the power of insights derived from data.
Over the years, the product work I’ve done has always mirrored needs that I’ve personally had. In 2002, I was 26 and spent a lot of time going out so building software that helped me know where my friends were hanging out made sense — hence, dodgeball. In 2009, I was 33 and about to have my first child. I was no longer going out 5 nights a week but I had started to care more about the quality of experiences I had when I did go out for a meal or a drink — hence, foursquare. Today, I’m 37 with a 4 year old and an 8 month old and something I carry with me every single day is: how can I be around and healthy as long as possible to see as much as possible of the lives my children create for themselves — hence, Project Florida.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve owned every major wearable on the market, through multiple generations for each. I’ve used smart scales and smart apps. I’m intimately familiar with where all of these succeed and where they fall short. Before we had wearables to record our actions, I built an Excel doc to help me manually track my weight, diet and fitness. That document helped me understand what my habits were and how different variations produced different results over time. It also helped me go from 252lbs down to 209lbs before my wedding (details here). That understanding and change in my core habits also had a material impact on the critical numbers reflected in my blood work (quantitative results here).
I believe deeply in the power of really understanding your health, developing and reinforcing habits that help you become the better version of yourself. The combination of the technology many of us are lucky enough to carry around with us and our ability to turn heaps of data into accessible, personalized, and empowering insights is finally at a place where we can push the space forward past data for data’s sake to a place of profound impact and I’m really excited to get to work with this team to make that happen.
As of 3 weeks ago, I joined the Project Florida team as Head of Design. We’re a small team with a big mission to help people better understand their habits and live healthier lives. In order to tackle our mission, we’ve built an incredible team and are actively growing it (Hello Drew Conway!)
I’m personally looking to meet Senior Product Designers who share our passion and want to build something great here in NYC. If you’re interested in joining our Design team, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you want to learn more about all of the roles we’re hiring for, email email@example.com.
(cross-posted from Medium for archive purposes)
How I’ve learned to rely on (and love) Waze.
During the month of December my wife and I made our regular trips to and from family members’ houses to celebrate the various holidays. Over the past year (especially since we moved outside of the city) Waze has become a part of all our trips, even when we know exactly where we’re going because you never know when there might be an even better way to get there, but Waze does.
Thanks to all the Waze users out there, Waze (now Google) operates from this panopticon-like vantage point, knowing where all the cars are and how fast they’re moving (sidebar: in my more cynical moments, I’ve imagined how they can use this information to control the traffic, and not just respond to it but I digress…). This means that it has the information to help you get from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible based on the unpredictable real time conditions on the road, making a standard GPS (that felt pretty special only a few years ago), feel dumb.
In fact, Waze solves that core problem so well that it didn’t matter that the design has long been a hot mess of chunky lines, more buttons than you know what to do with and costumed, fleshy pink dumplings. To be fair the redesign this Fall offered some nice refinements. All that aside, the reason people love using the product (and as a result, Google loved buying the product) is because it takes a bunch of genuine pain points that everyone who’s driven a car (giant addressable audience) has experienced and makes them go away.
I’d like to call out examples of my two personal favorite features: avoiding traffic (obvs!) and sharing your trip:
Back to our travel adventures… Last month we were headed to the in-laws for Christmas, we hit bumper to bumper traffic before the Throgs Neck Bridge and Waze suggested a crazy, borderline non-sensical, looking maneuver .
Since the product has earned my trust I just went with it and found that the unorthodox move — pulling off the highway and getting right back onbefore the bridge — helped us avoid a huge chunk of stagnant traffic. We had two similar experiences that same week. Not only does the product help you get to where you’re going faster but it makes you feel like you’re in the know along the way — using Waze can feel nothing short of magical, almost like you’re cheating the system. That emotion is a powerful one and over time builds a really strong bond with the product. We’ve always felt that Foursquare Tips (especially now that you get them serendipitously) often offer that same kind of unexpected magic that makes users feel like they’re getting more out of the world around them thanks to the product.
My second most-used feature is sharing my drive. It’s a dead-simple way to, once you’ve set off on a trip, share that trip with someone else. The best part is that when they click on the link, they’ll get a map in a mobile web view with 1) a little dumpling moving its way across the map and 2) an accurate estimated ETA based on how far away they are and the traffic between them and their destination. All of this replaces the age old “What’s your ETA?” use case for all parties involved and you’ll be surprised at how nice it is to know exactly where a loved one is on a long trip to/from you as you see that plump little dumpling inch its way across the screen.
I’m personally partial to Mario’s raccoon suit but you get the point.
There are a bunch of other things Waze does a good job of (and many that feel superfluous ) but they’ve done an amazing job in ensuring that their core features solve real problems and in the process make their users feel more powerful — that is ultimately what building a great product is all about.
How is your product helping your users become a better version of themselves?
If you’re someone who drives, I highly recommend you give it a shot.
2013 was as eventful a year as I can remember. We sold our apartment in Brooklyn and bought a house in Westchester. We added a new member to our family, Oliver, in June and moved the whole family up north 3 weeks later to the first house I’ve ever lived in. In November, I left Foursquare after 4 years and spent the last month and a half of the year hanging with the kids and having a wide variety of conversations with people exploring different possibilities for what may lie ahead.
Reviewing 2013’s goals.
Last year I wrote out my goals and they broadly fell under the umbrella of Living Better - physically, intellectually, creatively and emotionally. Overall I did just ok (ps: scores below map to Google’s OKR - Objectives and Key Results - grading process which you can, and should, learn more about here.
- Physically (0.1) Unfortunately this was the one I was least successful at and it’s absolutely the most important one. It was an incredibly hectic year and while I successfully curbed my alcohol consumption, I slipped into lazy habits when it came to eating and exercising and my weight and overall fitness (both physical and mental) reflect that. For myself and my family this is my #1 priority heading into 2014.
- Intellectually (0.6) My broad goal was to cut down on my time spent consuming negligibly valuable information via the multitude of never-ending streams out there with the hope that it would clear the way for a different kind of “slow” consumption. Frank Bruni does a good job of articulating why I value wanting to make this tradeoff. I feel pretty good about where I ended up.
- Creatively (0.5) I wanted to start writing more and taking more photos with my “real” camera. Writing was just something that I seldom felt like I had the mental space for after everything else so I fell way short here. Taking photos with my camera, on the other hand, became a regular activity for me and I expect that to only get stronger this coming year as I’m starting to find my groove with the new Fuji X100S I picked up this Fall. Giddy-up!
- Emotionally (0.6) This one was just about being present and more deliberate about how I spend my time. I definitely made some improvements here over the course of the past year and I plan on taking the little break I’ve got now as an opportunity to reset and establish new habits across the board, with focus and presence being a big part of them.
Setting some goals for 2014
Overall, I only feel like I did OK on the goals I laid out for myself in 2013 but do feel like I was able to establish some new micro habits that I plan to build on going forward.
As I look to 2014, the things I want to do to live the way that will make me happy haven’t changed a ton. I’ll just be in a better position to execute on them:
- Sleep better. It’s never going to be easy with 2 kids but I can do much better here and I firmly believe that getting adequate sleep is the lynchpin to making a dent in all my goals (Goal: get in bed at 10:30 5 nights a week)
- Be in better shape. Work out at least 4 days a week - run, row, lift weights, whatever. (Goal: 200 workouts)
- Lose Weight - Currently 230lbs (blergh). Get under 210lbs (and stay there). This will obviously be a combination of diet and exercise. (Goal: lose 20 lbs)
- Read more books. Continue to refine the amount of people I follow and content I consume online and chip away at that long list of books I want to read. (Goal: 20 books)
- Go deep in a couple of new areas of interest. After spending 7 of the last 10 years deep in mobile, local and social, I’d like to get intimate with a few new areas/spaces. Right now BluetoothLE/iBeacon, the next generation of health + fitness tech, apps for kids are the leading contenders for me.
- Write more regularly. Write at least 1 blog post a week. (Goal: 60 posts)
- Be more ruthless about how I spend my time. As the only truly limited resource I have, I plan on being much more selective about how I spend my time, which will mean saying no a lot more and not feeling bad about it.
Having the first break in my life in as long as I can remember, I don’t have a clear picture of what the year ahead will hold and that’s what makes it so exciting. Let’s go!
This morning I received this notification from Twitter:
While Neil and Tony were in fact talking about Grey’s Anatomy first thing in the morning (strange? yes, but that’s not what this post is about) it wasn’t relevant to anything happening on Grey’s Anatomy on TV right now (also, I could personally care less about GA, which made it even stranger to get pinged about it). I did a little digging to see if these have been around awhile and couldn’t find anything so I’m going to assume they’re something new/being tested (if I’m wrong, holler at me and I’ll update)
As we know, Twitter has become absolutely indispensable - for many, it’s the 1st screen - for live events (Breaking News, Sports, Awards Ceremonies, etc.) but in order to benefit from and participate in the discourse, you need to get there in the first place which is why notifications are so important for the company (< great piece by BuzzFeed’s John Herrman on why). It’s why they’ve been cranking up awesome experiments like @eventparrot and @magicrecs.
After Twitter shipped their update earlier this week, I had a quick exchange with Matthew Panzarino about the possibilities the new Timeline UI enables and what they could potentially do with dynamic timelines based on real-time TV, Sports, etc. as well as how they could pull you into them:
It’s one thing to be pulled into the app because “something is happening in the world” but it’s much more enticing to know “…and your friends are here talking about it.” Perhaps there’s some other reason I got that notification this morning (after all, I do have the obscure Other toggled in Twitter’s Notifications Settings) but I can certainly imagine how seeing that people you know are talking about a thing you’re potentially interested in (Miley going off at the VMAs, a crazy comeback in the Pats game, the World Cup Draw, etc.) being a very compelling way to pull you into the app. Finally, since Twitter has a pretty great idea of what I’m interested in, they could also use that to fine tune when and about what they try and get my attention.
Update: @kroosh passed along an article detailing Twitter’s ability to target ads based on conversations are TV shows. This seems to be leveraging the same tech but geared towards pushing user engagement.
Over the past year, I’ve found myself discovering more and more new, great music thanks to The Hype Machine. You can do a whole lot more on the service but I tend to stick to a pretty simple workflow that yields a lot of value with minimal effort (always a big product win) that hopefully others can benefit from.
That workflow is as follows:
1. I go to the Popular tab, hit Play
2. When I hear something I like, I give it a heart/fave
3. Over time, my Favorites list becomes a great playlist of music I often can’t find anywhere else
Extra Credit: the Hype Machine iOS app (iTunes link) is nicely designed and really smart about syncing the favorites you listen to the most. One day I opened up my app on the subway and noticed that while the rest of the app wouldn’t work without a connection, I was still able to play my Favorites, even though I’d never actively synced them. I don’t know the details of the witchcraft they use to choose which tracks to sync and then sync them in the background but it felt a little magical to have my music with me without having to go through some heavy handed syncing process. An example of something truly “just working” the way you’d want it to.
Two minor nitpicks:
1. I wish they made My Favorites a top level nav item rather than nested in the Profile menu where people might never find it.
2. I would love more clarity on how I can influence the music I see. They recently added a callout for a Blog Recommender based on the music you favorite but it didn’t seem to work for me right now.
I recommend you head over the site and give it a go. If you fancy yourself more of a desktop app kind of person, I recently discovered a simple + elegant Hype Machine client called Plug, that you can get at http://www.plugformac.com/. Enjoy!
You look for people that are not political. People that are not bureaucrats. People that can privately celebrate the achievement, but not care if their name that is in the one in the lights. There are greater reasons to do things.
You look for wicked smart people. You look for people who appreciate different points of view. People who care enough that they have an idea at 11 at night and they want to call and talk to you about it. Because they’re so excited about it, they want to push the idea further. And that they believe that somebody can help them push the idea another step instead of them doing everything themselves.
I’ve never met anyone in my life, maybe they exist, that could do something so incredible by themselves in companies with global footprints. In our world, in Apple’s world, the reason Apple is special is we focus on hardware, software, and services. And the magic happens where those three come together.
And so, it’s unlikely that somebody that’s focused on one of those in and of itself can come up with magic and so you want people collaborating in such a way so you can produce these things that can’t be produced otherwise. And you want people to believe in that.
I like this answer from Tim Cook a lot. No one thinks for a second that Apple is in any way devoid of politics but this captures an ideal to strive for, a spirit you want people to embody as any organization building integrated product(s) grows and inevitably goes through both great and tough times and evolves as a result of it. This is part of what defines the fabric of your company’s culture.
If you’re working as part of a team, no matter the size, building something together, this applies to you. As a team grows, and distinct “departments” take shape, it’s easy to start to slip into more politically-driven thought. To a large degree it’s human nature and people dynamics at work but remembering and having leadership reinforce that “there are greater reasons to do things” is a good way to stay focused on the bigger, more important, things that ultimately will have the biggest impact for your whole team.
(some more thoughts + video from Cook over at Geekwire)
After four incredibly intense and rewarding years at Foursquare, it’s time for me to move on. Leaving a team I’ve helped build, in a space I’ve been passionate about for over 10 years isn’t easy, but it’s the best thing for me to do.
Four years of going full throttle as our company grew from 10 people to over 150, rapidly shipping and evolving the product from a “check-in game” to a set of products that are paving the way for the future of mobile social software has taught me a lot about process, people and product design and I look forward to bringing that to bear on whatever’s next.
I’m so grateful and proud to have had the opportunity to work with an amazing team that consistently punched above its 150-person weight and always brought it in a space crowded with companies 100X our size. I have no doubt they’ll continue to do so and I look forward to watching Dennis and the rest of the team keep pushing to realize the vision we’ve always known to be true.
As for what’s next? I’m not sure, and that’s the point. The past four years have been the most intense professional experience I’ve ever had. I’ve learned a ton—some lessons that I’ve applied along the way and others that I’ll be taking with me. I also know I’m not going to be able to go too long without diving back into a brand new set of problems to solve. However, before I do that, I want to slow down and take a deep breath for what feels like the first time in four years.
Why now? The team is in a great place and we’re at a good point in the product cycle. On a personal note, my wife is two weeks away from returning to work after maternity leave so there was an opportunity for me to spend some more time with our new son. This is something I didn’t get to do with our daughter when she was a baby as I started full-time at Foursquare right when she was born. I’m excited and grateful to get to spend a little more time with both of them while I explore what’s next.
I’ve got my Citibike and am eager to explore the city on two wheels so if you’d like to grab coffee, lunch or a drink and talk shop, hit me up. You can drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and @arainert.
It’s been a couple years since I wrote down some explicit goals for myself heading into a new year so I wanted to bring it back for this year, knowing that writing them down (and sharing them) make them much harder to punk out on.
Essentially my goals boil down to being more deliberate about how I choose to spend my time and they fall into the following buckets…
This one is the “easiest” in that the steps to being successful, though by no means easy, are definitely the clearest for me - eat better, exercise more and sleep better. For me, the last one is somewhat of a lynchpin in that when I find myself not getting enough sleep it makes it so much easier to eat poorly and so much harder to find time/motivate myself to work out.
After having lost 42 pounds before my wedding in 2006 (going from a robust 252 down to an in-shape 209), the past 3 years have seen me push me back up to a soft 233 and regressing like that makes me furious. I also recently got my annual blood test and while none of the numbers are super alarming (yet), they’re definitely trending in a bad direction. Let’s go to the numbers!
- Total Cholesterol: 199 (160 in ‘06)
- HDL Cholesterol: 37 (41 in ‘06) *higher is better
- LDL Cholesterol: 119 (92 in ‘06) *lower is better
- Triglicerides: 213 (137 in ‘06)
- Vitamin D 18.1 (didn’t test in ‘06 but it should be above 30)
So with all that in mind, I need to take better care of myself and here’s what I’m planning on doing:
- Get in bed by 10:30pm (not to sleep but to read/wind down. More on that below.)
- Work out at least 3 mornings a week. Ideally 4.
- Eat better. I’ll be periodically consulting with a nutritionist as well as doing periodical weigh ins, biggest-loser style to keep me honest.
- Cut back alcohol a lot. Have 1-2 drinks when I’m out socially and cut out the evening glass of whiskey at home “just because”.
My goal is to lose 25 pounds by June 1st, and ideally settle between 205-210 as well as get those other numbers back where they should be. I love the fact that this goal is so easily measured.
I’d go as far as to say that I’m addicted to information. That, paired with some of my OCD tendencies (including an affinity for completeness), compel me to want to “keep up” with all the various information channels I have at my disposal (Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, etc.). The first thing I do in the morning is check them and it’s often one of the last things I do at night. There’s some sort of psychological comfort in the fact that there’s always going to be something new there to check out. This is not normal, productive or healthy.
I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months thinking about the time and effort I put into these various social channels and whether I’m getting out value that’s commensurate with the time I spend with them.
Time is an incredibly (and increasingly) limited resource and I often find myself spending much of my “consumption” time reading about internet minutiae who’s interestingness has a shelf life that can be measured in hours and is often devoid of any meaningful lasting value. While I maintain a list of books I’d love to read, I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t remember the last book I actually finished because I spend all my “reading” time consuming things that provide enough contentment for a moment but seldom much more than that.
On a somewhat related note, Ryan Block recently wrote a great piece for the New York Times outlining why he’s quitting Facebook and Instagram and it touches on a lot of what I’ve been feeling of late. While I’m not ready to completely pull out of these services, I’m going to take a much stricter approach to how much I let myself be consumed by them. If the containment strategy doesn’t work for me over the next 6 months, I’ll be happy cut some of them out altogether.
Here’s the plan:
- Dramatically prune the people I follow on each of the services I frequent to a point where I can realistically keep up with and engage with the people on them.
- Read books. I’ll start with a goal of reading at least 1 book a month for the first 6 months and then I will re-asses. (Good news: I’ve already read 3 books since Jan 1)
The balance of consuming/sharing content vs. creating content has gotten way out of whack for me over the past few years.
On the creation side, I’d like to focus on taking photos (with my actual camera) and writing more. Instagram has been a great tool for taking lots of photos that look beautiful on my phone and are great to quickly share or email to a grandparent. However, while the quality of mobile photos is nothing short of amazing, they’re not the photos that are going to still look good 20+ years from now. So, while I don’t expect to move away entirely from iPhone photos, I plan to take more photos with my Panasonic GX-1. Relatedly, Marco Arment articulates the reasons for doing so quite well in this post.
As for writing, while the platforms have changed for me since 1996 (Blogger to Moveable Type to Wordpress to Tumblr), I’ve always kept a blog going but the amount of time, effort and thought that has gone into it has gotten lighter and lighter through the years. The problem is that it’s become so easy for bite-sized micro-thoughts (hello Re-blog!) to masquerade as “writing”. With that in mind, I’d like to get back to writing more regularly and I’ll be doing it here after recently resetting my old Tumblr account so I can start from scratch. This feeling is also what makes me really interested to see what Medium and Branch can turn into as they present really interesting approaches to pulling interesting content out of people that might otherwise remain undiscovered.
Here’s the plan:
- Get this blog up and running by the end of January and start with the goal of posting at least 2-3 posts per week and the re-assess after 6 months.
- Shoot more photos with my GX-1.
Generally this one is just about being present. When I’m home with my wife and daughter, my mind should be 100% with them - not checking email, futzing around with my phone or doing something else. When I’m at work my mind should be 100% there, focused on the tasks at hand. The reality is that the latter happens much more reliably than the former and that’s not a healthy long term strategy.
Here’s the plan:
- I’m not going to check email while my daughter is awake and I’m at home with her. Obviously, if there’s something pressing, I’ll excuse myself, tend to it and then return, but my goal is to eliminate the partial-attention that is so alarmingly easy to slip into.
- This applies just as strongly at work as well. No laptop/phone fiddling during meetings, etc.
- Make sure that I am spending my time on the most important/rewarding things. This will involve saying no to more things that don’t meet that bar.
- Worry about capturing less and focus on enjoying more.
Having a family (that includes a toddler) and working at a startup has resulted in an incredibly rewarding, if not frenetic, past few years. Rather that get swept away by it and constantly react to what are two always changing situations, I’m going to work hard to be more deliberate about how I spend my time - with family, colleagues, friends and for myself.
For me, these goals will help me become a more balanced person and will ultimately result in being a better husband, father, friend and leader at Foursquare.