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Parking scams in downtown San Francisco

I should have known parking in San Francisco would be a mess.

QI went out with my wife on Valentine’s day in San Francisco. Long planned, booked in advance, all the bells and whistles. It was a surprise, so she was driving, as she commutes to work every day by car.

We got close to the venue and chose one of the parking location recommended by Open Table, as part of the official description for Black Cat.

The place was great and the jazz concert awesome. The food was good too, but the wine service was slow. We had a great time though.

My recommendation to everyone out there:

If you’re going out in the Tenderloin area and will only be out for a few hours, never park at Turk Garage. They charge $41 flat rates.

It’s not visible, so it’s meant to be a racket. Avoid at all costs. Be sure to always check the fees before you go in.

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Life Startups

The trade-off of management roles

Over 10 years ago, when I started my professional career, working as an individual contributor, I couldn’t wait to become a manager. It sounded so cool – to have a team, to lead, to create strategy, run meetings, build agendas. Little did I know of the downsides of being in one of those fancy management roles.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a manager, and all the great things that come with the role – team, impact, benefits, comp, learning, status (in random order). It’s what I’m great at and will continue to practice it as long as I can build teams or teams invite me to lead them towards greener pastures.

Starting out as individual contributor

Coming back to my younger days, when I was IC-ing, I took something for granted that I soon saw going away as I rose in ranks. People saw me as one of them, and treated me openly and freely. I would get invited to every party and every going out group. I would hang out with the cool people and be able to rant about our managers (yeah, we did that, I know all team members at some point rant about their managers).

Manager roles in the US

That went on for the longest of times. When I moved to the US, I joined a tech startup as their Growth Manager. I helped them grow the team and recruit a lot of the people in the San Francisco office. As we grew, both the company and I felt the need to specialize and I went to focus on Marketing only, becoming Director. That’s when things started to change. Since I was hanging out with the founders, the VPs and Directors, I was no longer part of the group. I had become management and people started treating me like one.

When I moved on to another company, again, I started with more of an IC role. In a few months, however, I had recruited my team and had become Director again. Same story, there was the management layer which kind of hung out together, and shared stories. Everyone else had their own separate group. Sometimes I would get invited to the other group, but it was not the same as 2009.

It’s little things like who hangs out with you at the lunch table or goes out to get coffee with you that change, too. The otherwise rowdy table might quiet down a little when you want to join. Or people might not even want to sit with you in case you start asking about customers, projects stuff related to their day-to-day.

When you’re a manager, you also can’t just party like everyone else. We set examples of what the company culture should be. If we party until dawn at company events, or overcharge corporate cards, this sends the wrong message to everyone else. Sure, you’re not going to be as cool as the life of the party, but it’s easier to lead if you haven’t lost face the night before.

I’m not even going to talk about romantic relationships at work as a manager. There’s no such thing as a no-consequences one.

Loneliness, career growth, support

This part of management is rarely talked about. It’s a lonelier journey, as you get higher and higher in roles and responsibilities. Some people get there and are surprised by the fact that everyone seems to be gone suddenly. I know I was. Some even get depressed or anxious about it, and I can understand why. I think we have to talk about it more openly. We have to embrace that what leaders in organizations are doing is hard, both professionally and personally. And there’s often little support for it.

I’m lucky to be married to someone who understands this and whom I can talk to about my professional life. Not everyone is. Life at the top comes at a cost, and work social interaction is one of them.

For me, I found my groups outside of work, too.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

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Life Startups

Retrospectives, these powerful tools for growth

At the end of last year, I did two massive retrospectives for Romanian IT (2019, and since inception) and a personal one (private).

For the personal retrospective, it was the second time in a row when I did it. The first time I did it, at the end of 2018, it was super hard, and it felt like a huge chore. This time it felt a bit easier, and I had more of a put together process to lean on.

The 3 retrospectives I did got me thinking about the power they give you, as the person performing them.

Journey to finding retrospectives

There’s a ton of literature on journaling, on making lists, following up and looking back on quarters, years, months, days, whatever works. Unfortunately, for the longest of time, I thought that was mostly self help bullshit and avoided it like the plague.

It was only when I started running teams in a business setting that I discovered that Agile/Scrum can be applied for Marketing and PR, and that was my gateway to retrospectives. If you run sprints, at the end of them, usually, people spend time looking at what worked, what didn’t and what can be improved in general. This is how you spot overloads, missed goals, successes and opportunities for growth.

Back then, I didn’t pay it enough attention to formalize the process in writing, but I stuck to it religiously. I took it with me in every team that I build moving forward, in the past 3 companies. It allowed our work to focus on the right goals. It also allowed us to spot communication issues early, adjust and improve.

Seeing the power of looking back

Fast-forward back to present day. I didn’t expect what the 3 retrospectives would give me. If you read my previous piece on the imposter syndrome, you know that’s a struggle for me. I also have a few strategies for it. Retrospectives turned out to be one of them.

See, if you’re like me, you moving fast, with little time to look back. There’s very little time to look back and celebrate success or be grateful. Retrospectives give you that and more – if you take the time and go through every day, and every thing that you did, and allow yourself to relive those moments, at the end of it you might find that you did do all that you set out. And more than that.

That’s an incredibly empowering feeling, and it’s remarkably easy to do now, thanks to Google Calendar.

Try going through it 12 months ago and move forward. It’ll surprise with you what you’ll find in there!

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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Politics Startups Venture Capital

“I’m sorry I’m not rich enough to try to get rich”: Accredited Investor status in the US

I’m getting ready to invest my first real money into a company and a team I believe in a lot. I’ve dabbled in venture capital with Republic and with ICOs, but up until now my tickets have been small, like money you would spend on a trip or a nicer dinner.

I wanted to share my learnings from this process and show, in simple words, that non-accredited investors can get in on early stage ventures.

For those who don’t know, the US is probably one of the most protective countries when it comes to capital and investment. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulates very strictly what investors and entrepreneurs can and can’t do when it comes to raising money, offering investment opportunities and funding.

Here’s the Investopedia definition of an accredited investor:

An accredited investor is a person or a business entity who is allowed to deal in securities that may not be registered with financial authorities. They are entitled to such privileged access if they satisfy one (or more) requirements regarding income, net worth, asset size, governance status or professional experience. The term is used by the SEC to refer to investors who are financially sophisticated and have a reduced need for the protection provided by regulatory disclosure filings. 

Sometimes, these regulations feel like they are too strict.

For example, if you’re a high earning individual, with ample savings, a diversified portfolio of assets – stock, SAFE notes, real estate, REITs, private equity via JOBS act, that’s not enough to be qualified as an accredited investor.

To become accredited, you have to do one of the following:

  • have an income of more than $200,000/year (single) or $300,000 (married, filing jointly) for two years in a row
  • have a net worth of over $1M (excluding your primary residence)

While I understand some people might need to be protected from themselves, and be stopped from investing in scams / con artists, I can’t understand why the thresholds are so strict. If you make $190,000 / $290,000 or are worth $900,000, you still don’t qualify, even though by all means you can be as sophisticated, or even more sophisticated than someone who, for example, inherited most of their net worth that’s over $1M. That’s not really fair, is it?

Fortunately, the JOBS Act, more specifically Rule 506(b), allows companies to raise money from non-accredited investors, under special conditions, and with, in my opinion, normal disclosures, per the SEC:

If non-accredited investors are participating in the offering, the company conducting the offering:

– must give any non-accredited investors disclosure documents that generally contain the same type of information as provided in registered offerings

– must give any non-accredited investors financial statement information specified in Rule 506 and

– should be available to answer questions from prospective purchasers who are non-accredited investors

Lawyers and inexperienced entrepreneurs will be reluctant to include non-accredited investors in funding rounds, but you can push back using these facts. The website I linked under the Rule 506(b) has more information on the type of offerings that companies can put forward and accept non-accredited investors on their cap table. It’s not impossible now, it’s just hard (still) to understand the rules.

So next time you want to invest and you get push back, instead of saying I’m sorry I’m not rich enough, refer people to the JOBS Act and the Rule 506(b). This way you can access early stage ventures and potentially make 100x returns. Or you can lose all your money, since early stage investing is extremely risky. But at least you have the freedom to choose.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

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Change Management Life

From “hungry wolf” to “fat cat” – how culture can promote or hinder growth

I’ve been sitting on this concept since a conversation I had with a friend who visited me in San Francisco last month. She had been traveling since she started studying for her MBA degree at INSEAD and had left a successful career in commercial real estate in Romania.

Both of us have friends who are successful people in their fields in the country and we discussed the concepts of hungry wolves and fat cats, and their relationship to growth – both personal and systemic. I had already written a post about attitudes in the US vs Romania, so this intrigued me to the point where I had to write about it.

Hungry Wolves

A hungry wolf is the metaphor for relentless ambition, the kind that you need to break through glass ceilings, to start great companies, to win impossible races, to build amazing products, and, in general, to improve yourself and the world around you. It’s that inner fire you feel every morning and the drive to go beyond what’s expected of you and over-deliver. It’s that drive to change things for the better, instead of letting them fester. This is the kind of person that pulls communities forward, both economically, politically and socially.

It’s usually associated with under-privileged people, who usually have to fight harder than others to move up in the world. Immigrants, minorities and people from lower income backgrounds tend to be hungry wolves. Sometimes, the environment plays a key role in keeping wolves from turning to fat cats – high cost of living, working culture, social norms, competition can influence this behavior.

Fat Cats

A fat cat is someone who is content with what they have achieved. Generally, people become fat cats when they don’t feel their success is temporary and they stop growing/advancing. They stop and settle, and every day starts to resemble the previous one. There are two main kinds of fat cats: made and born.

The fat cat that made it is, usually, a former hungry wolf that decided it had enough and it’s time to focus on other things, and not fane those inner flames anymore. Maybe it’s early retirement, or desire to pursue a slower life, or they just had enough of the rat race. They stop giving it the extra edge, stop over-delivering and settle to do the bare minimum to keep things going, keep the lights on. You can spot them at work, in your friends groups and in the way the talk about their goals and ambitions. They don’t shine anymore.

The other type of fat cat is the one that was born like this. They usually come from wealthy backgrounds, have had safety nets their whole lives and are the representation of privilege. They don’t have to worry about the future, so they don’t invest time thinking about it too much. They share the same symptoms as the fat cat that made it, but the difference is that the born one might not have had a flame to begin with. They are easy to spot in the wild – spending money that’s not a result of their work, making poor life choices and surrounding themselves with fake friends to run from their own lack of purpose in life.

My Romanian and US experience with fat cats and hungry wolves

It’s 2020 and we’re still in growth mode globally, still let by the US economy, in spite of the crisis super-cycle that historians have identified. The US has had crisis ever 1-2 generations, and every time it has recovered because its culture is built on the hungry wolf concept. Some argue that socialist measures might stifle some of this drive and turn hungry wolves into fat cats, as more safety nets get built into the system. In key places in the US, though, there are some key factors that will delay and even prevent this from happening.

I have been living in San Francisco since 2016, and in cities like this it’s hard to see a majority of people turning into fat cats. The cost of living, its growth, the work culture and competition, the lure of the next biggest thing in startups, growing companies everywhere keep that flame alive. Hell, it even sparks flames in former born fat cats. This type of economy, while taxing for the average individuals – sometimes with burnout, depression, social anxiety, drives growth. It’s a price people pay for their advancement. This perpetual hungry wolf doesn’t think their prosperity can last forever, so it works hard so it has a base to land on if things go South. They create to invest, they prepare for long term prosperity.

On the other hand, I lived in Romania growing up and for a good part of my early adult life. The culture there, while still rewarding and encouraging for hungry wolves, has a very specific local flavor. Parents and other people in social circles that are risk averse repeat a very damaging mantra: “isn’t this enough for you?” (I wish there were a good explanation for this. Here’s my take on it: When you get a mortgage and a car, that’s when people start to say that you made it, and your mom tells you to stop pushing, because you have enough).

This type of culture socially punishes overly ambitious people and helps create an environment where it’s ok to settle for enough. While this can be great to the individual’s immediate quality of life, if prosperity goes away, and the fat cat becomes a skinny cat, then will it have enough drive to turn back into the hungry wolf it needs to be? Or will the former born fat cat have the strength to spark that flame on its own?

But back to the hungry wolf. The trap there is not to overdo the hungry part, and end up bursting from over-eating. It’s ok to be just a little bit hungry sometimes and not terribly hungry all the time. I’ve seen some people call it the long term greedy approach. Seems to work for successful and happy people.

This is the Romanian article (EN translation) that contributed to a few of the ideas this post.

Later edit:

I had a cool exchange on LinkedIn with a friend of mine, Ciprian (Chip) Borodescu (Co-founder & CEO at MorphL), and I wanted to share it with people reading this later here:

Hey Titus, interesting analysis and I think I agree 99% of it.  One thing that I struggle with is the very last thing you wrote: “I’ve seen some people call it the long term greedy approach. Seems to work for successful and happy people.” In my opinion success ≠ happy. I think the fat cat is very happy, don’t you think? (that’s certainly the case for my cat, haha!) Is that cat successful? It depends on the definition of success. Success for some people is external: if they have a great professional career or other people think highly of them, that immediately translates into success. If not, it’s a total disaster. Success for other people comes from inside – their own sustainable definition of success, that’s not attached to the success of a startup, project, deal, etc. Success is found within and they don’t seek validation from outside. Both have a growth mindset, only the latter has a more mature and balanced approach to life. You’re encouraging hungry wolves to find a balance: “a little bit hungry sometimes and not terribly hungry all the time”.  However, this places the balance in the realm of wolves still. How about placing the balance in-between the two? Cats are predators too – which I read as a “growth mindset” 😉

To which I replied: Great point! I think fat cats can be happy and successful too, as long as they are able to stay fat 🙂 for me, the two concepts are.about active and passive approach to life/growth. I like your internal / external lens, and to the definitions in the article, if you take an active approach to either success paths, you’re still a hungry wolf, seeking improvement. A fat cat is happy with where it it is.

Photo by Patrick on Unsplash

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Life

One thing that’s ruining travel around the world

As you could probably tell from my last post, I’m in Thailand. We decided to head to Phuket first and then see Bangkok on our way out of this one week away from the craziness of SF life.

I love traveling because it helps me disconnect, unwind and recharge after giving it all and more to all our ongoing projects. But most of all, I love traveling because it allows me to discover cultures and foods that I can’t easily experience back at home.

We didn’t know what to expect coming to Thailand, so we chose one of the most touristic places in the country thinking it’s a safe bet – beach, weather, islands, elephant sanctuary. It has it all. Sure, it smells like trash in some places, the sewer is terrible, but that’s the result of sloppy city management and an unforgiving weather. The islands and beaches are great though, and the water is a heavenly blue color.

I was talking to Elena about one of our biggest shocks regarding Phuket, and not in a good way. We were surprised to see Central and Eastern Europe has started to creep into Phuket through Russian, Hungarian and Austrian restaurants. I can live with the smoking everywhere, the loudness of some of the tourists, but I get concerned when their habits start to change the local scenery to something too close to home.

From what I could gather, the Thai culture is extremely accommodating and that didn’t play to their advantage with this particular aspect – regarding food. Now there are tons of Thai places that serve local food AND a collection of pierogi, potato salads, Russian salads, all sorts of European soups and sausages – for the traveler who wants to feel at home, literally. I’m not saying Europeans are the only ones who do this, there are Australian chains, a Hooters, McDonald’s, Burger King and other stuff like that, but you didn’t find burgers next to Pad Thai in most restaurants.

I feel like this type of food blend/fusion is slowly eroding local cultures like the one in Phuket and I hope more people write and try to educate travelers to avoid eating what they would have at home and try out the local cuisine.

At the end of our Phuket visit, our question to the world is: why on earth would you travel 9+ hours on a plane and then go and eat potato salad and borsch, or wurst, if you have those at home?

Photo by Alyssa Kowalski on Unsplash

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Life

Thailand visas for Romanians and an airport confusion (2020)

As you can probably imagine, I’m on vacation, yay!

Before we got to Thailand, I have read a lot of confusing stories about getting a visa on arrival in Bangkok, as a Romanian national. So I decided to document our process.

For Romanians, the visa on arrival process is like this:

  • before you land, you fill in the arrival and departure forms on the plane
  • you land and head to the Visa on Arrival area
  • pick up a big form and fill that in with the same data you put in the landing card
  • you exchange 200 bhat (~$7) per person for photos and get Visa photos next to the Visa on Arrival area, where you pay the attendant upfront and they take a quick passport size photo, cash only
  • depending on the season, you might have to pay a tourist visa fee of 2000 bhat (~$70) per person, cash only. There are several exchanges there, so bring cash with you. The rates are ok, don’t be scared. The visa fee is currently waived until April 2020
  • Then with everything in hand, go to the Visa counter and you should be good to go. They will ask you for your address in Thailand, so have that prepared, as well as the return ticket

The other point that got us confused was the two airports in Bangkok, both international. We landed on the Bangkok International BKK Suvarnabhumi. When we did our research, we found great tickets to Phuket from Bangkok International DMK Don Mueang. A quick Google Maps search for the acronym DMK took us to the same BKK airport we were arriving on, so we thought it would be a piece of cake. It wasn’t.

When we tried to find the flight, we couldn’t see the code and had to go to the AirAsia service desk to learn that for over 5 years now, Phuket flights were no longer running from BKK but from DMK. Mind you, we had about 1h and 15mins until takeoff at this point. Even the visa guy smiled at us, but we only understood why when we realized the mistake we had made.

This other international airport is about 40-45 min away by taxi, and it costs about 400-500 bhat (~$15) to get there. Our taxi driver went the extra mile and got us there in time, about 20 mins before the plane was leaving. We ended this adventure with a run, but made it in time. Ah, one more thing to note AirAsia is not super strict when it comest to the 7kg policy, so we took our bags onboard. Security is also way quicker and easier than anything in the US or Europe for domestic flights.

I hope people visiting Thailand will be less confused than we were. First time I ever confused airports!

Photo by Diego Muñoz Suárez on Unsplash

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Space travel for the 21st century

Today is MLK in the US and we went out to meet friends for brunch. One of the topics we talked about was space travel and how this is could shorten our time spent on planes.

While tech is not quite there, there have been promising advancements by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. These private sector initiatives give me hope that we might achieve low-orbit fast travel by 2100.

I spent 5 days on planes, traveled 53,000 mi on 28 flights in 2019, per my AppInTheAir profile.

I can’t but wonder how much time and jet fuel I could have saved if we had something like this available:

Now to explain this diagram:

  • Science: The concept of the Regional Space Hub relies on the ESA definition of low-Earth orbiting space craft. It assumes that once orbiting altitude is achieved, and the space hub is running at full speed, the point-to-point travel is a matter of finding the docking timings to make the journey most efficient
  • Technical Prerequisites: The three companies I mentioned and a few government programs are hard at work to make scalable, reusable rockets that can get people off the ground and land back safely to refuel and go back up again. DARPA is already working on a Transportation Hub concept, fully run by robots, so that might be a good blueprint for the Regional Space Hubs
  • The journey: I want to visit my parents in Romania. For simplicity, I asked them to meet me in Bucharest, the capital city of Romania. I’m leaving from San Francisco. Currently, I have to use min 2 planes and travel for over 15 hours to get to Bucharest using traditional jets. In the future, I want to get on a rocket at SFO (15-20 minutes with take-off procedures), get to the nearest Regional Space Hub, rely on the orbit speed to get me over Eastern Europe (minutes to switch ships, or stay on the same ship and get new passengers for those with different destinations), where the Romania-bound return rocket would shuttle me down to the Otopeni Airport (10-15 minutes). The whole journey could take me anywhere between 40 minutes and 2 hours, depending if I have to circle the Earth in the Hub waiting for the downstream shuttle.
  • Bonus, this would be more environmentally friendly than traditional airplanes, if NASA’s new fuel research program succeeds in producing better rocket fuel.
  • Per NASA, “It takes the shuttle approximately 8-1/2 minutes to get to orbit. And if you think about it, we’re accelerating a 4-1/2 million pound system from zero miles per hour to its orbital velocity of 17,500 miles per hour in those 8-1/2 minutes. So it’s a heck of a ride for the astronauts. They typically experience about three times the force of gravity during most of the ascent, and once we reach orbit, when the main engines cut off, they go from that three-G acceleration to zero acceleration virtually instantaneously, and that’s when they become weightless on orbit.”

If you would have talked to someone in 1920 about an average person traveling over 53,000 mi in one year for business and pleasure, they would have called you crazy. Let’s see what happens by 2100. I plan to be alive to try it out, once it becomes commercially viable.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Later Edit:

Added the conversation this post sparked on Facebook.

All of them were public, so I took a few screenshots for posterity – the science is not quite there, some cool people are working on this problem already and I have very cool friends on Facebook!

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10 mistakes I have made as a marketing professional

Everyone writes about guides and success stories. Those are easy, and they lend you their positive aura. It’s not just in marketing, it’s in every profession, even more so if you’re an entrepreneur. While fail groups and stories emerge every now and then, it’s the success that shines over and tries to give people an example to follow.

I, for one, believe in the power of mistakes and fails, if taken in correctly and constructively. They teach you what doesn’t work so you can focus on what does work. This is valid for anything you do in life.

I started my marketing career by focusing on wins and on the fails of others. Now it’s time to show some of my own mistakes and learnings.

Not listening

This is an easy one. I didn’t always listen to my peers. I didn’t listen to my target audience, nor my teams all the time. As a result, I had to redo work, adapt campaigns that fell flat and do post-mortems on unsalvageable work.

Assuming I always know best

This one is especially true as you get some wins under your belt, and it’s connected to the listening that I talked about before. Do research, test your campaigns and learn from smaller batches before you launch to full lists of people/with huge budgets. If you ask the right questions, you’ll get guidance from the ones you want to steer towards your goal.

Rushing things out the door

This is a classic. We need everything done yesterday. Marketing has infinite amount of work. Let’s try to get as much as we can out the door as fast as possible. That never leads to anything good. I did that early on in my career and still catch myself wanting to do this even now. Stop, focus, prioritize and do less with more intent, more analysis and more resources.

Choosing an angle that’s too extreme

In a world that’s more and more polarized, it’s easy to fall into the extreme bandwagon. Either too conservative, or too progressive, too radical, or too tame, campaigns and directions that try too hard to be in one camp will eventually cause the other to reject you completely. The risk is huge, because if you are wrong, it’s hard to go back from an extreme claim. Don’t be extreme, you’ll thank me later. But also try to be a little bit bold, so you don’t fall flat.

Not empathizing with the person challenging me

I used to always start a thought process with thinking about “what would I do”. That put me in challenging positions when anther other person’s context was very different from mine, and that led to conflict. Nowadays, I’m trying to think like I were in their shoes – what background they have, how they would interpret things through their cultural and personal lens. Doesn’t always work, but I’m more mindful of it and life had been better as a result.

Being too confrontational about things

This is a tricky one, since some cultures interpret assertiveness as a sign of confidence, others see it as aggressive. It’s pretty similar to the empathy point I made earlier. Think about what people around you do often to get their points across successfully and replicate that. Don’t hold on to your assertive nature if it gets you nowhere. Took me a few years of US to learn that.

Not waiting for math and statistics to confirm my findings

This is another way of saying: Stop jumping to conclusions and wait for all the data to come in. Sometimes, statistics can be skewed the wrong way if not all your audience is correctly represented. Also connected to rushing things out the door. Good things come to those who wait on the math and stats to confirm their findings.

Being inconsistent

This is a personal one more than a business one, but hey, guilty. Less now, more early in my career, but this blog bears witness that I write in bursts – 3-4-5 articles, then silence. Get better at being consistent and you’ll get farther than people like me.

Always trying to respond

I’ll just say here that silence is sometimes the best answer, especially for social media. Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t humor the hecklers. Anything you say can and will be used against you online. Now I hope that made you stop and think for a bit. It helped me a lot.

Taking things too personally

This is my parting thought — don’t fall in love with your campaigns or messages, because when you put them to the test, they might fail. And if you love them, you might not see that right away and might not learn from that mistake/miss, and end up wasting time, money and resources. The job well done is worth falling in love with after it produced the desired outcome, and then some.

Photo by JD Designs on Unsplash

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Guest post on Havingtime.com – How to Deal With the Challenges of Moving to a New Country

I’ve been in San Francisco for over 3 and a half years, but I’ve moved around a lot in the past 10ish years. At some point, I decided to document that journey and show the good and not so good parts of moving around.

Check out my latest post on dealing with the challenges of moving to a new country on Havingtime.com

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash