Five Reasons Why I’m Riding 545 Miles in 7 Days

698401a1-c6d2-41f4-a876-378b4f6fcbdaAfter a 6-year hiatus and a year of training and fundraising, the time has come for me to embark on an epic 7-day, 545-mile bike ride from SF to LA.

It’s time to do my 8th AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

A week from tomorrow, I’ll ride my bike out of San Francisco down to Santa Cruze through some of the most breathtaking coastal views of California. The following three days will take me to Steinbeck Country where lush vineyards and strawberry fields are abound. From there, I climb back to the coast for the final two legs of this journey.

It sounds daunting, but it isn’t. Yes I’ll be riding an average of 65 miles/day. Every day. For 7 days. But it will all be worth it.

I keep coming back to this ride for a reason. Well, five reasons to be exact:

05. Real People with Real Needs Count on Me

As I said, this will be my 8th AIDS/LifeCycle event. I love raising money for good causes and this event is one of the finest. It’s co-organized by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center–an organization I’ve long admired and supported. I’ve always been a big fan of the Center’s leaders and selfless, hardworking staff and volunteers. Most of the services it offers are critical in nature. From housing, health and legal help to employment, career and domestic violence assistance. It has something to offer the entire community across all ages, races, genders and sexual orientations.

The Center has been able to save countless lives over the years because of fundraising events like this. This is why I ride.

The money raised for this event (I’ve raised $13K so far) goes to help vulnerable, destitude kids get a place to stay and learn marketable skills. It ensures that seniors, who oftentimes find themselves alone in their twilight years, have the dignified housing and services they deserve. It gives people access to critical medications they can’t afford on their own.

I know people that would have been dead or on the street had it not been for the services sustained by this fundraiser. Knowing that the money I raise literally saves lives is the most gratifying and fulfilling feeling I’ve ever experienced.

But it’s not only about the money. It’s about increasing awareness of the struggle these people go through every day. Every time I fundraise, I raise awareness. The ride itself is meant to raise awareness.

This very blog post is a form of raising awareness.

04. The Physical (and Mental) Challenge

Call me crazy, but getting to see the best parts of my beautiful California while riding my bike for 7 days straight is my idea of fun. True, there will be moments of pain. True, there will be moments of, “what the hell was I thinking”. True, there will be blood, sweat and tears. But isn’t that what makes it fun and memorable?

No pain, no gain

Granted, the human body was not really designed to hop on a bike and peddle for 8 hours. Every day. For 7 days. Doing the ride requires getting out of your comfort zone.

Big time.

For example:

  1. Fundraising. I don’t know anyone that enjoys this task, but we all have to do it. Unless you’re a politician, asking people for money is probably something you’re not comfortable with. I hate asking people for money, but every time I feel timid or shy about asking for a donation, I remember those faces whose lives count on this money to, literally, not die. Knowing that makes it so easy to break that mental barrier and ask for money.
  2. Training. Let’s face it, getting up at 5am on a freezing Saturday morning to squeeze your body into spandex and ride 50 miles up a hill isn’t something you look forward to. It requires both mental and physical commitment and focus.
  3. Climbing. I actually love climbing hills, but not because it’s easy or that I’m particularly good at it, both of which are untrue. It’s because that no matter how much you ride, peddling up a hill is always a challlenge. The steeper the hill, the harder the challenge.

03. The Community

AIDS/LifeCycle is all about the community. The challenges we have to overcome together to make it on this ride bring us together and create bonds that last a lifetime.

We’re kind, we’re accommodating, we’re patient and we’re loving towards one another.

Some of my strongest friendships were forged on the ride. It’s been proven that being a part of a community has positive effects on your physical and mental health.

It’s very true.

04. I Do It for Me

Every time I do this ride, I come back home with many lessons learned about myself, my shortcomings and my strengths. When you’re on a long stretch of road, climbing up a hill with no one else around, you tend to think about things.

Big things.

hours of solitude on the road heightens your sense of self-awareness

You contemplate a lot of things. Your life, your career, your mistakes, your wins, your battles. You understand some and you know yourself a whole lot better in the process.

That alone makes the 7-day, 545-mile trek worth it for me.

05. I Do It for Eddie

My friend Eddie Glover was handsome, funny and loved life. He was a Southern gentleman with an incredible entrepreneurial drive. He and I used to brainstorm our next “big idea” over beer and gumbo. He never believed in working for other people. He always wanted to be his own boss.

I admired his tenacity and envied his impeccable savoir faire.

Eddie lived with AIDS for twenty years before his death in 2006. His last months were awful. He lost a lot of weight and became a shadow of his previous self. His tenacity waned and the spark in his eyes extinguished.

I ride for Eddie and all departed friends who lost their lives to AIDS too soon. I ride for those dealing with physical and mental challenges that prevent them from partaking in this magnificent event. I ride for my sponsors who have placed a great deal of trust in my ability to make it on the ride.

I ride for a generation lost to government inaction, public fear and unforgiving stigma

This is why I ride.

A year ago, I set out to raise $10K. Today, I’m almost at $15K. I’m still fundraising and will continue to do so till Day 0 for all the aforementioned reasons.

Will you support me?

Ismail Elshareef. Rider #1622

5 Reason Why Your Company Needs an API

(published a year ago on QConnects)

Over a month ago, the world of APIs witnessed an inflection point in its evolution. Both Intel and CA Technologies acquired the API management companies, Mashery and Layer  7, respectively. The acquisitions happened amongst other positive activities in the world of APIs. These are all clear indications of the critical role APIs are playing in our increasingly interconnected, multi-platform world of commerce.

So how does this news impact your company? If yours is one of the few out there with a healthy Open API program, congratulations! You’re well positioned to take your business to the next level.

If you’re still contemplating opening up your API or creating one from scratch, you might be wondering if it’s really worth all the trouble and overhead. I can’t say I blame you. The API Economy is a fairly new concept that varies depending on the business goals and strategy of the company.

At Edmunds, we opened up our internal APIs to the world a couple of years back and we didn’t know what to expect. We had lots of questions like: Will developers use the APIs? Are we compromising our core business by giving up free access to our data? How are we going to make it ROI-positive? Today, our open APIs are used as a critical capability to expand our brand name and business reach, enabling us to forge new partnerships and support automotive innovations happening outside our ecosystem. We answered our own questions along the way and learned a ton, with the help of many in the API community, including Mashery.

An API is a gateway that enables developers to communicate with your systems in one of two ways: Reading out of and writing to your system. It’s also a contract; a clean, simple and standard contract between your company and the developers of the world, including yours. This contract frees developers to focus on the business goals they’re trying to achieve rather than the tech details that can take days and weeks to resolve. So if you’re still on the fence about APIs and their role in taking your business to the next level, maybe these five reasons could help make your decision easier:

1. Mobile Enablement: Let’s say you want to build a mobile app for your business. You will need a way for the app to communicate with your servers to get and set the right data points. Imagine doing that without an API. Yes, it’s doable without one, but think of the effort it’ll take to maintain, scale and update that app. Besides, most developers won’t build an iOS app without a data API. No business can compete today without mobile presence and having an API is an integral part of enabling that presence.

2. Innovation Acceleration: APIs lower the barrier to innovation at a company. When your developers have access to data in a clean, simple and standard way, they are better equipped to innovate by focusing their time and effort on the customer needs instead of how to get the data they need.

3. Partnership Enablement: In the not-so-distant past, the data exchange between your company and your partners was done through CSV files that are FTPed periodically to a remote server. Unfortunately, that approach is long dead because it doesn’t scale. Enabling external access to your systems through an API has its benefits:

  • Scalability: Partners can access the data they need when they need it. No need to compile yet another data file to satisfy a slightly different use case needed by your partner. You provide the data and put the power to access it in your partners’ hands.
  • Data Integrity: No more stale data! No more, “oh, we need to FTP a new file to reflect the recent changes in data.” The data available through the API is the most up-to-date data you can get. Period.
  • Control: If for some reason you and your partner part ways, you can terminate their access quickly and easily.
  • Analytics: You will get full visibility into what data your partners are using and how often they’re getting it. This could help you optimize your API and offer your partners more insight into data usage that you wouldn’t get with uploading a static CSV file to an FTP server.

4. Branding: APIs help get your brand name out there through 3rd-party implementations of your data. For example, the Edmunds API requires entities that use it to give us attribution by showing our logo on their site and linking back to us. This helps cement the fact that we’re the authoritative automotive data provider out there. That’s powerful, passive marketing we all should tap into.

5. New Business Model: This is largely dependent on your strategy. At Edmunds, we don’t charge for our API. We use it as a critical capability to help us advance and grow our core business. For you, it might make sense to use an API as another revenue stream for your company by charging a licensing fee for its usage. Or maybe you want to have a tiered system where you offer a free, basic and gold access plans for different audiences. We are seeing that charge-free APIs are much more attractive to developers and potential partners than their counterparts. Companies are actually switching to our API from our competitors’ because our data is good and it’s free.

So, Are you ready to open up your API?

Interns Can Run Your Business: How to hire interns that ROCK!

We’ve all been there. Your projects are taking off and there’s a ton of work to be done. Important work. You need to hire more people. You request a new headcount but you’re told that unfortunately there’s no budget for full-time hires. You’ll need to get things done with the people you have…or hire interns.

Let’s face it. None of us likes to hear that. Most of us don’t think important work can be done by interns. How can someone who’s only with the company for three months be effective, anyway, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you that I totally understand where you’re coming from and that you’re wrong. If you hire the right intern, they could potentially run your business in three months. For real.

Over a year ago, I needed help with API community management and outreach as well as the development of code samples to expedite the API on-boarding process at Edmunds.com. Like you, I had no budget for a full-time headcount and interns were my only option to scale. At first, I wasn’t really happy with the thought of an intern managing a community of developers, communicating with potential strategic partners, and writing quality SDKs. But that’s exactly what I needed help with, so I went for it with very low expectations.

Fast forward to today, I couldn’t be happier!

The Process

I started the search with a list of minimum requirements a potential hire must have (intern or otherwise). I knew I wanted someone who a) coded for fun, b) had experience with REST APIs, and c) was personable, humble and engaging. Simply put, I wanted someone who was demonstratively interested in the tech and business of APIs.

So I worked with HR on crafting the job listing. I set the bar really high. I wanted someone who was coding on Github because it’s fun, not because they had to. Someone engaged on Twitter, Stackoverflow and Quora because they have something to add to the conversation. Someone who was having conversations.

API evangelists are a special breed of developers. The good ones are experienced and possess excellent people skills. This made it even harder to find a candidate amongst the pile of resumes sent in by students trying to get a paid internship to meet some school requirement.

Needless to say, the process took a long time, almost 6 months. I got resumes from students with stellar academic credentials in computer science and math but with zero presence on Github, Twitter and forums. Some hadn’t even heard of APIs until they saw the job listing on their school’s bulletin board.

The Result

When the search was finally over, I hired @MichaelRBock, and boy am I glad I did! Michael’s been with us for over 6 months now, even while he’s doing a semester abroad …in Singapore.

Michael and I clicked right away. He’s smart, easy to talk to and very personable. Most importantly, he was extremely interested in our world of car open data APIs and their business impact.

Michael quickly proved himself an invaluable member of the team. Almost everyone who’s worked with him was shocked to learn that he’s just interning with us. He was all caught up with our systems, challenges and roadmap in a couple of days and by the end of the first week, he was knee deep helping developers with their API questions.

He sat on business development meetings and partner discussions on the second week of his hire. He built our Python SDK and was updating the Developer Portal on daily basis during our DX Certification process with Mashery.

Michael saw the potential in some of our API developers and brought them to my attention. He’s been great at handling difficult developers as well. All in all, he’s been fantastic at everything he’s done.

We’re Hiring!

Sadly, Michael’s time with us is about to end at the end of May ☹ If you or someone you know is interested in APIs and want to have a summer internship with us, let’s chat! There’s some big shoes to fill, which is always a good place to be.

The Deep Wounds of Prop8 And Why The Anger Over Mozilla’s New CEO

When Proposition 8 passed in California back in 2008, the gay community and their supporters were livid. The fact that a minority’s civil right was put on the ballot and in the end denied by a bigoted, albeit small, majority was an unspeakable injustice. The community mobilized and fought back. Gay-friendly businesses that supported Prop8 were boycotted. El Coyote Restaurant in Los Angeles, which had a large gay clientele, lost almost 30% of its revenue because of a $100 donation made in support of Prop8 by its owner. Six years later, the restaurant never recovered.

Prop8 caused an irreversible chasm between its supporters, who were against gay marriage, and its proponents, who saw it as a human right. Old friends severed ties over Prop8. Family members stopped talking to each other over Prop8. Some businesses suffered and some thrived because of Prop8.

But the real victims here were the families whose lives were changed forever because of that law. Multinational couples couldn’t legally stay together because of visa issues that marriage could have taken care of.

Real livelihoods were forever damaged because of Prop8.

Prop8 wasn’t about differences in opinion. It’s about denying a group of people an undeniable civil right. It’s about exclusion. It’s about injustice. It was a blatant display of homophobia sanctioned by the state. It’s about state-run bigotry.

Eventually, Prop8 was struck down as unconstitutional but the scars still remain. The rift between the camps on both sides of the issue was and still is irreconcilable.

On March 24th, 2014, controversy broke out when Mozilla appointed Prop8 supporter, Brendan Eich, CEO. Many, including me, denounced the announcement while others came to Brendan’s support saying he’s entitled to his “private opinion.”

Brendan has an unfavorable view of gay people, which is fine. It’s a free country. But he financially supported Prop8 and played a role in its passage. He actively imposed his exclusionary and bigoted views on the rest of us.

As a private citizen, Brendan is 100% free to be as bigoted and as homophobic as his heart desires. Again, it’s a free country. But he’s not a private citizen anymore. He’s the face of Mozilla, which till recently had a progressive and inclusionary image. It’s disingenuous of Mozilla to appoint a man with an exclusionary mindset to run its inclusionary culture.

Gandhi said, “actions express priorities.” Brendan Eich and all the Prop8 supporters have taken action to deny a minority their civil rights. That should tell you where their priorities lie. The question is, is that Mozilla’s priority? Sure sounds like it judging by their latest action.

A lot of people have called on Eich to apologize. I disagree with that. Why make a man apologize for his personal beliefs. Bullying him into apologizing is in and of itself equally disingenuous. Brendan believes that gay people should be excluded from the civil benefits of marriage and actively sought to enforce that opinion of exclusion on all of us by supporting Prop8. Why should he say that didn’t mean it or that he’s sorry. He’s not.

It’s time for the Mozilla Board to act. Their inaction so far is in direct violation of their public image as an inclusive community–or are they?

A big priority of mine is to ensure the failure of all bigots, especially those that are actively trying to marginalize my life and my relationships. My actions, in turn, will be an expression of that priority. First action: writing this article. Many more actions to come.

Do Your Actions Reflect Your Priorities?

I am truly, wholeheartedly, fully and utterly in love with this video. It’s about seizing the day. Carpe diem. Making it count. Your life, your days, your thoughts, your actions. It’s inspirational on so many levels and a reminder that life is too short.

I love to travel and I love to explore new places. My actions definitely express that (I travel quite often for work, but I do lots of personal travel as well.) I feel compelled to explore new places, as if I were a Spanish explorer braving the Atlantic in a previous life. The video deeply resonated with me on that level.

One of the best quotes used in the video is Gandhi’s, “action expresses priorities.” How true is that. We always have the time for things we think are important. So next time you hear someone say, “I’m sorry, but I wish I had the time,” you should know that they mean, “I’m sorry, but this is not a priority of mine.”

What are your priorities in life and do your actions reflect that? What compels you and are you doing it?

Car Salesmen Should be More Like Real Estate Agents

I was on Trulia the other day helping my partner set up an ad campaign for his real estate business. The experience, which I’ll go over in just a bit, made me realize that the real estate business has already addressed some customer experience pain-points that exist yet remain unresolved in the car shopping process.

The Trulia Experience

When we landed on Trulia’s homepage, we immediately got what the site was about: real estate property search. Being location-aware, the site displayed the latest activities in the Los Angeles area, including local forum questions, local listings and recommended agents.

trulia

On the top right corner of the page was a grey button that read, “For Professionals”. We clicked on it and it took us to Trulia’s agent experience flow. It’s where agents sign up for an account on Trulia, manage their profile, add their listings, ..etc.

Before creating an account, we were presented with a persuading argument of why we should be advertising on Trulia. We were offered several products ranging from the Trulia Pro that helps agents promote their listings and generate more leads to the Mobile Ads that promises to put the agent in touch with “transnaction-ready” clients.

We pretty quickly decided on the Mobile Ads product. It was a no-brainer really since we all know that people spend way more time on their phones and ipads than they do on their computers.

mobileads

The Agent Experience on Trulia

After creating an account, we selected the zipcode(s) we wanted to advertise in and called Trulia to activate the ad campaign. The agent service representative, Jake, was very nice and extremely informative and helped us pick the right plan for us. We paid and and in 15 minutes, our ad was live.

We filled out the profile page, uploaded a picture and tweeted out the link to the newly minted profile. For every single one of those actions we received points, which would eventually earn us badges and get us more exposure on the site. It’s Trulia’s way of gamifying the experience and making engagement with the site fun and rewarding for agents. The points are accrued and after a certain amount you get to have a “VIP” badge next to your name.

One way of getting a quick 100 points is through client recommendation so we asked previous clients to write a review. As the reviews grew in number, so did the points.

Another way to earn points is through blogging and engaging in forums. Trulia’s forum is called Voices. The more you participate in Voices, the more points you accrue and the faster you get to sport that exclusive “VIP’ badge.

voices

In the first three days of launching the ad campaign, we received over 12 leads. Trulia gets on average 20 million unique visitors a month as of February 2012. It’s too early to tell, but so far it’s been working as promised.

Trulia for Car Salesmen

This fun experience got me thinking about the parallels in the automotive industry. I work at Edmunds.com and just recently we held a hackathon around rethinking the car shopping experience. It just so happened that the two winning teams, MyMotive and TEGRITY, focused on solving the biggest pain point in the car shopping experience: the car salesman.

There’s no trust or connection between car buyers and the dealership. Buyers are leery that they will get screwed by the salesman. The biggest part of the problem is that car buyers have no idea who’s a good salesperson and who’s shady. They have no way right now of differentiating between the two so they walk into a random dealership with a defensive attitude and the expectation that they would be badgered, lied to and gypped.

What both MyMotive and TEGRITY proposed was a client recommendation system for car salesmen. They wanted to give the power back to the consumer to decide which salesman they want to engage with based on previous client ratings, which is very similar to what Trulia has done.

On Trulia, real estate agents are free to promote themselves and set themselves apart from the competition through client recommendations, answering forums, checking in at open houses, writing blog posts, reviewing a neighborhood, …etc, in order to get more and better leads. But the most important of all is the client recommendation piece. It’s been shown that consumer reviews play a critical role in our buying decision and I do believe the same applies to choosing a real estate agent or a car salesman.

If I were MyMotive or TEGRITY, I’d take a look at how Trulia (and Zillow, Redfin and others) promote real estate agents and copy a page from their book. Both ideas focused on rating the car salesmen but not on empowering them to manage their own brand on the website.

If we empower the car salesmen with tools similar to the ones Trulia has for real estate agents, I believe we could lessen if not totally eliminate the pain-points associated with walking into a dealership to buy a car.

Hackomotive is Not Your Daddy’s Hackathon

After running internal hackathons at Edmunds.com for the past four years, I got to run my very first public hackathon at the company last week: Hackomotive: Reinventing the Car Shopping Experience. Our goal was to reinvent the car shopping process to make consumers love buying cars the way they do an iPhone or an item off of Amazon: simple, pleasurable and easy.

Hackomotive wasn’t going to be your typical hackathon where the participants needed to build a software prototype in order to win. This was going to be a business focused hackathon where prototypes of any kind, software or otherwise, were permissible as long as they told the story behind the proposed solution.

It was also going to be an Edmunds-sponsored hackathon. Translation: it’s going to be first class. This wasn’t going to be your daddy’s typical hackathon. This was going to be an event.

And it was :)

The idea for Hackomotive was born on June 11, 2012, after I got back from frog’s Reinvent Business Hackathon in San Francisco. I was so inspired by that event that I suggested to the Chairman of Edmunds.com, Peter Steinlauf, that we hold a similar event at Edmunds but narrow the scope to the car shopping experience and open it up to the public.

He loved the idea. Six months later, Hackomotive happened:

Thursday, Dec 20th – Hackomotive Announced!
Tuesday, Feb 26th – Evening Reception
Wednesday, Feb 27th – Day1
Thursday, Feb 28th – Day2

The event was a big success with folks already asking about when the next one will take place. I was humbled by the passion, commitment and positive spirit everyone brought to the event. There was a buzz in the air, and on the last day, the event crescendoed into a very high note when two teams, Tegrity and MyMotive, were crowned top winners and walking away with $10K each.

Needless to say, the event didn’t just happen.

It was the result of months of long and thorough planning by the following core team members that have grown to be my family at work during the past six months:

And Phillip Potloff, the senior executive who made sure we got what we needed to make it all happen.

The event literally wouldn’t have turned out the way it did had it not been for the dedication and thoughtfulness of the aforementioned talents. There was never any drama or unhealthy stress going on throughout both the planning and execution phases of the event. I learned so much about event planning from each and every one of them. I can’t wait for us to work together on something else very soon because I know it will be, dare I say, perfect.

Lesson learned: Want to put on a stellar event? Start with the core team. (thank you, Phil.)

Car shopping is an experience that affects us all and solving it is in our collective best interest. Everyone was welcome, as long as they were excited to join us and passionate about re-imagining the car shopping experience. As a result, we ended up with an incredibly diverse group of people for whom many this was their very first hackathon. Ever.

I’m not even going to cover the details of Hackomotive in this post because someone has already done that better than I ever could.

Matthew May, Hackomotive’s master of ceremonies, wrote a three-part article on the event starting with the evening reception and going into the first day where teams were formed and problem statements declared, and finally ending with coverage of the last day where judges deliberated and the winners were announced.

To stay abreast of everything that happens next, follow us on Twitter: @Hackomotive

Hackomotive for me was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my professional career. My hope is that it inspires other hackathons the way frog’s inspired it. Finding solutions that work for issues that matter is best done when a diverse group of creative minds physically converge on a single location to innovate for a very short, but intense, amount of time. I would love to see the same event happen in industries that haven’t been disrupted yet, like Travel, Housing, Government, and Finance. If you run one, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Here’s to the next hackathon that inspires us all!