Monthly Archives: March 2009

How to Go Forward

For the past few months, I’ve been holding workshops for displaced workers. I started them because I wanted 1) to reach out and help others, 2) to distract myself from my own not inconsiderable financial losses 3)to understand what is really going on in Arizona, and perhaps by extension in the country.

I have learned way more than I expected, which is always true when you start something new. I plan to continue the workshops, funding them through either sponsorship from banks who would like to use their CRA funds wisely, or from money the Opportunity Through Entrepreneurship Foundation board allows me to use. (Yes, I started the foundation, but it’s a 501(c)3 and has very strict rules about what it does). Or from anything else I can raise, because one thing I’ve learned is that our country suffers from a glaring lack of resourcefulness among its educated middle class population.

To put it bluntly, we’ve been spoiled. The past few generations have seen the entrance of women and minorities into the work force, and have allowed them to ask for a certain level of treatment, equal to that of white men. To some degree, this has been achieved. We have had a union movement, protecting the rights of ALL workers, and have gotten collective bargaining rights and EEOC. We consider these “workers’ rights.”

We have totally forgotten that only during a small slice of history did we have a job someone else “gave” us. For the rest of time, we had to scrounge to survive, which we did by employing our own resources. Believe me, we didn’t ask for rights, except the right to work the land.

But the more educated and middle class we became, it turns out, the more we kept looking for that “job.” And as generations went on, they were more and more looking for the “perfect” job. A “better” job. What were we asking for? A job with flexible hours where we could do what we want, work for a wonderful boss, balance our work with our families, perhaps telecommute, and also make a pile of money. I know people who have refused to move, refused to travel, refused jobs with too little vacation or too many evening or weekend hours.

Back in the day, women were not welcome in the work force. To get any job, I had to go to an Ivy League college and then be willing to work as a typist for $60 a week. When I had a baby, I had to convince my boss I could work until the birth and come right back so I wouldn’t lose my job. Maternity leave? You gotta be kidding. I taught my classes (by then I was a professor) while I was in labor and met them again a week later to collect their assignments. And I wasn’t very unusual. In the sixties and seventies, if you got a job, you protected it.

Well, welcome to 2009. We don’t have job security anymore, and we have to look back at what people used to do BEFORE all those jobs we feel entitled to, because we’re condemned to repeat the history we haven’t studied. The future will not contain those jobs.

People who show up at my workshops often think they are going to be told how to make better use of LinkedIn, or how to look more effectively for a job. But I say, look within. What do you have to offer? What would you be doing if you had all the money in the world and could do what made you feel happy? Or how can you be of use?

That’s probably going to be your new job. And you are going to be creating it for yourself, with the help of the community. There is magic when you put a group of people in a room and allow them to think about each other and how they can work together. Something always happens, and you can never predict what it will be. It happens in my workshops.

Chances are, it will be entrepreneurial. I’m trying to teach people how to start something, which is like teaching them to fish. First I have to teach them not to panic, and to rely on the power of the community. Perhaps I also have to teach them how to access the social services, which professional people do not know how to do. Indeed, even in Arizona you can get health insurance for children and food stamps for yourself if you know how.

After you’ve got the food thing and the insurance thing settled, you are free to unleash your creativity and your problem-solving skills and become an entrepreneur. There are plenty of problems out there to solve. Find a small one. Solve it well. Charge money for your solution.

Don’t just stand there, a deer in the headlights, looking for a “job.”

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The WallStrip Edge: Howard is Definitely Himself

After a person with a voice like Howard Lindzon‘s is subjected to editing, you never know what will emerge. However, I’d like to congratulate the editor of The Wallstrip Edge: Using Trend to Make Money, Find Them Ride Them and Get Off, because s/he didn’t ruin Howard’s distinctive tone and perspective by making the book politically correct.

Howard is a unique, and whether you love him or hate him (I love him) you must admire his courage and the singularity of his voice. He’s also an incredibly astute observer of popular culture. And this is the reason he is able to find the trends.

Yes, he tells you how in a rational way–tips like scanning the all-time highs. But I don’t think this is an easy strategy to duplicate unless you are also an intuitive person, and in touch with what’s happening around you. Often big money guys are out of touch with what the ordinary guy is doing: not Howard. He scans the universe. And then his investment philosophy is not that different from Warren Buffet‘s, in that he buys stocks of products he uses and likes. He lives in the real world, not in the Swiss bank gated community world (well, maybe one day…)

Definitely a book worth reading. Not a Nouriel Roubini or a N.N. Taleb book, but a daily life book. And if you have followed Howard on Twitter, you have already had the appetizer. As Howard would say, I’d give my ass for the ability to communicate my personal style the way he does. He’s a putz, and a yutz, and I’m glad he’s a friend (no, I’m not objective).

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Charlene’s Excellent Talk on Where we Are in Social Media

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Social Media Question #1: No, We’re Not Competing

I just came home from SXSWi, where I sat in a blogger lounge full of social media colleagues.And then I came home and saw this week’s Social Media Club Question about how we can support those colleagues even though we are competing for the same client dollars and money. Jeez, I never thought of that.

And after I thought of it, I still don’t agree with it. I mean, are we really competing? It’s like running marathons used to be for me. I never thought I was going to win, and I always ran with friends because it made the long race tolerable. We’re just at the beginning of this thing, as Charlene Li pointed out at SXSW, and we probably need to keep each other company so we all get to the finish line rather than try to race each other.

After all, social media is a set of tools. I use them. I may help others learn to use them. Why should I even think of myself as competing with my colleagues? There are about 25 million small businesses in the United States alone, all of whom can benefit by learning to use social media. I will never reach them all. I will never reach all of the Fortune 1000, or the Inc. 500, neither of which overlap. So what do I care if another social media “teacher,” (I don’t use the word expert and I hate the word consultant) helps them. That’s like saying we’re going to run out of third graders to teach to read. I’ll be able to make a good living forever helping evangelize social media.

As for the advertising dollars for my blog–well, I have never put ads on my blog. It isn’t worth it, it ruins the look of the blog and destroys much of its value as a communications tool, and it’s by far the worst way to monetize, especially now.

So what money are we all “competing” for?

Whether I am teaching social media, using social media, or investing in startup companies, I’m always trying to do the same thing: be helpful. If someone else can be more helpful than I, I recommend them. Most often, I recommend Beth Kanter, because she’s so good with nonprofits that that’s who asks me most often. But I’ve also recommended Chris Brogan and Hugh McLeod. And yesterday at the conference, I ran into Ethan Bloch, who has just started a company to put social media components on the web sites of small businesses. Am I competing with him? No way. In fact, I’ll recommend people to him. He moved my blog for me from Typepad to WordPress, and I KNOW he’s better at that than I am.

The reason I feel so comfortable in the social media environment is that I’ve always been a collaborator, perhaps because of my Yoga practice, which teaches me the value of the “energy in the room.” I expect to spend the rest of my life using the energy in the room to motivate me and help me motivate others. Not to be snarky, but I suggest you do the same and quit worrying about the dollars.

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SXSWi Wrap Up: Spectacular

While I had some doubts about going to SXSWi in the current environment — it seemed frivolous, since my panel had been rejected — it turns out to have been a very (randomly) wise decision. I met some wonderful new people, caught up with great old blogospherical friends like @QueenofSpain, @Pistachio, @Scobleizer and @rocmanUSA, performed some (I hope) valuable acts, and learned a whole bunch.

First and most important learning: the world is not over. Although I knew this before, it was reinforced by the 20% growth in the interactive part of the Festival this year. Social media is growing in influence, and more corporate types came to watch us early adopters play. Major brands have undertaken serious programs to get to know their customers and to share information with them in less strident and locked down ways than traditional corporate communications.

For example, I read, for the first time after meeting one of its creators, the FedEx blog. And I helped Valerie Jenkins circulate information about the blog she’s launching at Serious Materials, a green building materials company founded by Silicon Valley technology veterans with vision. I supplied my friends with their “Green Jobs, Get Serious” buttons, which turned out to be in demand.

I visited the Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator, and realized that Mr. Softy sponsored this year’s BloggerLounge, too. Big social media push for a mature company.

I also learned that startups can really catch on at SXSW, even when they are in their true infancy. Three Arizona companies launched this week: GetWhuffie, a site dedicated to recognizing social capital with virtual currency; JustSignal, a solution for people overwhelmed with information now that Twitter has “jumped the shark”; and Texder, a for-sale-by-SMS solution that means you no longer have to put your phone number on that beater car you are selling. Yes, I gave out their promo cards, too. I have no shame about promoting Arizona startups. Take a look at them:-)

All these companies are self-funded, right in the middle of the Rec (or is it Depr)ession, demonstrating that creativity does not cease during tough times — in fact it revitalizes itself and reproduces. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. We will be okay if we focus on the JustSignals and the Serious Materials’ of the world and not on AIG and the dirty past.

I had quite a surprise in the health care arena, too. An “intimate” conversation about the era of the e-patient drew overflow crowds — about 50 of us were all sitting next to each other on the floor, after the one table with its eight chairs filled up–anxious to discuss the ramifications of everything from self-diagnosis to electronic health records and data security. An apparent generational divide turned out to be not-so-generational as some of the older folks in the room proved ready to share their information to make the world of medicine a better place. And as for the younger members of the group: they are 110% in favor of patient social networks, provider information sharing, and personal responsibility for transforming the system in the US. Change will come here; we had young physicians in the room who are experimenting with new models that involve leaving the office and going to the customer.

Last, and certainly not least, I was invited by Brian Roy, founder of JustSignal, to participate in the UStream.tv/Studio salon every evening. I got to meet Peter Himmelman in person, and find how just how brilliant he is as a musician: he’s a cross between James Taylor and a rapper. And I got to work with Sean Michael Wright, the director, who reads everything from particle physics to Marc Canter’s blog and puts it all out there on a live stream for us to discuss. I have not had such a complete mental workout in years, and I learned I have to go back and re-visit matter and anti-matter.

If you weren’t there, I urge you to follow some of these links and get to know these incredible people and companies. Yes, I”m exhausted. Yes, I have a sore throat. But, boy, am I a happy girl! (intentionally mixed metaphor)

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South by Southwest: Is it Different this Year?

What recession? Not in the digital media or interactive industries, as far as I can tell.

Last night I spent the early part of the evening in the UStream.tv makeshift studio at the Belmont Lounge watching Michael Wright interview people with “big ideas” and live stream over the Internets.

It was awesome. Wright’s idea is to have big thinkers discuss big ideas in an open source way during SxSW. In the course of the two or three hours I was there, I met blogger Louis Gray, Stephen Self, a videographer from Tyler, Texas whose company, N-Ventive TV, set up the studio for Michael Wright, and Tom Serres, CEO of Piryx, a platform to help newbies get involved in democracy and run for office.

The conversation between Brian Roy (JustSignal), Tom, and myself was so interesting to me that I kept it going after the program was over, not realizing that Tom was mic’d and that his mic was still on, so we were broadcasting. A couple of Twitter friends of mine let me know later.

Before that, I went to the Mix at Six party, where I met many of my fellow-organizers of Social Media Clubs across the country and got to say hello to Jeremiah Owyang, my favorite web strategist
and a man crazy enough to wear a white jacket to a party where I was drinking red wine:-)

And after that I went to the TechSet Party, where I ran into Beth Kanter, who is moving to California to take a “corporate” gig as something I can’t recall (yes, the wine). What I always remember is how incredible a resource for non-profits Beth has always been and will continue to be as she unleashes the power of social media to change the world.

All the while, I was texting with my business partner, who was at a completely different set of places with totally different people (obviously).

No more linkbait, but I also ran into Hugh McLeod, Brian Solis, Erica O’Grady, and Jen Myronuk.

You get the picure. If you want to meet someone you’ve been following on Twitter, if you admire that “certain” blogger who doesn’t do email, or if you want to come down here with a sleeping, find someone with a room, and sleep on the floor.

Oh, about the content? I didn’t see anything I really wanted to go to:-)

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Liveblogging a “Short Sale” Real Estate Seminar

I love to learn things, even if I don’t need them, and I am going to
learn how to negotiate short sales. That’s a situation in which people
need help, and help is what I am about. Short sales involve learning to
negotiate with banks, which is learning to negotiate with people who
want to say no, and I am good at that, too. Besides, California is
number 1 in foreclosures, Arizona is number 3. I live in both places. So
this is not an issue that will go away in my life. At least I can be a
source of advice, and perhaps I can put this license I’ve had for 25
years to use again.

I’m listening to a real expert; a man who both invests in short sales
and also brokers them. He is doing 92 sales right now. This instructor
takes 7% commission on his short sales, and keeps 4% for himself. The
bank always argues with him, but it never says no. He does that many at
a time because it takes six months to close one, and because he says he
can’t control the time it take him to find a buyer for the home once he
gets the seller and the bank to agree with a short sale. This is not
easy, because the market’s full of misinformation.

The lecturer (he has now talked for two hours without a stop) is
wearing a western hat and talks like a Texan; he’s a real cowboy. I
won’t be like him. But I can certainly learn from him. There are many
seminars coming around to educate real estate agents, and most of them
are scams. He’s accredited and licensed himself, so presumably he can be
trusted.

Definition of a short sale: someone MUST be shorted, so it’s the sale of
a property for less than is owed on the mortgage. It’s always the bank
who gets shorted, so of course the banks don’t like it. The owner of the
property has to have no equity in it , but shouldn’t be bankrupt before
he does a short sale. [Bankruptcies delay short sales or foreclosures,
by 30-90 days. The bank will always file a brief to have the house
excluded from the bankruptcy. So if you are thinking about it, don’t
declare bankruptcy until you have sold the house].

Popular myths about short sales:
Banks will not do short sales – not true
You can’t short a note that’s current – not true
Shorts protect the owners’ credit – sometimes true. Hits your credit for
about 50 points
Shorts can get big discounts for banks – nope. bank will always try to
be within 10% of fair market value – they will go about 10% below the
bottom number
All shorts are good – not necessarily
Shorts protect the seller’s credit – only if your payments aren’t late
Lawyers and Realtors have a better chance of getting them done. Realtors
do, lawyers don’t. Lawyers scare banks.
You will be responsible for your debt–mostly not true
You may have a tax liability for phantom income– depends (Congress is
trying to put through legislation to get rid of phantom income)

I’ve come to the conclusion that for my California house, where I’m
under water, a short sale might be the way to go. Foreclosures stay on
your credit history for ten years, while short sales do not really
impact credit much. “Settled for less than owed” hits your credit score
for 50 points. “Terms as amended” shows up on your credit as 30-50
points or none. Those are the terms the bank reports to the credit
reporting agency.

Remember, the speaker is a Realtor. He says not all short sales have the
same chance of succeeding. They offer two challenges: banks and thieves.
Thieves, in his view, could be the homeowner.
On the bank side of the equation, some banks think rules and laws don’t
apply to them — especially Bank of America
Thieves, on the other hand, see a smorgasboard of money in a short sale
– they can take out cabinets, appliances, bathtub, toilets, all of which
are commonly stripped out of homes the owner is leaving. The owner of
the home has the right to do that; he has the right to take all the
fixtures until the bank owns the house, which is after it goes to a
foreclosure auction. But if you are thinking about doing that, he warns
although Arizona is a non-deficiency state, if you clean out your house,
the bank can come after you for the deficiency

Although banks don’t want to own real estate, they are still not
pre-disposed to negotiate. And sometimes they just don’t know what they
are doing. For example, my lender, Aurora, has three different computer
systems that don’t talk to each other. Likewise, Bank of America
acquired Countrywide, and their systems aren’t integrated. So a
negotiation becomes even more difficult. You don’t know who you might be
talking to.

However, today almost any bank will agree to fair market value as long
as an agent can get a contract and close. The problem is that fair
market value changes by the day, and REOs lower the value of
neighborhoods. Banks don’t want to pay for all the appraisals, so they
often take a broker price estimate instead

Some interesting issues: short sale opportunities will increase by 30%
next year over this year
About 1/3 of the population is either late on their payments or in
foreclosure
No matter what stimulus package they are promoting, this problem is not
going to go away, so the FHA now needs to help agents make money selling
foreclosures and short sales to get the number of vacant houses down. In
addition, the banks are now more willing to do short sales, because if
not, they sell their houses as bulk foreclosures and get only 47% of
the loan.

Most Realtors find that short sales don’t work because they can’t sell
the houses. But if a neighborhood is a good place to live and there is
demand, a short sale will sell. And the buyer can get a great deal.
Today it’s really common for a buyer to come in and want a bank to pay
their closing costs and costs to repair the house to HOA specifications.

When this guy does a short sale, on the seller’s behalf he asks the bank
involved to waive the deficiency, mark the loan paid as agreed, and give
the buyer a 1099. That 1099 can be waived by the IRS because short sale
itself creates a period spot insolvency: at this point in time, I’ve
lost my job, and my liabilities are higher than my income. I have to
liquidate stuff to keep going. You take the 1099 and the H-1 to your
accountant. You can write off whatever your numbers say.

By the end of this day, I will know it all, or I will know whom to
call:-)

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Why Obama Has Slowed Down the Machine

Everyone I know seems to be saying that Obama has slowed down, rather than sped up, the recovery. The stock market is sliding and the rich are thinking of taking their money offshore. My friend Doris, a barometer of the economy because she’s been alive a long time, says this Depression feels worse than the one that happened when she was a child.

It’s been bugging me for a while why this is true, because I am a firm believer that all the things Obama says need to be fixed, actually DO need to be fixed (energy, health care, government contracting, the tax code). No one wants them fixed more than I do.

But a lesson I learned from the Apple Genius Bar will make clear what I think has happened.

I brought my MacBook into the Genius Bar because it was fairly new, but running too slowly. And I was getting frustrated. The Genius behind the Bar took one look in my Startup menu and gave me the answer. And I pass it on to you: Obama is running too many programs in the Startup menu. The Genius shut down all the little stuff I had downloaded to increase my efficiency, and the machine sped right up.

All those programs consume system resources. It’s as simple as that. The American consumer/investor doesn’t have enough RAM to deal with all those programs mentally. It’s slowing him down, and nearly paralyzing him. He doesn’t know what will happen to him next and is spending his spare time reading the stimulus bill, the TARP, the health care bill, and the tax code to find out what will happen to him. So of course he’s not at the mall, even if he still has money.

Start the machine with one program. It will run much faster that way. Then open the others when you need them, and when it starts to slow down, quit opening new programs and shut something down.

That’s what Obama should do with the country. Boot up the operating system, the economy,without anything else running. Let it run fast for a while, and then open one program at a time.

Why, with all the smart people in the White House, doesn’t this happen? Because Obama and his people are like all people with Blackberrys. They want everything to happen NOW, fast, at once.

Jack Welch was on “Morning Joe” this morning. He said that if any manager of a company tried to put in so many new initiatives at once he would whipsaw the employees and nothing would get done. I know this is true because I was guilty of that in my own companies. I actually, in my gay mad youth, MADE people fail because I wanted so many things done at once — and quickly.

So I’d advise Obama to slow down, get in touch with his breath, and focus.

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Web 2.0 Expo and My Social Capital

I’m coming up to the Bay Area in late March, of course to visit my grandchildDoodles gives me Whuffie points, but also to attend Web 2.0 Expo. and support the community that has embraced me and taught me the power of the social graph.

Yes, like the conference’s theme, I’m doing more with less, but the one thing I feel I have to re-invest is my social capital, my connection to the Web 2.0 community with its awesome connectivity and networking resources. I want to support that community, both because it has supported me, and because it provides a positive way to use the downturn for personal growth.

This morning, during the second of my Blueprint for Survival workshops, I helped a group of laid off workers get their arms around the tremendous power of free tools like Twitter, WordPress and LinkedIn, which they can use to free themselves from the sense of victimhood they felt when they walked out of their former jobs. Just knowing about these tools and knowing how to use them to connect to a larger world made them smile.

One man, a real estate developer, was stunned that he no longer had to pay for fax machines, conference calls, web site design, or resume writers. During the three years he was in his latest position, all those tools had moved online. Likewise, one of the other participants was stunned by Google applications. We spent the morning together exploring, and I felt like a native field guide in an online jungle. Me Jane.

We have a long ways to go in realizing the potential of what we’ve unleashed. The period we are in now, when we are consolidating our gains, reminds me of the time after 9/11, when Amazon, EBay, and Yahoo began to prove their utility and their game-changing nature. As retail wasn’t the same after e-commerce, office work will not be the same after Web 2.0.

Getting an opportunity to introduce people to the enormous community-building potential of Web 2.0 makes me look forward to a chance to reconnect with my Bay Area buddies.

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How Much Longer? Not a Good Question

As we all cut our expenses, pay down debt, and stare at our retirement plans in disbelief, the question everyone asks is, “when will this be over?” The pundits ask each other, the press asks Obama, and we ask the deities: we KNOW things will turn around, but the question is always when? It’s like asking the dentist how much longer has has to drill.

That’s actually no more useful a question to ask than “how many weeks until I lose my twenty pounds and can go back to eating pizza?” The answer is, we will never be able to go back the way we were, because it is clearly unsustainable. So find the rainbow.

I actually don’t care whether this recession is a blip on the screen or a total econolypse because I have already made one life change that I will probably not reverse; I’ve started to cook again. And I love it.

For the past 25 years, I’ve been in business and have eaten just about every meal out, from the Starbucks breakfast to the Houston’s dinner. I started eating out when I was too busy and life was too unpredictable for me to waste time cooking food my children wouldn’t eat anyway. At least at a restaurant, everyone could order what they wanted for whatever stage (vegetarian, anorexic,) they were in.

The eating out continued when my kids grew up, the husband died, and I lived alone. I used the excuse that I needed the socializing. Dinner at an upscale bar was the routine. And a business lunch. And the daily Starbucks.

But I realized about a year ago that I was spending $2000 a month in restaurants (just look at your credit cards to find out what your number is) and I began to buy groceries.

I soon had a big epiphany: food made with high quality, fresh ingredients and cooked to my own specifications actually tastes much better than the over salted, over-seasoned stuff in restaurants, even really expensive restaurants. And I am probably lengthening my life.

Now my typical dinner is a chicken soup I create myself, a piece of fish or meat and some fresh vegetable (that I choose because it’s in season, or organic, or on special), and a couple of glasses of red wine. I am not suffering. I eat the same stuff I ate in the restaurants, except that I am trying new wines (unusual wines not sold in bulk to bars) and strange vegetables. I’m probably healthier. And I “only” spend $300 a month for food. For company, I rely on my Twitter and Facebook friends, who are always there with me, or some of the cool stuff like “Furious World” or Leo laPorte.

Oh, and I eat Endangered Species dark chocolate for dessert. I owe it to myself:-)

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