1. You Are What You Eat

    I’m getting a tattoo tomorrow. It will embody a philosophy I have embraced over time - “you are what you eat.”

    The things you consume make you the person you are today. Mentally, physically, and most importantly - spiritually.

    In today’s society especially, too many of us are controlled by a consumer’s mentality. And the proliferation of the personal computer (smart phone) has made it easier than ever to consume. Without self-control we bounce from one thing to another, aimlessly looking for something to fill a void. Twitter, Tumblr, Flappy Bird, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Kik, back to Twitter. Netflix. Candy Crush. Back to Instagram.

    "You are what you eat" is a reminder to me to consume the right things - to focus on filling yourself with that which enriches, enlightens and informs. And lastly it will be a reminder not to consume too much - to have balance.

    You are what you eat.

     


  2. danielstallworth asked: How are you man? A curious thought exercise in regards to Entrepreneurship: If you had $1000 to spend on staring up a business, what would you do with that $1000? (Assuming the business was already set up and incorporated, or not if that's easier) Would you seek out as many free services as possible while using it to raise more money? Or focus it on building up the product and idea first? Just interested in your thought process, the what is not as important as the order of events.

    I have $1000 to start a business… how would I spend it?

    Well, my answer would vary greatly depending on the kind of business I start. So rather than give a specific breakdown of the costs, here are some of the ways I would think about it:

    1. Get customer feedback and make your business more valuable

    Assuming that the business solves a real need for a particular market, I would focus initially on getting intensive customer/user feedback and iterating to improve. What differentiates my business from incumbents in this market, and why do my customers find my product valuable? Quite often when an entrepreneur starts a business, they have a misguided understanding of their customers and their needs. So the more you can learn about your customers and the market FOR FREE, and use this knowledge to make your business more valuable, the better off you will be. I would focus intensely on this learning phase first before doing any paid marketing. No Google Adwords or Facebook marketing campaigns yet! Total waste of money at this stage.

    2. Will the business generate revenue right away? 

    If it does, small seed capital can really help get the business off the ground with minimal outside funding, assuming the business becomes profitable quickly. Then you can pour profits back into the business - and you have a recipe for a sustainable business. Otherwise, you will need the initial seed funding to get your business moving enough to raise more money.

    3. Make a website to give your business “a place to live”

    Rather than hire an expensive developer, I would use a 3rd party (like Squarespace or Tumblr) to build a simple website that showcased my business in a coherent way. High value for low cost. 

    The good thing about using 3rd parties that provide software as a service is that you have to worry less about bugs. The software is tried and true, and you don’t have to burn time and money trying to build it yourself. Later once your business has proven itself to be valuable, then it may be time to hire developers and build your own homegrown solution. The exception to this rule would be when you’re building a software business. But even then it is smart to leverage companies and open source software that gets you maximum gain with minimal work. 

    I would also use a free email marketing service like Mailchimp to build a signup form and do email capture. This will allow you to gauge interest in your product/service, while also gathering a list of people who are you giving you permission to contact them about your business. Use them!

    4. Actually getting the business off the ground…

    Starting a service business? I would start by doing the work myself initially, to save money on workers, and get a strong understanding of the skills and mindset your employees will need to excel at their job. You’d also gain invaluable feedback from customers about their needs and how my service meets their needs. When you focus on making your service excellent, your customers will be your biggest allies, and will tell others about your service - which is the strongest form of marketing anyway.

    Digital Product?  Assuming that you have the facilities to actually build the software, I would negotiate a flat rate fee with a good designer (preferably someone you know) to work on logo & website design. However before you get to this stage you should have a strong understanding of your company’s core values, value proposition, and mission. This will give the designer focus and help you to waste the least amount of time possible in design iterations. 

    Social products (for example) are often subject to network effects - meaning that the value of the service increases as users actively use the product. So once the product has been built and tweaked, I would use the money on marketing - focusing on driving relevant traffic to your website. It’s crucial to get the right kind users for your site or app, and if possible, ensure that viral/sharing functionality is built into the product.

    Physical Product? If I were building a business around a physical product, I would use a portion of the funding to make a really nice video for a Kickstarter campaign - to both raise more money and secure my first paying customers. This is all after validating the concept, getting user feedback and really honing the product, of course.

    5. Final thoughts on saving money

    Resist paying for office space as much as possible… rent is expensive! Operate from your living room or basement for as long as you can - it will save lots of money.

    Hiring employees is very costly. Not only are they expensive, but they introduce other levels of uncertainty and risk. (Managing them, paying them, distracting you from your vision, they may quit, etc.) If possible, reduce the amount of people you employ (if any!) initially, and get more done with less when you’re first starting out. This will save you money & heartache. 

    But don’t get me wrong… “people” are very valuable! It is very important to harness the energy and reach of other people to move your company along and spread business via word of mouth referrals. The feedback of your friends and supporters is invaluable at this stage - use your network as much as possible! 

     


  3. staysvckafree asked: Hi! I'm a junior in college, and all my internships have been fashion-related. I tumbled into entrepreneurship fortuitously (I participated in an incubator & developed a startup w a partner). Long story short, it didn't work out (which is fine..failure is fuel). What are some steps I can take to pursue this new passion fully and enthusiastically? Are there things in Boston i can go to/people I should be networking with? I have no clue where to start!

    doriandargan:

    Because of the diversity of industries and roles within the startup world, navigating a new interest in “entrepreneurship” is very hard to do without a focus. So I would start by asking yourself a few questions concerning your entrepreneurial interests:

    What am I interested in?  Wearable technology? 3d printing in fashion? Smart appliances? Arts & Crafts? Services? Augmented reality? Community activism? User-generated content? Mobile payments in Kenya? Healthcare? Education? There’s just so much to get into…

    What are my goals? Do I want to start a company right now? Or just learn very deeply about a particular industry? Or perhaps learn a particular skill-set? Or maybe I just want to work on a small team? Or work behind a vision that I believe in? What if I just want to make cool stuff that I’m proud of…?

    Once you have a better understanding of your focus, I would recommend educating yourself about the space you’re interested in. And there are lots of good blogs out there about startup culture. I highly recommend Startup Digest as an easy way to get started - they have weekly tailored newsletters with good startup articles and events in your local area. 

    Lastly, entrepreneurship is quite different from simply working at a startup. Starting a business is not for everyone (it’s hard!). Over time you will discover your niche, and if entrepreneurship is right for you then you will know! :)

    I answered a similar question here which may offer additional color. And here is my story of how I entered the NYC startup scene. Hope this is helpful!

     


  4. therewillbetearsxo asked: As a college undergrad, I struggled tremendously with following my true heart's desire. I went along with what my parents thought would be the most lucrative, rather than what I knew I truly loved, even though I promised myself I'd never be "that girl." I love that you experimented with so many things in college & wish I had done the same. My biggest worry now is my financial situation. How were you able to manage your finances while toying with so many different potential career paths?

    doriandargan:

    I was really blessed to have virtually all of my college expenses paid for. MIT offers need-based financial aid, and so they took care of the largest part of my tuition.

    The rest of my expenses were paid for by the Ron Brown Scholarship Program, a fantastic organization that selects 20 African American students each year to be awarded $40,000 scholarships & join a network (family) of other service-minded scholars & professionals.

    I was able to travel by involving myself with courses that did international study, applying for special projects, and by taking advantage of MIT grants that can be given to people working on cool stuff.

    As much as I could - I sought out opportunities where funding was included. But the real world doesn’t have grants and scholarships lying around, unfortunately.

    My advice to you at this point is to be very frugal with your expenses, set some goals for savings and then keep a budget to be disciplined about the whole thing. If you run your personal finances like you would a business, you can easily identify over-indulgent costs to cut back on - which are most commonly too-frequent shopping, eating out, and drinks/going out.

    You’d be surprised how much money you can save just by changing your spending habits. However, you may also have a skill or time to engage in a side-hustle to supplement your income. If you have a nice apartment with extra space, consider renting a room on Airbnb! Or perhaps you’re good with kids and can babysit, or tutor local students in math. There’s money out there - you just have to be disciplined and resourceful to get it ;)

    I hope this is helpful! Let me know if I can offer further guidance.

     


  5. Anonymous asked: in college, what were some things that you did that helped you evolve into the kind of man you are today (artistically, professionally, personally, etc)?

    doriandargan:

    Thank you for asking this question. It’s nice to reflect…

    As I look back through the years, something that has stayed consistent for me is that I have pursued whatever I was interested in and passionate about at the time - no matter what other people thought I should do. I was very eager to take risks and try new things.

    During my college years I was heavily involved in the MIT arts scene, as a Senegalese sabar drummer, visual artist, salsa dancer and vocalist. I was also very interested in learning about Latin American culture, and I traveled internationally 6 times in my college years - twice to Mexico, twice to Peru, once to El Salvador and once to Colombia. (Btw I highly recommend travel as it teaches you a lot about yourself when you are put in an unfamiliar environment and forced to adapt.)

    I graduated with degrees in Economics and Urban Studies and Planning, but in my senior year I realized that I was more interested in entrepreneurship and the tech startup scene. So I forsook these disciplines and tried new things. After two internships in investment banking and management consulting, I began to understand that traditional corporate business wasn’t really for me - I wanted to learn what it takes to start a technology company and build excellent products, all while remaining true to myself as an artist.

    So now I’m working as a Product Manager at YouNow - a live video tech startup based in NYC, and my wife and I recently started a residential cleaning company called Blessee.

    My exploration and willingness to try new things have been critically important to my growth as a person, and have helped me understand who I am as an artist and entrepreneur…

    I encourage you to follow your interests and passions - no matter how silly or random they may seem. You never know where they will lead you!

    Thank you to whoever asked me this question!

     


  6. The value of your first customers

    My wife Camille Dargan and I recently started a new business - a NYC-based residential cleaning company called Blessee.

    And as we are at the very beginning of starting Blessee, I am reminded of what it’s like to have the shell of a “business,” but virtually no customers/users. When we went through this when YouNow was just getting started, it was a certainly a challenge - and we learned to really appreciate our first customers.

    Why?

    They are the people who are willing to try you out before you have proven yourself. These “early adopters” believe in your vision, and want to support your product/service before others are willing to try. And they provide crucial feedback that helps you to make your business better. Your first customers are the foundation upon which everything else is built - without them your business has no legs to stand on!

    In the case of YouNow, our business relies heavily on the concept of network effects, which means that the more people that are using your product/service, the more valuable it becomes. It was very important that our first users were faithful and active, otherwise the site would be dead.  If you are running a service business, this is often less true - as your service is useful whether or not other people are receiving that same service. However, your first customers are critically important because they offer invaluable feedback, and help the business to grow via word of mouth marketing. 

    So when you’re starting a new venture, whether a business, blog, or community - your first few “fans” are super valuable. Don’t forget to treat them like the special people that they are.

    PS. Thank you to all of my faithful readers! :)

     

  7. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground

    I came across this poster at a garage sale as I was walking home from church this Sunday. I saw “Andy Warhol” in big letters and it’s vintage appeal and was intrigued. So I negotiated with the owner and bought it for $1 - framed.

    Now it’s hanging on my wall.

    Finding this little piece of history forced me to look into the history behind this event. Turns out Andy managed a band called “The Velvet Underground,” and their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico was recorded in 1966 during Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia event tour in Chicago.

    And now I have some new music to get into, and artistic inspiration.

    Funny how things work like that.

    $1.

     


  8. Playlists: Say Goodbye to Love

    Inspired by the energy in Kenna’s “Say Goodbye to Love” single, I put together an interesting mix of selections from different genres - rock, latin jazz, hip hop, and neo-soul. Take a listen and you’ll find some new artists you’ve likely never heard of, some soulful vibes, and the latest single from Lauryn Hill who recently got out of prison!

    As always, I’ve mixed it together into one cohesive playlist you can enjoy from start to finish:

     

  9. Legends of Style

    I started a tumblr called Legends of Style the other night. It’s quickly becoming a very exciting new hobby of mine.

    Legends of Style is a curation of classic images that inspire me in different ways. It is focused around individuals who have cultivated authentic, classic style - by being themselves “on purpose.” 

    It is a reminder (even if just to myself) to live life intentionally, and be authentically "you".

    If you’re sartorially inclined, you should check it out.

    legendsofstyle:

    Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
    Paint-splattered denim & tweed jacket.

    » Legends of Style

     


  10. Long lost sketches from 2012

    In December of 2012 I wrote an essay called “Why Computer Keyboards Are Dying.” 

    I argued that computer keyboards are useful - but desperately ripe for innovation, and that the proliferation of tablets has proven that consumers desire simple, intuitive interaction paradigms.

    Overnight it went viral on Hacker News and received 100+ comments. 

    Seeing such a strong response to my writing was truly remarkable, and inspired me to doodle and capture some of my ideas. But eventually these doodles were forgotten in the depths of my sketchbook… 

    UNTIL NOW.

    Sketch 1:

    image

    Peripheral touch surface. A gesture on the surface initiates a simple on-screen keyboard. Typing on the trackpad provides visual imitation “button” feedback on screen and haptic feedback on trackpad.

    Sketch 2:

    image

    Peripheral touch trackpad with dynamic touch surface. Transitions between flat surface, and raised “keys.”

    What did you think? 

    While I doubt the viability of these ideas, I want to reflect on the feedback and comments I received on my post.

    There were a few key takeaways:

    1. keyboards are very useful for activities that require intensive data input/manipulation (programming, design, writing, etc.) and aren’t dying out immediately for their efficiency and flexibility.
    2. voice-input technologies are potentially viable solutions, although the “environmental” sound pollution would make our world much louder, meaning this approach is impractical on a large scale. 
    3. predictive technologies (like auto-complete) could reduce the need for lots of data input, they can also be overly aggressive and distracting. Very annoying when they are incorrect, but useful when correct. What if they were correct 99.99% of the time?
    4. gestures, if done intuitively, provides interesting opportunities for HCI. However, gestures can take more work for the user, and may not be scalable to account for many different types of inputs. Haptic feedback (vibrations) may increase usefulness.

    I hope you found this interesting. If you did, please let me know in the comments below!