Achieving Flow In The Face of Near Death: My Recent Experience

Flow

I had one of those major mind focusing events over the past three weeks.

I collapsed on the evening of Sunday, 16th February for 15 seconds and then went into an extraordinary conscious ventricular tachycardia at 200 bpm. The ambulance crew were astounded that I was conscious. The trick was flow – I’ve been a proponent since my youth when I was an elite athlete and serious surfer. I managed to pull myself into the zone and maintained this on the journey to the hospital. En route a code 3 had been called and I was greeted at Royal North Shore Emergency by a crack team of 15 doctors. I was still at 170 bpm and they were literally just about to stop my heart and try to shock me out of the tachycardia, when to their amazement I self reverted down to 70 bpm. I’d like to say it was flow again, but my humility refuses and I dare not say I purposefully did that all myself.

I was very lucky. This conscious VT event took place at home and my quick thinking family called 000 immediately. That morning I’d done a stand up paddling training session alone and in the dark, with no safety devices. And the next morning I was scheduled to fly to New Zealand on business. If this event had happened in the air or out on the water I’d very likely not be having this dialogue.

After a series of extensive tests, the specialists determined the best course of action for me would be the insertion of an implantable cardioverter defribrillator. The plumbing of my heart reflected my super fit status, but for some reason the electrics were out of whack.

I had the device installed on Thursday, and on Friday afternoon I walked out of intensive care for the first time in a week and into a private room for recuperation. I felt like a new man, but this feeling was shortlived. Unfortunately a clot had developed and within fifteen minutes my speech slurred and I lost all feeling on my right hand side. Again I was very lucky, as my wife noticed the signs of a stroke immediately and called the medical staff who jumped into action. It was a very scary feeling and not one I’d like to repeat. Within about 20 minutes I began to get feeling back, again to the amazement and relief of the medical staff and my family. I’d had a mini stroke or transient ischemic attack and the clot had moved through my brain.

I again found myself in Emergency and it was established that while I had about 85% recovered from the stroke there was still a strong possibility of further clots. I was given a thrombolysis – a very powerful procedure that reversed all effects of the stroke and broke up any other clots. This was a very intense six hours as there was the possibility of a haematoma developing on the brain.

I made it through that phase, but a haematoma did develop around my defib wound site. I spent another week in intensive care and returned home on Saturday 1st March. The haematoma developed some complications and a week later I was operated on to drain the site – the fear being infection. I remained in hospital on intravenous antibiotics and was discharged on Monday, 10th March.

All through this experience I was thinking about flow, performance and optimizing human development, aided in part by reading Steven Kotler’s book, The Rise of the SuperMan.

Commenting on my experience, Steve says, “It  did seem like you’ve moved through fight or flight and into flow – a very difficult thing to do, so you have some mad skills!”

This whole episode has got me really thinking hard about what I do with my life once I’ve recuperated. I know I have been given a gift, a second chance, and I also know that I’ve adopted a new mantra, GO BIG.

I’m still working this all through, processing and thinking about what I do next. I’m going to have some interesting conversations over the coming weeks.

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FounderTalk: Pic-See’s Yen Lim discusses apps with a purpose

Pic-See

Sydney-based Yen Lim has developed Pic-See, an incentive-driven visual communication system for children with early learning needs. She was inspired to embark on this journey by her experience working with a 3 year old boy with autism while she was completing her Honours Degree in Psychology at The University of Sydney.

As a passionate psychologist she believes that research and technology can, and should, be integrated into widely accessible solutions that improve quality of life. Through this filter she observed how special needs teachers were taking many hours to source and create libraries of visuals to use in day-to-day therapy. It struck her that there must be thousands of parents, carers, teachers and therapists around the world laminating paper-based visuals and she thought, “Surely, there has to be an easier way!”

This is so often the catalytic event that launches entrepreneurs into action!

The original concept behind Pic-See was to make it easier to construct and implement visuals, so valuable time and energy would not be wasted. Yen felt that time should rather be invested in what matters most to dedicated parents, teachers and therapists, namely engaging and connecting with those they care for.

In developing Pic-See Yen wanted to utilise touch-screen technology to reduce the long-term labour-intensive, environmental and monetary costs associated with producing visual communications systems.

Pic-See not only replaces outdated paper-based systems, but also captures the imagination of users to make visually-based learning fun. The app is packed with images and animations designed by graphic artists, purposely created sound effects to enthral users, an drag-drop interface to build visual sequences, the ability to customise visuals with imported images, the ability record audio to promote verbal communication skills, an emotions centre, a choice board, and a data centre to capture the achievements of users and areas in need of further development.

 

Yen’s key lessons learned in embarking on this adventure are:

  •  It’s a full time job. Surround yourself with people who can help.

What she thought would be a straightforward app to develop, soon turned out to be a highly complicated technical project. Being new to the world of entrepreneurship she had a steep learning curve. She says, “Be prepared to dedicate yourself as it’s a full time job. Surround yourself  with people who can make the journey easier. If I could go back in time, I would definitely seek out a mentor who can guide me through the app space and the broader ecosystem, not just to survive but to thrive.”

  • Once the app is developed it’s just the beginning

The market moves quickly. App-spaces are dynamic environments. You have less than 18 months to take your product to launch, listen and respond to the ecosystem, keep your ideas fresh and turn your brand into a household name. This is a process that requires time, perseverance, a lot of hard work and a willingness to venture into the unknown.

  • Marketing is everything

A strategic marketing plan is essential. It’s one thing to have a great product, but if no-one is benefiting from it your app can get swept away by a flooded market.

  • You need  a strong business model

Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.” Having a great idea for an app is definitely the first step, but deciding to take the plunge, backing yourself and growing a startup, is arguably the most difficult. A strong financial and business plan is needed for your idea to realise its true potential.

  • Secure funding

Passion has driven the development of this app. Yen invested her personal funds into Pic-See. She strongly suggests seeking government grants (if available) and skilling up on how to approach investors.

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Raising Capital: How To Prepare The Perfect Pitch

I’ve sat on both sides of the table countless times in the fundraising process. I’ve seen some great pitches and I’ve seen some terrible ones. My highlight was doing a pitch to a venture firm in Steve Jobs old boardroom in Cupertino. One thing is constant in the world of pitching – everyone has an opinion on what makes the perfect pitch.

The guys at Incubate are hard at work preparing for their Demo Day later this month and my recommendation to them and to anyone else getting ready to pitch is to watch this video by Nathan Gold. He walks through a solid, yet simple deck of slides and gives great advice on how to pitch as well:

 

 

Here is the deck of slides Nathan refers to:

 

 

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Plan B: Light by Moore’sCloud Releases Own Crowdfunding

Unfortunately Light by Moore’sCloud didn’t make its funding target on Kickstarter, but no worries there is light at the end of the tunnel (excuse the pun). The team has launched Plan B – they are crowdfunding on their own:

Plan B | Crowdfunding the Light

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Shedding Light On Kickstarter, Open IP and Moore’sCloud

I’m a big fan of Kickstarter as it’s empowering entrepreneurs to come up with a whole range of interesting products that may not have seen the light of day through traditional funding mechanisms.

I’ve personally backed a Kickstarter project called Light by Moore’sCloud. The product is billed as:

Beautiful, intelligent, connected light. Open hardware, open software, endless possibilities for play and delight.

Not only are they developing a fun product, but they are pioneering the way intellectual property is distributed as well. As the team says in their latest update; they are an organization dedicated to sharing all of our intellectual property as freely and as widely as possible.

I caught up with Mark Pesce, the Sydney-based serial entrepreneur behind this project and asked him a few questions:

>What prompted you to build this?

It’s something I’ve attempted several times over the last decades, but only now have we gotten to high-performance (what used to be called ‘workstation class’) computing at an incredibly affordable price point – around $12 in components. It opens the door to entirely new design methodology. And it’s why we’re named Moore’sCloud.

> What is the biggest challenge you face in getting the product to market (not including fundraising)?

There are a lot of subtle UX issues involved in creating a device that has a lot of interiority; how do you present that depth in a way that is not confronting to people without deep technical skills?

> When can I expect my own Light – in the Xmas hamper?

We hope to have them rolling off the assembly line in May.

> Is this the first of a range of products you plan on releasing – what else do you have in mind?

Christmas lights, for one thing. And room lighting. But we see ourselves as getting a toe into the pond of the Internet of Things. We’ll learn a lot that can be applied to other possible forms and appliances.

Thanks Mark! I am certainly looking forward to playing with the product.

They’ve currently got 1,721 backers with $202k pledged towards their $700k goal. 13 days to go – sign on and make a pledge!

 

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The Future of Financial Services Through An Entrepreneurial Lens

Last week I gave a talk at one of Australia’s leading banks on the future of financial services. I wanted to share the core of this talk:

I  dived into a number of comparative startup activities in the broader banking arena, but first set the context -

 

Bestselling author Brett King’s thesis is that banking today has shifted from being a noun, a place you go, to a verb, something you do.

The gap between customer and financial services players is rapidly growing, leaving massive opportunities for new, non-bank competitors to totally disrupt the industry.

 

So let’s look at what is happening in this area:-

 
Blueleaf:

Blueleaf is a start up based in the Bay Area.

They are focused on wealth management as a service platform and they are building a product that is designed to improve transparency and reduce costs for the current low return environment.

Their view is that wealth management infrastructure is broken. Client account data is as scattered as people’s money. Clients expect service across all their assets while the enterprise needs a uniform platform.

Blueleaf consolidates all client account and asset data delivering consolidated info to clients, simplified workflow and monitoring for advisors and comprehensive data access and analytics for the enterprise.
They’ve raised $2m in funding from Fred Destin, a partner at Altas Venture, Stewart Alsop, a partner at Alsop Louie Partners, Dave McClure at 500 Startups and others.

 

 

Wallaby Financial:

Wallaby Financial is another Bay Area start up.

Their slogan is “One card to rule them all”. The Wallaby Card brings together a cloud-based virtual wallet with an intelligent, connected physical credit card that can be used at any location where major credit cards are accepted.

They maximise credit card rewards earnings based on your cards, your preferences and where you are shopping with a real-time algorithm. They also connect you to marketing offers from merchants and banks with social mechanics.

They’ve raised $1.1m from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

 

Lendfriend:

Not all the companies I’ll mention are based in Silicon Valley, but this one is.

Lendfriend is “Helping you lend to your social network”.

They are building an online platform for friends and family loans. They assist with the legal and tax docs, influence credit and repayment of the loan.

In their view friends and family have become the lender of last resort for many individuals. This is accelerated by the overall decline in lending by traditional financial institutions.

Their vision is to make friends and family the lender of first resort.

 

Crowdtilt:

Crowdtilt’s focus is on “Simple, Social, Pooling of funds…for anything”.

This San Francisco based startup lets people organise things like group vacations with their friends and ensures the organiser is not stiffed when it comes time to pay.

They take a 2.5% processing fee if the crowd tilts a project.

They have raised $2.1m in funding and they are a Y Combinator graduate.

 

TransferWise:

Jumping continents, TransferWise is based in London.

Their tagline is “Crowd sourced online money transfer”.

They aim to help people save money and time on foreign payments online.

Traditionally you lose 5% when making an overseas payment – they do it for a fraction of that price.

They’ve raised $1.3m from Index Ventures and they are a Seedcamp graduate.

 

 

TrustEgg:

Madison-based TrustEgg is bringing “simplicity to saving for a child’s future”.

They provide a way to save for a child’s future that’s ultra-simple, gets a market rate of return and is accessible to families of all income levels.

A parent can set up an account for each child in minutes and start contributing immediately.  They can share the account with grandparents, aunts and uncles, anyone.

Suddenly you’ve tapped into a vast savings network that was just waiting for a simple and meaningful way to contribute.

They have currently raised $167k and are now raising $2m.

 

Simple:

The cherry on top of this whistle stop financial services startup tour is Simple.

Their aim is to provide “A worry free alternative to traditional banking”.

They started out life in New York, but then moved to Portland, Oregon.

They have raised multiple funding rounds. Seed of $190k in November 2009, a Series A of $2.9m in September 2010, and a Series B of $10m in August 2011 from Shasta Ventures, IA Ventures and NEU VC.

They are a classic example of knowing your market before building your product. After all, it’s better to find out the problem first and then create the solution.

When Josh and Shamir started Simple they put up a single web page and asked – are you dissatisfied with your current bank. If so, let us know?

Things exploded. The founders had 10,000 email conversations with people who responded and asked them what they really wanted from a banking relationship.

This taught them about all the problems people are facing today. And this informed their product design. For example they learnt that Americans really really want photo cheque deposit.

Before 2008, big banks mean safety to people. People thought they’d be around for 10 years, but the safety in the US right now is in the FDIC insurance. Trust is another big area of shift – will your bank fee you to death, or pull a bait and switch.

Simple points to the fact that today what’s important to banking consumers is who gives them the best experiences and services.

The new demographic is looking at other options in banking.

Big banks seem to still be building systems for people who balance checkbooks.

Simple aims to replace your bank.  The founders were frustrated with how complicated their finances has become and decided to start their own retail bank.

The problem they saw was that it was really hard to get the data that the banks had and get it into a format that would be usable.  Mint and such sites had to rely on screenscraping and you just don’t get good usable data that way.

Simple has gone out of its way to redesign banking. They do this by focusing on the customer experience.

They are not a bank per se, but have partnered with an FDIC insured institution. The partner holds the money, while Simple deals with the customers.

It took them 2.5 years to build and launch. They have only been launched for a few months and have 15,000 customers with about 160k waiting for an invite.

Think about it. There are 25 data points per financial transaction. Gmail gives you 10,000 emails searchable and all for free.

The message is that Storage is cheap, data is valuable. We should have more visibility on our transactions, be able to search across them easily using natural language search and also be able to see how much it would be safe for us to spend on a daily basis, set goals and tag our transactions above standard geotagging. This is where Simple is headed.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all help people engage with specific social groups. People CARE about their friends, their business contacts etc.

People are OBSESSED with their money. Yet right now banks don’t give people any easy way of engaging with their finances.

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