A blessing and a curse- when people believe in you.

My mom has always told me that I can accomplish everything I want, and so far I have.  I learned how to speak english at the age of 11, I went to college when the odds were completely against me. I graduated, I got an amazing job that (at the time) was super prestigious. I made associate, I made VP. I made more money than my parents ever did. I always knew what was next, and what I needed to do to get there.  

When I left Goldman everyone told me that ‘they were sure I would succeed’, my friends often tell me that if there is someone they know that can do X,Y and Z, it’s me.   These kinds of comments always made me stand up a little higher, look a little brighter, feel a little prouder, boast a a little.  But, it also made me a lot more afraid to fail.  If I failed, it wasn’t just me that would be disappointed, it would be everyone that was sure I wouldn’t. Even though I made the leap and left my job, I have been so afraid, still am. But I have realized that my biggest fear was not failure, or running out of money— It was that people might see me as a failure.  

The thing is, I don’t think I failed very much because I didn’t take enough risk.  I am very proud of what I have accomplished so far in life.  It took a lot of hard work, and literally, sweat and tears.  I am not discounting that, but all those accomplishments happened inside a system that tells you exactly what needs to be done. 

Friends, I love you for believing in me— You have been my backbone and the reason why I have gotten through many rough moments. But today, I tell you that I might fail. That I might fall flat on my face. That I might need to crash on your couch if my piggy bank runs out.  That for the first time in my life, I might not achieve success in the way that the world defines it.  Maybe, I won’t even achieve success in the way I define it.  But whatever happens next, I am off to try and get to the other side of the jungle without a compass.  Because there is no compass, or map or rules here.  

You can have it all, just not at the same time.

If I put 2010 and 2011 on a scale, they would balance out almost perfectly.  In the last two years, I have lived a life-time of experiences and emotions and successes and failures. Maybe there are people blessed and lucky enough to have it all, AND at the same time— I have yet to meet any of them.  For the rest of us though, everything is possible, just not at the same time. 

If I have learned anything is that life is a sort of puzzle, where there are always a few extra pieces that just can’t fit into the picture at the same time.  There are several key pieces a lot of us desire in life- love, peace, freedom, time (to spend with family, to travel, to rest, etc), health, and while less people admit it- money too.  A combination of these pieces equates to happiness. Of course, money alone will not get you anywhere close to bliss. 

In the last two years, there has been a significant shift in the pieces that are in existence in my own life.  Love, time, health, are in full effect, freedom and peace are in the works, but money is not in the picture.  This, however, is a much better puzzle than the one I had in 2010 or previous years for that matter. 

In 2011, I traveled all over the world, I spent weeks with my family, I focused on my own thoughts and was free to to experience.  I feel much healthier than I have felt in years.  I am close to having it all, but not quite everything.  Why?  Because time is limited.  And we have to chose what things we focus our energy on.  We cannot be 100% focused on making dough and 100% focused on building our relationships, there is just not that much time in the day.   But it’s ALL consequential.  Everything we do is about trade-offs, and the choices we make today, will affect our puzzle tomorrow.  I am happy, so incredibly happy with the puzzle I have today.  I have it as a result of the choices I made the last six years.  Maybe I didn’t have to wait that long, maybe I could have traded in some peaces earlier.  But I didn’t, and that’s ok.

I know I will have to trade some pieces in the future, at some point I will have to start re-fueling the piggy bank.  In a few short days, I will have to trade time with family and loved ones for time on building an amazing business.  I might have to trade total freedom, for a little more structure.  I might have to trade peace for a little stress.  But as long as the puzzle continues to evolve and be on the right side of the scale, it will all be ok.  As long as the journey is more than about seeking my own happiness, my own happiness will eventually follow. 

Here it is to a 2012 where your puzzle looks closer and closer to your bliss!

With much love, and good thoughts,

Julissa

life puzzle

Solve problems!

It’s easy to get trapped and excited by the startup world we read about through the looking-glass of TechCrunch. Too many entrepreneurs focus their time on building things they think are cool or could be the next startup homerun. Stop building to get covered by TechCrunch or get an investment by Fred Wilson.

What are your problems? That’s what you should be working on. Businesses are solutions to problems. Solutions come from ideas. Ideas are hypotheses. These hypotheses need to come from a defined problem. Humans have problems.

There are an infinite amount of ideas out there. I have a list of 100+ web startup ideas that you can poach from, but who knows what problems they solve. There are millions of opportunities to change and disrupt this world. However, most of those opportunities are very small and might only change the world for you or a few (which isn’t a bad thing). Instead of brainstorming ideas, start by brainstorming problems.

Clutter

I hate clutter of every kind, but especially the one that builds up in your mind.  It’s not productive, it bogs you down and it prevents you from spending time thinking and doing things that actually matter.  

With physical clutter, it’s easy.  I simply have to organize, throw away old stuff, donate stuff that’s still good but hasn’t been in use for a long time by me.  Perhaps buy a few new things to reward myself for getting rid of so much unwanted stuff. 

But when it comes to the clutter that builds up in the mind— that clutter can be so difficult to throw out.  It’s not as easy to organize one’s thoughts, distraction only works for so long.  But I have found a few very helpful things to organize, and clear the space in the mind. 

1. Write down that every emotion that you are feeling, and let yourself feel it.

2. Write down all the things that are worrying you as they come to mind.

3. Identify which of those things you can do something about.  It might be as easy as checking things off your to-do list.  

4. The things that you cannot do anything about, write them down and cross them off. 

5. BREATHE.

6. Talk to a friend.

7. Go for a walk and listen to a good soundtrack.

8. If you pray, pray, if you meditate, meditate, if you dance, dance.

Lastly, be nice and gentle to yourself. 

$1.50 for fresh squeezed orange juice

In New York city, and in the US in general, access to fresh foods is very expensive. Especially when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables.  They are not only expensive, but hard to access.  Unless you have the cash to go to Whole Foods or you have access to a Farmer’s market, it is hard to eat fresh stuff.  

We sit here and criticize people for eating at McDonald’s and having overweight kids. But the reality is that buying a kid’s meal is much cheaper than buying food to prepare a healthy meal.  

In Mexico, where I am now, a fresh squeezed Orange juice cost me $1.20, and I recognize that 15 pesos is a lot for a lot of people here.  But fresh fruits and vegetables are a lot of the times cheaper than buying processed foods.  It’s cheaper to prepare a fresh meal than it is to go to McDonald’s.  In fact, a trip to McDonald’s is a luxury move here, it’s a city thing.  

There has to be a way to make fresh foods more accessible and more affordable in industrialized nations.  I hope to see some startup power behind this effort.  

It’s not only healthier, but a lot yummier to eat fresh.  I get two and a half weeks of walking down the street and having access to fresh stuff.  I must admit, I also have my mom doing the cooking. 

The benefits of buying local.

I try as much as I can to buy from my neighborhood business and build rapport with the staff and owners of local businesses.  I do it because it feels good to walk into my favorite coffee shop (East Harlem Cafe) and say hi to Ricardo and Michelle.  Ricardo knows what I like to order, the half walnut salad and half turkey sandwich with no mustard.  Also, when my coffee gets cold, he is happy to warm it up for me.  It feels good to see a Latina owned business be successful.  I started going to East Harlem Cafe three years ago when they first opened and I feel a part of the growing business.  It is packed in there almost every day now.  It’s wonderful to see. 

I do it because the quality of things is much better, and people care to deliver a good product or service.

I have gotten my haircut from Arielle (at Serenity Salon) for the past six years, the entirety of my stay in New York.  I have always LOVED the way she cuts my hair.  But last time I went I didn’t love it.  The haircut wasn’t me.  I tried to like it for a couple of days and I just could not get used to it.  I called her and told her, and she immediately asked me to come back that day.  She re-did my haircut, styled it and was happy that I called so she could give me a haircut I loved.  She charged me nothing for the re-do.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the haircut, it just wasn’t me.  She did it because I have been her client for six years. 

The meat market down the street is another example of the benefits of buying from local, community businesses.  I can get one perfect, fresh chicken breast.  Just one for when I cook only for me.  Or I can get three slices of turkey meat for my sandwich. They don’t make a face when I ask for such a small order.  They see me in there almost every other day.  

These are the benefits, but there is also an importance.  When we support small businesses in our communities, we are helping to create jobs, we are helping someone’s dream come true. 

This is the reason I am most excited to launch Socstock (www.socstock.com).  By helping small business get capital through their customers, we really are building stronger communities.  

I can hardly wait to launch!!!!  

Occupy Wall Street

Warning:  This may offend some people.  But strong opinions often do.

I am all for speaking your mind.  I believe in expressing one’s opinion and in feeling safe while doing it.  

The problem I have with <some> protesters is that the very rights for which they are protesting often become the things they violate.

Protest all you want.  But when you start to interrupt people’s days, when you start making people feel unsafe, you have violated other’s rights.  Should they protests against you?

I no longer work on wall street, but it was my life for six years.  And one of the things that bothered me so much then, was that most people do not take the time to understand how things work.  They are mad because someone else told them they should be mad.  But often, they are mad at the wrong thing and/or for the wrong reasons.  

People are beyond angry at the amount of money that people make on wall street. Recent college grads making seventy thousand dollars! This is the first mistake, people assume that EVERYONE is making millions.  I worked for six years, was a VP, and I did not make millions, not even close.  At seventy thousand, in New York, they are probably paying 30% in taxes.  We’re down to fifty thousand.  On average, a first year analyst works eighty to a hundred hours a week.  After tax, and assuming ninety hour weeks, they are making $10 an hour.  Now, If they had an hourly job, and worked ninety hours, they would make a lot more than fifty thousand, because they would make overtime. 

If you are making more than two hundred thousand, in New York, you are paying close to 50% in taxes.  And I am sorry, but that’s a lot.  I am not, by any means, saying that living on one hundred thousand dollars is a bad thing.  What I am saying is that the other one hundred thousand went to taxes.

To get a job on wall street, or at least in my experience, you have to work really hard.  I didn’t go to Harvard, or Princeton or had my mom and dad get me my job.  MOST people I worked with didn’t either.  They studied a lot in college, got multiple internships.  

Everyone I worked with earned every dollar they made.  

They worked hard, they sacrificed a lot to get to where they are.  You have no idea what is driving them.  But even if it’s money, what made you the judge?

isn’t everyone free to pursue and work for the things they want?

Are there bad people, greedy people on wall street?  Sure there are— people who don’t care to hurt others to get what they want.  But don’t these people exist everywhere?

I left wall street, because I wanted to have a bigger impact in the world.  I wanted to help people.  My time on wall street is helping me do that now.

This is my protest.  I protest that people take the time to understand before they camp outside people’s homes and make it unsafe to go to a doctor’s appointment in the financial district. 

Non-Technical Co-founder...Non-Problem.

I wrote the post below on Tech Cocktail, Check it out:

If you are a non-technical person ready to put together a startup, there are some very important things you must do before you start to look for a technical co-founder, though in fact, you can launch your tech startup without one.

One of the first things I did when I left my  job at Goldman Sachs was to start looking for a technical co-founder.  I read multiple blog posts and commentaries about the difficulty of finding a technical co-founder.  Some were nicer than others.  But the less encouraging ones put zero value on being a business co-founder.  The comments section for many of these posts were filled with “How could you possibly think someone will want to join you?”

But then I realized why.

So many of the calls for technical co-founders went something like this: “I have a great idea – please come be my technical co-founder.”  The non-technical founder only had an idea and had done no work to back it up.  If you have done any research at all, you would find that ideas are worth nothing without execution.  That is startup lesson number one.

One of the most important things I did was be honest with myself when deciding whether I had the skill set necessary to successfully lead the type of company I was trying to launch.  My first idea was for a travel startup, but I had no technical expertise to solve a very technical problem and no relevant industry experience.

Now, neither one of these things stopped me from taking several steps that gained me some credibility in my new startup community – steps that every non-technical co-founder might consider taking:

1. Research.  Research the industry.  Research the solutions that are already out there for the problem you are trying to solve.  No matter how novel your idea might be, someone else is already trying to tackle it in some way.  Your first job is to learn everything you can about your industry.  Who are the players, who are the bloggers, who will talk to you?

2. Talk to anyone that will talk to you.  This means running your idea by anyone that will listen.  Your friends and your family will tell you that it is a great idea.  They do not want to hurt your feelings.  Talk to strangers about it.  Better yet, since you have done a ton of research already, you should know who in your industry is respected.  Seek those people out and ask their opinion.  I was incredibly surprise at how much time and feedback some of these folks were willing to give me.

3. Flesh out your idea.  After all the research and all the conversations, your problem, solution, and market fit (or lack thereof) should be clearly defined.  Spend as much time as you need on this step.  Just because you have a problem does not mean that everyone else cares about that problem.  If you cannot clearly and concisely define your ‘secret sauce’, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

4. Mock it up.  I found it much easier to tell someone what I was working on by showing them.  There are a ton of tools made for non-technical people.  As a non-technical co-founder, you can, in fact, make an entire mock-up of your site (check out iMockups or Balsamic, 2 easy-to-use mockup tools).  You can even create an entire website using Wix.com.  A lot of these tools are also free to use, so take advantage of them.

5. Learn the language.  You are in a foreign country, so learn how to get around. Spend some time learning about the infrastructure of the web.  Learn which programing languages are used for front-end development, and which are used for back-end development. Understand what a server does.  These are small things that will go a long way when talking to anyone in the tech startup world. Some of the best reading I did was Yipit co-founder’s Vinicius Vacanti’sseries on ‘Becoming your own Technical Co-Founder’.   I bought a book and started learning basic HTML.

In the end, my first idea was a no-go.  I found that the problem I was trying to solve was not one that really needed solving – at least not in the way in which I wanted to solve it.  But the best part about doing all these things is that I met my co-founder for the company we are actually launching in a few weeks.  And we are both business co-founders.

We did all the steps above.  We built and entire website using free resources, with little or no programming needed.  We were lucky in that we had enough cash of our own to hire a designer and programmer to work on our beta site.  But the reason we were able to afford it is because of how prepared we were.  After our first meeting with Night Owl Interactive, they wanted to work with us.  We had all of our user cases fleshed out.  We had our entire site mapped out.  We had a functioning prototype.  They were impressed with us.

One of the best compliments we have received is from our designer, who truly believes we will make it.   I spend at least one day a week in their offices going through the design and development.

I am able to communicate with everyone in an effective manner because, while I am not fluent in their language, I understand and can speak the basics.

We have a long way to go before I can say we have been successful, but in 2 weeks, we will launch a startup without a technical co-founder.

I would love to hear what you have done as a non-technical co-founder – or, as a technical co-founder, what your business founder did to attract you to their project.  Leave a comment below!