Derek Flanzraich, 7 Lessons From My First Year as an Entrepreneur

Derek Flanzraich is a keynote speaker at Everywhere Else Cincinnati, September 29-October 1st (tickets available here). Derek originally published this …

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"I, Too, Am Afraid"

I graduated college three days ago. Crazy, huh?

Commencement was a pretty epic few days, full of caps ‘n gowns, meeting tons of family members, and the final move out. And I was honored to be chosen by Currier, my residential house, as one of the student speakers during our diploma awarding ceremony– and wanted to share that speech here. It’s pretty personal, super honest, and in many ways, I think, presents a stark contrast with typical “graduation speaker” speeches. A lot of people (many I wouldn’t have imagined) seemed to be moved by it and, though the written word won’t do it total justice it deserves, I hope in some small way you will be, too. Let me know what you think the comments below!

I, Too, Am Afraid [Currier House 2010 Commencement Day Speech by Derek Flanzraich]

It’s a privilege and honor to speak here today. Above all, though, it’s been a privilege and honor to be one of your classmates. So, thank you.

I am afraid. My legs are definitely shaking. If I forget, remind me to breathe. You see, I am afraid not because of how many people are here, but because I am afraid all of you are judging me. I’m afraid of looking like an idiot. I’m afraid I will stand up here and my short speech will sound fake, that it’ll bore you, that it won’t ring true.

If you really knew me, you’d know I often want to be all things to all people, I’m insecure about my abilities, and even lonely sometimes. I’m scared about my future, I’m scared about next year. I’ve never really, truly lived alone. I don’t know how to pay taxes. I don’t know for sure what my passion is in life, where to find it, or if I ever will. And I’m afraid to acknowledge, because I think it sounds arrogant, self-important, or just naive– and that you all will judge me for it– that I want to change the world. I do. I don’t know how. But I do. And the scariest part? I’m afraid I have to.

Unlike the class day speaker said yesterday, I am scared of mediocrity. Of course! You, we, are unbelievably lucky to be here. But we all know that comes with a ton of responsibility. We can’t be mediocre! And from that fear stems the two things I hope to share today. They’re both lessons I’ve learned from my parents. Despite, of course, my very serious dedication to always doing the exact opposite of what they say.

First, don’t be afraid to take advantage of your opportunities. Growing up, my father always said there’s nothing more fulfilling than working your hardest to accomplish something. At 3am, when there was a paper I didn’t want to write, it’s my closest friends reminding me that working on the extracurriculars I love is many times more important than my GPA. And watching the organizations I’ve started both growing bigger and better beyond my wildest imagination in the hands of new leaders has shown me there really isn’t anything more fulfilling than working your absolute hardest to make an impact when you’re given the chance to. Like a weight on our shoulders, we’ve felt the burden of having to live up to the opportunity we’ve been handed by being accepted to Harvard. And boy are our shoulders tired! (Sorry, that one was for the parents in the crowd.) But, today, Harvard’s come and gone. What’s really scary is knowing how many more opportunities we will still be faced with. Should I take a safe job with Google or take a gamble at a startup company? With issues like these, we’ll feel lucky because we’ve been handed them– and unlucky because now it’s our responsibility to make the best of them. So? Don’t be afraid to take advantage of your opportunities.

The second lesson? Don’t be afraid to be happy. Being driven and focused and determined and relentless is great and all that, sure. But, as my mom says (in her Russian accent), “it’s not good enough.” I think a lot of us have been afraid to be happy at Harvard. And it hasn’t been the long, cold Boston winters either. Well, not just them. We knew Harvard wouldn’t be holding our hands. But man, our hands could use some holding sometimes! We have a hard time escaping from the Harvard “bubble” to go into Boston– but an even harder time escaping from our extracurriculars and academics to focus on ourselves. And it’s my mother who always reminds me that we need to stop. That it’s more important to sit in the hallway and talk for much too long sometimes. That watching Troy for the 30th time with your friends is worth it for the bonding. That going out for a brisk run around Lamont Library is only going increase your productivity. That there’s 50 years of not this. Because before we can truly succeed, we need to be happy first. It’s disheartening that, while we know our peers are mind-blowingly awesome, we often forget we’re mind-blowingly awesome, too. Nobody’s success takes anything away from ours– in fact, I’ve been doing some research– and it turns out there’s lots of success to be had in this world! So? Don’t be afraid to be happy.

When I look back at what my best times have been at Harvard, it’s things that have scared the hell out of me. It’s loving a girl who loved me as much back, it’s taking adventures with my best friends that were at times intellectually stimulating and at others totally mindless, it’s putting into action ideas I was enthusiastic about but entirely unsure about their success. I’ve learned a lot at Harvard. But what’s stuck most is that it’s not about getting rid of fears, denying what you’re afraid of. Because, honestly, good luck with that! Instead, I think it’s about confronting your fears, owning them, and then, with that, taking inspired and courageous action to do something about them. Know what you’re afraid of. Because, in knowing your fears, you can take advantage of your opportunities and be happy while doing it. Look, I’m afraid. We’re all afraid. Then. Now. And probably always will be. But we can– and will– still change the world, even if we’re afraid and don’t know exactly how yet.

Startup Fitness Advice from Battle-Hardened Entrepreneurs

We recently wrote about how working out can be your secret weapon as an entrepreneur and shared our entrepreneur’s guide to working out. This time, we turn to 14 battle-hardened founders and entrepreneurs who prioritize fitness and ask them what they do, why they do it, how they find the time, and what their advice is for others. Without further ado, here’s the awesome stuff they said:

Saadiq Rodgers-King from Nodejitsu

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I work out at a crossfit gym, Crossfit Virtuosity, in Williamsburg. If you don’t know anything about Crossfit, it’s a class format. I show up 3-4 times a week for these group classes that include olympic style weight lifting as well as aerobic conditioning. The workouts are tough even while the gym is very friendly and accepting of all levels. I’m a fan. I make time. I prioritize it. I’ve just started working on a new project so I’m actually in the midst of structuring my schedule but there’s always time before work, at lunch or in the evening, even if I have to head back to the office after. There are times, of course, when there’s a sprint at work and I workout a bit less. But even with that, I try to keep it up with some regularity so that there’s more ebb and flow rather than stopping and starting. I make the time because it’s valuable to me. I see benefits. I think it’s important to have some time in your day where you shut off your mind and focus on something else. It helps me solve problems better. It helps me sleep better and be more focused at work. And it’s fun. Find a workout that’s fun. If you’ve already made the decision that you want to workout more (or some at all) then I suggest doing some sort of class. Someone else comes up with the activity and brings some motivation for you. All you have to do is show up. Also, find something that’s close to your office and has a shower so you can dip out and come back. Lastly, pay for it. That incredibly affordable gym miles from anything else that you don’t ever go to is a waste of money. The more expensive one that’s convenient to your life that you can actually make it to is worth every cent.

Saadiq Rodgers-King is COO at Nodejitsu Inc. and formerly Co-Founder of Hot Potato. He can be found at his blog & @saadiq.

Windsor Hanger from HerCampus

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As an entrepreneur, life is always busy and usually a bit crazy. I travel a lot and am not always sure of my exact travel plans until right before I leave. As such, it’s important that when I’m home I work out whenever I can so that it’s not a big deal if I find myself at a hotel without a gym for a couple of days. I find that I feel best when I do 30-40 minutes of cardio 5-6 days a week and 20 minutes of weight training 2-3 days a week. Working out and feeling fit gives me an enormous amount of energy and confidence that I thrive on.

Windsor Hanger is Co-Founder, President, & Publisher of Her Campus Media. She can be found at HerCampus & @windsorhanger.

Jonathan Swanson from Thumbtack

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I like to do a couple triathlons a year so I’m usually lifting, running, biking, and swimming. My favorite workout– when I really want to punish myself– is a 20 minute lift, followed by a 4 mile run to the Lyon St stairs, 3 sets on the stairs (beautiful views of the Bay!), 4 miles back home, and a ½ mile swim. My other favorite workout is to run across the GG Bridge, through the Marin Headlands, wind through the trails of Rodeo Valley, and end up at Rodeo Beach. The running is beautiful, remote, challenging– and you get a great payout at the end. You just have to be prepared to run another 8 miles back to the city or hitch hike with one of the surfers. I don’t think there’s enough time to not work out. I feel noticeably more mentally sharp, energetic, and productive after a good workout. Plus, I think working out more than makes time for itself because when I’m working out regularly I need considerably less sleep every night.

Building an enormous and successful company will have many challenges that are much more difficult than getting yourself out of bed in the morning to exercise. If you don’t have the mental fortitude to exercise, will you be able to overcome the really big challenges of starting a company? That’s the question I ask myself when I’m particularly tired and need some motivation to get out of bed!

Jonathan Swanson is Co-Founder of

Dan Gill from Huddler

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I have run the gamut over the last 8 years– from “US National Team Gymnast” type fitness all the way to “Holy crap, I no longer have the strength to lift this burrito to my fatty mouth” type fitness, and have bounced between the two throughout… founding a company does that. Having experienced the contrast, I have learned a lot more about what sacrifices it takes to make the time, and what benefits there are to making the sacrifices. A few tips that have been working for me (I’m currently on the fitter part of my spectrum):

- Group fitness classes are the best. Look for things called “Ultimate Conditioning” or a bootcamp of some kind (Crossfit is awesome, but can be pricey). Great classes balance strength and cardio in a very time-efficient way, accommodate all levels of fitness, are not expensive, and having an instructor and classmates helps force accountability so you show up.

- Work out in the morning before work, not after. We can never control what fires may come up and how late we’re stuck in the office, but we CAN control when we get out of bed. You’ll also find yourself ready to rock the second you hit your desk and won’t need as much time to get in the groove at the office.

- Get a TRX and an over the doorway chin up bar. There are hundreds of exercise combinations you can do in 15 sq. ft if you need to get creative while you’re traveling or stuck at home or the office.

- I work out mostly so that I can eat and drink as I please, but ultimately, if you’re trying to lose weight and/or really maximize your energy, diet is more than half the battle. Stock your office with healthy choices and 100 calorie packs of snacks to enforce some portion control. Get back to work– you have companies to run and the world to change!

Dan Gill is Co-Founder/CEO of He can be found at @diggle.

Reece Pacheco from

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Lately I’m just running a lot (training for the NYC marathon and a few triathlon’s), but I like to mix things up between endurance training (running, biking, surfing), playing team sports (lacrosse, hockey, and now soccer), and high intensity workouts in the gym (full-body, circuit training style). I’m not one to just sit around and bench press. I much rather mix it up with squat thrusts, box jumps, and pullups. When you do those workouts right, they can be quick. You have to just be committed to staying in shape.

During TechStars, it was really hard to find a block of time during the day because it was so intense… so I started running to the office, to combine my workout with my commute (luckily, we had a shower!). Besides the obvious health benefits of staying in shape (counter-acting a lifestyle in an office, tied to a computer), I love challenging myself physically, because it’s also just so mental. If you can run a few miles, you can run a marathon… just need to be determined. Also, I just need to release that energy. Starting a company isn’t easy and you need that time to work out the stress and think. The key is to just get started and try to keep the momentum going. Staying fit is about consistently doing it. That being said, it’s OK to miss a day… just don’t let yourself go for weeks on end. Also, don’t forget about your DIET. You are what you eat.

Reece Pacheco is founder/ceo of He can be found at his blog & @reecepacheco.

David Lokshin from Alpine Replay

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I read an interview of Jerry Seinfeld where he describes a life hack to help motivate himself professionally: every day that he spends time writing material, he puts a big, red ‘X’ on the calendar. The goal is to make the chain of X’s as long as possible without interruption. I used to have two X’s, one for AlpineReplay and one for working out. I work on AlpineReplay all the time anyway, so I dropped that X and now only have one for working out. If I can, I surf because I’d rather be surfing than most anything else in the world. Next option is swimming, usually a 500yd reverse IM for warmup (200yd freestyle, 100yd breaststroke, 100yd backstroke, 100yd butterfly) and then 10 50yd sprints on the minute or 50 seconds. I’ll mix that up with a 2 mile run, now and again, where I do 100 pushups and 100 sit ups along the way. Other than the surfing, the swimming and running take no more than half an hour and my happiness, ability to stay awake, and motivation are all much higher than when I don’t work out. It really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do it consistently. Long walks, a hike, a kickball game, etc… are all candidates for a big X on the calendar in my book.

David Lokshin is Co-Founder of AlpineReplay. He can be found at @lokshind.

Eva Ho from Factual

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Let’s face it: the quality that makes entrepreneurs great is the same one that can turn them into overworked slobs. Most entrepreneurs are driven by an intense passion for one thing or the desire to achieve one goal, be it the creation of the most-loved app in the world or of a fast-growing, sustainable company. Each is a geek at heart who is motivated by rabid fans, the popular girl who wouldn’t look twice at him in high school being on his arm, and the addiction and adrenaline of the rocket ship. If you have a start-up, here are a few tips to keep you and your employees healthy, happy, balanced, and good-looking.

1) Make “downward dog” mandatory: provide free weekly yoga classes to help your employees embrace the value of “Namaste” and remain centered, balanced, and flexible.

2) Develop a running group. People who run together stay together. Get your employees outside and sweating instead of snacking and sitting.

3) Institute recess: in our hectic lives, we lose our sense of play. Give your employees 15 minutes a day for ping-pong, headstands, pull-ups, mini CrossFit workouts, etc…

4) Stock the kitchen with healthy, organic foods to encourage good eating habits.

5) Implement flexible vacation policies so people can take adventurous trips, experience faraway places, and bring back good memories to share.

6) Provide subsidies to nearby gyms. This also keeps them in the office longer.

7) Make off-sites active: encourage treasure hunts, beach time, group hikes, etc…

8) Encourage laughter— lots of it. I was lucky to be a part of start-ups that inspired me to stay fit and provided me the flexibility to climb mountains, swim oceans, and run ‘til my heart’s content. At Factual, I wanted to recreate that environment and build a healthy family that has the energy, focus, and passion to play together for a long time to come.

Eva Ho is VP Marketing & Operations at Factual. She can be found @eva_ho.

Vin Vacanti from Yipit

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Working at a startup, your most valuable assets is your time. It’s hard enough to tear yourself away to spend time with your friends. Making time to work out, something I don’t consider all that much fun, is much less likely. But, as the months pass, not exercising starts to weigh on me both figuratively and literally. So, I thought why not do both at the same time? This summer, I’ve signed up for three soccer teams over the weekend. I get to work out and hang out with my friends at the same time. I would still like to make it to the gym more often; but, for now, it’s my MVP.

Zachary Burt from AwesomenessReminders

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Play basketball and jump training. Make it a priority dummy you need balance.

Zachary Burt is Mr. Awesome at Awesomeness Reminders LLC. He can be found at his blog & at @zburt.

Christine Yen from Venuetastic

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My schedule is a bit eccentric, but I’ve found that I tend to come to a natural stopping point at around 1am each night. When I discovered that I had a 24 Hour Fitness one block away from my office, I can rarely find a reason to skip the gym before heading home.

My most successful stint at exercising regularly (summer of 2006) involved reading lots of Ayn Rand on a stationary bike, also late at night. I realized recently that, by bumping up the font size on my Kindle, I could easily read while running on a treadmill– and can now run for a previously unimaginably long time without noticing. (And then go for another 20-minute jog because I need to know what happens next!)

After beginning a startup and doing very little between working and sleeping, I’ve finally (about six months in) reached a point where my schedule has stabilized a bit, and I’ve found a routine/set of incentives that I feel like I’ll be able to stick to for awhile.

I was surprised at first with how much happier I’ve been as a result. I’m not sure if it’s actually the endorphins, or the “badass”-ness I feel from coming back to the office at 3am and sitting down for another hour or two of work (I mentioned my schedule was nutty), or finally being able to move books off my reading queue, but I’ve noticed a definite uptick in my mood and body image as a result.

Christine Yen is Co-Founder of Venuetastic. She can be found at her blog (from which this excerpt was adapted with permission) & at @christine_y.

Mahbod Moghadam, Ilan Zechory, & Tom Lehman from RapGenius

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My workout is basically a girl’s workout- I do 90 minutes of intense cardio daily on the elliptical with the goal of getting drenched in sweat. I try to stay angry on the machine, focusing on people who have wronged me and trying to channel my anger into better performance. I also do yoga and I’m thinking of starting ballet. Sometimes at home, I do a squats routine choreographed to techno- Edward Maya’s “Stereo Love” is my best one. The Perfect Pushup in the living room gets a lot of use too (they sell them at Walgreen’s).

For an entrepreneur, the only thing more important than your product should be working out. That’s because good abs attract investment capital and if ladies are always trying to grab up on you, you don’t need money, so you can be ruthless in negotiations. - Mahbod

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What kind of work out do you do? At the gym, I loosely follow the Rippetoe method– so squats, deadlifts, bench press, pullups, military press, and dips, heavy as I can. On days when I feel I just don’t have it in me to go heavy, I’ll lower the weight and do a met-con routine with a combination of those exercises. I also ride my bike everywhere and play tennis a couple times a week. How you I find time to work out? I don’t read hackernews. Working out isn’t an option for me. There are days when I’m happy and days when I’m not, and it correlates pretty well to whether I got in some exercise in that day. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who want to be fit? Squat. Also, find a fitness-obsessed business partner like Mahbod! - Ilan

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The main benefit to working out is that, if you do it 6 days a week, you have a shot at not feeling depressed and anxious 100% of the time. Racket sports are all great because you can play with just two people. Of racket sports, squash is the best: it works you the hardest, you don’t have to shag balls, and, because you don’t have to worry about keeping the ball in play, it’s fun even if you suck. Tennis is chill too: it’s more alpha than squash, and you get to be outside. Ping pong isn’t the best workout, but you can put a table in your house You’ve gotta powerlift too though– nothing tests your concentration or feels as good as squatting or deadlifting heavy. But: YOU MUST SQUAT DEEP– i.e., thighs below parallel; i.e., as far as you can go! Don’t be the guy who thinks he’s hard because he can quarter-squat 2 plates. (Often this guy will put that padded tube thing-y over the bar– DON’T DO THAT EITHER) The elliptical can be fun occasionally. I like to sprint for a minute, jog for 45 seconds, repeat for 30 minutes. This can be boring, so I suggest a book on tape. (Looking for a book on tape? Inside the Third Reich is the best one.) - Tom

Mahbod Moghadam, Ilan Zechory, & Tom Lehman are all Co-Founders of RapGenius. They can be found everywhere and nowhere.

Lorenz Sell from from

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I’ve been working out consistently about four times a week for the last ten years. These days I do yoga three times a week and lift weights three times a week. After years of just working out in the gym, I find that yoga and weight lifting are a perfect compliment to each other. Everyone knows that being active has lots of health benefits and can make you more productive in general. The benefits go much deeper than that though. Working out builds character and trains you to be a better entrepreneur. Whatever you endeavor to do, it’s likely you’ll encounter some challenges along the way.

Elon Musk, quite possibly one of the greatest entrepreneurs alive today, says that “being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.” Overcoming the impossible is part of the entrepreneurial job description. When you struggle with a physical challenge you have an opportunity to rise above your limitations and focus your mind. Whether you’re squatting 225 lbs, maintaining a warrior 3 yoga pose, or just trying to get yourself out of bed to go to the gym, pushing through those obstacles on a regular basis teaches you discipline and helps train your resolve. You clear your head and accomplish something positive and tangible every day- even when the rest of your life may be ambiguous and crazy. Every time I want to quit a workout I think to my work/life goals and question whether I’d give them up as easily. I use the same psychology the other way around as well. Every time I feel overwhelmed and just want to give up, I think back to some of the grueling workouts I’ve pushed myself though and realize that nothing can stop me. Stay strong and prosper.

Lorenz Sell is Co-Founder of He can be found at his blog & at @lorenzsell.

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Jason Shen is the cofounder of an early stage tech startup in San Francisco. He’s a former NCAA gymnastics national champion, helps people make things happen at his blog: The Art of Ass-Kicking and is actively seeking people who are going to Burning Man this summer here. You can reach him at jasonyshen [at] gmail [dot] com or @jasonshen.

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Derek Flanzraich is ceo & founder of Greatist, a high-quality health & fitness media startup working to inform and inspire people to make one healthier choice per week. He loves any exercise that’s named after a superhero. You can reach him at derek [dot] flanzraich [at] or @thederek.

Want to read other stuff by us? Check out Winning Isn’t Normal by Jason and Build Empires, Not Businesses by Derek.

Graduation & The "Best Of"

In just a few days, I will be a college graduate. I’ve spent the last few weeks working hard to finish my undergraduate career strongly, flying around the country to interview for full-time jobs, and spending valuable time with my closest friends. I haven’t updated this blog as much as I’d like to recently, but I know that (1) that’ll change and (2) it’s worth it. By next week, I should have a better understanding of where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing for the beginning of my adult life– and I’m nervous and excited to make that call. Thanks to everyone who’s extended help and advice. My plan is to make the decision that’s right for me, but it’ll nonetheless be profoundly influenced by all of you. So thanks– I’m forever grateful for it.

Until it’s time to buckle down and focus, I’d love to share my favorite posts, a “best of” (fully acknowledging the relatively short time this thing’s been running.)

If you get a chance, read what looks interesting– and comment, if you’d like. Though I may not be posting regularly for the next few weeks, I’ll definitely reply back.

Big-Time Thoughts:

- The App Mentality: The Web (As We Know It) is Over

- What is Digital Media? (my #6 all-time most-read post, on Quora)

- The Internet Makes Good Communication Harder (with cameos in the comments by designer Jamie Martin & BootupLabs Founder/Managing Director Boris Mann himself)

- Why Generation Y Doesn’t Twitter: A Manifesto

- It’s Not Too Late: 10 Reasons Why There’s No Better Time Than Now to Join Twitter (my #2 all-time most-read post!)

- Creating a Harvard Organization That Lasts: Part I, Part II, & Part III

- Internet TV is Inevitable– And Content Providers Need to Realize That’s a Good Thing (my #4 all-time most-read post)

- How To: Disrupt Television (my #1 all-time most-read post, on Hacker News)

Ideas & Suggestions:

- Re-Thinking Your Email Inbox

- How Foursquare Can Leave Its Competition in the Dust

Stuff I’ve Done:

- HMC Media: Creating Journalists of the Future Today!

- The We Happy Few

- The (First Ever) Harvard Digital Media Meetup: Highlights & Second

- What I’m Up to Wednesdays Week 3/21-3/28, Week 3/28-4/4, Week 4/4-4/11, Week 4/11-4/18, Week 4/18-4/25, Week 4/25-5/2

Bite-Sized Wisdom:

- Hearing Advice vs. Taking Advice

- Having a “Thing” (my #3 all-time most-read post!)

- My (Working) Definition of Leadership

- Build Your Cathedral

PROTIP: How Working Out Makes Us Better Entrepreneurs

We’re entrepreneurs. We pour unbelievable amounts of time, hustle, and blood into our companies, making sure the product is amazing, the users are delighted, the team is inspired, and the investors are excited about the future.

There’s a lot to do and we’ve got to have the energy and the stamina to last through some very full days. It’s not easy, but we’ve been pulling it off. What’s our secret weapon in this battle against crushing work loads? It’s not an app. It’s not a pill. It’s not a version of GTD. It’s just a simple thing we call working out.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Working out isn’t just about looking sexier, but about getting more out of your mind and body. Most entrepreneurs who get regular physical activity find that there are many other (more practical) reasons for heading to the gym/bike trail/yoga mat. Here’s why we do it:


Perhaps it’s strange to think that expending energy provides more of it, but a 2008 study found that regular low-intensity exercise increased energy by 20% and reduced fatigue by 65% for sedentary people. Work days are tough, big deadlines are stressful, and there are always so many things to do– but we’ve found just an hour in the gym can give us the extra juice we need to power through the day. And on the really busy days when we don’t have an hour to spare, we’ll usually still end up taking 20-25 minutes for a short run, brisk walk, or a set of pushups & situps. We blow off steam and then return happier and more energized.


Working out also helps us get mentally sharper. When you’re constantly juggling different tasks and keeping a variety of perspectives in mind, you’ve got to find ways to bring it in. Sometimes that means clearing your mind completely. Trust us- when doing that third set of squats or pushing for the final mile on that run, you aren’t going to be worried about your user growth or the bazillion things you want to change about your website. Clearing your head can help you be more productive when you dive back into the issues.

Additionally, physical activity directly improves your ability to think and make the right calls. By improving your circulation, your body can pump blood and deliver nutients and oxygen to your key organ (like your brain) more effectively. Physical activity does a killer job of delivering nutrients and oxygen to your tissues. One study, for example, used neuroimaging to demonstrate that older adults saw measurable increases in focus and decision making after engaging in a 6 month fitness regimen. Another study in 2010 found moderate exercise resulted in a short-term 5-10% improvement in executive function. So working out can help you be sharper and avoid making blunders that you’ll regret after.


What does Brad Feld, founder of Tech Stars do when he wants to think about an idea? He goes for a run. Bob Iger, President & CEO of The Walt Disney Company, works out at 4:30am every morning with a personal trainer. OnSwipe’s CEO, Jason Baptiste, just raised a $5M Series Awesome– but he’s been working out for more than 10 years and constantly tweets about being at Crunch late into the night. We’re constantly surprised by how many important insights come from things that are totally unrelated to work. One of us, for example, swears by taking long showers. Another on taking long car rides without any set destination. It makes sense right? How many breakthroughs happen while staring for hours into a computer screen?

Again, the evidence isn’t just anecdotal: one study showed that participants that engaged in moderate cardio exercise showed more creativity immediately following the exercise, with the boost continuing at least 2 hours later. In the longer term, another study found the brains of people who exercise regularly have higher levels of brain derived neurotropic factor, a “factor” that ultimately increases capacity for knowledge. Working out just gives you better ideas.


Sleep? What’s sleep? Unfortunately, there’s pretty definitive proof a good night’s sleep can improve your concentration, productivity and mood. And, worse, lack of sleep is strongly correlated to weight gain. But the good news is regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep, too- as long as you don’t work out to close to bedtime. And by the way, the good night’s sleep is pretty non-negotiable. A recent New York Times article reported a study that showed people who slept 6 hours a night for two weeks had the cognitive equivalent of being drunk. You don’t drink (a lot) on the job do you? Then get more rest.

Long story short, not only will working out make you healthier and look better (with other unintended, but awesome side effects like, say, improved confidence), but also it will improve your energy, focus, efficiency, inspiration, and rest. At least that’s what we’ve found.

Give it a shot – we promise you won’t regret it. And if you need help making it work, stay tuned. The next part of this series will give some practical pointers on how to get more exercise into your schedule.

How does working out make you a better entrepreneur? Let us know in the comments!

Jason Shen is the cofounder of an early stage tech startup in San Francisco. He’s a former NCAA gymnastics national champion, can do 100 consecutive pushups and helps people make things happen at his blog: The Art of Ass-Kicking. You can reach him at jasonyshen [at] gmail [dot] com or @jasonshen.

Derek Flanzraich is ceo & founder of Greatist, a high-quality health & fitness media startup working to inform and inspire people to make one healthier choice per week. He loves any exercise that’s named after superheroes. You can reach him at derek [dot] flanzraich [at] or @thederek.

Want to read other stuff by us? Check out Winning Isn’t Normal by Jason and Build Empires, Not Businesses by Derek.

Start Up Fitness: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Working Out

We recently wrote about how working out can be your secret weapon as an entrepreneur. It gives you more energy, stronger focus & decision-making abilities, better ideas, and deeper rest– and that’s just for starters.

But if working out is so great, why aren’t we all doing it? Well, no time, too busy, not enough energy, don’t know where to start, putting it off for later, will start tomorrow, etc… We know it’s hard to fit working out into a crazy busy life. But it is possible. And worthwhile. Living a healthier lifestyle is one that’s built step by step, one smart choice at a time. But if you’re ready to start down that path of a more energized, focused, and productive life – here are our best strategies on how to get started:

First, Find a Nearby Gym

Picking a gym is an important decision. Ask around. Where do your friends go? Try Yelp. You’ll mostly likely be choosing between big chain gyms (Crunch, 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox, etc…) and small independent neighborhood ones. Big chains are pricier and sometimes overwhelming, but they usually have better/more equipment + classes you can take. Ask about promotions or see if you can snag a year long membership on eBay to bring the cost down. One of us fell in love with a small (but just right) and incredibly friendly gym called Aim Fitness in SOMA, San Francisco. Look around until you find the right fit. Ask for a free trial (almost all will agree) and then choose one that’s right for you, ideally as close to your work/home/convenient bus stop as possible.

Or Work Out At Home (Heck, Even At The Office)

If you’re strapped for time, cash, or just want a different kind of challenge, working out at home or the office can be just as effective. One of us cancelled his gym membership a while ago and just sticks to working out at home (or by a park). Doing bodyweight exercises such as sit-ups, dips, pushups, pull-ups (you can get a doorframe bar for less than 30 bucks), and body weight squats/lunges are more than enough to strength your body while saving time and money. Another great tool you can do on your own, especially with limited time on your hands, is high intensity interval training, which can maximize fat-burning and muscle-building through significantly shorter (though significantly more intense) workouts.

Either Way, Be Prepared & Start Off Simple

Starting out can be intimidating, but don’t worry and just make sure to prepare beforehand. If you’re headed to the gym, come up with a pre-written exercise plan beforehand. Sites like the awesome Gain Fitness can help, too. Also, working with a personal trainer is a great way to stay motivated about working out (if you’re paying $50-150/hour and have someone waiting for you, those are major incentives to get up in the morning) and especially to become comfortable with knowing what exercises to do and how to do them right. Ramit Sethi, cofounder of PBWiki and NYTimes best-selling author, uses a personal trainer to help him reach his goals faster– and he’s not the only one. At the very least, a couple sessions with a personal trainer can help you set up a training plan for your specific goals (and many gym memberships come packaged with a couple sessions, so don’t forget to use them!). Can’t afford a trainer? There are many, many awesome trainers and fitness professionals writing regularly online with a lot you can learn from, from Craig Ballantyne’s Turbulence Training and Steve Kamb’s Nerd Fitness to John Romaniello’s Roman Fitness Systems and Chris’s Zen to Fitness. Dig around and you’ll find many more.

Work Out With a Partner and/or Join a Class

Some people don’t mind working out alone. Others really enjoy the company. But we’ve found having another person to workout with means you’re more likely to stick to your commitments and not back out because you don’t want to let the other person down and/or look like a slacker. Find a friend who’s also interested in becoming more fit– or ask to tag along with someone who is already there. One of us frequently runs and works out with his cofounder. The other works out with his whole startup team at some new activity every Sunday. It helps build friendships, working relationships, and, of course, fitness.

Working out in a group can also keep you motivated and committed to your fitness goals. One great thing about joining, say, a running group, kickboxing class, or TRX program at your gym, is that you don’t have to think about what you’re going to do. You just go there and follow the group/instructor. They also usually meet at set times so it’s easier to build it into your schedule. It’s a great way to bond with your coworkers, sure– and you might just meet a potential hire, customer, or even new friend during the breaks, too.

Find a Time That Really Works For You

This is likely the hardest part. But don’t think about the time you’ll lose. Instead, we like to think of it in terms of how much time there is to gain. Basically, say you can be just 20% more efficient post-exercise. Then, every 3 hours, you gain an extra one. So you get back the hour you work out (40 minutes exercise, 20 minutes transportation & shower) back and then some in productivity and focus. Seriously. Just try it and you’ll see what we mean.

But your schedule’s packed. You barely have time to breathe, let alone work out. Tell us about it. So, we recommend you get creative. Working out first thing in the morning is probably the most ideal. It starts your day off on the right note, helping you feel more energetic, focused, and happy throughout the day. Plus at least you’ll get it out of the way.

Of course, not everyone can bring themselves to wake up earlier (especially if you thrive on late night power-through sessions like us)– so the second best option is often lunchtime. Most employers (if you’re not self-employed) will support you disappearing for an hour 3 times a week– especially if your productivity tangibly rises because of it. Not sure? Ask. It never hurts. And if you jet for 45 minutes for a workout, you’ll still have 15 minutes to snag a sandwich and eat at your desk.

And if lunch time doesn’t work, then evening it is! Most gyms are open late and you can exercise away the day’s worries. Be mindful that it’s typically pretty tough to get the willpower up to go to the gym post-work, especially when you’re tired from a long day, so convince that friend to go with you to keep you honest… or find some other way to hold yourself accountable. No matter what, exercising any time is better than no time. And keeping the timing consistent is key.

An extra hack we like? Set a calendar/email reminder every Sunday to schedule all your workouts for the upcoming week. Then stick to it… it’s like calendar magic.

Don’t Overdo It Early

We’ve seen friends jump into exercise programs with a ton of dedication and set really ambitious goals to work out everyday– and they’ll often fall off the bandwagon after a few weeks (or days). Becoming healthy is a lifestyle choice and one that doesn’t happen over night. It’s better to consistently work out for 30 minutes 2 times a week than to work out for 2 hours everyday and quit a month later. Ease into it a rhythm that you can sustain. Just like learning to code or mastering SEO, it’s not something you can cram into a small period of time.

Add Some Technology

As entrepreneurs living in a tech-driven world, it’s important to mention some of the great tools out there for helping you learn, track and share fitness stuff. DailyBurn is a great for keeping track of fitness and nutrition goals and progress on its site and mobile apps. One of us swears by RunKeeper’s mobile app to help track run times. Another by his FitBit. Fitocracy, Fitfu, I Move You, & others also seem like fun tools that make it easy to track and share your workouts with others. While technology is not necessary for a healthy life, if it helps you work out more, push yourself, and track your progress, it can be a great addition.

Most Importantly, Be Consistent

Whatever you do to get fit, however you make it work, the key to remember is to commit. Keep doing it. After a while, it’ll stick and begin to make sense. Before you know it, you’ll be someone who can’t work without it. You’ll be exercise’s biggest brand advocate. One commenters on our last article said that he biked 10k for his commute for some time and a month after he stopped he was back to what he had been previously: “nothing gained,” he wrote. The fact is the human body is an amazing thing. It adjusts quickly & readjusts even more quickly. Just as in the world of entrepreneurship, it’s mostly impossible to cheat your way to long-term success. Instead, working out is a lifelong commitment. Stick with your workout routine and we promise you’ll see results as long as you stay with it. Your body will adjust and that those results will improve so many other aspects of your life along the way.

The ultimate hack is finding what you like to do most, be it the elliptical machine, CrossFit, or pick-up basketball. Even samurai sword fighting or pole dancing. Then keep doing it and getting better at it. Keep trying things until you find something that gets you excited enough to go back, then stay open minded for new challenges. Never spend 60 minutes on the exercise bike if that sounds like torture. Torture is bad- and unsustainable, so don’t bother.

There is a lot more to learn. But getting started is easier than expected. And there are so many benefits, it’d be silly not to try. So step away from sitting and staring at that laptop screen to work out. Soon enough, it’ll be a killer life hack you’ll want to share with everyone… just like us.

Already converted? Share what worked for you in the comments!

Jason Shen is the cofounder of an early stage tech startup in San Francisco. He’s a former NCAA gymnastics national champion, can do 100 consecutive pushups and helps people make things happen at his blog: The Art of Ass-Kicking. You can reach him at jasonyshen [at] gmail [dot] com or @jasonshen.

Derek Flanzraich is ceo & founder of Greatist, a high-quality health & fitness media startup working to inform and inspire people to make one healthier choice per week. He loves any exercise that’s named after superheroes. You can reach him at derek [dot] flanzraich [at] or @thederek.

Want to read other stuff by us? Check out Winning Isn’t Normal by Jason and Build Empires, Not Businesses by Derek.

The Internet is Smaller Than We Think: The Follow-Up Post

It’s been a crazy few weeks. Just finished up attending the incredible BlueGlassLA seo and social marketing conference for Clicker which, by the way, is by far the best way to watch free tv online (learning quick!) and, amidst all the craziness, finally had a moment to reflect on how lucky I’ve been and how much my first month at Clicker (you know, that site where you can watch tv shows for free) has been even better than I could have expected. That’s a testament to the company and its people, but it’s not what this post is about. Instead, it’s about my previous post, the post about how I graduated, turned down Google, came to work at a startup, and the Internet in general.

The web is huge. And no matter how big it gets, how many people have written about this or that a bazillion times, somehow there’s always something interesting to read every day, something valuable to tweet, something worthwhile. That’s incredible, isn’t it? We’ve all read a million blog posts on how to get the most out of Twitter, but if you just glance across social media sites, you’ll come across some great insight, some thought-provoking story that’s been shared by someone you trust. With all the value placed on aggregation and curation, with what some perceive as a such a huge gap between the “influencers” and everyone else, and with all the redundancy of the same information packaged in a bunch of different ways, there’s still a place for content to resonate and rise to the top, no matter where it came from– as long as it’s smartly positioned and worth people’s time.

What am I talking about? My “How I Graduated Harvard, Turned Down Google, Got a Job on Twitter, and Why I’m Joining Clicker” article (at least the headline) was obviously written to grab attention– and, of course, as many have pointed out, some of the stuff at the end sounded like a marketing schpiel for Clicker (which it was enthusiastically, if unintentionally). So I definitely wrote it hoping to get some online traction– but, I think, for the right reason: to tell a story that meant something to me that I hoped others would be inspired by or at least learn something from. But I had no idea how wildly successful it’d be. I put it on Twitter, sent a tweet to Chris Dixon, and before I knew it, Silicon Alley Insider Senior Editor Nicholas Carlson was asking if they could republish it on the site… which they did. I was famous! (Sort of). It seemed my story had hit a chord– or, at least, a nerve. The next few days were a whirlwind. I spent hours staring at Chartbeat, the awesome real-time website analytics service, as I watched people pop up, read my blog post, and leave a comment from all over the world (this turns out to be crazy addictive– so run, don’t walk, to install it… but then make sure you use it only in moderation.) It was a wild ride. In less than a few days, my blog post received over 10,000 views (in total from Hacker News, the San Francisco Chronicle, Silicon Alley Insider, and my site– which received around half that) and tons of comments (some good, many rough). The story was RTed over 100 times (at least that’s how many I could keep track of), I gained over 250 Twitter followers, and received nearly 20 personal emails from people reaching out– to ask questions, clarifications, or just to say the story meant something to them. To those of you who did that, thanks! That stuff was pretty incredible & I truly appreciate it. I’ve had coffee or drinks with 4 of them already (and none of them tried to kill me, so that’s great, right?)– and even developed a strong bond with a couple of them over similar interests and passions.

The point of all this? I’m super lucky. Super lucky to be in a great job working for an incredible (watch tv online) company! Super lucky to maybe have hit some growing resentment against Google (of which I have none, by the way– I think they’re awesome, but just that their job offer wasn’t right for me) or maybe provoked some bitter people who want to complain about everything Harvard. I don’t know– but super lucky.

And we’re super lucky– because it’s awesome that, no matter how big the internet is and how much content is being created right now, we can still be inspired and moved after reading an article that’s been RTed a bazillion times from people we’ve never heard of before. Awesome, huh?

So, to all of you– thanks for reading. And expect many less posts about me in the future– and many more about digital media. Thanks again!

How I Graduated from Harvard, Turned Down Google, Got a Job On Twitter, and Why I'm Joining Clicker


Honestly, the hardest part is getting in. But, after four years, I graduated this past May, cap, gown, and my very own Harvard diploma in tow. This story, though, starts a few months before then. Like many seniors, I had spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do after college. Graduating from Harvard means you can do anything, right? Wrong. It turns out it’s a bit more complicated. Turns out they don’t just hand out awesome, challenging, creative, and entrepreneurial jobs to Harvard grads. What the eff? While most of my friends had faithfully decided they were going to be investment bankers, consultants, or teachers– the only thing I was sure about was that I didn’t want to be any of those three. All I knew was that I wanted a job I’d be excited to wake up for every morning.

Meanwhile I read Chris Dixon’s “Every time an engineer joins Google, a startup dies” and James Kwak’s “Why do Harvard Kids Head to Wall Street?.” I even watched J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard Commencement speech on “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination” (it’s awesome, by the way). Seems like they were making this stuff for me (thanks, Chris!). Except, the thing is, I was never worried about risk-taking. At Harvard, I had started a comedy news show as a freshman without any idea what I was doing (it’s been pretty successful, too– watched by over half the school and grown into a 50+ student organization) and had revitalized the central TV organization on campus to relative success as well. I had the startup bug. I was willing, ready, and able to fail and fail spectacularly. I got that there was no better time than right out of college. But I just wasn’t sure that was the smartest thing to do, to leverage that degree I (barely) earned in the best way to further my future.


So truthfully, I did some consulting interviews. I flirted with some VC firms (turns out it helps to have actual out-of-school startup experience before you try to invest in any). But, one thing led to another, and there I was, mediocre GPA and all, interviewing at the Mountain View Googleplex for their entry-level sales associate job. I’ve always been passionate about digital media, media & entertainment, and technology– so I figured, why not Google? Plus, gyms, massage therapy, free shuttle service to and from San Francisco, more gourmet cafeterias than I could count, brilliant beautiful awesome people, and a hefty relocation bonus? Count me in. For some crazy reason, I got lucky and they extended me a job offer with two weeks to get back to them.

Everyone I knew was impressed– my parents even started telling their friends about it (the true measure of success). Two weeks to make an easy decision, right? But, instead of being happy that my long search was finally over, I went into panic mode. It had hit me at some point on my (Google-paid) flight from San Francisco to Boston– I didn’t want to be the 20,000th employee anywhere. I’m bad at that. I’ll get bored. And I’m dangerous when I’m bored. Despite the awesome company, the awesome people, and the awesome perks, I wanted something more challenging. Something with ups and downs– where the highs would be the tallest skyscrapers and the lows the pits of hell. Where what I’m doing actually makes a difference. I’ll work 18 hours a day, just make it matter. No one was pretending Google was like that anymore– instead, I was told, it’s basically a year and a half before your training is even completed. I had nothing to lose so, basically on a whim, I sent my resume & what must now look like a pretty desperate cover letter to two startup companies, exciting startups run by incredible people playing in the field I’m passionate about making a difference in. To me, those were the only two that seemed to fit all that criteria– that I could get 100% behind. Maybe I should have sent out more.

Of the two, both responded. But both saying thanks, but no hiring now– we’ll keep your resume on file for the future! Got it. Google it is. Or was it?


Then, Clicker CEO Jim Lanzone emailed back: “Hey Derek. Jim Lanzone here. Email me Jim@clicker. See being on Twitter pays off sometimes. Recognize your name.” I’d been a fan of Clicker for some time– I thought then (and now) that it was truly the best of any service to watch tv online, the best at helping users find what, how, and where to watch TV on the web. It had (and has) a killer UI, the smartest & most efficient video search, and a ton of potential. After it won TechCrunch50, I started following @jlanzone on Twitter and we ended up tweeting a few times back and forth: I recommended one of his great interviews, we discussed Harvard basketball (though there’s not much to discuss apart from friend Jeremy Lin), and I poked fun at’s redesign (sorry!). Suddenly we were talking on the phone & discussing the possibility of working at Clicker. Jim’s awesome: he’s got a killer background (read paragraph 6 of this), an inspiring leadership style, and just watch him handle Shelly Palmer– who wouldn’t want to work for this guy? I had two more “interviews” for Clicker– speaking via cell for over an hour and a half with each. Lanzone’s attention meant a lot– but the two guys I spoke with, Guillermo Pont and Ryan Massie, basically made my decision that much harder. They seemed like awesome people that I got the feeling I’d love to work with and learn from, sure. They had read my “How To: Disrupt TV” blog post– and asked me about it. Their questions were smart, tough, and thought-provoking– both were by far the best and most interesting interviews I’ve had over my entire job search process. That was huge. I was impressed, even hopeful. Then, silence. There was barely one week left before I had to accept or decline Google’s generous offer– and time was running out. A day before my Google offer expired, Clicker made me an offer (along with a sincere apology about their delay, they had apparently been just a bit busy working on this).

It was the midst of senior week. I was graduating in less than two weeks– and had a big decision to make. Luckily, I had my closest friends nearby, my family just a call away, and a few incredible mentors to share their advice and opinions. But basically, they said the same thing: you’ve already made up your mind. They were right. Who needs micro-kitchens every 100 ft when you can help build awesome shit that matters?


I’ll be joining the team on July 1st– and, in case you can’t tell, I’m thrilled. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Jim, Oscar, and Ryan through our interactions– and they’re super smart, super passionate, and contagiously enthusiastic about Clicker’s potential. I’m looking forward to getting to know them better, but also can’t wait to meet, work with, and learn from the rest of the world-class Clicker team that they’ve put together. I’ve only had limited interaction with a few them, but each is so far more awesome than the next.

Ultimately, I’m humbled to have been offered the opportunity. Clicker’s an incredible product (in my opinion, by far the best there is right now). And I’m expecting (and you should be, too) many more exciting things on the way. I’m moving to Los Angeles this weekend (and, in a few months, will be moving to San Francisco more permanently). Expect to hear more from me about Clicker soon.

And if you’re ever on the West Coast, feel free to shoot me an email if you want to grab coffee, drinks, chat digital media or anything, really. Once I get started, my email address will be derek [at] or, as always, you can reach me at my personal email, derek.flanzraich [at] I’m looking forward to joining the startup world and starting this thing they call “real life.” It’s been a long time coming.

The We Happy Few

In high school, I started a political newsletter called The We Happy Few– it was ultimately my first entrepreneurial venture and my first attempt at building a website and service. The political newsletter is still published (and now in its 8th year since I founded it!), though unfortunately the website has since been removed.

Today, I was playing with The Internet Archive’s awesome Wayback Machine and came across my final blog post for it. It’s definitely strange to read thoughts from my 18-year old self, but some rather interesting highlights of my “goodbye” post that might get you thinking, too:

“In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been updating this site as often as I used to. In fact, although at one point I was up to almost three posts a day, the last half year has had almost less than that in total. So, suffice it to say, this website is pretty much dead. But, dead in the figurative sense because, thanks to the internet, my name will always be associated with some random political website that tried to get teenagers to talk about politics and succeeded…just not for very much longer than he could generate content to talk about. There, of course, is where I think the ultimate failing came from. First of all, although the content archived here, the posts from months and months of blogging, are entertaining (you know when you read something and wonder how the heck you came up with something so funny? Well, I’m kind of worried I won’t be able to replicate it again. Uh oh…), they served no one but a slightly amused audience at my high school, a couple hundred random vistors, and myself. The relevance I was looking for was not readily available simply by word of mouth, though it was getting somewhere. The real reason this failed? I was applying to college and figured out that this took up as much as an hour and a half a day to post blogs and continuously generate content for the forum (more on that later). So, I stopped…with the complete intention to come back to it. But, once I stopped, I realized I had all this extra time to focus on other things more relevant to my life than making fun of Dick Cheney’s garage. So, yeah. I finished the newsletter for the year with my two new inspiring deputies putting out really, really great stuff. And then? I unabashadley ignored this website. And when I ignored it, that meant that very few topics were created in the forum (why? why was everyone so scared of creating topics?) and that, with no new posting, the website died. People didn’t want to come back to something that wasn’t happening. I don’t blame them. I didn’t either.”

“What have I learned from this experience? Almost ridiculous amounts. I created my own website. My own freakin’ website…which looks frighteningly exactly like some sketches I hastily drew out one night when the idea for this thing came to me last summer. It works like a charm (mostly, except for a bug that could never be fixed, that of registering for the blog and the forum at the same time which turned out to be impossible to do), has hidden little secrets that make me proud (there’s a photo gallery, did you know that?) and even more secrets (every time you read one of my blog comments by itself, a funny quote from a politician is randomly generated…they’re really, really good and took me really, really long to find), and yeah, works perfectly. And it looks sweet. And anyone can use it. For around three-quarters of a year (the entire span of its existence is now around a year), I was deeply involved in this website and all it carries with it: ideas, development, creation, editing, posting, blogging, editing some more, fixing glitches, and publicity (that was big). And lots more. I met people who were either obsessed with posting nonstop in political forums or who actually found a new interest and began considering new ideas. I got my friends to join. I got basketball players to join (high school ones, at least for the members that I know.) I read every post ever created (and responded to a high percentage of them). I publicized this up the wazoo in my school, meeting with the social studies faculty and developing a program for them to use this site as a learning tool (though it didn’t come to fruition entirely, there’re a couple philosophy and social studies forums that you can find with teacher and student comments), and even spent one lovely morning parading onstage with a gigantic screen and a big cardboard pointer, showing the entire school how the website worked.”

Was I glad that I did it? Yes. Does it inform my blogging today? Definitely. The world has changed, though– today, any excuses we have for not building an audience are useless. Adding tools of social media to the passion and determination I had would have made The We Happy Few much, much bigger– and reach many more people. It’s only been 4 years, but quite a lot has changed– including the way we define and go about achieving success.

Interested for more? See (the bare bones version) of the site here:

What is Digital Media?

“Digital media” is a term thrown around a lot. Used and abused, it’s often utilized interchangeably with social media and media 2.0. But what exactly does it mean? Recently, a friend of mine asked me to define “digital media” and I found myself having a tough time truly and simply nailing down what I think the term encompasses and why, of all things, I think it holds the biggest potential for transforming our daily lives. Here’s my best attempt.

To begin with, it definitely doesn’t help that “Media” is such a tough term to define. To me, at least, media (also, I feel much more comfortable using the term “media” as a collective noun– which I believe it more or less has become today) is the different tools/forms (or mediums) used to store & deliver content. In other words, it’s the different forms through which information/data/all communication can be held and passed through. This content/means of communication can be text, picture, audio, video, and who knows what else someday-based. Though “Digital” is a little easier to define, it may be more broad-reaching– and the most likely to change. Basically any media stored & displayed in an electronic way is “digital.” In a technical sense, I see this as anything that can be brought down to those good ‘ol 0s and 1s.

My definition, then? Digital media is the different platforms on which people communicate electronically.

Expression. Communication. Interaction. That’s what it comes down to. As media and content rapidly transform– and the way we interact online (from chat forums to gchat, from Twitter to Quora, from gmail to Skype) along with it, new interactive media platforms and social networks surface. This is digital media. Communication holds the key to peace, to discord, to progress, to mass movements, and to just provoking your personal thinking. No matter what’s involved, no matter what it is– if it’s a platform for human expression, social interaction, communication, and education online, it’s digital media.

And why does it contain the biggest potential for changing the way we live our lives? As we use digital apps, tools, and other forms to creatively explore, innovate, and transform the way we communicate, we change as people. Twitter changes our human conversation– and that this leads to a different human experience. A human experience that can move (digital and non-digital) mountains in different ways, from government philosophies and politics to re-inventing the way we conceive of our social lives and our place in society. See why I’m excited about its future?

I'm Featured on College Media Matters!

Some of my thoughts on digital media, social media, and HUTV were recently (and graciously) featured on College Media Matters.

A couple excerpts are below to (potentially) get some conversation started… What are your thoughts?

CMM: Thoughts on social media’s role in the overall push for success.

DF: The social side is the component that HUTV is still working on, and it’s crucial to any kind of media today. Opening up your content to anyone and allowing them to do anything they want with it (share it, mash it, slander it, watch it on Boxee!) is the inevitable future of all media content. And students need to lead that charge. Getting a Twitter account, making a Facebook page, and allowing comments on video isn’t enough though. That should be the basic package for anything, but we should be talking about the premium platinum package! And that package comes with a true commitment to honest communication, real relationship-building, humble feedback-taking, and proactive response-giving. It comes with accepting that we don’t know what’s going to happen, who’s going to love our content or come up with new directions for it- and we need to be ready to embrace whatever that brings and capitalize on it to succeed in anything.

CMM: What are the roots of your personal digital media passion?

DF: My passion for transforming the world through digital media happened by accident, but my interest in media and the influence it can have on a community has been something I must have been born with. Ever since I can remember, I was starting projects to give people a voice in their community- from middle school, where I founded a semesterly paper called The Wizard Chronicles that published articles on student life all the way to “On Harvard Time,” the comedy news show (a la Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”) I founded freshman year of college that parodies/satirizes/lampoons what happens at a place like Harvard.

I’m personally excited about the value of media products and services that serve the end-user- those that can be tangibly seen making a difference (and also visiblyDigital media built on to be made better and better and better). At the end of the day, perhaps it’s that I’m passionate about making people’s lives better. And, while I think that can be accomplished in many different ways, the way that has been most fulfilling and fun for me has been through media. Media is pretty magical. And we all know that making magic happen takes an awful lot of thinking, hard work, and perseverance. So I guess I’m passionate about making magic?

It's Not Too Late: 10 Reasons Why There's No Better Time Than Now To Join Twitter

(Or: How You Can Be Just Like Conan O'Brien and the Dalai Lama, 10 Reasons Why You Should Join Twitter Now!)

Admit it, you’re curious. You’ve gotten over making jokes about “tweets” and “twits” and you’ve come to terms with seeing it on CNN every hour. Even The New York Times chimed in. You’re considering taking the plunge.

But, deep down, you’re also wondering: is it too late? Have I missed the Twitter party boat?

You haven’t. In fact, great news! The party boat is waiting just for you.

If you join Twitter now, you can…

1. Connect with your old friends in a way you’ve never before.

Reading on Twitter that an acquaintance of mine was in St. Petersburg, I recommended a pierogi place I’d been to before, and loved, called Stolle. Somehow convinced, she went and responded: “you were completely and utterly right. i bow down before your wisdom and knowledge and simply wish for more suggestions.” With Twitter, I was able to recommend something to someone I never would have before on the other side of the world– and, with Twitter, she was able to find out about one of St. Petersburg’s greatest restaurants. This example is just one way of harnessing your friend network in entirely new ways. If this sounds like Facebook a bit, you’re right. But Twitter allows you to do this more efficiently, quickly, and easily. Ultimately, you can learn more about the friends you do have— and learn more about friends you never knew before based on mutual interest instead of the accident of geography. There’s something Facebook can’t do even if it tried (and it will).

2. Make new friends and build relationships with people (and companies) you never imagined you could.

On Twitter, you’re as valuable as anyone else in twitter world. You’re not Ashton Kutcher, but if you @ reply someone, you’ll show up exactly the same in a feed. Want to respond to Shaq? Your tweets will reach him the same as anybody else’s. This means that communication and interaction between you and celebrities, thought-leaders, brands, and more is closer than it’s ever been. Want to tell Starbucks what you thought about their free pastry roll-out? You can. And they’ll read it. Maybe even respond. Recently, I tweeted “After a killer pitch by a @starbucks barista, I tried the Ethiopian sun-dried yergacheffe clover coffee. And she was right- it’s delicious” and, believe it or not, Starbucks, a company with a net revenue of, oh, $2.5 billion, actually responded: “@DerekFlanzraich It is tasty… tastes like Blueberries.” So clearly that’s not life-changing, but it’s a conversation I would have never had otherwise. And, you know what, it did taste like blueberries. Delicious blueberries.

3. Be inspired and enriched by following people you admire (who, by the way, are all already on Twitter).

Like you, the last thing I want to read or write about is what I had for breakfast. And, as interesting as someone thinks hearing any time a space rock gets within a few lunar distance (just follow @asteroidwatch) may be, it’s not my thing. Want to use Twitter to write about that delicious egg white omelette? Knock yourself out. But there’s so much more. There are people like Fred Wilson asking for help with his ppt before he presents at a major conference, people like Gary Vaynerchuk asking for advice on how to sell his book better, people like Jason Falls suggesting new, killer apps you’ve never heard of, and people like Dustin Curtis questioning everything you thought you know. There are thought leaders in any industry and any subject you’re into, people you admire suggesting thought–provoking articles you probably missed. And, after a while, when Jack Dorsey says goodnight on twitter, it may actually begin to mean something to you.

The key to Twitter is that that you can follow whomever you want—and they don’t have to know. Sounds a bit like stalking, but let’s be honest, it’s the internet, so who cares? Similarly, you can be followed (if you choose to not have your account private) by anyone who’s interested. And you don’t need to follow them back. Don’t care what that person is tweeting? You don’t need to follow them. Curious about that person, but they’re a Fortune 500 company CEO? Don’t worry, it turns out they want you to follow them.

And sure you can follow Britney Spears. Even MC Hammer. But you can also follow Barack Obama, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, and John Hodgeman. And you never need to actually read what Ashton Kutcher writes. Luckily, the diversity of the people on Twitter is huge. Favorite sports team? Hear how training is from their all-star pitcher. Interested in marketing? Follow presidents of ad agencies. Music? Technology? Politics? Whatever, you name it—you can find someone you’ve always wanted to hear more from. And then… you get to find out they’re just like you. Or not like you (Sara Bareilles: “i got tipsy and ordered 100 knives off the Knife show and sent them to my friend. whoops. Note to self: don’t do that anymore.”) And you can get an incredible view into their personality. For example, after Alberto Contador won this year’s Tour de France, Lance Armstrong tweeted: “Seeing these comments from AC. If I were him I’d drop this drivel and start thanking his team. w/o them, he doesn’t win.”

4. Become a better consumer and get sweet deals.

Major brands like Starbucks and JetBlue have defined the way big brands can be personal and intimate using Twitter. But small businesses outnumber the big ones on Twitter. For them, it’s a powerful tool to reach their fervent supporters and expand to new ones. In Los Angeles, popular roving gourmet catering trucks tweet their location. For example, the unbelievably good Sprinkles Cupcakes mobile truck: “Sprinklesmobile will be @ Las Palmas and Franklin at 12:30 today! First 100 people get a free cupcake courtesy of 10 Palms and Deasy/Penner!” Oggi Gourmet, one of my favorite restaurants in Harvard Square, offers free pizza if you give them a password from Twitter (“free pizza at 3pm for the first person who comes in and says yaba daba doo!!”). In this way, Twitter is incredible for the consumer. You’re not paying for anything. They’re not annoying you. You can follow them if you want, unfollow them if you choose, communicate with them in a totally new way, and get free stuff to boot. A true win win.

5. Start sharing what you find interesting with the world in a totally new way.

You come across stuff that’s interesting every day. Maybe you blog about some of them. Maybe you share them with your friends on Facebook. But here’s a totally new way to show off what you’re passionate about and what your interests are– and then get the same in response. And maybe you’re going to want to tell people what you’re thinking every now and then (to be fair, it was a REALLY good egg white omelet). Good. Maybe they’ll be inspired and respond in a way you’ve never thought of before. For you, Twitter can be a repository of thoughts and ideas. And a spring board for starting an unexpected conversation about them. In many ways, Twitter is becoming a notebook for the future of sorts—a log of your daily life, thoughts, events, and shared media.

6. Begin building a personal brand in a totally new, authentic way.

If you make your profile public, the world can see you. What do you want them to see? This is your chance to build a brand around what you’re passionate about. It’d be hard for me to say it better than Gary Vaynerchuk does, but basically it’s up to you to create and own your online brand– and, apart from blogging, you can’t beat Twitter as a more effective tool for doing so. Don’t care? Make your account private. I did at first– and, when I felt totally comfortable with Twitter, I made the leap. So can you.

7. Hear news that’s important to you before anyone else does.

Much has been made of the Hudson River airplane crash, which was first picked up on Twitter. But there’s more. This past summer, Kevin Love, a Minnesota Timberwolves player, tweeted that his coach, Kevin McHale, had been fired after 15 years in the organization. ESPN reported it the next morning, hours later. Whether an NBA fan or not– it was real news, from a real source: the information you care about from the people who know it better before anyone else has a chance to tell you about it. That was months ago. Today, this is happening left and right. How many articles have you read that began with a post from Twitter recently? I’d bet there was one even today. With Twitter, you can find information on exactly waht’s relevant to you. Traffic updates for your specific area? Local news? I can even find out when my Harvard dining hall is serving popcorn chicken for lunch– and that’s hardly news I can miss.

8. Hear what everyone is saying about anything at any time.

Twitter has embraced mobile updates and apps. You could easily never go to on your laptop. Instead, exactly as easily as writing a text message to a friend, you can write it to the twitterworld. And, just like checking a text message, you can dip into your twitter stream at any point and see what’s happening.

Have you ever wondered what everyone was saying about [insert anything here]? Of course you have. A google search will get you blogs. A twitter search will get you the world. Just try it.

Universal Pictures suggested that surprisingly poor attendance of Bruno was due to negative twitter comments, or the “twitter effect.” Movies, sure. TV Shows, athletic performances, whatever. Following trends on such a huge scale more can even replac epolling. If you own a company, you can follow everything people are saying about your enterprise (and respond to them, too!). It’s such an unbelievably powerful tool that Google, Bing, and everyone in between have rushed to add real-time Twitter to their search. Any wonder that Google and Facebook have both reportedly been in serious talks to purchase Twitter? Don’t be surprised. It’s not just because of the egg white omelet updates.

9. Be entertained, have fun, and laugh a lot.

Obviously, in any version of communication, you’ll be entertained. But with Twitter, you’ll get recommendations for videos, articles, and more from people who know what they’re talking about– and people you’ve chosen to listen to. Funny video recommended by Stephen Fry? Movie recommended by Jeff Widman? Must-watch commercial suggested by Roger Ebert? Hard to beat that. Besides following comedians (like Michael Ian Black or Chris Schleicher), there are tons of Twitter-only jokes. Funny hashtags, such as one where people will tweet famous movie lines as they were “written” the first time followed by #1stdraftmovielines will make you laugh: “With great power, comes great utility bills” and “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare for pie.” And there’s always the ultimate meta-joke: The Mime. Are you not entertained yet?

10. Change the world.

Admittedly, most of what people write on Twitter is unimportant, self-important blather. But tweeting is also evolving into a powerful social force. In Iran, Twitter made the all-powerful mullahs tremble in fear. After the government restricted the nation’s bandwith, but stopped short of cutting off the nation’s internet connectivity entirely, tweets became the only way to show the turmoil. And show it they did. A constant stream of situation updates, linked to photos and videos, surfaced. Street protestors purportedly mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to demonstrate by using the service. And this isn’t the only example. You just might lead the next one.

There are many, many more reasons to join Twitter. Add some in the comments!

And, of course, Twitter isn’t perfect. Far from it. Sometimes its simplicity takes away from its immediate value (for example, when someone replies to one of my old tweets, it’s still unclear what message they’re replying to). People do sometimes write about how great their jog was or how much they enjoyed the nap they just had. But there’s more to it. Every day, I learn something new or take away something of value from twitter. Every day. I learn things about close friends I didn’t know, learn from thought-leaders I wish I knew, and hear about news, articles, and videos I would have missed otherwise. Meanwhile, I’m expressing myself and my thoughts in a satisfying way on an exciting medium that delivers instant responses and perspectives.

The key to Twitter is that you can use it however you want. Don’t want everyone to read your tweets and want to keep it more personal? Keep your account private and you’re able to screen who follows you. Want to create communication between you and people you would never have thought of, expand your network, and build a personal brand? Easy. Just join. Within minutes, you can be following everyone from the attractive barista to Spencer Pratt (or Guy Kawasaki). Find your own value from the wonderful tool called Twitter. Re-think what you know, download a twitter app onto your phone, and give it a try. I promise that after a few days, you’ll be hooked and learning, like me, every day.

So? Join Twitter now! Then, add me!

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Hearing Advice vs. Taking Advice

People say a lot of things. Parents, teachers, friends give a lot of advice.

But, at least in my experience, I’ve found it’s rare for people to understand the message until they’re ready for it, no matter how many times they’ve heard it.