The Most Important Screen

The time delay screen is the core of Sealed. It needs to be an exciting, delightful experience to scroll into the future. How exactly should it look?

In contemplating the design for this screen, I’ve kept an eye out for apps that use a prominent circle to perform an action or to display data. Here’s a smattering of what I’ve come across:

At this point, I’m happy with the notion of dragging an item around in a circle to increase the time delay. The action itself should be just about universally understood: things rotate clockwise, whether it be an analog clock, a planetary system, or an iPod scrolling through music. I’m confident that people will see this screen and know what to do.

The decisions to be made here are basically cosmetic. How thick is the line? How much data should I show the user (hours, days, months, years?) To gradient or not to gradient? To introduce a new color or to keep with the theme? How can this experience sparkle?

I feel like I’m missing an animation, but I have a hard time thinking in motion. Maybe the button swells when you tap + drag it? Maybe it changes color with each revolution?

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I’m hesitant to gradientify the whole app, but it is a common trend and does tend to cause people to call the design “beautiful”. Is it clear? Will it feel special? Is there a happy medium?

Also, I’ve recently begun to take to Tumblr to post my screenshots, which I collect aggressively whenever I come across a piece of design that is interesting to me. Ads, apps, marketing done well and poorly, tech, future-tech (my favorite)… if the Internet has taught me anything, more social media is always better than less!!!!!

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Fundraising – first impressions

I’ve just finished a marketing/fundraising/event-planning job at Jeff’s Place, a children’s bereavement center in Framingham MA. Fundraising at Jeff’s Place was mostly outbound media that culminated in events or regularly solicited donations. Invaluable experience, but it often felt a bit hands-off, like why don’t we just go out and ask people if they’ll donate? What would happen if you did that?

So I’m trying that out: door-to-door canvassing for DDS in support of local public broadcasting – WBGH, NHPTV, NPR etc. I’m literally knocking on doors in target neighborhoods around New England within a ~60min radius of Boston. “I’m here with New Hampshire Public broadcasting, and today we’re going door to door to raise public support for… 

I love the cause and people are crazy. Both on the canvassing team and also out in the world. I love the randomness of it, there’s a real thrill in clicking with someone and glimpsing the way they live. So many dogs. A few friendly cats. Most ran away, one was exceedingly fat and fluffy. 5/10 doors open, 9/10 people say no, and 7/10 are nice about it. 1/10 are spectacular jerks.

I’ve only just had my second day on the job, but it’s a lot of walking and my feet hurt. I knocked on 87 doors today, plus about a dozen that I either revisited to see if someone arrived home or followed up with from an earlier interaction. There’s a lot of independence as we canvas alone. It’s nice to be outside, the world is a pretty place. I raised enough to make quota both today and yesterday so I’m officially on the team, hoorah!

On another note, I have received and am internally testing the first build of the Sealed iOS app. It doesn’t quite look or work right yet but progress is in motion. New website coming soon as well. Hoorah again!

Rat

My grief comes in waves. Recently I’ve been in a trough, although there are thousand little peaks and lows between every crest. Every hour is not gloomy, but I can recognize the trough from the sheer quantity of lows. It’s been a lot.

The other night I watched a 1984 documentary, Streetwise, about the lives of street kids in Seattle at the time. It’s an amazing piece of art, intensely honest and tragic and beautiful. The kids were all running from something even more grim than life on the streets. It’s grim all the same. Boys peddle, thieve, and pull tricks to scrape by. Girls sell the only product that they can. Everyone finds escape somehow, usually chemical.

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Rat, photo by Mary Ellen Mark 1983

My dad reminded me strongly of one of the main children the documentary followed, Rat. They grew up similarly; no dad, absent mom, combative, savvy, and proud. He pulled tricks and sold things and I grew up hearing the glory stories as if it were a fairy tale. We all know how he ended up.

There are between 100 and 150 million children living in the streets around the world RIGHT NOW. 250,000 die EVERY WEEK from diseases and malnutrition. 2 million children are objects of sexual abuse. Child pornography and demand for child prostitutes continues to increase globally.

And the ripples caused by each tragedy are felt for generations.

Lots of Little Things

I get asked all the time how Sealed is going and what I’m doing to make it happen, and one phrase always bubbles to the surface as the most accurate response: “lots of little things”.

By little things, I don’t mean that the task in front of me is ‘little’, nor that it will be easy or happen overnight. What I do mean to communicate is that my day-to-day is not as straightforward as entering an office at 9am and working on an excel spreadsheet for 8 hours until quitting time. There may be days that I spend eight hours on a single task, but frankly those days are few and far between. What I usually end up doing is a lot of little things.

These are the big things: Design the UI and continuously investigate UX. Keep in touch with the dev team and make sure things are happening. Build a team. Find experienced mentors and advisors. Figure out the business plan. Continuously create and update all pitching materials. Figure out marketing and make a promo video. Find the right investors and prove to them that Sealed will make them money.

But I could never say to someone, “yeah, I built a team today, and tomorrow I’ll raise a 500K seed round”. These are not “tasks” so much as they are goals that guide what I do from day to day. My job is to take each of these tasks and break them into their most achievable components, and then achieve micro-tasks until the larger task itself becomes achievable.

So on any day, I might work on a few UI screens, email a few potential advisors, marketing gurus, or potential teammates, read about the Boston VC / Angel landscape and identify potential funding avenues, or refine or execute a section of the video ad script.

What I don’t hear people talking about enough is timing. In my experience, timing is everything. It’s like cooking a multi-course meal. The meat has to be defrosted for hours before cooking time, and then marinated long before the asparagus goes on the grill. It wouldn’t make sense to make the balsamic vinaigrette dressing at 8am when it wouldn’t be needed until dinnertime, just as it doesn’t make sense to email everyone-and-their-mom months before the app is anywhere close to being ready.

So I do lots of little things every day, with the top of my task list being revealed to me daily from a panoptic assessment of where I’m at and where I should probably go next. Key word ‘probably’, as I’ve definitely already defrosted the meat too early and overcooked the asparagus, but luckily Whole Foods is right around the corner and has a special on their coconut chicken.

One little thing: Sealed was on Betalist yesterday. Sign up and share, people!

'I put the steaks on.' 'Are you crazy? The potatoes aren't even close to done. The steaks will be coal by the time they're ready.' 'No they won't, we're almost out of propane.'

Good, Selfish, and Lazy.

Earlier this year I was on a mission to put together 15K so that I could participate in Hidden Founders, an accelerator/development service that accepted Sealed into their inaugural class of non-technical founders. In pursuit of forming a relationship with a wealthy benefactor, I reached out to several VC firms in the Boston area with a cold email. Much to my surprise, one replied, we met, and one of the partners decided to introduce me to a bunch of his helpful friends: a few lawyers, serial entrepreneurs, and angel investors.

The next week, I met with a serial entrepreneur and angel investor, who we’ll call Bob. We met at a Starbucks in Framingham off of route 9. He’s a kind-eyed man with a wandering energy and the assuredness of someone who has seen his words come true. He sat me down at a table and proclaimed,

People are good, selfish, and lazy.

I stared back at him and said, “OK”, digesting, thinking about rational actors and Pareto efficiency. He launched into a spiel about his latest project and how he is catering to the customer.

I don’t remember much of what Bob said after that, but those initial words stuck. Good, selfish, and lazy. It’s almost self-contradictory, but not quite. It’s different from pure utility maximization, which doesn’t adjust for normative evaluation or social forces. It’s also not groundless idealism. It’s a matter-of-fact encompassment of Bob’s experience with people, a descriptive trifecta that somehow neatly describes human behavior.

That people are selfish and lazy is an easier truth to swallow. Rational acting theories have dominated our economic landscape for much of the last century, and evolutionary behavioralism would certainly indicate that each man seeks to maximize his gains while expending the minimum amount of effort, lest he tire and get eaten by a saber toothed cat.

But is that really true? Does every man always claim resources to the detriment of each other man? What if we introduce a woman to the picture, or a child, or a friend? The internet is filled with long angry conversations about whether the inherent man is good or bad or neutral, and oftentimes, society becomes the culprit in turning neutral babies into bad men. And from a systems perspective, that may in fact be true. Sending millions of men to prison is a societal pathway that is likely to have a deleterious effect on neutral or even good men.

But I think that it is society that saves us. Not our dear consumerist and classist society at large that we’ve grown to love, that’s more the result of the selfishness and laziness.

It’s our immediate society that saves us. Our friends, our family, our relationships. I am a good person because I want a tribe, and if I were to be a bad tribesman, people wouldn’t like me. It’s as simple as that.

Of course you could argue that ensuring success for one’s tribe is a selfish act, and that may be very true, but regardless of the source of the goodness, everything comes down to relationships. There is nothing we care about more. It is the kernel of good that can singularly upend our desire to lie, cheat, and steal. It causes us to do things that are completely at odds with any “rational” man, such as jump in front of a train to save a stranger or work excruciating 70 hour weeks for decades on end.

It is this centrality of relationships to the core of mankind that I think will allow Sealed to take root and grow. Sealed offers an easy way to reaffirm relationships in an apparently thoughtful way. It taps into that highest power in a way that can easily be used in one’s self-seeking while simultaneously demonstrating affection and goodwill.

Of course this is all speculative and self-congratulatory, but in my head, the math works out. All that’s left is to find out. Until then, stay selfish! I’m counting on it.

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