My career narrative, and some news

“So what do you do?”

I’ve thought about this a lot the past year or so. My career arc has been, from what I’m told over and over again, interesting. I used to be proud of it: “editor, writer, designer, blogger, manager, director, information architect, user experience consultant, marketer, strategist, business developer, and chief executive,” I once wrote, celebrating the variety.

Then I moved from ecommerce marketing and strategy into product management, and from product management into innovation, both in Fortune 500 companies. Suddenly, my resume was opening doors, but my bio left people a little confused. I did my best to refine the narrative—”oh, I build digital experiences, I focus on engagement and retention”—but being in product without a career focused on product was often a blocker.

So I did some analysis, and reflection on my career as a digital native, trying to redefine it: what do I do? I build digital experiences, yes, but what ties together the Kaplan Interactive AOL area and the ESG investing project at Citi? And here’s what I’ve ascertained:

I do what’s coming up next.

Turns out my career lives at the leading edge of the commercialization of the internet. Every five to seven years, I pivot toward a new, important approach to digital communications and business models, with a job title that shifts accordingly. It explains how I wound up at Citibank, as an entrepreneur in residence for Citi Ventures, and looking back, it always has:

1995: the Internet! Interactive websites, America Online, digital publishing, web design, coding. I had an “oh wow” career establishing the online presence of venerable brands, growing sites 10X as people got on the so-called information superhighway, and helping define industry standards while learning what they meant.

2001: user experience. Usability, information architecture, optimization, analytics. I was one of the earliest practitioners and a published author on “website usability,” and I carried that flag for many years. Indeed, it still colors my approach today.

2006: ecommerce. Direct to consumer, acquisition and retention, omnichannel. Selling online was still somewhat novel when I entered the ecommerce arena full time in 2005. I got to champion new arenas to venerable brands again, and I launched one of the earliest DTC presences for a CPG manufacturer.

2013: startup ecosystems. Incubating, accelerating, coaching, advising, mentoring. From a volunteer slot as a “venture mentor” at my alma mater, NYU Stern, I got into startups, helping dozens of founders improve their approaches. I helped one startup win a major competition, joined another for a Techstars accelerator cohort, and continue to work with founders, small business owners and emerging executives.

2019: innovation and validation. Demand testing, in-market experiments, innovation labs. Joining Citibank’s innovation arm, sitting alongside the venture investing team, introduced me to customer-facing new product development. I delighted in the experimentation, and bringing such a strong focus to the customers for whom we were conceiving our products with a Jobs To Be Done approach.

As my residency at Citi wound down, I spent a lot of time thinking about where I’d go next. There were elements of many of my recent roles that I’d enjoyed: building products, putting customers first, exploring new markets, growing businesses and teams. I’m pleased to add another “up next” to this long list:

Supporting independent brands. I have joined the product team at Pantastic, an ecommerce website and growing ecosystem for supporting indie brands. Pantastic’s marketplace showcases hundreds of great brands and their products, and we’re hard at work creating ways to support them with innovative approaches to software and distribution.

Pantastic is also an early-stage startup. After many years working with startups as a coach, mentor and advisor, I’m excited to be in the thick of things, part of a small, growing team with a shared goal and outsize ambitions, where I can leverage many of the different aspects of my experience. I’m already learning a ton—that’s what doing what’s next is all about—and am excited for the ride. Stay tuned.

Twenty years past

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversay of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York. You know this, of course. This weekend, many corners of the internet will be commemorating the occasion.

I have never been one to look back on the event in great detail. Many people do (Anil Dash, for example, every year) and I appreciate their reflections without feeling much need or desire to add my own. I lived it, I wrote down my reactions in real time, and for me, that has been enough.

Speaking of which, my memories of the day and the week were chronicled here on the Ideapad, and I still recommend reading them; the page is both contemplative and raw, and it holds up. Also, for really raw writing about the event, my friend Adam’s firsthand writeup is chastening.

At the newsstand

It was a blazingly hot summer afternoon as I walked the dog. We walked down Broadway, where an electronic sign announced that both interstate lottery jackpots were around a quarter-billion dollars. I felt like daydreaming on my dog walk, so I stopped at the newsstand with the lottery terminal.

“One Mega Millions and one Powerball, please,” I said to the older man working the newsstand.

“One of each?” he said.

“Sure,” I replied, “maybe they’ll both come in.”

He paused a beat while the tickets printed. “One is enough,” he said.

Le Tour 2006

I caught the replay of the end of the 2021 Tour de France on TV today, and remembered that I inadvertently attended the finale of the 2006 tour.

Floyd Landis celebrating his victory.

How does one inadvertently crash the victory lap of the world’s most famous bicycle race? First, one gets sent to Paris on business; then, one flies early, to cope with jet lag and to enjoy an extra day in Paris on the company dime (thanks, Clarins!); then, one chooses to go for a walk on a beautiful summer day, and then starts wondering what all the fuss by the Champs Elysses is about, and keeps walking and watching.

Not speaking any French, I didn’t ask anyone for clarification, I just kept looking around, and I must have spotted a “Le Tour de France” sign that clued me in. I stayed by the Arc de Triomphe for a small parade, then saw the riders do their laps on the Champs Elysses, then meandered with the masses to the main stage, where I was able to see Floyd Landis accept his trophy from a remarkably close distance, maybe 100 feet (30 meters) away from the presentation (albeit from the back, which allowed me to get pretty close, as evidenced here).

It was a pretty wild thing to attend, especially by accident. I’m not a big cycling enthusiast, but I am a bike rider and I know the sport, so I enjoyed this very much, Landis’s subsequent dethroning notwithstanding. I have a hundred or so photos of the afternoon. Who knew?

I liked working for a French company. Nice travel perks. (Usually.)

Hello 1990

Greg Storey: “I got into grunge, but I never bought into MiniDisc.” Ah, MiniDiscs. I never bought into them, either.

That article and blog post brought Greg back to his first listen of Nirvana, which reminded me of my own “Smells Like Teen Spirit” experience, discussed here previously. I still have these moments: a few weeks ago, a car stopped on the corner of 99th and Broadway blasting an amazing jam, and I stopped to Shazam it, and the driver and I shared a moment as my family chuckled at us both. Music serendipity is a favorite ethereal phenomenon of mine.

All the pizza near me

Growing up, my hometown of Livingston, N.J., had 13 pizza parlors for a population of 27,000. Why I knew (and know) this, I’m not sure, save for the fact that I very much enjoy getting a pizza delivered for dinner.

As a New Yorker, I’ve never lacked for pizza options, but my immediate neighborhood is now bursting at the seams with them, so I’m taking stock (because why not). It was recently revealed that Traviata, a good slice joint down in the West 60s, is opening on 106th and Broadway, which will bring the number of pizza parlors within a 10-minute walk of my home to fifteen:

Sal and Carmine—our go-to slice joint, sweet and hearty and delicious. The neon sign in the window that says “LARGE SLICE” is not lying.

Mama’s Too!—the heralded pizza innovator, both interesting and delicious. The pepperoni and the honey-pear slices are our faves.

Mama’s—where the owner of Mama’s Too got his start, a traditional slice place with excellent grandma pies and garlic knots.

La Vera—pretty good slice joint that moved into Two Boots’s space (sigh) a couple of years ago. I wanted to support them but the pizzas are hit or miss.

La Famiglia—you know, that one. Ours makes a pretty solid pie. My younger son likes it the best.

Perfecto Pizza—technically in my 10-minute radius, but we never go there, because it’s terrible. (Their adjacent Greek restaurant seems to do well, though.)

Little Italy Pizza—also in the close-enough-but-not-really range; there is better, closer, but yes.

Broadway Pizza—this was pretty good, then it wasn’t, then it changed owners, but I haven’t been in awhile. They have a good lunch deal.

Cheesy Pizza—eh.

Cafe Viva—vegan and organic pizza with a good reputation, but we’ve never tried it.

Bosino—a brick-oven pizza parlor that seems nice but we have yet to try. Maybe we’ll hit this one next.

Cafe Roma—another one we haven’t tried, over on Amsterdam. Might be kosher (which might be why we haven’t tried it… kosher ≠ pepperoni pizza).

Serafina—not a pizza parlor, per se, but a New York Italian restaurant with a pretty good pizza on the menu. We get it as an appetizer.

Oh, and there’s a Papa John’s up Amsterdam, too. Think we’ll ever get to it?

Wasabi the Best in Show winner

Few things make me more giddy than seeing a Pekingese, so when a gorgeous Pekingese takes Best in Show at Westminster, I’m pretty much in peak dog-lover form.

This is Wasabi:

Yes! Make my day, my week, little new best friend of mine.

A winning Peke is not rare; it hasn’t even been that long. My previous BFF Pekingese Malachy won Westminster in 2012, and then there’s the (in)famous Danny, who won Crufts (the British equivalent of Westminster) in 2003, only to be accused of having had cosmetic surgery. He was exonerated, as all good pups should be.

Congrats to Wasabi, and thank you for starting my week off with a grin.

This week in Ideapad history

Inspired by Matt Webb, a look back in my archives at posts from Mays past.

2020: Day 67. My second post from the covid-19 lockdown. This seems like ancient and also very recent history.

2015: Job hunt best practices, wherein I spend four paragraphs explaining why I’m pointing to a different set of Ideapad blog posts from 2000. (This post got meta real fast.)

2013: Timely Demise: where are they now? A look back at what happened to the companies I profiled in my financial crisis retail blog.

2006: Girder & Panel. Still love that building, still love that game.

2004: Good songs. My son Eli and I discussed this slice of music history just this week thanks to the Strokes’ new single.

2000: Weblog geeks unite! Back when just being a blogger made you part of a community.

An incomplete list of the incomplete lists I’ve posted here over the years

An incomplete list of things our year-old Labradoodle chewed up while left home alone, July 2019

An incomplete list of things my son has figured out how to spin since discovering the Beyblade

An incomplete list of words starting with the letter “K” as suggested by the K-112 class at PS 87 this morning

An incomplete list of plot twists crammed into the 15-episode first season of ‘Smash’

An Incomplete List of Rock Stars I’ve Met in Unexpected Places

An Incomplete List Of Famous People I’ve Stood Next To In Public Restrooms

Things my dog has eaten

I also have a draft (incomplete) list of an incomplete list of animals we’ve been told our white-and-black Australian Labradoodle looks like (Dalmatian, cow, panda bear, etc.).

George Thorogood feat. very special guest Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers

Opening acts create regrets, don’t they? I went to a good amount of rock concerts over the years, and I always, always arrived in time to see the opening act, even though I rarely cared about them. What’s interesting in retrospect is the moments where I should have been more dialed in, and realized what a treat I had seen (Tommy Conwell notwithstanding, although I did buy his first two albums).

For exampe: I saw Sonic Youth and Social Distortion open up for Neil Young in 1990 or 1991 before I knew who either band was. Sonic Youth! Supporting “Goo!” But I thought their set was meh, a wall of guitar noise but not my thing. Sigh. Social Distortion had some catchier tunes (one was on the radio at the time), so I didn’t mind them, and it did have the effect of keeping them in my brain for many years after, so I guess that’s something. Neil Young was good that night which redeemed me a little bit—I believe this was the “Ragged Glory” tour, with Crazy Horse, so the wall of guitar noise just kept on coming.

I went to the H.O.R.D.E. Festival in the summer of 1992, to see Blues Traveler (good call) and the Spin Doctors (guilty as charged). We spent the day and saw all five acts. The middle band was Phish, in their trampolines-on-stage period, which was fine enough, and if I’d paid more attention or smoked pot maybe I’d have caught a 30-year wave, but instead I still listen to “But Anyway” and not the Phish station on Sirius XM.

There were plenty of bands that didn’t matter, of course. Good old Tommy Conwell, for example. Forgotten names like My Sister’s Machine, who opened up for King’s X one time (and whom we ran into at a rest stop on the way home). And some marginally interesting moments, like seeing Angelfish, who opened up for (I think) Live, then broke up, leaving Shirley Manson free to join Garbage, and me free to say I saw her in concert before she was famous; and the lucky ones I actually dialed into and enjoyed, like Living Colour at Shea, opening for the Rolling Stones.

But then, in 2013, I went to a Justin Timberlake concert, and the Weeknd opened, in support of his debut album. We knew at the time that he must have been talented to get picked for that slot, but we thought he sucked. Shows what I know.

The “Feels Like” Forecast

Every now and again, the “Feels Like” Forecast bubbles into my consciousness—via a tweet from someone with a long memory, say, or a time-shifted reference to the day of the week not seeming right, or when a pandemic reduces our collective view of the calendar to mush. It came up again this week, so I thought I’d tell the tale of my one moment of viral internet glory, way back in the twentieth century.

The forecast dates to the era of Yahoo, back when search was useful but not ubiquitous. Yahoo was a success because it catalogued the web, back when it was somewhat feasible to do so. Early netizens saw Yahoo’s well-organized directory of links as a tool and a note of validity, which made Yahoo something of an arbiter of taste; they also had “New” and “Cool” GIF slugs that website owners craved.

In its attempts to be comprehensive, Yahoo didn’t just organize obvious links, like news and sports; they also had fun subcategories for the humor, games and fun that populated much of the early, homemade Internet (capital “i”). One of the pages I frequented was Cool Links, a regularly updated list of entertaining destinations.

At the time, there were a few online zines that were must-reads, including Slate and Salon. The latter carried some comics, including Tom the Dancing Bug, a strip I’d been reading since college. One week in 1997, this appeared:

Tom the Dancing Bug
The original “Feels Like” Forecast. Thanks to Andy Baio for hunting it down.

I thought that was a stroke of genius, and I also thought to myself, That would make for a funny website.

Now, in 1997, web programming was simple and quick; I was building pages daily for work and play. So I whipped up a real-world version of the Tom the Dancing Bug “forecast,” complete with my own predictions (e.g. long weekend? Two Saturdays, no Tuesday). I promised myself I’d update the page a few times a week, and posted it live.

In the pre-social-media era, there were two ways to get the word out: personal website cross-linking and search engines. I posted it on my site and got folks to link back to it, which started to generate traffic. I also submitted the site to Yahoo. And sure enough, they put it on their Cool Links page, complete with yahoo_new gif. (I don’t know that it ever achieved “cool” status, but for the record, those listings got shades: yahoo_cool_rating2)

Yahoo’s site used to showcase new links at the top of the page, and when the Forecast appeared, the floodgates opened. Traffic spiked by a few thousand percent. My site host warned me of an unwieldy surge in daily data transfer. Most amusingly to me, an early ad network called ValueClick invited me to add their banners, and I said sure, why not, and got a check for $127 a few months later. The spike was quick but oh so satisfying.

I kept the site up to date for nearly six years. At one point, my friend David Miller and I pulled together a PHP database and rendering engine, so I could set the forecast weeks in advance, rather than updating the HTML by hand every morning. We also put in a visitor poll. But the site was past peak, and the poll never got more than a few dozen votes, and my ad revenue slowly dwindled to zero.

A few years later, my site host updated their servers and broke our primitive PHP, so we installed a new script that keeps the dates current. That’s the last the site was touched. Around 2009, some coworkers and I relaunched the concept as a Facebook app, but it broke before we built up an audience, and the developers quickly lost interest. Not much has happened of consequence since. The Forecast had all of 327 page views in the 90 days leading up to this post.

But! I am still proud of the “Feels Like” Forecast, for a few reasons, all of them deeply personal.

  • I built a thing, amused myself, and then amused others with it.
  • I managed to create and ride a wave of viral popularity, however early and brief.
  • The site’s HTML is pristine. Look at it! The page renders perfectly and it’s 24 years old. No linkrot here, either.
  • And hey, I made a few bucks. (Very few, but hey!) Those ValueClick ad scripts are still in the page source. Maybe I should turn them back on.