Travel the World with Cultr.Club

I am excited to share this guest post from Evans, founder of Cultr.Club – congrats on the recent launch!  Cultr.Club is a subscription service for cultural explorers.  Each culture kit* (subscription box) includes a culture guide, specialty magazine, digital mixtape, edible treat, and artisan gift.

As a frequent and passionate traveler, I am very excited about this travel service and believe it will help invite the curiosity to travel to each of its members.  Unlike many other subscription services, Cultr.Club is educating individuals with each product and helping them discover a new part of the world.

Cultr.Club is currently offering a 20% discount on their first culture kit with the code ‘BrightEyes’ to show its support for BrightEyes – a program dedicated to helping students develop their careers and professional network!

*Each culture kit is $45.  Cultr.Club ships worldwide and offers free shipping in the U.S.  The inaugural Panama release is limited to 250 members only.

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Culture Kit Items_CultrClub

 Guest post from Evans, founder of Cultr.Club.

Anyone can be an entrepreneur nowadays. Advancements in technology have enabled everyone from the corner barber to your very own grandmother to launch a product. With the explosion of the Lean Startup movement, publicized by Eric Ries, all it takes is a dollar and a dream, sometimes literally, to launch a company. This has both helped and hindered the movement.

On one hand it levels the playing field. Visionaries can exploit missed opportunities in the marketplace that established companies leave on the table – either because they have no incentive to change or simply do not know how. On the other hand, because barriers to entry have decreased while access to capital has increased, they fall victim to larger than life ambitions. This “Blurred Lines Effect” is when startups try to cater to every vertical and horizontal market that remotely relates to their product. Just because you can build anything you can imagine doesn’t mean you should. Sadly, I learned this lesson firsthand.

The tourism industry is ripe for innovation in all areas from housing (Airbnb) to tour operation (Vayable) to culinary curation (FindEatDrink). I had ambitions to transform the industry with an app focused on curated culture and meaningful sharing. Problem is, my team and I could not get the project off the ground for a variety of reasons. What started out as a travel concierge club turned into a hybrid travel guide, social network, and customer service center. I was getting no where and fast.

I spent many nights with my head stuck in a Starbucks’ cup trying to assure myself that my passion for the project remained. To prove it I flipped through my thick leather notebook of great ideas dating back to 2007. They all had some element of cultural exploration. Convinced that my heart was still in the game I went back to the drawing board and rethought my company agenda.

My solution is a leaner startup approach where I focus on different ideas, in the simplest form, and let them grow organically and individually. This “conscious uncoupling” allows the products to best serve their individual purpose. Trust me, it is not a loss of faith in my grande vision but a realistic assessment of my available resources and capabilities. Look around you, even established companies are taking note and exploring singular focused agendas slightly outside of their core competencies. Instagram did it with the Bolt app and Facebook did it with its Paper app. Niche just became super niche.

I am proud to say that I am staying the course by focusing on the one thing of value I can offer the industry – cultural context, which distinguishes me from other ventures. I am a culturist who has studied and traveled abroad for extended periods of time studying economic, regulatory, and culturally landscapes. I bring that experience to the newly relaunched Cultr.Club (“Culture Club”), a subscription service for cultural explorers. We travel the world exploring different cultures and send members a box of artifacts to experience it for themselves.

I intend to share the beauty of the world one member at a time.  Wish me luck. See you on the other side.

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Twitter & My 5-Year Anniversary

I joined Twitter July 2009.  5 years later…I’m more active on my account than I’ve ever been.  I began as a follower, became a curator and now also a content creator through my blog posts.

Twitter has granted me ease of access to information across a range of topics, allowed me to create real offline connections that I would not have otherwise been able to make, given me a voice and power of influence with the CEO’s, politicians and educators of this world, and created a new habit for me.

#onlinefirst

With only 140 characters, we are able to stay current with the news, learn something new, engage with our immediate and the global community and express ourselves. Twitter has removed the need for search and given us constant access to knowledge; search now happens after. And having this channel of real-time information has provided us with transparency about industries, corporations and governments. We are more informed and educated than we’ve ever been because of twitter, and this has inspired individuals to challenge long-established systems and advocate change to remove constraints to our freedom, such as we’ve seen recently with Turkey and during the Arab Spring, and also with Student Voice – twitter chats that enable students to be heard and influence decisions around education.

#transparency

Twitter has also allowed me to connect with individuals in a new way and so much of my network today has originated from twitter. There once was a time when online connections were considered ingenuine, such as when people distinguished between “Facebook friends” and real friends. But on Twitter, conversations initiate relationships; followers are less predetermined by existing relationships and driven by content, not by professional statuses or pictures that typically create exclusivity or immediate filtering.

#relationships

Twitter has touched upon every area of my life, from social to education to professional, and has changed how I explore and connect within these areas. I have yet to see another web and mobile service that is able to provide such speed and penetration of information and enable its users to create impact at a global level.

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Follow Me on Twitter @tiffanydstone

Show Me the Money

Created by Tiffany Stone
Created by Tiffany Stone

Alternative lending involves various types of loans available to consumers and business owners outside of a traditional bank loan.  Alternative lending includes crowdfunding (rewards and equity-based), peer-to-peer lending (interest-based, asset-based, consumer, small business) and other non-bank financial firms.

I’ve shared below my comparison of a few major online alternative lenders, including Lending Club, Prosper, Earnest, LendUp, Sofi, Upstart, OnDeck, Kabbage, Borro and Wonga.

Alternative Lending Comparison Slide 1 - Tiffany Stone Alternative Lending Comparison Slide 2 - Tiffany Stone Alternative Lending Comparison Slide 3 - Tiffany Stone Alternative Lending Comparison Slide 4 - Tiffany Stone Alternative Lending Comparison Slide 5 - Tiffany Stone Alternative Lending Comparison Slide 6 - Tiffany Stone

I’ve put together a basic DevOps Market Map.  Check it out, would love suggestions/feedback!

What is DevOps?

Development + Operations

DevOps is a software development method that aims to increase communication, collaboration and integration between software developers and IT operations through automation of the change, configuration and release processes, an extension of Agile Development – releasing updates to product early and often (“perpetual beta”).

* DevOps requires not only the appropriate tools but also a change in organization and culture.

DevOps Lifecycle:

  1. Check in code
  2. Pull code changes for build
  3. Run tests (Continuous Integration server to generate builds & arrange releases): Unit tests, integration test, user acceptance test
  4. Store artifacts and build repository (repository for storing artifacts, results & releases)
  5. Deploy and release (release automation product to deploy apps)
  6. Configure environment
  7. Update databases
  8. Update apps
  9. Push to users – who receive tested app updates frequently and without interruption
  10. Application & Network Performance Monitoring (preventive safeguard)
  11. Do it Again!
DevOps Market Map by Tiffany Stone
DevOps Market Map by Tiffany Stone

Never Enough Time

Currently, I see many calendars and apps that are either focused on one aspect of the calendar (e.g. iCal and Sunrise for calendar integration and Doodle and Flock for scheduling) or a certain individual (e.g. Tempo for networkers).  And other calendars, that aim to be multi-purpose, offer too many features that in theory would tremendously enhance the planning experience but realistically do not align with user behavior (e.g. To-Do recommendations based on location).  Where I believe many calendars fail is their lack of simplification and integration of their features to reduce mental energy and user action.  The challenge is also to maintain functionality and avoid a foreign UX that risks engagement.

I think Magneto has impressive core features that are addressing some of the missing tools and scheduling experiences on many other calendar apps.  These features are focused on simplifying key issues with scheduling and task / event creation.  While the purpose of these features is nothing new, the features themselves provide enhanced solutions to old problems.  For example, the browser add-on significantly reduces the manual inputs involved in adding an event or task to your calendar by extracting information from your current webpage or email regarding an event or meeting and adding it to your calendar (below is a snapshot).  The created event can be shared across your personal and professional calendars through Magneto.  Magneto’s browser add-on automates date, time, participants and location input entries.  In comparison, Gmail calendar is limited to adding events from Gmail to only the Gmail calendar and requires exporting events onto its calendar from all other sites such as Facebook.

What I like most about Magneto is their attempt to resolve meeting scheduling by providing the capability to  schedule meetings without numerous email exchanges and view availability on both my personal and work calendars while scheduling.  However, this is also the feature I struggled most to understand and use.  Sharing my calendar via an email invite was simple but the time-proposing and event scheduling process that followed was confusing.  The experience was not as intuitive as I would have liked it to be (another calendar problem: functional but hard to use).  Those on the receiving end of my scheduling invite also had some difficulties navigating the tools.  I think improved guidance during the time-selection process between individuals is the missing piece, suggesting that there is too much unnatural form of input and needs to be a more intuitive user interface.

Overall, I think Magneto has differentiated itself as a strong calendar system with its features but I think it still falls short of replacing individuals’ primary use of Gmail, Outlook and other Calendars because while its features are useful and address the main issues with calendar management and scheduling, they are difficult to learn to use.

A Love Letter to Medium

We live to tell stories.  I believe the most effective way to communicate is through stories.  Medium didn’t change or innovate storytelling but improved the experience of sharing stories.  What most people didn’t realize was that discovering a story is as rewarding as hearing or reading it (and in some cases even more satisfying).  The stories range from travel experiences to life lessons to entrepreneurship to love.  They are real and allow us to feel connected and relate to someone across the country or world.

As a result of an increasingly mobile and web dominated world, consumer products have reduced storytelling to pictures, short videos and limited texts.  Medium, in contrast, embraces the written story and has simplified its design to be consistent across all stories (some may even say there is absence of design).  That such a platform has been able to attract over 13 million unique monthly users in less than 2 years is truly incredible.  Additionally, users are increasingly encouraged to write their stories on Medium knowing that there is a growing reader base actively searching for stories.  As a blogger, I understand the importance of where to share my writing as I value a platform that would increase the number of my readers.

Content is king.  Medium must host genuine stories and maintain a non-exclusive environment while also manage the quality of the writing.  This sounds like a catch-22!  Medium acquired MATTER last year to support high-quality journalism and already has a number of paid editors contributing content.  The costs of bringing on writers to produce quality content will naturally require the company to explore monetization options.  And investors will want to see eventual revenue streams as well.  Much like Facebook, it risks losing users by charging them for content (the difficulty of starting as a free service).  However, with bitcoin, it is possible for micro-transactions and therefore there is potential for a profitable pay-per-article structure for stories written by paid celebrity writers.

There are also other revenue options such as charging brands or professional outlets to create their own collections (e.g. Refinery 29’s collection on medium) and additional charges to promote its collection/content.  Companies and organizations can also utilize medium to launch story campaigns or create collections that are comprised of content generated by its customers/members, where individuals’ experiences with using a product/service or involvement with an organization are shared (The ESPN stories campaign on Medium is a good example of how user-generated story submissions can be done).  So companies like lyft or bevel or non-profit organizations could allow its users/members to write about their experience meeting their lyft driver or how a gift from bevel helped a boy realize he was growing up or maybe a girl’s recent trip to Asia with a medical group to provide small villages access to healthcare.

In my opinion, these collections of stories are more powerful than any ad/marketing campaign and are difficult to collect without something like medium (e.g. the idea of user submissions via email is yucky) – Medium makes it easy for the user to write directly on Medium and submit to a collection.  Embedded in these stories for companies are also feedbacks on the products/services, and inspiration for readers to use the product or service.  And for organizations, it helps reveal the impact of its programs at the individual level and encourages others to join the cause.  We’ve already seen this being done with pictures as companies utilize Instagram to share their customers’ experience (check out lyft’s Instagram or lululemon’s #thesweatlife gallery); individuals are able to upload a photo and tag the brand and companies are able to collect them and share them with the larger community, and this is all being done in one place.

Medium is still very young but it’s already proven its ability to influence the act and consumption of storytelling.