E-Hustling

I needed both the month-long school break and the subsequent study trip between July and August to happen in the worst way in order for me to finally have some consistent blocks of critical thinking time. My direction was all over the place. Just a couple of months ago, there had been a start-up idea that I began toying around with, months prior to that I was set on trying to get in on the investment-side of private equity, and shortly before that I was communicating with Imogen Heap via email about trying to help out on her team’s blockchain music project. Right out of the gates during the break, I came to the realization that regardless of what the long-term move is going to be, I need cash ASAP.

I didn’t know exactly where to start, so I began by thinking about things I like to do. Of course, I immediately jumped to the impractical options and figured I would try to grow my online presence! I had voluntarily edited a couple of team videos earlier in the year (found here on my YouTube channel) even though I had no prior experience with video editing, so I decided to start there since I enjoyed it. From there, though, I realized I needed content and wanted to choose something that I could see myself doing consistently. I spent the entire first week brainstorming how I could build an online presence and decided to start with building a YouTube channel. I figured that as much as I’ve traveled and desire to continue doing so in the future, I could practice making videos by using some of my old photos and video clips. In my mind, the content offering going forward would be how to travel affordably by highlighting many of the discounts, rewards programs, flight deals, etc. that I’ve used. The old footage would serve as practice ahead of the good stuff that was yet to come, such as my then-upcoming trips to Martinique and French Guiana. This sounded great to me in theory. In practice, however, I quickly realized that I really don’t enjoy spending large portions of my day editing videos, especially videos that are more than a few minutes long. While I decided to see one project through to completion during that first week, I knew that type of work wasn’t going to be sustainable for me. Furthermore, during that process I realized that the money I made to travel as much as I did in the past would definitely not be there for the foreseeable future. I wanted to create a channel to share my experiences and build an audience because I thought I had something to offer, yet I’ll no longer be able to offer anything on that subject. Most importantly, how was I going to get paid off of that? It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was time to cut my losses and move on.

After scrapping the travel channel idea in the short-term, I started searching “how to make money online” all over Google and YouTube. As one would expect, there’s a lot of garbage out there centered around filling out surveys, website testing, purchasing courses that will teach you how to make passive income, and all other types of time or money sucking ventures. However, after digging through the muck for a little bit, I was able to identify some mediums that appear to be worth looking into further:

Upwork

This platform is a marketplace that allows companies or individuals to outsource their particular needs to freelancers around the world who possess the requisite skills to tend to those needs. Recent estimates have the user base around 14 million users located in 180 countries. While there are a seemingly endless number of skills that a freelancer can present as their service offering, at a macro-level most skills are grouped into the following categories:

  • Accounting & Consulting
  • Data Science & Analytics
  • IT & Networking
  • Design & Creative
  • Web, Mobile, & Software Development
  • Administrative Support
  • Legal
  • Engineering & Architecture
  • Customer Service
  • Writing
  • Engineering
  • Translation
  • Sales & Marketing

It’s free to sign up as a freelancer and you can begin searching for potential opportunities from clients after a profile review is completed by Upwork. Once signed up, you have a limited number of “connects” per month that you are allowed to use when submitting proposals for client work. There is also a $10/month sign-up option that allows a freelancer to have more client visibility, rollover of unused “connects” from the previous month, an option to hide your earnings from others on the platform, customization of your profile URL, and the ability to view competitor bids as a bargaining tool when competing against other freelancers for client work.

Once a final decision is made on the membership type, you can begin searching for client work from all over the world based on whatever skills you choose to prioritize. While this presents enormous opportunities, it also means intense competition for client work. Because of that, the creation of a top-notch profile that definitively highlights your professional skills, work experience, project portfolio (if available), education, and accomplishments is paramount to being noticed by potential clients. Furthermore, the tailor-made proposals that you send to clients through the platform also require just as much attention to presentation and detail in hopes of being selected by the client. There are some tools in place to aid with that differentiation. For example, I received “Rising Talent” status based on my profile according to Upwork. This designation is supposed to serve as a booster for new freelancers who show potential as deliverers of high-quality work to clients, and this designation appears on the freelancer’s profile after some other minimal criteria is met. According to Upwork, Rising Talent freelancers earn 50% more than other new freelancers. This should aid in getting a few jobs quickly, at which point the designation will go away and be replaced by a Job Success Score. The client determines your Job Success Score for their assigned project at the conclusion of each job, so there’s incentive to continuously do good work.

Long-term relationship development with clients is encouraged through Upwork’s fee system in which they charge the freelancer 20% for the first $500 made from the client, 10% for the next $500.01 to $10,000 made from the client, and 5% for all earnings made after $10,000 from the client. All payments and communications are done through the Upwork platform, and protections are put in place to ensure that both sides are holding up their ends of the bargain. Stiff penalties are put in place to dissuade any shady business dealings from either side.

I plan to check this one out extensively. Because my best experience lies within accounting and writing, I plan to concentrate on those fields for my client work search in the short and medium terms. However, I like the idea of having the option to venture into other categories such as Design & Creative if my skills were to ever get up to par down the road.

Fiverr

This platform is a marketplace centered around sellers and buyers of micro-outsourced services. While virtually anything can be offered up as a service, the overarching categories consist of the following:

  • Graphics & Design
  • Digital Marketing
  • Writing & Translation
  • Video & Animation
  • Music & Audio
  • Programming & Tech
  • Business
  • Fun & Lifestyle

Anyone with a computer can instantly sign up for a free account as a seller and the service offerings can range from something as serious as high-level tax consulting to something as seemingly banal as singing a song on camera dressed as Captain Underpants. Within the profile creation, there is a lot of depth and opportunities for you to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Not only do you have the ability to highlight as many skill offerings as possible, but you also have the option to take 40-minute tests over myriad subjects to further vouch for your skillset. For example, I took a test centered around the basics of the English language and scored well enough to be in the top 10% of all takers of that test type. That distinction now appears on my profile. If I were to ever offer up writing as a service I’m willing to provide, this may help people who are unfamiliar with me take comfort in knowing that I’m at least minimally competent.

Once you’re comfortable with your profile, you can then proceed to create a “gig”, which is simply what you’ll be offering up as a service. This will include everything from pricing, “gig” description, “gig” category, hashtags, etc. One of the best ways to reel in those first buyers is to first make sure the description of the “gigs” is so thoroughly written that nothing can be left to interpretation beyond what you mean. Furthermore, displaying high-quality work samples of the service you’re offering will further instill trust from the buyer’s perspective. Hopefully, a successful “gig” performed will warrant a good rating from the buyer which, in turn, should generate more business as time goes on. It’s important to keep in mind that Fiverr will take 20% off the top of any sale, and there may be additional fees outside of America depending on the country. To help mitigate the 20% fee, it’s not uncommon for sellers to offer various packages that provide additional benefits at a higher price.

I like the idea of being able to potentially sell any skill I’m good at. This is one I’ll keep in the back pocket while I think about what unique service I can bring to the table in the future.

Affiliate Marketing

This method of earning income online involves product owners making residual income through a type of referral link from regular people like myself. The best way to describe this process is through an example. Let’s say that my blog starts generating a lot of traffic one day. Let’s also say that as I start to notice a lot of eyeballs looking at what I have to say, I also notice that it starts to attract people from all over the world. Each person then goes from being a passive observer in my eyes, to potential a buyer. One way that I could get them to try to buy something, without selling it to them directly, is through someone else’s sales channel. Websites such as Clickbank, Amazon Associates, and ShareASale allow you to essentially place custom links to someone else’s product offerings onto your own website. In this situation, you become an “affiliate” and you’re effectively “marketing” for someone else’s products when you decide to place that custom link on your own website. If a customer clicks on the link on your page and decides to buy something (within a 24-hour period for example), you receive a small commission as part of allowing that product owner to reach a customer that it otherwise might not have reached. The customer pays the normal cost of the product, the owner receives slightly less than the full price of the sale due to your commission deduction, and obviously you receive the commission. While the commission percentages are typically no more than a few percentage points of the full selling price (so if the commission you’d receive is 2% of a referred sale, and the selling price is $100, then you would receive $2 while the product owner receives $98), it is still a relatively effortless way to receive some potential pocket change. It could potentially start to add up if you have content offerings that generate large amounts of traffic.

I’ll most likely stay away from this in the short and medium terms, particularly because I’m not willing to pollute my blog with other people’s products. However, I do like the idea of generating income if a click and then a subsequent purchase is made just by me being a co-sign for someone. With that being said, I’d much rather promote my own products through my blog than someone else’s…which brings me to the next thing on the list.

Teachable

If only I knew then what I know now. I firmly believe that colleges and universities at their current costs, particularly in the United States, are getting away with the highest level of robbery. Why the average cost of tuition, adjusted for inflation, has increased over 200% from the 1987-1988 school year up to the 2017 – 2018 school year, while real wages have remained relatively stagnant during that same time, is beyond my level of comprehension. What goes even further beyond my level of comprehension is how colleges and universities, until the feeble Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was signed this past December, have been allowed to get away with tax-free endowments totaling over many billions of dollars while student loan debt sits as the second-highest consumer debt category in the United States. Even my current school, Rotterdam School of Management, has increased their tuition in one year from €47,500 to €50,500 for next year’s class for no discernible reason. Even though I won’t be directly affected by the price hike, it’s still troubling to see the 6% increase over the course of a year considering that most graduate school federal loans in America won’t give you a much better rate than about 7%. It appears that in the name of greed, colleges and the jobs that require college degrees are single-handedly screwing our generation and the next one by making degree attainment virtually impossible without the aid of lifestyle-crippling debt. Thankfully, there are platforms all over the internet that allow for high-quality learning opportunities at a fraction of the cost of going to college.

I believe that as the cost of going to a traditional university or college continues to skyrocket in conjunction with the lessened availability of well-paying jobs, platforms such as Teachable will rise to prominence. This is an online Learning Management System (LMS) that allows individuals to teach virtual courses of their own creation, with the hopes of ultimately monetizing off of the courses they’ve created. This particular platform is well-renowned for its user-friendliness and its aesthetically pleasing layout. Layouts are also easily transferable across multiple devices, so purchasers of the courses can be sure to have a consistent experience regardless of whether they’re on their computer or on their phone. While there is a free plan available on the platform, the options and ability for full autonomy are extremely limited. The pricing plans are steep, so this particular platform should be used only when assured course purchases are within sight. Default pricing is as follows:

  • $39/month – Basic
  • $99/month – Professional
  • $499/month – Business

Obviously, different perks come with the increase in pricing. More detail on that can be found on the Teachable website. Even at the cheapest price, the platform is definitely out of my price range. I still proceeded to set up an account just to look around and it is just as beautiful and user-friendly as it was advertised to be. While this website won’t serve an immediate purpose for me, this is definitely something I can look to utilize down the road when I decide to empty my brain of all of the accounting knowledge I begrudgingly accumulated.

Kindle Direct Publishing

As society becomes increasingly digital-focused, e-book usage will assuredly rise in lockstep. Recent stats related to American book-reading habits state that roughly 20 percent of book readers in the U.S. read more e-books than hard copy books, and 23 percent read about the same number of hard copy books and e-books. This bodes well for authors who are eager to share their stories with the world without the red-tape, relative lack of compensation, and politics that sometimes accompany the use of a traditional book publisher.

Kindle Direct Publishing (also known as “KDR”), via Amazon, provides a platform for those authors’ voices to be heard and allows them the potential to capitalize more off of the fruits of their labor. Its power as a platform is best exemplified through its 80% share of the e-book market. Furthermore, authors who publish through KDR are allotted much more creative freedom and significantly improved royalties: They keep 50% to 70% of book sales, vs. 15% to 25% royalties for traditionally published books. Thanks in large part to KDR’s accessibility, authors who choose to go this route can now pick and choose their own freelance editors, marketers, book cover designers, and anything else that an author so chooses within their desired budget. Some freelance establishments even cut deals with authors where they bypass upfront charges to the author in exchange for a particular percentage of the prospective profits. It’s all about negotiation in this realm, and the author has plenty of control over that.

While I’m not in a position to get in my Edgar Allen Poe writer’s bag at the moment, I do have long-term aspirations of publishing a book. It’s impossible to know how the e-book landscape will change if it takes a while before I’m ready, but for now I can take comfort in knowing that the barrier of entry has been significantly lowered thanks to platforms like KDR.

Flippa

I’ve had quite a few of my peers tell me that they want to get into real estate, in part, because they like the idea of “flipping” houses for a profit. What none of my peers has ever told me, though, is that they want to get into the business of flipping entire websites for a profit. That’s where Flippa comes in. This platform serves as a marketplace for buyers and sellers of entire websites or domain names. It utilizes a bidding system for buyers to purchases listed sites, and many sites or domains can be bid on as little as $1. Of course, if a site or a domain is willing to sell for as low as $1 then no more than that level of quality should be expected. Nonetheless, opportunities are there to either purchase a bargain or to sell for an incredible price. This could be especially beneficial for actual web developers who know how to make beautiful and functional sites, where they could purchase a domain for cheap, build the site, then look to sell it for a profit on Flippa.

I don’t have any web development experience, but I’ll still be keeping an eye out for interesting domain names to be used for future use. I saw some for sale like paperchasers.com that I know someone like Meek Mill is ready to get his hands on. I created a profile just to browse and the interface seemed pretty user-friendly. I even placed a few small bids. However, I quickly learned that just because you see an opportunity for $1 bids doesn’t mean that the seller has their personal minimum set for $1. On the first day, I ran into such a situation where I placed a $1 bid on a site that had a promising domain name. A few hours later I received a message from the seller, in which they told me that we can talk once I place a reasonable bid. I replied that I didn’t want to be reasonable and the seller proceeded to promptly remove me from the bidding process. I’ll be back 😉

Amazon Mechanical Turk

This offering from Amazon serves as a marketplace for those individuals or companies in need of an on-demand workforce to complete menial work that computers cannot universally complete at this point in time. For example, if a particular company needs to know how many trash cans are present in a particular set of pictures and they don’t have software that can automatically point that out, they would enlist the help of the workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk to complete that task. Utilizing this workforce allows for tremendous cost savings for the requesting company, as traditionally they have had to rely on hiring temporary work forces to do the same job. This type of platform has essentially turned that fixed cost into a variable cost for many companies. Where the workers benefit is in the opportunity to earn some relatively easy pocket change. However, those expecting to get wealthy off of this platform will be sorely disappointed. Most jobs pay less than a dollar per task, and those tasks could range from taking as little as a few minutes to as many as a few hours. The duration time for each task varies. As such, any task that a worker is seeking to complete should only be approached from a “I have nothing better to do at the moment” standpoint, not a “get rich or die trying” standpoint.

I have already set up a profile for the site but haven’t explored it thoroughly just yet. It’s worth noting that there’s an approval process that takes place, and I didn’t get a message of my profile being approved until about three days after I submitted my request. While I was waiting for that to happen, I decided to see how Clark Howard, a well-regarded money management expert, did with his MTurk experience. It’s worth a quick read.

Craigslist “Free” Section

Good ol’ Craigslist. When it’s not being billed as the home of the Craigslist Killer, it actually is a very useful platform that allows for seemingly infinite opportunities. One of those opportunities presents itself in the “free” section of the site, where people post pictures of things in their possession that they are looking to unload free of charge. Assuming the poster is not the Craigslist Killer, this can make for an immense opportunity to spot something of value that can be turned around and sold on a number of other online marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, Facebook Market Place, etc. Don’t take my word for it though. I’m simply reiterating what I’ve heard noted entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck say ad nauseam.

This is probably the most practical online hustle of them all for most people. As I was moving out of my New York City apartment, I easily gave away or threw out over $1,000 worth of appliances, dishes, hard-shell suitcases, and clothes in one day because I didn’t plan my move to Europe properly. As a result of my lack of proper planning, I was in a big hurry. Had I listed the stuff on Craigslist instead of giving most of the items away to the maintenance man in my building, whoever would’ve picked up the items would’ve essentially been handed over $1,000, assuming that they could then turn around and sell those items (which they certainly could’ve done in New York City). How many of those situations are out there on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? There’s no way I could be the only one who’s been in a position where free stuff of value needs to be gotten rid of in a hurry. That experience alone is enough for me to try this exercise out on a regular basis as soon as I get back to New York at the end of the year.

Conclusion

I haven’t given up my goal of starting my own proper business by any means. In fact, I view anything that has to do with someone getting money without the aid of an employer as entrepreneurial in nature. What I have given up on, though, is the thought that simply going through the deliberate process of developing an idea and seeking to get others on board will lead me to the promised land. I don’t even want people funding me for my eventual business ventures because I don’t believe that anyone gives money without expecting something in return. If it’s mine, I expect it to be fully mine with no strings attached. If I’m going to operate in that fashion, the fact of the matter is that I need ways to make money, especially since I’ve exhausted every dollar in order to make the moves I’ve made in 2018 happen without a job.

Bigger than my individual situation, though, is my recognition of the millions of people out there who don’t have anywhere near as many opportunities allotted to them as I’ve had and chosen to voluntarily walk away from. Those same millions of people who are scratching and clawing through menial jobs just to make ends meet for themselves and/or their families would probably think I’m insane for doing things like skipping the MBA program’s career fair like I did this past Friday, declining an interview opportunity with a major company like I did a couple of weeks ago, or quitting 3 months prior to my imminent 6-figure promotion like I did in December prior to my move to Europe. To me, working in the traditional sense within the employer-employee dynamic is the quickest way to perpetual middle-class living, given the perpetual wage stagnation and relative lack of high-paying jobs pervasive throughout America. I feel as if it’s ludicrous to strive for middle-class living standards when it is that very class that gets punished the most. It is in that class where you make just enough money to qualify for houses and cars that you can only afford through “favorable” financing terms. Why do you have to finance those things in the first place? In large part, it’s because of the massive student loan debt you had to take on just to qualify for the middle-class job in the first place, yet somehow you still make too much money to keep from getting taxed more than most wealthy people. If that sounds backwards, that’s because it is backwards. Unlike the wealthy, most of the middle-class has a much more difficult time affording the protections, accountants, lawyers, etc. to help them steer clear of Uncle Sam’s strong tax hand. On the other side of the spectrum, even though the living standards and wages of the poor are much less, especially for a country like America that prides itself on being the land of excesses, at least the poor have some type of tangible support through government housing, healthcare, education, and tax benefits (among others). Where’s the tangible aid for the middle class? To me, America is increasingly becoming a boom or bust society where the majority of middle-class income earners are getting bent over and financing both the wealthy and the poor simultaneously. Who wants to voluntarily sign up for that?

In short, due to the way that American government and economics is currently constructed, it’s better to be poor in the pursuit of being wealthy than to be in the middle in the pursuit of being wealthy. Interestingly, this way of thinking was personified in the NBA recently. Before he was pressured to resign a couple of years ago, people thought that Sam Hinkie was crazy to adopt that strategy with the Philadelphia 76ers. He never was crazy, and only now are people reflecting on that time period and giving him his props since the franchise is a legitimate championship contender. He recognized that one of the few benefits of being a team with a poor record is that you’ll pick higher in the following year’s draft, thus, increasing your chances of picking up the next LeBron James. In the meantime, while you’re being supported by the league, individual business will be dreadful, but you’ll ultimately survive. The work was still being put in to find the next big thing that will set you over the top, it’s just that in the meantime you’re leveraging off of the support of the league. That’s how I’m viewing real life. I’ve been comfortably in the middle-class already, and it’s nothing more than a hamster wheel full of trying to keep up with the joneses while maintaining the status quo. With the internet and its openness to the world at our fingertips, I believe that every owner of a device has the potential to control their own destiny. Because it’s a relatively new way of thinking for the masses, a step back and living below your means while you figure it out might be necessary just so you can take two steps forward once it’s figured out. Even if that’s the case, there are still learning and growth opportunities involved with making that move. Maybe those who don’t know where to begin can start with some of the suggestions above. If none of those work, then it’s on to the next one you find until something clicks.

If you agree, disagree, or have any other useful suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via email. If you’d like to stay up-to-date with posts going forward, please subscribe and you’ll receive an email notification with each new post!

-JEM

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Rotterdam School of Management MBA ’19 Review: 2nd Half (Part 1 of 3)

Advanced Sustainability (4/5)

By the time the second half of RSM’s MBA program rolled around, burnout had nearly set in for many students. The break from July 21 – August 25 couldn’t arrive soon enough. Before that break could be started, we had to get through our choice of “advanced” courses from June 11 – June 29 and subsequently had to get through our “Living Management Project”, or LMP, from July 2 – July 20. June and July represented the toughest stretch to get through, especially considering the lack of a break from Term 2’s coursework (which ended on June 8th).

The advanced courses centered around:

  • Advanced Finance
  • Advanced Marketing
  • Advanced Strategy
  • Advanced Supply Chain Management
  • Advanced Sustainability

Given the short duration of the advanced course period (3 weeks), there was not nearly enough time to take a true deep dive into any of the selections. I just wasn’t convinced that taking any intensive quant course, such as Advanced Finance, was the most effective use of time given the amount of high-quality information that can be found online these days. Particularly for finance, high-level teachings can easily be found from highly regarded sources (khanacademy.org for example) and have demonstrated more effectiveness than the professors themselves more times than they should. Regarding the Advanced Strategy course, the minute I saw that the students were expected to compose a biography of a CEO of their choosing by the end of the course period as their final project, I immediately crossed that course off of my list. Given the collective education and professional experience that comprises the MBA class, I found it to be embarrassing that we had the option of a course requiring such a seemingly elementary final project that provides relatively little value to the student. Regarding Advanced Supply Chain Management, supply chain has historically been the furthest from my interests, so the course was never going to be an option for me. That left me with only Advanced Marketing and Advanced Sustainability to choose from as viable choices. While my experience with Marketing during the second term was great and left me anticipating what could be in store for the advanced course, the dealbreaker between the two was the fact that the Advanced Sustainability course allowed for an opportunity to directly learn from and speak with numerous business owners and high-ranking leaders based in the Netherlands, as well as an opportunity to have class in Amsterdam for certain sessions. Being in Amsterdam for any legal reason is never a bad thing.

Accordingly, I chose the Advanced Sustainability course because of the perceived additional value that the course provided relative to the other courses. It was the only course that moved away from problem-solving from the employee’s perspective and focused on problem-solving from the employer’s perspective. It also helped that the professor for this course was the same one from the Business Sustainability course in the first term, so I figured that the familiarity and known expectations would be an advantage given the short period of time we were working with. Unfortunately, the daily schedule was still mentally taxing, as most days (Monday – Friday) began around 9AM and ended somewhere between 4PM – 5PM, before even considering the time needed after that to do the group assignments or individual assignments. Since the Advanced Sustainability course changes its overarching theme every year (for example, this year’s theme was sustainability within the fashion industry), it’s not worth detailing the hard content of each class. However, the way the classes are fundamentally run will most likely remain intact so I will focus on that aspect.

The value of the Advanced Sustainability class proved itself through its nuanced and relevant projects. For example, the group project that was disseminated on the first day of class centered around our respective groups aiding a start-up in the expansion of their sustainable fashion operations into India. This provided us with a golden opportunity to not only network within the company that we were aiding, but to also take a dive into solving the complex problems that surround the founding of businesses in difficult environments such as India. We had the full three-week period to complete this team project. Although the directions were broad and consequently made it difficult to know where to limit our scope (the directions were essentially “tell us how to expand successfully”), especially since it included the composition of a paper that needed to be 3,000 words long and a presentation that needed to be at least 15 minutes long, I appreciated the creativity it allotted us. The individual project that we were also assigned (also 3,000 words but no presentation) provided an even greater opportunity for autonomy, as we were expected to either submit a business proposal, a company analysis focused on their sustainability strategy, or a broad academic take on sustainability within companies. From the beginning, the professor was more than willing to aid in the development of either individual assignment choice, and even showed some flexibility with the due date that was originally set at two weeks from the start of the first class. The assignments provided great opportunities to put ourselves into the entrepreneurial mindset catered more towards our own interests. I chose to go the route of creating a business proposal as my submission and felt that the feedback provided by the professor was invaluable. This in itself will carry significant value far beyond the conclusion of the MBA coursework.

Too often throughout this MBA, I’ve felt that the coursework was too focused on explaining what happened in the past. While I understand that looking at the past is necessary as a reference point, I’m all about putting most of the focus on the present and the future. Contrary to the classes I took before it, the day to day work within the Advanced Sustainability course was all about solving current problems faced by proven business owners who were more than willing to consider the ideas we put forth in an effort to improve their future operations. During one class, we had the pleasure of speaking with Ruben van Veen, who co-launched the Dutch sustainable fashion brand SKOT. After presenting to us how he got his start, what he’s done to maintain his place within the industry, and where he’s looking to go, he tasked us with aiding him in figuring out his next move to expand internationally. We broke into groups and spent  45 minutes in his shoes to figure out the best strategy to expand the brand on a larger scale. Each group received valuable feedback regarding their approach, and the group with the most feasible strategy won a free SKOT button-up shirt for each member. These types of interactions were par for the course more days than not, and they opened us to not only creative approaches toward solving complex issues that business owners are currently facing, but also to relatively unknown industries and opportunities that could be revisited in the future. In addition to hosting the SKOT co-founder during the three-week period, we  also enjoyed a tour of the Port of Rotterdam, visited Amsterdam’s Impact Hub to learn about B-Corps, TheRockGroup (a sustainability consultancy firm), and the issues facing Yoni (a start-up focused on organic tampons), visited Interface (a sustainable carpet tile company), watched the “Closing the Loop” documentary at RSM’s on-campus theater, hosted the VP of Sustainability from Tommy Hilfiger, and hosted the Senior Global Lead Water and Global Lead Environment representatives from Heineken. Suffice to say, there was plenty of relevant content and learning opportunities abound packed into the three-week period, and I finally felt that my MBA expectations were being met.

To top it all off, the professor hosted a cookout as a show of appreciation for our hard work. Each person brought a dish and/or drink, students from the previous year’s cohort also attended, and it turned into a great way to cap off three weeks of intense work. I deem the overall advanced course experience from June 11 – June 29 as being among the best offerings up to that point in time. Between the many places and faces we were able to get acquainted with, the hands-on approach we were able to take within the lectures, and the overall lack of monotony that was present throughout thanks to the diverse structure set up by the professor, I was very pleased. Hopefully the other advanced courses enjoyed a similarly enriching experience.

-JEM

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Brand Building?

Anybody who knows me well knows that Joe Budden is among my favorite pseudo-celebrities. The reason for this started with what I perceived to be his genius rapping ability, where he was able to illustrate such vivid verbal pictures covering his troubled life to a point where I started wondering whether or not I had lived his life too. While he had become known by the masses as the guy who did “Pump It Up” back in 2003 and seemingly faded into the same abyss that has consumed many one-hit wonders before him, I recognized him as an exceptional wordsmith who only lost his buzz because he refused to be just another cog in the machine, not because he lacked substance. This perspective fueled many hip-hop arguments I engaged in on his behalf, however, they were often to no avail as the other person would typically end the arguments by mockingly saying “pump, pump, pump it up”. Nonetheless, I remained steadfast as a fan to the point where I was fortunate enough to actually meet him briefly at a party in New York City a couple of years ago. During that brief encounter, I made sure to let him know how much I still appreciate his criminally underrated career. Little did I know at the time, he was in the midst of transitioning from an under-appreciated rapper to one of the most important voices in hip-hop media today.

Before YouTube, Twitter, and other social media platforms that have come and gone became cool to use by the mainstream, Joe was actively giving his fans full life transparency by leveraging off of those platforms on an almost daily basis. For better or for worse, he fully exploited the direct artist to consumer relationship that had not been prevalent prior to the advent of social media by sharing his life with the world. Because his life was perpetually interesting and entertaining, it kept people coming back. Notable social media moments that kept his name abuzz throughout the years, despite the fact that his rap career was becoming less recognized, included providing behind the scenes look-ins at his studio sessions, getting punched in the eye by a Wu-Tang Clan member’s entourage moments before he was set to perform at a festival, and chasing after a group of kids who trespassed through his property’s driveway. I didn’t realize it during those times, but what he was doing was laying a blueprint for organically building his brand and notoriety. Major labels might’ve had ultimate power to control one aspect of his success, his actual ability to sell records, but he recognized that they would never be able to control his voice and the image that he can portray and ultimately capitalize off of. By focusing on his voice through the leveraging of social media platforms, and remaining a consistent content provider, he has been able to leverage those experiences and the following that came along with them into now lucrative opportunities that carry more weight than anything he did in his now defunct rap career. The fruits of his labor have come together in a big way over the past couple of years in the form of a successful hip-hop centric weekly podcast that now sells out tours across the US, the popularization of an internet-based hip-hop debate show called Everyday Struggle before his abrupt exit several months later, and his imminent launch of a new show called State of the Culture which will also be centered around the landscape of hip-hop culture. Through the moves that he has made by essentially going from a perceived washed-up and irrelevant rapper to now one of the more prominent voices in hip-hop, he has demonstrated the tremendous power that many people potentially have at their fingertips. This is power that I have only recently begun to explore and intend to use to build up my own profile over time.

Traditionally, I’ve used the most popular social media platforms like most people have. This has consisted of me updating my Facebook status to something that I deemed to be funny or half-baked enlightening, posting Instagram pictures of generic everyday activities, updating my Twitter sporadically, or only using YouTube to browse other people’s videos. One thing I never considered is the fact that my consumption for entertainment use has only created a one-way street of tangible benefits in favor of the platform, not the consumer. While I was getting short-term intangible satisfaction through either my posts or the browsing of other people’s content, I was having large amounts of data collected on me that someone else was ultimately profiting off of infinitely more than I was, either directly or indirectly. With this realization, as obvious as it was in hindsight, it’s hard for me to continue approaching social media the same way I used to. Going forward, I’m shamelessly utilizing social media with the primary intent of self-promoting my talents and interests, with the upside being that it will lead to currently unforeseen benefits in the future but with the floor being that I inspire someone to live their best life regardless of their current circumstances. In a world where so many people seem to be so caught up in towing the company line, being politically correct, and afraid of truly being themselves for large parts of the day, it’s important for the other side to show that shunning the politics of typical everyday life and just living is much more rewarding and enjoyable. I see myself as being part of that other side.

If there’s one thing that I look back and regret, it’s the fact that I’ve traveled to so many interesting places and at every stop I was reluctant to take many videos and pictures. Historically, I was of the mindset that living in the moment and mentally soaking in the experience was much more enriching than spending time recording and taking pictures. Today, I would slap the old me in a heartbeat because now I’m wishing I had a lot of those memories to replay in real-time. Although I remember much of the major stuff, videos capture the nuances that are much harder to recall yet are just as enriching. All told, I’ve traveled to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Thailand, Ireland, Italy, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Spain, and Belgium, and will be traveling to French Guiana and South Africa by the year’s end. That’s 15 countries by the time 2018 ends, without even mentioning the numerous US states I’ve spent time in. All of this traveling was done with low funds and massive debt to my name, so it actually made for interesting travel into places that probably wouldn’t have made the list had the bank account contained more than scraps. Somewhere within those countries and states there is amazing footage to be shown and stories to be told that could inspire others to do the same or more. Luckily, it’s never too late to start and I plan to not only create videos of my travels as a form of inspiration for others, but also as a means to potentially meet other travelers who are passionate about creating everlasting experiences through their journeys. I’ll start with scraping together the sporadic pictures and clips that I do have from past travels as a way to get some much needed practice with video editing, then I’ll move into creating more fruitful content as part of my upcoming travels. It looks like it’s time to dust off my YouTube and Instagram pages and begin putting them to good use.

I’ve also loved the idea of a visual podcast for a long time more so than the traditional means of writing. The act of writing is relatively limited because much tone and nonverbal communication is lost in this medium, thus, it puts very expressive and articulate individuals at a disadvantage in my opinion. What makes Joe Budden’s podcast so entertaining to me, even though it’s literally just 3 guys sitting on a couch talking about hip-hop related affairs, is the personable and expressive nature of each host and the nonverbal actions that aid what they’re saying. The chemistry they have and the personality that’s exuded is something that can’t be taught. I see many of those same qualities within myself and it makes me feel as if I’d be successful doing a visual podcast centered around something I’m passionate about. I told a few people at the start of the MBA that I had intentions of starting up a podcast while I’m here in order to get my feet wet, however, that was before I realized that a one-year MBA program means that you’ve temporarily sold your outside life away in pursuit of a degree for the first 7 months. Now that the schedule is lightening up for the duration of the year, I’m back in that mind frame and plan to get the podcast started within the next couple of months. There’s many subjects I feel I could potentially cover on a regular basis for a good hour per topic, ranging from travel, how to finesse credit cards and credit scores, general survival as a college student (undergraduate or graduate) from a Black perspective, what makes college worth it or not worth it, working in top-level private equity firms from a Black perspective, why working in corporate America in general is trash, why accounting in general is trash, insights into American race relations from a Black perspective, how to effectively live poor and happy in New York City, basketball, hip-hop, etc. I plan to spend the next couple of months forming the direction I’d like to take it. I already have a studio mic that I purchased at the beginning of the year, I already have a camera, and I’ve always had the computer. The only thing that’s needed at this point is content with a direction. Stay tuned.

More than anything, these will be exercises in trying to figure out how to profit off of my talents and interests. I like the idea of utilizing social media as a means to build a brand and a core following that could lead to multiple avenues. One of my biggest gripes about typical workplace dynamics has consistently been its limiting nature in terms of true personal growth. Some individuals that I’ve worked around were better at so many things that didn’t concern what they were primarily getting paid for, yet they never had the time to tap into those other skills and effectively cheated themselves. If the job decides to release them, they find themselves back at square one with a narrow specialization and limited options, even though they had multiple abilities that could’ve made them much more marketable with more refining. It’s a dilemma that the typical jacks-of-all-trades have to deal with on a regular basis, but it’s a good problem to have in today’s world because we have resources at our disposal that could allow us to potentially exploit each of those talents and interests on a large global scale. The numbers of this scale don’t lie, as each of the major social media platforms are estimated to have the following numbers in terms of monthly active users:

  • Facebook – 2.2 billion
  • YouTube – 1.9 billion
  • Instagram – 1 billion
  • Twitter – 336 million

It’s almost unfathomable to think that in just over a decade’s worth of time, we have created platforms that allow for this kind of potential global reach. From an historical context, this is unprecedented power of the people. It ultimately comes down to how willing we are to be different and seek capitalization off of these resources. The routes that I’m taking may not work, and statistics show that most likely they won’t, but the point is that at least trying provides a chance at desired success. Always wondering “what if…?” and letting fear prevent the making of a move, however, will guarantee a lack of desired success. As long as there’s a chance to win, as slight as it may be, I’m always in the game.

-JEM

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