Meaningful Multimedia

Remembering Aaron Swartz

To those of us who aspire to the ideals of the Open Web, Aaron Swartz is a hero. His legacy and his part in the fight against SOPA/PIPA still mark how modern technologists should not only build new technologies, but ensure, to the best of their abilities, that they are not used for nefarious purposes.

Aaron Swartz with code(love)

Aaron Swartz with code(love)

He had a hand in reddit, the Creative Commons, and so much more. Despite the fact that he had enough programming skill to make himself a fortune, he decided a better pursuit was to use  his skills, and the power of the web, to help make the world a better and fairer place.

Aaron Swartz worked hard for what he thought was right, and he constantly sought to learn, and grow—and to help others learn and grow.

His Open Access Manifesto is still widely spread around the web as a call-to-action to those who believe that information should be freer, and that the future of technology, progress, and innovation should tilt more towards cooperation rather than pure competition.

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.” –Aaron Swartz, Open Access Manifesto

This video is a good look at his life and legacy, and the promise of what could have been—and what still can be.

More details on the documentary on Aaron Swartz can be found here. There are not too many details, but hopefully the whole film gets released soon.

Technology and Society

The Economics of Tesla Direct Sales

TESLA’S DIRECT SALES MODEL

This is a guest contribution from Sharon of americasstartup.com.
America's Startup

America’s Startup

Check out her Tumblr at americasstartup.tumblr.com.
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 A LOOK INTO THE ECONOMICS  OF TESLA DIRECT SALES

When I first heard that states were not allowing Tesla into the market because of their direct sales business model, my first reaction was – “whaaaaat?!” Now after some research and a re-visit of the
economics theories I learned in my UCLA days, my (now educated) reaction is –“whaaaaat?!”

To those who may not understand the situation, a quick introduction– In recent news, New Jersey banned Tesla from selling its cars directly to the consumer. One may think, that’s one state, no big deal. But it’s not just one state, it’s another state, and there’s the fear of a ripple effect with New York and Ohio possibly going in the same direction as New Jersey.

The history behind the legislation of no direct sales to the consumer within the automotive industry dates back to the mass production of cars aka back to Ford. At that time the economic model
concerning dealerships made sense from both the manufacturers’ and the consumer perspective.

It’s no secret that the automotive industry has some of the highest fixed costs in regards to manufacturing.

Tesla Direct Sales Economics with code(love) from University of Regina

Tesla Direct Sales Economics with code(love) from University of Regina

Historically – a manufacturer’s perspective

It’s no secret that the automotive industry has some of the highest fixed costs in regards to manufacturing. Due to this fact, manufacturing is usually isolated to distant areas in order to drive volume (maximize factory utilization) and maximize economies of scale. One problem is solved: the per-unit cost of each manufactured
car reaches its minimum – but new problems arise.

Firstly, there is a cash flow issue. The necessary investment needed to produce the cars (cash out) and the lead-time to which the cars are sold (cash in) easily results in illiquidity without a middleman digesting the inventory in the short term.

Secondly, if the element of time is included in the normal demand and supply curves it is understandable that the delay in sales to consumers (demand) does not match the rate to which the
cars are manufactured, resulting in large stocks of inventory, which requires storage, an additional cost to the manufacturer.

Today – The Internet’s effect on industry and Tesla direct sales

Of course certain elements to the automotive industry remain the same, i.e. capital-intensive investment. However, that being said, Tesla has a different business model that threatens to challenge and disrupt this, a Dell for the automotive industry.

At the time of what is now being called the “Great Recession”, I was working on Wall Street in a bulge bracket investment bank and I understood quite clearly the factors that led to this massive balance sheet correction and re-adjustment in asset pricing.  I am not arguing that the automotive industry caused the recession; however, I bring it up as a relevant point because of the massive amount of inventory that could not be sold on the dealership level when the economy crashed.

This was an operational disaster when demand shriveled to zero and the lead-time to halt the supply to the market resulted
in the need for government bail out. Fundamentally, the dealership business model is an economic inefficiency and was used at the time as a Band-Aid to facilitate mass production. But we are no longer living in the 1800s. With the easy access to information, the Internet has changed the landscape of B2C interactions.

We are no longer living in the 1800s. With the easy access to information, the Internet has changed the landscape of B2C interactions.

A “consumer’s” perspective according to the Middleman

The economic rationale for the middleman has always been the consumer’s protection from monopolistic pricing. To truly understand this point it’s important to understand the economics of a car dealership. There are two main revenue drivers within a franchised dealership, 1) the mark-up in price for service and parts and 2) mark-up in price for the car. Now consider the costs related to a dealership, there is the physical location, the labor, the overhead, the marketing and publicity, etc. All of which is paid by the mark-up.

Although slightly dated, Goldman Sachs put out a research report in 2000 regarding, savings in the “vehicle order-to-delivery cycle from build-to-order, direct manufacturer sales.” Based on an average vehicle price of $26,000, Goldman Sachs estimated a total cost savings in the order-to-delivery cycle of $2,225 or about 8.6%. Since 2000, GM has experienced great production efficiencies in its direct manufacturing sales in Brazil that also proves an interesting point in light of this topic. At the end of the day, the underlying economic principle is the consumer loses when there is a middleman.

Why would the dealership lobby their butts off to keep the status quo? I would argue  – survival. Let’s think another startup—Dell. Although Apple ultimately changed the nature of the
computing demands of the World, Dell’s just-in-time model was a huge disruptor to the market that ultimately led to lower prices for the consumer, customization, and contributed to the demise of its
middleman Circuit City and Best Buy.

Tesla Direct Sales with code(love)

Tesla Direct Sales with code(love)

Concluding Remarks

Two hundred years ago Tesla direct sales to the consumer would not be possible because of limitations to technology and information. But now we have the Internet.

Technology has been the single greatest contributing factor of GDP growth within the developed world. We have seen this transformation before. My older sister bought CDs at the music store when she was young,  but now she buys music online. Before computers were bought only at Circuit City and Best Buy, now computers are bought online.

In The Post, Buchwald was quoted as saying, “We shouldn’t change the rules midstream just as a company is starting out. Tesla’s goal is to sell cars, not upend the rest of the auto industry.” To this, I say maybe it is time to ” upend the rest of the auto industry.”

I support the American Dream. I support entrepreneurs. I support Tesla being able to make direct sales to consumers.

I support the American Dream. I support entrepreneurs. I support Tesla being able to make direct sales to consumers.

Sharon
Founder | Producer of America’s Startup, LLC

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Meaningful Multimedia

Build innovation on the shoulders of giants.

Build Innovation with code(love)

Build Innovation with code(love)—image from the Houston Chronicle.

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. – Issac Newton

The basis of the PageRank algorithm, the billion-dollar plus bit of mathematics that powers much of Google’s business was developed at Stanford University in 1996 by Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but the roots of it came much earlier. Some have argued that it was Gabriel Pinski and Francis Narin who first formalized how to go about analyzing the quality of links—in 1976.

They were able to define a set of metrics for ranking the influence of science journals—which was very handy for a mathematical solution for how to rank the influence of individual websites.

Perhaps it is this that led Francis Narin to publish a paper where he noted that 73% of papers cited by US industry patents were based on public research.

The above photo is a highlight of how the iPod was built on public research.  It may be the ideal framework to build innovation.

The best models for creating new world-changing disruption may come from collaboration, and not competition.

It leads one to believe that to build innovation, one must stand on the shoulders of giants. It also leads one to believe that there should always be public support for those research giants, and that the best models for creating new world-changing disruption may come from collaboration, and not competition.

Life Hacking

What makes for good writing—and what doesn’t.

Good writing

Good writing.

Good writing.

Good writing is about getting the reader to the next line in an organized and inspired fashion, imbuing them with the ideas you hold word-by-word, line-by-line, story-by-story. At the end, they should feel like they’ve encountered something profound, and they should look around to the nearest person to share that new feeling with.

Every word becomes a calculation with good writing: does its definition add to unnecessary complexity or does it tailor the exact experience you want to convey?

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

All good writers have their own voice, so it’s not up to me to dictate that trade-off point for you. This is your experience you are trying to convey, and not mine.

However, it is good to get back to the root of writing: a good writer tries to make an idea resonate with somebody else. Defining that experience in a way that is mutually pleasurable, and comprehensible, is something all writers should strive for.

Good writing is about good ideas. If you want to be a good writer, strive to find good ideas wherever you can. Constantly strive to read new stories, meet new people, and to dream for those special ideas that move you and others.

Express those ideas in their simplest, and most beautiful form.

Good writing is about touching the undefinable sacred, and profane. Sometimes no words are more powerful than many.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”― Albert EinsteinLiving Philosophies

Do not mistake word count for insight. Marx wrote his Manifesto in 48 pages. It was the ideas behind it that really mattered, and those 48 pages shook, and continue to shake our world.

Good writing is not about showing off how many words you can look up in the thesaurus, or how well you can spell and punctuate.

Good writing is about holding a reader’s attention so that they can coherently absorb the idea you’re trying to communicate.

Good writing evokes imagery: it makes the right words dance across the mind’s eye with the right rhythm. It makes the reader feel like they are stuck one wisp away from an engaging conversation over coffee: good writing makes them want to pay for the writer’s next coffee so they can narrate every detail, to the last, of the reader’s life and make them comprehensible and tied to something greater, in ways the reader themselves never fathomed.

Most importantly, good writing leaves readers wanting for more.

[follow_me]

Life Hacking

Pain is good.

Pain is good.

Pain tells you when you’re stretching your limits, and growing. You can be comfortable for your entire life doing the same old thing, but you’ll never grow and go beyond that limit if you don’t want to experience any pain.

Pain tells you when something’s wrong, so you can learn from it. It’s why leprosy is a curse rather than a blessing: when you can’t feel the fire, you don’t know why to pull away, and you don’t know what to think of it when you see your scars.

Pain lets you know you’re taking the risks you want to define the life you need. A full life was never achieved by idling in comfort. You need all the facets of pain, from physical, to mental, to understand and grow yourself.

What you can do with pain

When you understand pain, wonderful things happen. Every company is founded on the premise of solving the pain of others.

You need to understand what real pain is before you start being successful selling a solution for it. A large reason most startups fail is because they’re solving pain that doesn’t exist: they view pain like a phantom limb—it must be there.

Inevitably, with no market validation, they realize the pain they thought was there is a figment of their imagination. The company closes because there’s no reason for it to exist, and perhaps there never was.

Your why has to be solving the pain of somebody. If that pain is large enough, and hurts enough for them to come to you, that’s when you will succeed as an entrepreneur.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
― James Baldwin

Be comfortable with pain

One should strive for comfort with pain, if not comfort itself. Comfort is the enemy of progress: when you’re comfortable, you’ve resigned yourself to what is happening now as being good enough. There’s always ways forward, and new things to learn, so this should never be true.

Pain can slow you down if you let it. Instead of dwelling over it,  and trying to ignore it, take it as a constructive bridge to the future, and work towards solving it rather than wallowing with it. Your comfort with pain will grow you into a better person.

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Being comfortable with pain is a sort of superpower. It allows you to experiment. After all, what do you have to fear? You understand pain, embrace it, and look to learn from it. If everything goes well, that’s great! If everything goes poorly, well there’s a learning lesson in there, and you can cope productively with it: you’ll take that chance to grow.

Either way, you win.

So that speech you’ve been putting off giving, that girl you’re too shy to ask out: why not move forward on those?

Zooey Deschanel with code(love)

She has to be dating someone, might as well be you.

Things you can do with your new superpower to move forward:

Do something you wouldn’t do every day. Take every chance you can to experiment and grow. What do you have to lose?

Relate better to others. Did you really think nobody else in the world has gone through pain? If you can understand your pain, you can understand theirs.

Move on. Really bad shit happens to people all the time. We fail, and others fail us. Sometimes the laws of the universe itself seem to fail us: the good die young, and there’s nothing we can really do about it. Once you understand that, it makes it easier to look forward on what can be done, rather than dwelling on what couldn’t.

Build great new things. Once you’re fully equipped to cope with your pain, and understand the pain of others, you’re perfectly suited to take on the risks you need to do everything you wanted to do. Pain is good, and so are the ventures you’re building. If you register all the pain you get positively as a sign of where you need to grow yourself and your venture, nothing will stop you.

Stop being comfortable. Have you learned to love a shit situation? It’s not too late to go beyond that. Pain is the enemy of comfort, it’s what comfort is designed to shield you from. When you decide enough’s enough, you’ll finally be growing towards a full life, rather than hiding from it.

Conan from about.com---pain is good.

Nothing can hurt you—not even pain.

Comfort is bad, pain is good.

I myself have gotten through plenty of both failing at many things, and succeeding at a few. It can be easy to fall into the trap of holding onto everything you have, and not clawing for more opportunities to grow: I know because I’ve been there. It’s only after I realized how valuable pain was, and how to use it productively, that I’ve been able to move on, and make rational decisions on driving towards the fuller life I’ve always wanted.

I want to be a builder. I’ve come to accept that comes with a fair amount of risk, and a fair amount of pain. But that doesn’t matter to me: after all, comfort is bad. Pain is good.

[follow_me]

Meaningful Multimedia

This is what winning a revolution looks like.

There is no “winning or losing” a revolution in a few short years.

The Prague Spring was a moment in history where the Cold War seemed to thaw in 1968. Czechoslovakia underwent a period of political liberalisation that included the guarantee of fundamental human and political rights. For six short months, the country was able to breathe in democratic ideas.

It was notoriously crushed by an invasion of the Soviet Union, supported by Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland. Powerless in the face of this hateful violence, the Czechs could only stand in front of the tanks rolling over their country.

Prague-Spring from http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/

Prague-Spring from http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/

They might have been regarded as weak in the stupidest sense of “might makes right”.

But the Czechs found other ways to resist. Milan Kundera wrote his modern-day classic the The Unbearable Lightness of Being, dealing with how ephemeral things like love were accorded so much heaviness despite their often coincidental and fleeting nature. To top it off, he decried the art of totalitarian regimes as “kitsch”: non-genuine just like the people under those regimes were forced to be.

“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.”
― Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being

His books were banned by the Soviet Union, and he was blacklisted from his homeland.

Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc were 21 years and 19 years old respectively. They self-immolated in protest at the despair of their countrymen.

The sparks of the fires that consumed their youth would eventually resonate with the people. In the almost bloodless Violet Revolution of 1989, dissident Václav Havel became the last president of Czechoslovakia, and the first democratically elected one of the Czech Republic.

Today, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are among the top twenty nations in the world when it comes to press freedom and some of the highest developed nations according to HDI. Many of the Warsaw Pact nations that invaded them have benefited from the same, most notably Poland.

Free press from humanrights.gov

Free press from humanrights.gov

Was the Spring at the time, at the height of the Cold War, encouraged by external forces? Probably. Did Czechoslovakia have a “tradition” of authoritarianism, much as most European countries do to some degree? Sure. Does any of that matter now? I doubt it.

It may have taken decades, but now both countries are among those who can celebrate creative dissidents such as Kundera, and those who fought to give everything for their compatriots such as Palach, and Zajíc.

The following picture is a memorial for Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc in the centre of Prague.

Palach-Zajic-memorial from Wikimedia

Palach-Zajic-memorial from Wikimedia

This is what “winning” a revolution looks like.

Technology and Society

A Technologist’s Take on Ukraine, Venezuela, and the Arab Spring.

The Obama Administration and its’ allies have successfully scaled democratic ambitions, and American ideals across a variety of theatres. Jared Cohen, formerly of the Department of State and now head of Google Ideas, and Wael Ghonim, MENA manager at Google were instrumental at lighting sparks for Tahrir, and scaling the will of the people.

In Ukraine, many of the NGOs on the field were funded by US aid, and Pierre Omidyar of EBay fame. The breathtaking use of social media to quickly spread revolt from Venezuala, to Egypt, to Ukraine, tapping into the underlying wishes of the people, and multiplying it, has been a revolutionary change in how the people express themselves.

America’s support for these programs is, in turn, a revolutionary change in how America spreads its’ ideals.

Gone are the days where American soldiers died in droves to win international disapproval to “force democracy”. This new way of growing democracy organically is the largest threat to authoritarianism, and the regimes that have the most to lose know this.

The implicit threat is this: if America can help Egyptians occupy Tahrir Square, and Ukrainians occupy the Maidan, what stops her, with enough time and tech-savvy, doing the same thing for Russians in Red Square, and the Chinese in Tiananmen?

The implicit threat is this: if we can help Egyptians occupy Tahrir Square, and Ukrainians occupy the Maidan, what stops us with enough time and tech-savvy, doing the same thing for Russians in Red Square, and the Chinese in Tiananmen?

Putin may have some affinity for Crimea. The larger prize he might be looking for is drawing a red line between what is happening now and what could happen in Russia.

Technology and Society

A Letter I Sent To My Elected Official on Privacy

With the latest revelations on the British security services tapping into webcams and storing video data en masse, I don’t think it’s acceptable that anybody can sit back and not register their voice in the face of our eroding collective privacy.

I highly encourage everybody to send letters to their elected official. Here is mine:

I’m writing because with each passing day, revelations are getting worse and worse about the surveillance capabilities of security agencies. Just today the Guardian revealed that the GCHQ, our British allies, collect webcam recordings en masse, including sexually explicit material shared between two consenting individuals.

We know the Harper administration is stuck as being part and parcel of Five Eyes, and that the CESC has conducted spying for the NSA, using Canada’s good name for nefarious purposes.

I write this in the hope that you are aware of this issue, and to inquire as to what you and your party are doing with this regards, and what active efforts you will be making in the future to shed awareness about this creeping invasion on our privacy. As Canadians, we should be protected under Section 8 of the Charter with regards to reasonable expectation of privacy, but I do not want this to constantly shift because security agencies continually push us down the slippery slope Senator Church so eloquently warned Americans about during the Church Committee:

“If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.

“If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny.”

I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

Let me know how I can contribute to any efforts with this regards. I hope you are well, and eagerly await any response you have on this topic.

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Why is this debate so important?

 

Defining the Future

Defining the Internet of Things in one line

The Internet of Things is a new innovation that is sweeping into gradual mainstream awareness, if not adoption. It’s become a recent topic of some fascination, especially for Google-watchers who are trying to uncover the latest technological trends by following the Internet giant: surely the $3 billion dollar plus purchase of smart home device maker Nest did not escape notice.

Internet of things with code(love)

Internet of things with code(love)

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to have a coffee with one of the engineers in the field pushing it forward, Jeff Dungan, co-founder of reelyActive. His startup was named the World’s best technology startup last year by Startup World, and he is a visionary in the field.

The first thing Jeff notes is that what we conceptualize as the Internet of Things can be very exactly defined. Devices that communicate with one another have always existed. Harken back to your childhood when you used a remote control to control a toy car: would that not qualify as being part of the Internet of Things?

Jeff says no. The reason why is because the Internet of Things encompasses internet-enabled devices that can communicate with one another, with one very distinct defining trait: they can do so without any direct human input. As your toy car zips around, you are controlling it directly. However, a Nest thermostat can adjust the heat without you ever touching anything.

This is the magic of the Internet of Things. Jeff imagines a world of “smart spaces” where entire houses, and even neighbourhoods could shift to be adapted to you. A house could be heated at the right temperature, with the lights dimmed for the right ambiance, without you ever doing anything but the initial setup.

Smart Spaces with code(love)

Smart Spaces with code(love)

Jeff’s company works on allowing for devices to identify you. reelyActive uses hardware RFID devices to tag you as you move through multiple spaces, therefore allowing for the possibility of “smart spaces” to grow, sooner than later. Already, Jeff is working on realizing a Google Analytics for retail at a low enough cost and without significant friction, perfectly suited for smaller retailers—this was a pipe dream just a few years ago. The world he imagines is coming sooner than later, and it can be summed up in one line.

The Internet of Things is a network of internet-enabled devices that can communicate with each other without direct human input, allowing for the evolution of smart spaces that can adapt to you without you doing anything at all.

The Internet of Things is a network of internet-enabled devices that can communicate with each other, without direct human input, allowing for the evolution of smart spaces that can adapt to you without you doing anything at all.

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Interested in hearing more about Jeff’s story? Support my efforts to write about him and other entrepreneurs. 

Life Hacking

Three Critical Tricks to Hack and Win Meetings

If life is a series of never-ending wait rooms, entrepreneurship is a set of meetings. A successful meeting can often determine the difference between failure and success for a startup. It’s critical for every growing organization that as many meetings as possible are successful in order to keep the momentum of the organization going. Future customers, investors, donors, and partners often hinge on a contact point as low as half an hour.

A successful meeting can often determine the difference between failure and success for a startup.

I’ve been through a lot of meetings on a lot of projects, so I know what it feels like to go through each and every calendar invite on your list. It is tiring, but hang in there. You’re winning your way to success.

You want to make sure that those short, crucial meetings turn out to your mutual benefit. To that end, here are three critical points to ensure you hack and win your meetings.

1-Get a good space. Don’t just grab the nearest coffee shop. You want to be able to hear what the other people are saying, and you want to be able to communicate effectively: that becomes exponentially harder with a bunch of other people hanging around yelling about their lives. Make sure you spend a lot of time picking out just the right place: it can make all of the difference.

I live in beautiful Montreal, and I often freely explore coffee shops, and restaurants, and keep them held in a spreadsheet. I make sure the meeting I am going for is set to a place where I know the ambiance, and backdrop is just right: from meetings with investors to first dates. It works wonderfully when without even saying a word, you have already struck the right note with your meeting partner.

The space matters with code(love)

The space matters with code(love)

2-Come prepared with at least three meeting points. A lot of meetings get stalled because neither person has prepared exactly what they want to say, and that is the cardinal sin of meetings: wasting time. Bring points, and an agenda to the table, otherwise it will be a waste of time for both of you. Three is a solid set of items to consider, and even if you don’t bring everything up, you’ll be prepared in case it looks like the meeting is about to lag.

Make sure your points are organized thematically, and in a timeline that makes sense. It’ll help you look more prepared, more confident, and your message will be crisper.

Set the agenda with code(love)

Set the agenda with code(love)

3-Make sure you know what you’re willing to give, and what you’re looking to get out of a meeting. A meeting is often an exchange between people who would look to create a mutually beneficial relationship. Make sure you have an idea of what you want out of your first meeting, and what you’re able to give the other people, and be prepared to state it honestly. Show how you can pay it forward in return.

Oftentimes, this is the trick to getting meetings in the first place: you need to be able to clearly state what you’re able to give. I have gotten a lot of meetings by enumerating what I was able to offer: either new insight, my story, or some service like writing about their startup. Steve Blank, credited for launching the Lean Startup movement, and therefore a very popular target for meeting requests put it best in his piece “How to get Meetings With People Too Busy To See You”. Make sure you offer something of yourself if you’re expecting your meeting partners to do the same.

You don’t want to be known as the person who calls meetings just because they can.

You don’t want to be known as the person who calls meetings just because they can. Make sure your meetings are focused, productive, and mutually beneficial by following these three tricks. You’ll be able to hack and win your meetings, on your way to building and scaling that next great idea.