Taylor McFerrin Performs Live at &

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We got together for a little holiday celebration with our friends over at FastCompany last week, and are pleased to be able to share one small part of the night: an original song composed by Taylor McFerrin! Taylor sampled bits of conversations throughout the party to blend with a live performance that closed out the evening. Check it out on Soundcloud.

Bye, Felicia!

Taylor McFerrin photo courtesy of Nick Rhodes NickyDigital.com

Millennial Entrepreneur: Alex Koblenz

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HOVA deserves some credit here. A couple years ago Alex Koblenz was at a Jay Z concert and was transfixed by what the hip-hop icon was wearing. After the show he spent hours googling to find out, but found nothing. Most people would give up and head to bed with 99 dreams, but Alex’s one problem demanded a solution. Voila! Pradux was born.

Pradux is a website that allows users to browse products they see on TV, in their favorite magazine, and in blogs. The products range from fashion to food to electronics to art to sports  (fashion receives the most love). They can explore the hottest trending items of the moment. The website currently has a database of thousands of products, from episodes of shows like Burn Notice, Revenge, and Modern Family. But Koblenz’s website is much more than just a listing of all the blouses that Jess from New Girl wears, Pradux allows users to submit the products that they see on TV and the world—and get paid for it! Every time someone engages with a product a user has posted, they receive a reaction point. These points cumulate to unlock experiences with partner brands. And if someone buys the posted item, that user splits the commission with Pradux 50/50.

Despite the growth Pradux has experienced since Koblenz’s frustrated night of googling, he never saw himself heading in this direction. Before starting the company he was a retail and technology trader in New York. “I always thought I would go the law school route,” he says. In college Alex had internships for the Washington Wizards and the NFL’s Entertainment Marketing Group. He didn’t know it at the time, but has since realized, “the things I worked on helped set the stage for Pradux years later.”

One of Alex’s proudest moments so far was his acceptance into Dogpatch Labs, the famous start-up incubator that helped companies like Instagram, Turntable.fm, and Shoe Dazzle get off the ground. “Dogpatch was seen as a badge of honor our company could wear,” Koblenz says. “It was a really important time and helped get us early momentum.”

In the next five years Alex sees Pradux bridging the gap between social, retail, and entertainment—the ultimate omni-channel experience. He admits there are good days and bad days but is inspired by “any entrepreneur who has created something from nothing.” Fortunately, he says he has met a lot of great people he can lean on for advice. And as for his advice for other young entrepreneurs, “Never quit, and always keep moving forward. Always try and find some type of positive each day, however small it is, to keep the momentum going.”

The Friday Listicle: Stuff We Liked From Across the Internetz

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It’s been a little while since we’ve put a listicle. So let’s dive back into it!

The 12th Man

Millennials thrive on  staying connected to their peers.  Whether they are updating their Foursquare accounts IRL, or collaborating on a common goal. Social networking has allowed millennials to interact in ways we would’ve never imagined.

Both trends are at work in the video we’ve shared here. After a number of violent outbursts, the Tunisian government banned all fans from attending professional soccer games; but that didn’t stop them from cheering on team C.S. Hammam-Lif. With a little technical know-how, fans were able to come together and support their team “in real life” – from home.

The app made it possible for over 90,000 fans to cheer, clap, sing, and even play drums by simply tapping an icon. Some forty speakers were placed around the field, pumping crowd noise onto the pitch. The sounds of their fans sent from afar played no small part in helping the team to victory, and provides us with another example of how the lines between the “real” and the online have blurred.

Scratch Loves: Fool’s Gold


Scratch travelled to Williamsburg to visit with Nick Catchdubs and Ben Jacobs, two of the main men at Fool’s Gold Records. Home of A-Trak, Danny Brown, Kid Cudi…the list goes on…Fool’s Gold is as well known for the quality of their artists as they are for their amazing events. Scratch’s own Christina Charlery asks the tough questions – check it out!

Millennial Entrepreneurs: Adam Gray and Sam Fuchs

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The Millennial Entrepreneur series highlights Millennials who have taken their passion and turned it into a full-time career through innovation, creativity and perseverance.

Millennials are constantly connected, exposing themselves to a non-stop flow of information that comes in from every angle. We’re talking about a LOT of information – a near-overwhelming amount. How do you parse so much data? How can you tell what’s important, and what’s garbage?

Adam Gray and Sam Fuchs have taken their own intimate experiences with information overload and transformed them into works of art. Their Los Angeles-based collective, Hella More Funner, creates highly charged constructions of color and form, balancing loose organization with a rigid directness.

We sat down to talk to them about their take on our evolving digital culture.

Hi guys, thanks for agreeing to meet with us! Let’s start off “simple” – tell us what Hella More Funner is all about.

It’s a cathartic project, a way of unburdening ourselves from the 25 years of garbage culture that has engorged our brains. We’ve become mentally obese from decades of vague, focus-group-proven slogans. Our work is an attempt to take a snapshot of this overwhelming stimulation.

Did you have any specific motivation at the start?

We started this project in 2007 in Los Angeles, and our work from that period reflects our feelings about living in LA. Through the Internet we had an all-inclusive view of everything that was happening in LA and yet we had no power to affect, let alone understand, the city’s currents and connections. When everything is within reach, nothing is special. We were increasingly connected but rarely touched. We were blessed with innumerable choices but floundered in indecision and uncertainty.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Turn on the TV and flip through 900 channels as fast as you can. Don’t blink. Surf the internet for a minute and look at all banner ads you constantly try to ignore – we’re exposed to 182,000 advertising messages every year; can we really disregard all of them? Ask us to name infomercial personalities, memes, viral videos, and we’ll never stop talking.

How do you choose your images? What is your thought process?

Obsessiveness is key – we’re connoisseurs of Google Image search, aficionados of Flickr, and Wikimedia Commons buffs. We copy and cut and compose images by the thousands without concerning ourselves with trivialities such as the subject’s historical origins, owner attribution, or a perfect connection to the theme of the piece. And it’s not just us – our process reflects how our peers interpret media. In the information age the headline has replaced the article, and if you try to read the entire newspaper you’ll be left behind.

People are starting to draw parallels between Millennials and “the Greatest Generation,” but in an article by BBC News you stated that, “everyone’s sort of mentally obese – and we will not be a great generation.” Why do you believe that?

Our generation has more access to accurate, organized information and powerful technologies than ever before, but how are we using it? We see it as a global epidemic – a cognitive plague that threatens to unravel decades of productive and focused thought. A constant diet of distraction through electronic media makes it more difficult now than ever to address complex long-term problems like climate change, things that will require a massive united effort.

Instead of aspiring to actual “greatness,” we aspire to be cool or famous. We are the perfect prototype for a generation that could accomplish little and not wonder why. Our lives are recorded in discarded social networks, where we can be a new person every day, continuously interesting to the world. Shedding skin after skin, we are reborn, naked and energized. So much time and effort is being spent to project a shinier version of ourselves online, but what fruits does our labor provide? Certainly not enough to compare with the collective productivity of the Greatest Generation.

Are you creating these images to try and stop that from happening?

On one hand we think everyone should just do whatever the hell makes them happy – we do it too. Underneath this “Screw It; Let’s Party” attitude, however, we’re secretly optimistic about our generation. We are more creative, innovative, better informed, and effective at organizing expertise and resources. But we’re going to have to take a more pro-active approach. The accomplishments of the Greatest Generation are undeniable, but since then a persistent adolescence and “me-first” attitude has prevailed in many of our institutions, and it’s going to take some work to set things right again.

Your collages have the feeling of ordered chaos. Do you see patterns in the “garbage” and try to replicate them, or is it something that happens naturally as part of your creative process? 

We’ve all gone down the slippery internet slope where we log on to check the weather forecast and before we know it we’re flipping through images of the world’s ten weirdest snails. For Hella More Funner, we start with an idea (often in reaction to something – current events, pop culture, or our daily life) and build an archive of related images. But inevitably as we hit the net and grab as many relevant images as possible, we let our ADD-addled brains take us on tangential, aimless journeys, gobbling everything up as we go. Our end result is often unrelated to our initial idea. We fill our screens, we gorge our hard drives, and when we reach a critical mass we start composing them in Photoshop. In the tradition of collage, we aim to build a narrative with convoluted mythological landscapes. Our finished pieces, and the countless images in them, serve as shrines to the moment.

What do you want your audience to feel while viewing your collages? What do you want them to take away?

We want the viewer to feel both omnipotent and overwhelmed. It’s that fried, dislocated feeling of being on the Internet for too long. You can find endless themes and connections to prove that you belong to this culture. Yet the end result lacks substance. It’s an allegory about our lives – a cautionary tale – with thousands of clues pointing toward the hazards of capitalism and popular culture.

What’s next for you guys?

We will continue to rage and wonder at our generation’s idiocy and innovation. This is the soup we live in and we love it.

Check out all the latest from Adam and Sam on their site: Hella More Funner

Google Fiber Creates Community Sharing Start Up

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Computer hackers and entrepreneurs are flocking to the unlikely locale of Kansas City, MO. The ultra-fast internet service Google Fiber has weaved its wires throughout town, giving Kansas City, better known for its BBQ than its tech incubators, the fastest connectivity available pretty much anywhere in the US.

Young entrepreneurs and computer junkies can’t wait to jack in, which is why many have joined the Kansas City Startup Village – a grassroots initiative created to help improve the Kansas City entrepreneur and startup community. KCSV began as place for young business owners to collaborate and connect with each other from time-to-time. Now, it has turned into a movement, commonly known as “Google Fiber hood” whose goal is to help Kansas City become a premiere startup city in America.

“Entrepreneurs need the ability to connect with each other, to run into each other, to help each other through problems,” says Cameron Cushman of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. “You need all kinds of people to make a startup ecosystem work.” Built upon the Google infrastructure, KCSV has stirred hope and economic development in a town most tech companies would have never considered.

Web developer Ben Barreth has bought in completely. He’s liquidated his retirement account to build a home for startups and coders to live rent free for up to 90 days (and only $39.00 thereafter). Barreth’s Home For Hackers lies in the heart of KCSV “fiberhood” and can house up to 20 people. Current roommates range from 21-year old Boston native Mike Demarais, who moved to Kansas City to help form a 3D Printing software company, to marketing director Tyler Van Winkle, who is building a new mobile search app for cell phones.

Teamwork is essential and collaboration encouraged – the five-bedroom home is peppered with gathering spaces flanked by white boards to promoted shared information and conversation. “The whole point of the program is to lure businesses here – it’s a way I’m hoping to put Kansas City on the map – and really help people move here to exploit Google Fiber,” says Barreth.

It’s amazing to see how a city with few ties to the tech industry is rapidly transforming because of a boost to their digital infrastructure. Looks like if you build it, they will come.

Millennial Entrepreneur: Uptown Cheapskate

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Fashion is way of expression, but how can you fully express yourself if you can’t afford what you want to wear? Uptown Cheapskate, the fashion exchange for young adults and teens, has made it possible for cash-poor youth to afford stylish clothes. We asked Millennial co-founders Scott and Chelsea Sloan how they turned their idea into a reality, and what it’s like building a business with your sibling.

What motivated you to start Uptown Cheapskate?

CHELSEA: Scott and I (and the rest of my sisters) have a weird tendency that we picked up from my parents. When we walk into a restaurant or a store or even a party, we immediately and almost unconsciously think of ways to improve it. We fix stuff. That’s what helped us to start Uptown.

SCOTT: Our parents have six kids, and my mom got hooked on resale shopping when we were young. They eventually decided to start a kid’s resale franchise concept called Kid to Kid, which now has almost 100 stores in the US and Portugal. As some of the hardest working people I know, they instilled the value of work on us at a young age. I think these values are essential to being a successful entrepreneur because any success or failures that you experience fall squarely on your shoulders.

CHELSEA: There are 50,000 different resale and thrift stores in the US – and most of those stores are doing very low numbers. Frankly, the resale industry for adults is fragmented and has a bit of a bad rep. It didn’t take us long to see a great opportunity in the teen and young adult space. We had talked about wanting to start businesses together before – this gave us our direction. We knew our customers (we ARE our customers), we knew the competition, and we felt confident we could improve the resale experience and make it “Uptown”.

How did you come up with the name?

SCOTT: We wanted a fun name that spoke to what we do. Our Uptown stores provide an arena for like-new fashions to be bought and sold at amazing prices. Who doesn’t want an Uptown look at Cheapskate prices?

CHELSEA: Sometimes the hardest thing is finding the right name. It took us almost a year to settle on Uptown Cheapskate (we have literally thousands of rejected names), but we love how our customers can be frugal and still look fantastic by recycling their wardrobes. We’re an upscale resale option for our fashion-forward customers.

You developed your own software that helps make sure people selling their clothes are receiving a fair trade for their items. How did that come about?

CHELSEA: Sometimes a person has a designer or unusual brand that’s not easily recognized – and we want to make sure these sellers get what their items are worth. It took me almost a year to develop our IMAP program, which is basically the Kelly Blue Book for resale clothing. Our program recognizes nearly 5,000 unique brands, and assigns a range of values to each brand by type of item. This takes the guesswork out of buying, and ensures that we’re fairly paying out our sellers based on their items. This program is the cornerstone of our franchise system.

Most college students find it difficult to work and go to school, how did you balance work while attending classes full-time?

SCOTT: We weren’t ever able to find a point where we could equally balance both work and school. Sometimes school took precedence, sometimes work was more pressing. Having a dedicated partner to rely on during those times was certainly helpful. We also learned early on that owning your own business means that you learn how to make due with less personal and family time. We’ve both missed weddings, vacations…

CHELSEA: I spent a lot of time on my laptop furiously responding to emails while in class. One semester, I had to drop out two weeks in because we were opening too many stores that Fall. Really, though, the thing that you give up is leisure time. I always had 40-50 hours of work at least, and 30 hours of school. Hard? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

Do you ever find it challenging to work as family members and business partners?

SCOTT: With any partnership there will be times when you disagree. The benefit of working with family is that we know that even if a discussion gets heated, we’re still going to be family at the end of the day, and family comes first. It helps that we both approach business decisions logically as opposed to emotionally, and that we don’t get our feelings hurt easily. We’ve also found that if one of us feels more passionately about a particular course that we will defer to the other.

CHELSEA: What he said. Scott and I could have been business partners even if we weren’t family. I would pick him again – because we share a common vision of where Uptown should be. We want the same thing for the company. And I know that he’s going to make the right choices if I’m not there. When we do argue, we do it in a way that lets us blow off steam, and then we get over it.

The upside – and downside – to working with family is that you spend a lot of time together, and work conversations never really stop.

Chelsea, last year you were the first woman to win the Global Student Entrepreneur Award. What kind of motivation did that give you to keep pushing forward?

CHELSEA: Currently there are very few women who have grown companies on a large scale. There are lots of theories why – people say things like women are more lifestyle-focused, or that they’re more risk-averse. Being a franchisor puts me in a unique position; a large part of what I do is helping other women become entrepreneurs themselves. Our store owners – many of them women – are able to leverage a franchise system to help them mitigate risk and run successful small businesses, and that is really cool.

What inspired you to open a fashion franchise? Have you always had a desire for fashion?

CHELSEA: Ha-ha. I’m actually not a fashionista. I grew up in the 90’s, so fashion consisted of oversized tees and Jenco jeans. But I love predicting and analyzing fashion trends! One of the challenges of our business is training our buyers to select used styles that mimic and follow current trends. So we do a LOT of fashion training. And I love learning about and teaching that to people. We project out about a year in advance, so when a style actually hits the street, I’ve been following it for a while.

Building a business is obviously not easy. Scott, was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

SCOTT: Every day is either a challenge or an opportunity – depending on how you look at it. The more we learn about the upscale resale industry, the more we realize what we don’t know. Yes, I’ve been frustrated from time to time, but the idea of giving up isn’t an option that’s ever on the table. We’ve got too many dedicated team members and franchise partners that rely on us for support and guidance to think in those terms.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs who want to start their own company?

CHELSEA: Figure out what you want your business to do, and set the foundation to grow. Four years ago, Uptown Cheapskate was a single store in Salt Lake buying and selling used clothing. But Scott and I built a brand and a system that was scalable into multiple markets. We decided to grow through franchising, and so now we have thirty-five stores in thirteen states. We couldn’t have done that if we hadn’t done a lot of strategizing and risk analysis from the get-go.

SCOTT: The question you have to ask yourself is “are you prepared to risk everything, do whatever it takes, at whatever the cost, to make your dream a success?” I would advise would-be entrepreneurs to learn from others so they don’t duplicate the same (or at least as many) mistakes. There are mentorship programs for young entrepreneurs to get you in touch with industry experts who are willing to share their time and knowledge. They can point you in the right direction for finding start-up capital, discuss business strategy, and help you build a network of professionals.

If you want to learn more about Uptown cheapskate or visit one of their stores, check out their website at Uptown Cheapskate.

Millennial Entrepreneur: Derek Lo

 

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The Millennial Entrepreneur series highlights Millennials who have taken their passion and turned it into a full-time career through innovation, creativity and perseverance.

Stricken with neck, back, and shoulder pain, Derek Lo’s mother needed a lightweight bag she could use to travel comfortably. She wanted a bag that was as stylish as it was sensitive to her physical condition. Derek’s brother gave her the idea to create her own bag and then offered to help her make it. One thing led to another, and the full-fledged bag making business, Lo & Sons was born.

Derek wasn’t formally trained as a bag designer and didn’t have tons of experience in the manufacturing industry, but he, his brother and mother took to making their bag collection. To get started, Derek says, “We were selling primarily to friends/family and trying to sell through trunk shows events, and then we partnered with a really popular lifestyle blog called A Cup of Jo.” That’s when the orders started to fly in. Derek explains, “We hosted a giveaway on the blog, and our sales sky rocketed immediately. At the time, e-commerce was still on the rise and growing rapidly, and we built our website originally thinking that all the traffic would be driven from pop-up events or trunk shows. But after we worked with A Cup of Jo, we incorporated a whole new strategy for driving sales and traffic to our online store. It was definitely a key moment in our business.”

From there, the talk began. “Through a lot of networking and positive word of mouth marketing, we’ve actually had a lot of really good press coverage,” Derek divulges. “We sort of started from scratch with not a lot of contacts in the editorial world, and so for us to now be mentioned along with brands that have been around for decades and have a lot more experience and history than us is ‘big’ in our eyes.” Now they’re competing with the top bag brands.

Because of their rapid growth, they are currently focused on just meeting demand. Derek reveals, “We’re often times sold out of colors/styles.  But hopefully we can continue to grow by branching out into new product categories and start to experiment with more materials and styles.”

Why are people attracted to their bags? “We’re very focused on smart and thoughtful product design.  And because we’re a family business, customer service is extremely important to us.  Customers really see that and even if they return a bag because it’s too small or too big, they’re fans because of how we do business,” Derek believes.

He has some advice for budding entrepreneurs: “I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is the importance of juggling urgency vs priority.  A lot of times something is urgent even though it’s not a huge priority.  There’s always work to do and it never stops. So it can be difficult as an entrepreneur to forget the big picture and get consumed by just what’s immediately in front of you.  With that said, I’ve also found that it’s never constructive to look at opportunities as ‘a waste of time’ because you just never know what you’ll learn or who’ll you’ll meet.  There have been numerous occasions where I’ve been pleasantly surprised how fruitful and important an opportunity has been when I initially didn’t think it would be a game changer for our business.” Sound advice.

Check out Lo & Sons recent collection.

Millennial Invention: Body Heat Powered LED Flashlight

Environmental responsibility is on the minds of many, and none more so than Millennials. According to PEW research, almost two-thirds of Millennials believe global warming is currently occurring, and 43% of them think it’s mainly caused by our activity, which is much higher than all other generations. Their concern has taken actionable form in big and small ways, including looking to alternative energy sources to power our lives.

Ann Makosinski, a tenth grader from Victoria, British Columbia, is one of the concerned generation looking to use alternative power in innovative new ways. She has created a simple LED flashlight powered by body heat. After crunching the numbers, she figured out that humans give off enough warmth to power a low-wattage LED. With the help of  a device called Peltier tile (which produces electricity when cooled on one side, and warmed on the other) she began construction on her hand-powered flashlight.

Over time, she produced two working prototypes of the flashlight—one constructed with aluminum and one with PVC. These prototypes have helped her become one of fifteen finalists in the Google Science Fair. If she wins, she’ll received a $50,000 scholarship.

Take a look at this mind-blowing invention in the video above.

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