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Hardest lessons from my third startup

Vireo Labs is now the third seed funded startup I’ve co-founded. And, it is by far my best work as an entrepreneur. But, its almost impossible to estimate how many hard knocks and lessons I’ve taken over the last two years. Running a startup — particularly in a market like Savannah with limited resources to support us (there are no first generation AOL or Yahoo! people and their money hanging out here) — is just plain hard.

Get a mentor and advisers. This wasn’t always easy for me to do as I have always worked in a network style — calling on my connections from all over the world to give me tips and advice on an ad hoc basis.  I think we’ve gotten further now than before because we as a team actually engage our advisers regularly and let them check our thinking back into reality. You can only process so much information to the point you go blind to what it is saying to you. A good mentor and advisers can add brain power, connections, motivation and guidance. The danger is using them as a crutch or as some kind of badge of honor that with them your company is somehow more relevant. It’s not. No one cares about my little startup and I know it. Until me and my team get traction and grow this thing.

It pays to be young. I had a colleague at LinkedIn once (pejoratively) tell me how anything worth doing was worth doing young (guess that was his way of calling me old and still grinding it out). My founding team is really driven, bright and qualified to build what we’re building and do what we’re doing. But as middle aged men, we have a boat load of distractions that the 23-year old versions of ourselves didn’t have — and we just can’t move as fast we once did. If you can recruit a founding team with a good mix of people at different stages of their career, it helps to have that diversity of thought, perspective and someone on the team who doesn’t have to pay a mortgage, feed kids or sleep more than 6 hours a night.

Recognize when you’re stuck. This is actually a bump I hit in my first two companies but didn’t know it at the time. Third time is a charm.  I recognized it about 4 months into our first product release and brought us back into a customer discover phase instead of continuing to bang our collective faces into the wall. The result has been one of the best pilot tests we could’ve imagined in the critical market of northern California (one of the biggest career and higher education markets in the country) and a smarter jumping off point for our go-to-market strategy.

Stay engaged in things outside of the startup. Its so natural to simply put your head down and work as hard and as fast as you can on your business. It’s how we’re socialized in this country — burn it at both ends and eat Ramen at your desk. Unlike prior endeavors, I’ve purposely been more involved with other activities by serving on the boards of directors of two other companies, speaking at and attending industry events, mentoring other entrepreneurs, consulting outside of my sector, and working part-time as a tech startup catalyst in my own front yard. Keeping a balance isn’t easy, but the relationships and connections I’ve created in those outside ventures have created immeasurable benefits for Vireo Labs that I couldn’t buy if I had the money.

Stay scrappy, my friends.








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Stop using your great grandfather’s vocational assessment

What do you want to be when you grow up?

As kids, we were asked that all the time, and I bet no one answered, “information security analyst,” “operations research analyst” or “web developer,” just a few of the top jobs for 2016.

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When counselors direct high school students to vocational assessments today, students might still not be able to mention those specific careers, only because they don’t know the wide variety of options out there. And that’s the problem with current high school vocational assessments: they don’t point kids in the right direction for modern career paths.

The most-used high school vocational assessment is the “Strong Interest Inventory®” assessment. At $200 a pop (or the price of a Chromebook), you have to wonder how widely used it is, and from my consumer product marketing background, that calls into question the “scientific validation” they tout.

How relevant can it be if a wide cross section of people haven’t taken it? MySpace and Facebook are both social networks, but can anyone argue that MySpace has any insights into consumer or social trends since no one uses it?Even the name sounds old-fashioned, and there’s a reason for that.

The Workforce When SII Was Born

The SII was developed in 1927 to assist military men returning from World War I looking for work. Let’s paint a little picture of what the world looked like then. First of all, there were only 119 million people, and as you might imagine, the typical worker was a white male.

No surprise, the top job was manufacturing, and Henry Ford was offering Southerners $5 a day to come to work in the emerging auto industry. (“Women and negroes” not welcome, the ads said.)

And that pay scale actually doesn’t sound bad when you consider that “super-rich Americans” were those making about $10,000 a year.

The Workforce Now

In 2016 you might say the landscape looks just a little different. First of all, we’ve got 325 million of us – and growing. Top-paying jobs all involve STEM fields; in fact, at some companies, coders are writing their own paychecks.

Henry Ford’s amazing $5 a day offer? That can barely get you a coffee. He probably wouldn’t need to recruit people from outside of area, anyway, since current migration patterns are from suburbs to urban centers, where today’s young adults are less likely to want a car. And, those “women and negroes?” Well Mary Barra is CEO of Ford’s competitor General Motors, and our president is black. (The $5 was actually split 50/50 between pay and bonus!)

Super-rich Americans are counting their money in billions rather than thousands, and three of the top five earned their wealth through technology-based companies.

The whole world is available on the smartphones we carry in our pockets, instantly updated rather than relying on the printing press and newspaper of 1927.


When you consider the evolution (or rather revolution) that has taken place in the workforce since the SII was introduced, it makes that assessment seem pretty quaint doesn’t it?

To be fair, the SII was updated in 2012, but four years in today’s world seems like an eternity: We were still using the iPhone 4 and Snapchat was just a ghost of an idea. The IoT, smart homes and fitness trackers were all just becoming part of our vernacular. And wrap your mind around this: Adele was blowing us away with her first album, and we were gaga for Gangnam Style. (Sorry, I know that’s in your head now.)

That’s why many career counselors and educators are wondering if there’s something more accessible and more current out there in the world of high school vocational assessments to help address today’s career path discovery and education planning.

A tool that hasn’t just evolved, but that has been created specifically to fit the needs of today’s workforce. An instrument that takes into account our growing expectation of work/life balance, telework and the gig economy. One that is not cost-prohibitive in a world where freemium is the norm.

At Vireo Labs, we believe there is a better way for all high schoolers to assess their potential. And, we look forward to keeping you updated.

– Jose Mallabo

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Education and the Election

How the most and worst educated states voted in the US Presidential Election of 2012. There seems to be a correlation between college education and voting for Mr. Obama.

Who says education is overrated? Well, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said so.  He claims that an ‘uninformed electorate’ helped vote President Obama into a second term this past week.  But apparently that is not the case.  The states with the greatest levels of college education voted for Mr. Obama, not Mr. Romney.

You can have your own point of view but you can’t have your own facts.

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Visual. Simple. Is so cool.

Lotte turns 12 in about 3 minutes. Love this.

Her father is a director — the only type of person who would have the foresight to film his daughter against the same backdrop for 12 years straight. Us hack marketing types would want to create this through some cheating CGI approach.

Simple but universally compelling.


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Which is more influential TechCrunch or Mashable?

Take my poll on LinkedIn.

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Tolerance is good

In the movie Men of Honor, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character turns to Michael Rappaport’s stuttering character and asks “aren’t you leaving, too?” after every other cadet walks out of the barracks when told they’d have to bunk with a black man.  He responds, “I’m from Wisconsin.”

I recall talking about the civil rights movement in grad school and how involved students from the University of Wisconsin were, but this story of the 20 Most Tolerant States explains the response to Gooding’s question quite well.   I’ll never be in the majority.  And I’ve been on the sharp end of intolerance more than once. Tolerance is good. So for the rest of this NFL season. . . go Packers.

– Jose Mallabo

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Protected: Palin’s Facebook Edits

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Dear BestBuy: #@$%!*9!?”

Dear BestBuy:

If you’re going to cancel my Christmas orders that I paid extra shipping to get well in advance of Christmas, please do me the kind favor of giving me at least 1 day’s notice before canceling it with no explanation.

I'm thinking that BestBuy's customer service is run by U.S. Airways

That order confirmation email you sent right after I plugged in my credit card information, led me to believe you were actually going to send me the product I paid my hard-earned money for.  There’s this thing in post-industrial society we like to call customer service. Let me go slowly. . . c-u-s-t-o-m-e-r. . . s-e-r-v-i-c-e.

If there's an alternative intepretation for "order being processed" and "estimated delivery date" I'd like to know. Stupid me.

You have my phone number. My email addresses (both of them.) You have my credit card info.  That’s more than my family has on me. Pick up that square thing on your desk and dial my number so I can at least try to fix it.

Instead, I’ll be finishing up my shopping at a Walmart or Target store tonight.

Thanks for nothing, WorstBuy.


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Shannon Brown: All you all, get in my poster!

I grew up on heavy doses of Dr. J, Michael Cooper, #23, Larry Nance, Clyde Drexler and Dominique Wilkins throwing it down.

All those guys were great but all of them were over 6′ 6″ tall.  I’d argue that Shannon Brown is the best in game dunker among all of them.  He’s 6′ 1″ and unlike other shorter dunkers in the NBA can get up and throw down in traffic with power.

Look at the rim down there.

Don’t believe me?  Get some here.

– Jose Mallabo



Schadenfreude. Taking pleasure in the misfortunes or discomfort of others.

We all do it at some point. Or at least I’m cynical enough to cast that halo out from me to all of humanity and assume you all chuckle at the plight of others — even if it’s just sometimes. I’m not talking about laughing at the starving or the homeless. That’s just flat out wrong. But sometimes, it does give a chuckle to the inner Don Rickles when a faux pas happens in plain site.

Today, I had to drop a clothesline on someone who made a public statement that was just blatantly celebrating the folly of another.  While clearly qualified to make the correction, it’s also ironic it came from me because I still get a chuckle at this once proud PR guy: James Andrews.

Full disclosure: I worked at Ketchum some time ago.  Great agency. And FedEx is one of the terrific companies I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my career. They sponsored and ran community relations programs that I’ve never seen equaled by any company (e.g. Trees for Troops).

FedEx delivers Christmas trees for U.S. military families. That's the right stuff.

I guess Mr. Andrews didn’t have that perspective when he chose to make fun of his client’s HQ city of Memphis, Tennessee.

– Jose Mallabo

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