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Erik Trautman

Technical entrepreneurship, business strategy and product development

The Apathy Implosion and Lessons in Leadership

I recently had a team implode around me. As is often the case, it wasn't some external stress that did the job so much as a lack of passion and strong leadership. It was a slow death but it almost seemed inevitable.

To rewind a bit, I've been taking the Tech Entrepreneurship course through the MIT/Stanford Venture Lab (VLab) online platform. It's a semester-based course where the students form small teams and build a plausible business plan, which is presented at the end of the course in January.

The first couple weeks were a frenzy of virtual team building, where the 30,000+ students that began networked and facebooked themselves into groups of 3-5. That was a fascinating experience in and of itself -- which approaches were destined to be successful? I saw cases of future founders championing their idea, seeking to rally some free labor to develop it. Then there were groups who bonded across continents because they shared a passion for solving a particular problem. Often, the easiest way to begin chunking the enormous initial set of students was by geography. The San Francisco locals Facebook group eventually swelled to over 30 people.

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San Francisco @ t=0

My final week in Houston was hectic. I sold a truck, the motorcycle, and just about everything else that I possibly could in order to extend my personal runway for as long as possible but the high water mark has officially passed and the limit as t approaches infinity of $$$ = 0. I transitioned from road-tripping wanderer into the odd limbo of sleeping on a couch in the city where I used to live while preparing to move to a place where I had no apartment and no job waiting for me.

Compared to the 20,000 miles I recently spent on the motorcycle, our 2,000 mile jaunt to San Francisco in a moving truck was smooth and blissfully air conditioned. The logistics of moving into the new apartment in San Francisco (which we were fortunate to find quickly upon arrival) involved 4 separate and equally awful DIY legs but the job was done and the soreness will fade.

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Site News: Disqus for Commenting

Greetings! I've finally done away with the bare-bones commenting interface I had out there before and replaced it with Disqus, something you've probably already seen in a hundred places across the web. The integration was very straightforward, basically just copy-pasting some javascript and tweaking some options. I hope you enjoy the added functionality and we really get the discussion going in the next few weeks.

Erik

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Trip Superlatives

...Because I've been asked:

Favorite states to ride: I couldn't narrow it down to just one, so the top four (in no particular order) are West Virginia, California, Texas, and Utah.

States you should probably skip on your motorcycle: Nebraska, Kansas, Connecticut, New Jersey, Michigan, Indiana

Most dangerous place for motorcycles: New York City (seriously, it's a stupid, stupid, legitimately dangerous place to ride)

Most speed traps / cops: Arkansas, Georgia

Windiest state: tie, South Dakota and Nebraska

Worst drivers: California (putting on makeup and driving do not mix with 6 lane roads)

Friendliest People: South Carolina

Best road quality: Montana (surprising for a winter state)

Worst road quality: New Orleans (I'm surprised residents don't smile like jack-o-lanterns by now from the chattering)

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20,088 miles, 136 days and 46 states: A Retrospective

It's been a few weeks since I returned to Houston after almost five months on the motorcycle and I'm still not sure the full degree of what I did has entirely sunk in. I set out to do something epic, to see the most beautiful corners of the USA, and to get a feel for what lies in that vast space between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. I wanted to *live* America and capture a lifetime's worth of experiences all at once.

I was advised by some to bring a gun, by others to bring a friend, and still others said I shouldn't really do it at all. I'm sure that those who knew me best never expected me to hesitate on account of a few naysayers anyway.

I survived. To me, it seems a silly thing to say, but apparently there was some question about the probability of such a positive result. Despite temptation lurking around each corner and over every hill, I somehow managed to avoid knife fights, shootouts, robberies, brigands, thieves, drug runners, angry wildlife, angry mobs, backwater yokels, meth heads, marauding packs of wolves, high speed crashes and (fatal) freak acts of nature.

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Gulf Coast - The Final Leg

The final leg of my journey was a three-day, 1200-mile sprint from Fort Lauderdale, FL to Houston, TX. With the end in sight, I had to keep reminding myself to breathe deep and take it all in. Luckily, the Gulf Coast is one of the most beautiful areas of the US and can't easily be ignored.

I started the ride by pushing due west through the Everglades, making sure to gas up and get comfortable since there aren't a whole lot of services during that 80 mile trip through the wet wilds of Southern Florida. The highway passes through an almost endless expanse of boggy forest and reeds, separated from the road by a threatening-looking barbed wire fence. Despite my hopes, I didn't see any gators hanging out by the side of the road but there were little white birds everywhere and the flora was nearly bursting through the fence.

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Spanish Moss and Southern Sun

If you've ever ridden a horse on a trail ride, you know that there's usually a point about 3/4 of the way through it that the animal begins to catch the scent of home and becomes more or less completely unmanageable. On my ride into Georgia, I began to see things that looked eerily familiar to me -- a sunny pasture here, a muddy riverbank there, a gnarled tree or two -- and it made it very difficult to concentrate on enjoying the moment when I was awash with the sensation of Texas, of "home".

Which in itself is a strange sort of emotion, since Texas really wasn't my home anymore. I had a bunch of crap in a storage locker and a Jeep stashed in a parking garage in Houston, but otherwise there wasn't anything physically tying me to the Lone Star state. But I was forced to admit to myself exactly how much I was going to miss certain aspects of life there. I grew up in Massachusetts and I've lived in Kansas, Pennsylvania, and New York but none of those places quite inspire the same feelings that arise from a wandering memory of cool rivers and rolling hills beneath a hot Texas sun. I love Texas.

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