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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

My $100 Million Idea

I love catching the wave of a new idea. It's happened to me many many times in the past few months and each one is somewhat akin to a religious experience. I think every entrepreneur in the world knows the feeling I'm talking about. In fact, one of those idea waves at the beginning of the year was what finally convinced me to pursue entrepreneurship for real. This is not the story of that idea. That particular gem, a user-generated brand advocacy platform, didn't make it far out of the gate.

Some of my big ideas hit me in the morning and I can't even sit down for breakfast without first tearing through four pages of frantic notes. It is sudden and intense. The idea I'll get into here, though, actually resulted from many little discouragements along the way as I tried to follow up on those other bursts of AM inspiration.


Passion vs Fulfillment

It wasn't long ago that I finally internalized the difference between passion and fulfillment, and it upended a lot of things in my world. I followed my passion into finance and energy and it sustained me for five years. In the beginning, my career was fulfilling too. Over time, though, the little things that made it fulfilling were gradually lost to disillusionment and epiphany and I was left powered by a rocket running out of fuel and I quit. That's really the heart of the difference between the two terms and why they are interrelated "“ passion drives the moment while fulfillment is necessary to replenish that energy when it cannot sustain itself.

Pas"¢sion /'paSHen/
1. Strong and barely controllable emotion.
2. A state or outburst of such emotion.


Using a CSS Framework

Lately I've been focusing heavily on design and front-end development skills. I first read one of my new favorite textbooks in order to learn (x)HTML/CSS (it's called "Learning Web Design" by Jennifer Niederst Robbins) and it was a fantastic, though time consuming, introduction to those skills. I am currently focusing on building a base of JavaScript knowledge so I can begin making my pages dynamic. For that, I have been taking a web development course on which, to be honest, hasn't impressed me much so far. Contrary to my expectations, so far the good textbook is actually far ahead of the poor video course.

Building a blog is a classic programming project because it involves so many different types of coding to make the front and back ends function properly. As I mentioned before, despite this blog running live right now on Wordpress (where you are presumably reading it), my intention has always been to create an independent blog website as my first real project. At this point, I've got enough knowledge to begin the process.


The Quandary of Self Education (Part II)

What is the most effective way to learn? I figured out that just absorbing static knowledge is a terrible approach because I can't prioritize lessons properly and it doesn't make optimal use of my time. That means that I need to combine the best elements of the in-classroom social experience with the flexibility of personal education. As I stated before in Part I, my user case is:

I want a low cost way to leverage the brightest professors in the world through a self-directed but vetted curriculum and to reinforce my learning by using a community of real people combined with personal projects for skills validation.
Luckily, my need is not unique and has been recognized by a variety of institutions. The ability to disrupt traditional delivery channels is a specialty of the Internet, and this is certainly true here as well. Online, typically for-profit, universities (like the University of Phoenix) are certainly nothing new, but they haven't exactly been top tier bastions of academic rigor. A handful of startups are looking to address the shortfall in quality by partnering with top-tier universities who have recognized the seismic shift in traditional educational methodologies towards serving cost-sensitive and geographically-dispersed individuals.


The Quandary of Self Education (Part I)

I am trying to be Neo from the Matrix. There are thousands of hours of knowledge that I need to cram into my brain as quickly and effectively as possible. Unfortunately, that nifty little upload socket didn't seem to make it into my hardware version so does that mean I need to do it all the old fashioned way?

Pretty much all the learning in my life so far has been through either a top-down approach (teacher teaches to students) or the Socratic method (teacher leads discussion and debate), the former for technical subjects like engineering and the latter for more creative subjects like English. The top down approach from college looked like this:


Paul Graham on "Cities and Ambition"

I don't intend to use this as a platform for just relinking to other blogs but, given the context of my recent posts, in this case it seems rather appropriate. In an archived essay, Paul Graham brings up some very insightful things about the characters of ambitious cities that I couldn't write any better myself. In particular, he talks about the subtler messages that cities send and why that is so important for choosing the right one. Check it out:


City Search 2012: San Francisco, Here I Come!

If you've read through my thought process in the previous posts then I don't think it comes as much of a surprise that my compass will guide me to San Francisco. Since I was young, I've always felt a westward pull. Maybe I'm just a product of effective marketing but there's always been something romantic and attractive about following the sun over the horizon towards the glittering majesty of the Pacific Ocean. I felt it even just moving from New York to Houston"¦ it is this idea of excitement and opportunity that springs from the very thought of West. Yes, I agree, I probably played far too much Oregon Trail in elementary school (curse you, typhoid fever, for all the Abigails and Johns and Marys you took from me along the way!) but I just can't help the feeling.

Despite the seeming inevitability of my eventual shift to the west coast, I think I'm doing it for the right reasons. I've always preferred being the small fish in a big pond because that means bigger opportunity and an accelerated chance to climb the learning curve. The Bay Area is where that opportunity resides. I am excited to surround myself with intelligent and motivated people looking to change the world in all kinds of interesting ways. I'm excited to be immersed in new cultures, technologies, and experiences every day. I can't wait to ride through the redwoods, explore wine country, and consume some world class seafood.

Sure, I'm not thrilled about the fog, the cost of living, or California's absurd regulatory and tax systems. Those are the necessary evils in all this. There are downsides to living anywhere and I think they're hardly insurmountable (please remind me of this when I bang my shins on the corner of my bed because it's only 6 inches from the wall in my 150sqft studio and I slipped on an empty Cup-O-Soup container). There is just so much opportunity and creativity and energy out in SF that, for me, I don't think it could happen any other way.


The Titan and the Contender: A Tale of Two Cities

The finalists in this whole process can't lay claim to the kind of general perfection of San Diego or Austin but their flaws come from a place of unmatched opportunity. New York and San Francisco are sister cities in many ways. They are the first and second most densely populated in the US. They are hubs of cultural diversity on their respective coasts. Most importantly, they offer the kind of breadth and depth of entrepreneurial opportunity that it is difficult to find anywhere else.

Penn was one of those annoying colleges that actually required you to write a unique essay just for them. Schools of that ilk were the bane of my upper year in high school, during the college application frenzy, but I am glad I put in the extra time. I'm not going to say that it was anything particularly brilliant, but I wrote about how important it was that Penn had a huge variety of options in their curriculum. At the time, it was just another essay and I really didn't think too much about it. Two years into school there, when I began my transition towards finance, those options became critically important. I finished with an engineering degree but my push into the Wharton world is what landed me at Bank of America and put me where I am today. I am hugely thankful to have had that opportunity available to me.


City Search 2012: Chart of the Day

The NVCA publishes an annual VC yearbook using MoneyTree data. I put together a chart of total VC investment by region for each of my 8 choices. I'm not sure anything about it really surprises me... Silicon Valley dominates while New York and Texas are trending higher.

VC Investment by Region

Similar data comparing tech- or internet-specific financing echoes the same trends. Likewise if you filter for only early stage or seed startups.


City Search 2012: Two Perfect?

The final four cities are, frankly, all places that I really want to live in. At this point it is less about finding reasons to not move there as it is finding reasons why it's better to live in a different city on the list. The following two towns round out my list of three "Places I've Never Heard Anything Really Bad About" list. They are awesome, they're beautiful, there's almost no downside but"¦ they just aren't quite the right place for me right now.

Austin, TX

Texas is awesome. I'm going to write a post about how much fun it is to live in Texas. The hub of that awesomeness is Austin. There's an active and fervent university culture mixed with a strong focus on music and the arts. Living in Austin is affordable and culturally diverse. Nestled at the corner of Hill Country, there are phenomenal opportunities for everything from lake sports to horseback riding to biking to motorcycling. It's got youth and energy.