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Erik Trautman

Technical entrepreneurship, business strategy and product development

The Problem with Being M-Shaped

There's a lot of noise these days about being "T-shaped." It's possessing that great blend of depth in a particular skill area with the ability to see the bigger picture and to work cross-disciplinarily. It's much better than being "lower-case-l-shaped", with depth but little versatility, or perhaps "apostrophe-shaped"... okay we're stretching it too far.

I am M-shaped. I see people all around me who have discovered their love for a particular field, be it database engineering or social media advertising or User Happiness Management, and they've spent years immersing themselves in the joy of it. I tried that in energy trading but never found my nirvana and left to build something real. I now find myself at a feast of 1000 dishes and, perhaps ill-advisedly, I've launched into it like a starving man possessed. Of the three major startup skills categories ["business", design, and development], I'm actively learning them all.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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City Search 2012: Honorable Mentions

I cut the list of potential cities in half based on the criteria I outlined before. Unfortunately, that means some great candidates didn't quite fit the bill.

Boston, MA

I love Boston because I spent 16 of my formative years in the "˜burbs just a half hour outside of it. I am and will always be a Boston sports fan (Go Pats, go Sox.). Thoughts of the illogically twisted cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill, street performers in Quincy Market and the smell of Italian food in the North End fill me a with a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling. There's a certain energy to the area that comes from the presence of so much intellectual firepower in the local secondary schools and universities. In terms of engineering talent and entrepreneurial culture, it scores top marks. The city is active but not prohibitively expensive. New England is a gorgeous place to live.

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Today I Quit My Job

Today I quit my job. Well, not exactly... I gave my notice and set the clock ticking on my extrication from this industry. Energy has been my home for the five years since I graduated Penn with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and an ambition to trade millions of dollars of something on the world markets.

I landed out of school in the Bank of America analyst training program in time to catch the crest of the market wave just before it broke. My analyst class was the largest in the bank's history (500+), the stock was trading around $53, and the plans were on the table for the glorious new Bank of America tower overlooking Bryant Park in New York. There were cracks already -- I remember rotating through the Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities (CMBS) desk for a week and having NOTHING to do while everyone around sort of shambled by like zombies. A year and a half later the world had changed "“ Lehman and Bear were gone and the integration with Merrill Lynch meant that our tiny commodities team in that brand-new-but-nearly-empty tower in New York was redundant.

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