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    SXSW Poker #15: Gretchen Rubin

    I spent a year on my “happiness project,” when I test-drove the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. 

    Research shows that novelty and challenge bring happiness. People who go new places, meet new people, and try new things are happier. However, I didn’t think this would be true in my case; mastery and familiarity (I thought) made me happy.

    But for my project, I had to test this theory. 

    A friend offhandedly said, “Why don’t you start a blog?” 

    “Oh, I don’t want to do that,” I answered. “I’m not tech-y, I don’t read blogs, I like to write long, not short.” 

    But I needed something novel and challenging for my experiment. Without knowing exactly what to do, I sat down at the computer and started my blog. o 

    Five years later, my blog is an enormous engine of happiness for me—and I came so close to dismissing the idea entirely. If I hadn’t sat down at my desk that particular evening, a March 27, I might never have started the endeavor that has changed my life. The biggest obstacle to overcome was myself. 

    Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times and international bestseller, The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project,, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. She was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized she really wanted to be a writer.

    1 03.10.11

    SXSW Poker #14: Rachel Happe

    There is no reason for me to be an entrepreneur. By most measures I’ve had a successful and interesting career - beyond what I could have hoped for when I graduated. But I’ve never been happy with the status quo - particularly in the business world where organizations did not care - in a practical way - about the wider context in which they operated. As online communities started to change communications, I saw the power and economic shift that would eventually happen.  That excited me because it means that the complex needs of society - whether flexibility in working conditions for employees or green energy practices - would get more attention. 

    At a practical level, I understand how large organizations operate, how software works, and the new communications dynamic. I saw the opportunity to help the individuals within organizations see how to transform the way they operate. I got excited about building a business that uses the network dynamic to ensure every constituent group gets more out of it than they contribute.  Two years ago, Jim Storer and I started The Community Roundtable to do just that. It has been all that I expected and so much more.

    Rachel Happe is a Co-Founder and Principal at The Community Roundtable, a peer network for social media, community, and social business leaders. She has over fifteen years of experience working with emerging technologies including enterprise social networking, ecommerce, and enterprise software applications.

    SXSW Poker #13: Ian Greenleigh

    I landed my dream job by taking out a Facebook ad. 

    In early 2010, I decided that marketing was what interested me, but you wouldn’t know it judging by my sales-heavy resume. I had been blogging a bit, and had built up a healthy Twitter following with no particular goal in mind. I was freelancing, selling custom blog setups and doing a bit of design work for a friend. It wasn’t paying well, but I was starting to be recognized locally for my social media efforts.

    In the first week of my job search, I had an interview at a cell phone kiosk in the mall. I didn’t get a call back. The next week, I saw a post on the Bad Pitch blog about Grant Turck, who had taken out a Facebook ad, targeted PR agencies he wanted to work for, and seen great results. I sent Grant an email and set up a phone call. He gave me a few killer inside tips, and I took out my own ad. 

    The ad targeted local Facebook users that were management-level and above in marketing. It featured a photo of me, the fact that I had been nominated for the TX Social Media Awards, and a link to the Hire Me page on my blog.

    After a week, the phone calls, emails and blog comments started to pour in. I was talking to a hiring manager every other day, and I had spent less than $150 on the campaign. One of the calls was from Bazaarvoice, the company on the top of my list. 

    Someone at Bazaarvoice saw the ad and called me up to interview for their new Social Media Manager position. Four interviews and a presentation later, I had my dream job. 

    Ian Greenleigh is the Social Media Manager at Bazaarvoice, in Austin, TX. His insights have been featured on top blogs like Social Media Explorer, Convince & Convert, and 

    SXSW Poker #12: Laurie Davis

    When I was 18, I wanted to be a rock star. As a student at Berklee College of Music, I met an alumnus who owned an entertainment company and I had high hopes of being his next lead singer.  When we met, he told me more about his other business — a music education service.  Through stream of consciousness, he blurted out a business challenge: He didn’t have enough time to focus on the education side of things though it had higher margins than the entertainment company.

    One week later, I showed up to meet him, notebook in hand, and ran through a list of innovative ideas for his music lesson business.  If he did these things, I said, his revenue would dramatically climb.  He stared at me, listening patiently, mouth agape as I outlined my 3 page manifesto for a business that wasn’t even mine.  When I finished, he said, “Great ideas. And I know exactly the person to do all this. YOU.”

    I didn’t become a Director of Operations at 18 without taking some initiative.  What I’ve learned is that inspired moments happen when you least expect it.  I didn’t scribble down business ideas in a notebook 11 years ago because I wanted a job; I was just trying to help someone out.  The same happened with my first business, an event planning company — the demand came before the LLC.  Similarly, what once was a hobby helping my friends date online morphed into something that no one could have expected — my internationally recognized brand, eFlirt Expert. Ideas generated by circumstances can often become the most powerful ones in your life.  Being ambitious isn’t necessarily always about climbing the ladder; it’s about noticing opportunities and taking advantage of them.

    Laurie Davis is the Founder of eFlirt Expert and eFlirt Expert VIP.  She helps singles find love using technology, and gets just as excited about first dates and engagements as they do!

    21 03.09.11

    SXSW Poker #11: Wesley Faulkner


    In 2008 I went to my first South By Southwest Interactive Festival. Not for fun, but for work. I was working for AMD at the time, and they wanted me there for tech support. I have been to several conventions and I only met one of two kinds of people, the techie or the talkie. I have always been both and felt like a rare anomaly till that day. I met person after person that were both extremely smart and could carry on a great conversation. I felt like a veil had been lifted to a whole new world of creative thinkers and doers. 

    From that moment on, my life has been changed. Feeding off the knowledge and conversations like a pack of locust, hopping between social media conferences, meet ups, and clubs, devouring all that I could.  I have not missed a visit to SXSW ever since. 

    This year, 2011, I am not just an attendee, but also a member of the SXSW Advisory Board. As such I now have the power to shape and influence the very thing that has shaped my life. Since that spring in 2008 I have gone on to fully embrace Twitter, start my own blog, lead the first ever Austin Twestival Local and soon start my own company, WordRipple.

    Wesley’s experience spans multiple facets of the technology industry, from manufacturing to product development.  He currently works at AMD as a Product Development Engineer and is the Founder of WordRipple.

    1 03.09.11

    SXSW Poker #10: Amber Naslund

    Sometimes, initiative can be about taking your fear and excuses and kicking them straight to the curb.

    About four years ago, I was laboring in a job that wasn’t making me happy. That’s not an uncommon tale. But yet I kept going to work every day, thinking something would change. And it didn’t. And it didn’t.

    Until one day I took my best friend to lunch, and she asked me - point blank - why I didn’t just quit. And oh, I had a litany of excuses: money, security, the typical stuff. Until I realized - smack in the middle of that conversation - that nothing was changing without my creating momentum.

    So I walked in and quit. On the spot. Defying convention and the meager three months’ income I had in the back. Defying my status as a single mom with a mortgage. Defying my own notions of what kind of a professional I was or should be.

    Four years later I’ve launched a successful business, landed a job that taps my passion, written a successful blog, published my first book…and gained a definitive sense that *I* am my own catalyst for change. The initiative I took then for *myself* will always remind me that I’m the one driving this train, and that I’m accountable to the person in the mirror most of all.

    Amber Naslund is a communicator, mom, musician, business strategist, VP Social Strategy for Radian6 and co-author of The NOW Revolution. Most days not in that order. 

    SXSW Poker #9: Becky Johns

    I’ve been playing around with cameras my whole life. I always had an eye for finding “the moment” and found that the art of photography was something that inspired me. I shot for a few newspapers and took photos of friends for fun, but never took my skill very seriously as anything more.

    I moved into a new apartment and wanted something to decorate the bare walls. So, I took the backing and glass out of a picture frame and made some friends pose for photos. They loved the pictures. I loved the pictures. I named the project “Friends in a Frame” and began sharing the portrait project on Facebook, and just kept shooting.

    I disciplined myself to shoot consistently for an entire summer. 3 months later, I’d done 100 shoots, become a better photographer and had built a project people were begging to be part of. I stumbled into a freelance photography business.

    Soon, I was booking portrait and family sessions, covering events and licensing my work for use on websites and publications. Less than a year later, I’ve been published all over the place online, in major magazines and even a book. 

    None of that would have happened had I not stepped up and taken the Friends in a Frame concept seriously, stuck with it and shaken my concept of how photography fit into my life.

    I freelance when I want to and have plenty of decoration for my apartment. Not too bad for a kid with a camera.

    Becky Johns is a communicator, storyteller, blogger, photographer and media maker. By day, she’s part of the Agency Public Relations team at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago. In her spare time, she’s a freelance photographer, creator of the Friends in a Frame project and has had portrait work published in Entrepreneur Magazine, Advertising Age, PR Week, a book and across the internet. She carries a camera everywhere she goes. 

    SXSW Poker #8: AJ Leon

    On a random New York City evening in November 2008, I walked into a small independent movie theatre in the East Village.  On this one night only, they were playing “War Child” a documentary on the life and times of London-based Hip Hop artist Emmanuel Jal, an ex-Sudanese war child and one of the so-called “Lost Boys” of Sudan.  

    The documentary told the story of a child who had lost everything he ever knew at the age of six, who grew up as an orphan in UN refugee camps, who was forced into a militia when he was ten years old to kill people he knew nothing about, and who was finally rescued by a brave woman who smuggled him on a cargo plane headed to Kenya.  At the end of the film, Emmanuel stands on a piece of ground saying his life’s mission is to build a school in his hometown of Leer, Sudan because “the education of his people will keep his story from being repeated”.  

    When the film ended, there was a live Q&A session with the producers. I sat and listened to the questions, but no one seemed to care about the one question that was burning me up inside. Did Emmanuel build that school?  Was his redemption complete? I was the last hand raised, and asked my question to which the reply was “no they hadn’t been able to raise the funding”.

    I was stunned.  A story that compelling should move mountains.

    When I walked outside, I saw Emmanuel, and somehow mustered the courage to walk right up to him and tell him that I had no money, but I knew how to start fires.  And that I could guarantee we would raise all the money within six months. (side note: I had never raised money nor worked with a non-profit in my life)

    The following day, before his flight back to London, we met at in his hotel lobby, and I sketched out on a napkin “Emma Academy Project”.  Right then and there, we named the school after the woman who had rescued him.  And right then and there, we decided we wouldn’t stop until the last brick was dropped.

    Six months, a community of 10,000 strong and hundreds of disparate acts of fundraising later, we raised all the funds needed and broke ground in Leer.  

    One brief moment of audacity was all it took.  

    And now over a thousand children a world away have access to an education that will change the trajectory of their entire lives.

    AJ Leon nomads around the world and makes things happen. He also blogs over at about taking over the world.

    2 03.08.11

    SXSW Poker #7: Jay Goldman

    There has to be something different about the DNA of entrepreneurs. Something in the blood that makes us look at the world through a different perspective. Something — either wonderful or terrible — that puts us very much outside the box. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, following in the proud footsteps of both my grandfathers (an electrician and a silver plater) and my own father (founder of a series of successful software companies), and I couldn’t really imagine leading life any differently.

    I’ve been an entrepreneur as long as I can remember, starting my first business in grade five. A good friend appeared at school one day with something quite surprising: his own, personalized letterhead. He pulled it out on the playground, proudly showing me the manila file folder like it contained state secrets, then revealing the striking black and white design inside. He had made them at his dad’s office, carefully lettering his name and address, drawing a personal logo, photocopying them on what must have been a fairly massive and quite new machine. He was rightfully proud of them and saw a long and shiny future of handwritten correspondence but I saw something different. I saw our ticket to untold riches.

    I was wrong, of course. It turns out that our fellow grade fivers just weren’t in the market for customized letterhead. And, naturally, that the world had plans that didn’t involve a whole lot of handwritten letters. Never mind that, though. The important thing was that I bravely launched something, failed quickly, and learned a whole lot from the lesson. I’m on venture #3 now — 4 if you count the letterhead debacle — and I’ve certainly learned the lesson of customer development and the value of shoot first, apologize later. Plus, I have a whole pile of unused letterhead for all those fancy apology notes :)

    Jay has been providing a human side to technology for over fifteen years as a technologist, user experience specialist, and visual designer. Jay co-founded and led Radiant Core, was the Head of Marketing at Rypple, and is now VP Strategy at Klick. He has been proudly published in the Harvard Business Review and wrote The Facebook Cookbook for O’Reilly Media.

    SXSW Poker #6: Jenny Blake

    My most powerful (yet simple) lesson in taking initiative showed up when I was nine years old. I was on a Disney cruise with my family (very 90s, I know), and my brother and I were headed to lunch. We arrived at the buffet line early — we were hungry and we knew that the people who were first in line got the best crack at everything.

    A small crowd had gathered. My brother and I looked around — they were all waiting for something. We checked our watches — it was time for lunch. While everyone else was waiting for some kind of permission, we decided to go ahead in. One by one, everyone followed (you can’t keep people from their all-you-can-eat buffets for long). We were awed by how easy it was to lead the crowd. At that moment, our first family motto was born: “It’s not the early bird that gets the worm. It’s the early bird with *initiative* that gets it.” Being early is not enough.

    When I tell people I’m an author, a large majority reply by sharing their own ideas and dreams to write a book — with a somewhat wistful yet eager look in their eyes. To them (and to you) I say: stop waiting for permission. Stop waiting for an agent or a publisher or a magical blessing to tell you that it’s okay to start. GO. Poke the box.

    Jenny Blake has worked at Google for five years, and is currently a Career Development Program Manager and internal coach. She is the author of the upcoming book, Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want (Running Press, 2011).

    1 03.07.11