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My earliest experience making my own rules came when I entered high school. In the first weeks of my freshman year, I tried to do everything right. I did exactly what I was told to do—and this included my homework. After lacrosse practice and my after-school job as a box boy at a local supermarket, I got home around 8:00 p.m. At this point, I was expected to eat dinner, do homework, and go to sleep so I could wake up and do it all over again.
I quickly discovered that trying to complete all the homework assigned to me meant staying up almost all night long every night. I couldn’t quit lacrosse—I’d created the team! And I needed my job in order to contribute to the family income. My mother’s jobs, when she could get them, were not enough to pay the bills. By high school, the house we lived in had an actual dirt floor downstairs and walls without plaster. Now I could honestly say that we were “dirt poor.” My mom and I did our best to improve the house on the weekends, but we always needed more money.
This whole homework thing clearly wasn’t going to work. I decided to take matters into my own hands and implement a “No‑Homework Policy.” My plan was simple. I would work as hard as possible to pay attention and be completely focused in each class, but I would not bring my books home, and I would not do any of the homework assigned to me. If the homework was intended to reinforce what was taught in class, I would be fine—because I would make sure to absorb it all during the school day.
The next day, one by one, I walked each of my teachers through my plan. The conversation went pretty much the same with all of them: First, I said hello and reintroduced myself. Then I explained that I’d been attempting to do all my homework for the past two weeks. (I may also have hinted that perhaps the teachers might communicate with one another more about how much work they were assigning to students.) I told them that doing the work took me until approximately 4:00 a.m. Regrettably, I was unable to sustain this. Then I introduced my No‑Homework Policy.
Some of the teachers laughed, but ultimately all of them told me in their own ways that if I really wanted to go ahead with this, I could, but it would affect my overall grade. I was willing to live with that.
From that point on, I didn’t do homework. I paid attention in class and strived to absorb the material. Ultimately, perhaps because I had been so up front and clear in my communication of the policy, my teachers did not end up penalizing me. In other words, my No‑Homework Policy didn’t have an impact on my overall grades. It was, for all intents and purposes, a rousing success.
The point of this story isn’t “cocky kid blows off homework and gets away with it,” though on the surface that’s exactly what happened. Homework is generally regarded as useful, and far be it from me to mount a one-man campaign against it. (Not right now, anyway. Talk to me when my kid is twelve.) But I had an idea for a different way to do things, one that worked better for me. There was no harm in proposing this to the school administration. The point of school, after all, isn’t to do homework. The point of school is to learn. As high school progressed, I focused on learning what inspired me, so I might get an A+ in genetics and a C in something easy. It was a mistake to assume that teachers—or anyone else, for that matter—automatically knew what was best for me.
If anything, opportunities like this are easier to recognize and implement in the workplace. Do you work best in a dimly lit room? Would you like to work on a side project that is more interesting to you? Rules are there to help us—to create a culture, to streamline productivity, and to promote success. But we’re not computers that need to be programmed. If you approach your bosses or colleagues with respect, and your goals are in alignment, there’s often room for a little customization and flexibility. And on the other side, those in positions of power shouldn’t force people to adhere to a plan for the sake of protocol. The solution, always, is to listen carefully—to your own needs and to those of the people around you.
Biz Stone is one of Twitter’s co-founders. He also was instrumental in the launches of Xanga, Blogger, Odeo, and Medium. His current startup is Jelly, a Q&A platform using images.
VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
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TechCrunch » Social
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Financial Times - Entrepreneurship
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TechCrunch » Social
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Twitter has a case of cabin fever
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Launch is your typical startup conference: Entrepreneurs pitch their startups to a group of judges, primarily investors and tech press.
But this year, something special happened.
Midway through the conference, which took place earlier this week, San Francisco web designer Rose Broome came on stage to introduce HandUp. Launch founder Jason Calacanis set the tone for her presentation by mentioning that he had already invested in HandUp, which is a bit out of the ordinary, as he usually waits until the startups have launched. “I think you’ll understand why,” he said.
Within minutes, members of the audience were in tears.
HandUp is a relatively new service that lets you donate directly to homeless individuals in your neighborhood. VentureBeat first covered the startup back in August. 100 percent of the donations go to the essentials, like food, clothing, and medical care. What stands out about HandUp is the human touch: Individuals can share their stories and ask for specific items, like dentures or a new phone.
Once they’ve signed up, HandUp members are provided with a profile card with basic biographical information, which they can hand out to potential donors.The card contains information for people to donate via a secure SMS system, and the transaction can be carried out on an iPhone.
On stage, Broome announced a cool new feature, called HandUp Communities, which will let donors and homeless members opt-in to send messages to each other. She also disclosed the company’s fundraising goals. HandUp has secured $ 350,000 in funds from some of San Francisco’s wealthiest and most high-profile tech people, including Calacanis, Ron Conway, Ariel Poler, Michael Birch, and Eric Ries.
What touched the audience most wasn’t Broome’s pitch, although it’s inspiring to see entrepreneurs taking a stance on societal issues. It was Adam Reichart, a homeless HandUp member, who shared his story on stage.
Reichart described his struggles finding a job and receiving medical care. About five years ago, he broke his jaw but couldn’t afford a procedure. After he signed up with HandUp, he said, “a miracle happened.” A dentist offered to perform surgery pro bono. After that, he said, “someone made a $ 1,000 donation on Jan. 6 through HandUp for my dentures and pay my phone bill and keep a storage unit.” Reichart is now looking for affordable housing.
“I have a verifiable way to tell people the truth about my needs,” he explained.
(Anyone interested in helping Reichart can donate via his HandUp page.)
The “tech for good” movement
Conferences like Launch promote exciting new technology we’ve never seen before. But HandUp is deceptively simple and took just a few months to develop, as it integrates with platforms like Twilio and Stripe.
HandUp ultimately won the “Social Impact” award, as it uses existing technology for good. It isn’t the only startup attempting to solve entrenched societal problems. Y Combinator is now accepting a few nonprofits and startups like HandUp (although this is a fairly recent development), and venture firms like Omidyar and Kapor Capital are actively looking to fund social enterprises.
Still, it’s early days for the social impact trend, otherwise known as social entrepreneurship. Broome has received her fair share of criticism from potential investors and the media. Salon points out that HandUp “isn’t going to wash away a blight that has resisted decades of hard work to eradicate.”
But HandUp already appears to be making a difference in its first months. The team has signed up about 100 homeless people in San Francisco.
On a related note, formerly homeless entrepreneur Marc Roth also turned up at the Launch conference. Roth is raising funds on Indiegogo for the Learning Shelter, a new program to help San Francisco’s homeless learn hardware skills.
Homelessness in San Francisco
At Launch, Broome also shared the story of one HandUp member called Cameron. Cameron moved to San Francisco from Vermont to take care of her mother, who was dying of cancer. Cameron was evicted after her mother passed away and has been living on the streets and in shelters ever since.
Stories like these are all too commonplace in San Francisco, a city where an estimated 7,000 people are living without adequate shelter (there are only 1,100 available shelter beds). The upwardly mobile tech community has been accused of failing to support these people in need. In December, technology executive Greg Gopman inflamed already tense relations by referring to the homeless as “degenerates” in a Facebook post. He later apologized for these comments.
But Broome, who also runs the Homeless Innovation meetup group, holds a more optimistic view. She said in an recent interview with VentureBeat that she started HandUp, as her friends in the tech sector wanted to give to the local homeless. But they feared that their money would be used to feed an alcohol or drug addiction.
HandUp is designed to alleviate that fear. Homeless members can redeem the donation at North Beach Citizens or Project Homeless Connect, a San Francisco-based organization that provides housing support, medical care, food, pharmacy gift cards, and more. In the future, Broome will develop partnerships with Walgreens, Safeway, and others, so homeless members can purchase items from these franchises.
“My long-term goal is for people to use the card to fund housing or a shelter bed,” said Broome.
In the video below, skip ahead to 8:00:00 to watch Broome, cofounder Zac Witte, and HandUp member Adam Reichart present at Launch.
VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Now that the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency has approved a pilot program to oversee tech commuter buses from the peninsula, they’re asking for feedback from the community.
A few weeks ago, the board of the SFMTA approved a program where tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook would have to pay $ 1 for every stop they made.
This week, the agency just opened up a page here where San Francisco residents can offer input on where buses should stop.
Should they be centralized at one place or distributed throughout a neighborhood?
Should certain stops be prohibited because the buses are causing too many congestion issues?
Whoever you are — whether you a San Francisco-based tech worker that commutes down to Mountain View or Menlo Park or someone who feels their rents are disproportionately impacted by an influx of Silicon Valley-based workers or a bicyclist that has to get around these buses — you should participate.
Why? Because San Francisco city policy does actually get decided sometimes by whoever can pack a hearing room with the most people. (Really.)
Even though the city’s supervisors and MTA board members are trying to represent the best long-term interests of people living here, they are human too and can be psychologically affected by people yelling at them in a room. There will be neighborhood organizations and local advocacy groups that will be rallying to eliminate or move stops.
So if you really care about this issue, please have your say too.