Heidi’s New Venture: SkinnySongs

A year ago I went for a walk with Heidi Roizen around her house in Atherton. I was gearing up to head out to Colorado to hang with her Mobius partners, and she was pondering her next career move. She had various new business ideas, all fairly eccentric. A few months later I was back at her house because she was helping me with some stuff involving my book. When I asked her if she’d pursued any of her ideas — or joined another venture capital firm or done something else — she said she hadn’t, but wanted to update me on her ideas over a workout. So we went down to her exercise room. I’ll never forget the image: she, in workout clothes; me, in nice clothes (by my casual standards) sweating through it all trying to keep up both my heart rate and the conversation.

Fast forward to December, 2007 and I now see why we were chatting while working out: Heidi has taken action on her idea and launched a new company called SkinnySongs which will produce great pump-up music for women who want to lose weight. Heidi has partnered with some of the leading figures in the music industry to create professional, good natured music to listen to while exercising. Check out this fantastic Forbes profile on Heidi and SkinnySongs. This could be a great Christmas gift for a woman friend who’s trying to lose weight. Available on Amazon.com (ignore the “only 1 left” message). It’ll be on iTunes by Dec 15.

I’ve learned a lot from Heidi over the past few years and respect her a great deal, which is why I asked her to contribute a “Brain Trust” essay to My Start-Up Life (it’s on page 11 for those following along at home). Succeed or fail financially, Heidi’s new venture is a wonderful example to entrepreneurs of someone who’s pursuing a genuine passion (music and exercise). You can feel the passion on the web site and in the songs. As the Forbes piece shows, it’s also a good example of an entrepreneur scratching her own itch to understand a market and problem — the bet is that others have the same itch and are willing to pay for it.

Congrats and good luck, Heidi!


I love pump-up music. Here’s a list of the 10 Most Terrifyingly Inspirational 80’s Songs. I agree with their picks. Excerpt:

Nearly everything is unbelievably dangerous while listening to “Eye of the Tiger.” Here’s a little exercise that illustrates perfectly what this song is capable of. Think of the weakest, most pedestrian chore you can do, for example, doing laundry. Now play “Eye of the Tiger” in the background. If, by the end of that spin cycle you haven’t managed to somehow kill a grizzly bear with fabric sheets or make sweet love to every woman within 40 yards, then you need to see a coroner because you apparently died the night before.


Harvard Business School did a case study about Heidi awhile back. Some Berkeley researchers recently presented the case study to students but changed “Heidi” to “Howard” to see how a gender difference would change one’s perceptions of her assertive style. Slate has a brief write-up halfway down the article.


I worked with Heidi on the Heroes project of the National Center for Women and Information Technology. We sought out some of the most interesting and successful women doing work in IT. Lucy Sanders and Larry Nelson interviewed them as podcasts. Check them out here — loads of inspiration for any woman (or man) looking to have an impact in the field of computing.

Ramit: Part Frat Boy, Part Silicon Valley Geek

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle did a great profile of my good friend and superstar in the making Ramit Sethi. Money graf:

Sethi’s style is part frat boy and part Silicon Valley geek, with a little bit of San Francisco hipster thrown in. At times, he can be downright juvenile, as when he titled a blog anthology "Ramit’s 2007 Guide to Kicking Ass."

It’s about Ramit’s popular blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

A few years ago I made a conscious effort to meet more young people involved in business, writing, or politics. I wanted to have more friends closer to my age who were on a similar professional trajectory.

Ramit has been one of the people I’ve gotten to know well. We have a lot of overlap: we’re close in age (25 and 19), we’ve both founded tech companies, we’ve both written books and endured the publishing industry, we both write blogs, we both do paid speaking, and we both are social, have fun and think about "life stuff" like relationships. Our exchanges are almost 100% bi-directional in value — we help each other in all sorts of ways. This is a rare thing in a friendship but almost certainly the most rewarding state. Peer mentoring, of sorts.

Starting out in the professional world, I spent time almost exclusively with more experienced adult entrepreneurs. Their mentoring and guidance proved invaluable. But now I find myself growing more by spitballing with guys like Ramit and other age-similar peers who don’t have the "wise answers" of a conventional mentor, but at least are wrestling with the same questions in real time.

Congrats, Ramit, on the well-deserved coverage.

When Your Passion Becomes Your Livelihood and Other Ideas from Tim Ferriss

Last night, after an enjoyable dinner at the Rio with some of the Mobius crew, I chatted on the phone for an hour with Tim Ferriss. Tim, 29, is a Bay Area-based, remarkably down-to-earth serial lifestyle entrepreneur:

  • Princeton University Guest Lecturer in Electrical Engineering and High-Tech Entrepreneurship
  • No-Holds-Barred Cage Fighter, Vanquisher of Four World Champions
  • Speaker of Six Foreign Languages: Japanese (learned in three months), Chinese (learned in one month), German, Spanish, Italian, and Korean
  • First American in History to hold a Guinness World Record in Tango
  • Trainer and Advisor to more than 30 World Record Holders in Professional and Olympic Sports
  • Nutriceutical Designer and Glycemic Index Researcher
  • National Chinese Kickboxing Champion
  • Political Asylum Researcher and Activist
  • Knight and Ordained Minister
  • MTV Breakdancer in Taiwan
  • Speedo Model in the Hamptons
  • Actor on Hit TV Series in China and Hong Kong

Jesus, can you get any more average and boring than that?!

Among other delightful topics of conversation, Tim made the point about the risk of turning your passion or hobby into your primary income-generating activity. Just like you’re less likely to enjoy a book that is assigned to you in school, you’re less likely enjoy the work you’re doing if it’s livelihood. John Amaechi, the ex-NBA athlete who came out of the closet, noted that many NBA stars don’t even enjoy basketball by the time they’re in the pros. As career advice, this is counterintuitive ("Find your passion and then get paid for it!"), and I don’t know if I agree, but it made me think, which is most important.

Tim’s book, The Four Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, comes out April 24. I’ll be checking it out. Here’s his blog.

I continue to be in awe and totally humbled by some of the folks who are part of my life, even in the smallest ways. Some of it the result of effort — I work hard on my "people flow", some of it sheer luck. Either way, a good reminder for me that the world is full of interesting and amazing people — the key is to be open to finding them.

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

I was standing at the urinal on Saturday at Keystone Snow Resort in Colorado and the Beatles song, "With a Little Help From My Friends" started playing on the speaker. I thought to myself, "How appropriate."

After all, were it not for my surrogate parents here in Boulder, Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor, I wouldn’t have been in Keystone to begin with, let alone embark on my very first ski lesson!

With Amy’s expert guidance I visited a ski mountain for the first time in my life, joined a group lesson, and had a blast. I made it to "level 3" which meant I could ski downhill and go side-to-side. I was, I confess, the best newbie in the group. Chalk up another new life experience!

My weekend in Keystone, skiing and all, reminded me of a principle that never seems to fail: people first, the rest takes care of itself. I’m fortunate to be hanging with an awesome group of people. Whether it’s being given an all-day tour of Boulder on day 3 by the de facto mayor, Brad, or enduring the intellectually humbling experience that is extended time in a car, living room, and dining room table with Chris Wand (who, in addition to being 10x smarter than me, is also hilarious), every day provides its share of new people who are each living life their own way.

Yes, I get by with a little help from my friends. So thanks, friends.


Friends of Ben: Kai Chang

Name: Kai Chang

Network: Ben Casnocha –> Cold call to me — > Kai Chang

Google Search: "Kai Peter Chang"

See other Friends of Ben profiles

Within two minutes of talking to Kai Chang on the phone I picked up on how sharp he was.

For one, his listening skills blew me away. He asked terrific questions, responded thoughtfully, and engaged in a real two-way conversation. I was really impressed. I think good listeners are few and far between. We set up a time to have lunch the following week and I then got to witness Kai’s tremendous in-person charisma and energy.

Kai is a financial advisor here in the Bay Area. But calling him a financial advisor sells him short. He’s a life entrepreneur in the truest sense of the world. He’s an insatiable reader. Excellent impersonator (and humorist — see his Apple Switch Ad spoof). Thoughtful businessperson. Our conversation yesterday flowed smoothly from technology to relationships, from psychology to personal finance. Not only was I in the flow — an hour and a half felt like a couple minutes — I also had scribbled so many notes in my pad that later that night I thought to myself, "I could write 10 blog posts on all this stuff."

What can we learn from Kai? First, energy matters. In his about page he says, "I have…the energy of a nine-year-old on Christmas morning wired up on two liters of Coca-Cola and a box of Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs." Second, being a good listener pays. In his own words again, "[I’m a] freakishly effective listener/interviewer: people are unnerved at how easy it is to tell me secrets within days (or sometimes hours) of meeting me that they’ve kept from loved ones for years." Third, remember the T — go deep in one thing, but have broad knowledge. Kai’s deep point is financial advice — and nobody minds a good tip on how to manage their money — but his reading has made him an able conversationlist on many topics.

My relationship with Kai started from a simple cold call he made to me. Just goes to show that randomness can produce excellent connections. Extraordinary people are everywhere. Be open to finding them.