On Snapchat

My parents refer to Snapchat as the “sexting app,” but no one I know uses it to share photos of their nether regions. The app, which allows people to send self-destructing picture and video messages to their friends, is for me a G-rated destination. Its bright yellow icon features a faceless ghost that greets me each time I unlock my iPhone.

Towards the end of 2011, my friend Lauren told me to download Snapchat. The two of us met in Ecuador four summers ago on the sort of volunteer trip that some students use as fodder for their college essays. Lauren and I talked for hours every day—under the stars in the Andes, on the beaches of the Galapagos Islands, in the streets of Quito. After four weeks, we hugged goodbye beside a baggage claim carousel in Miami.

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A conversation with Mark Kawano, Storehouse CEO & former Apple designer

Note: This post was originally published on the True Ventures blog.

Mark Kawano is an idea machine. This summer, I had the pleasure of working with him as an intern at a startup called Storehouse—a visual storytelling platform. Mark started his career as a designer at Adobe, where he worked on the Creative Suite for several years. He then went on to join Apple as a designer and a User Experience Evangelist before founding Storehouse in 2013.

Most photo services are the digital equivalent of throwing your photos into a shoebox in the closet. Platforms like Facebook and Flickr force your photos into a grid of uniformly-sized thumbnails, or worse, a slideshow. And apps like Instagram and Snapchat are about moment sharing, one photo at a time, rather than storytelling.

If Instagram is a word, then Storehouse is a sentence. The Storehouse app allows people to combine photos, videos, and text in a magazine-like layout and easily craft a narrative around the content they care about. I sat down with Mark to get his take on starting a company, the role of design, and the future of publishing.

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What It’s Like to Lock Eyes With a Stranger for Five Straight Minutes

“You here for the workshop?” asks a woman in a purple button-down shirt. I nod. She lets me through the doors of a co-working space in downtown San Francisco, and I walk upstairs to a room full of silent strangers.

“Alright people,” says Eric Waisman, the founder of a company called Jaunty—an “education dojo for human relations” that organizes workshops on social intelligence.

He speaks with the confidence of a magician who’s about to unveil an unbelievable trick. “For the next five minutes, you’re going to stare into the eyes of the person next to you.” Nervous laughter ripples across the room. “Oh,” he adds, “and no talking.”

Then, he rings a tiny gong and starts his clock.

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The Metaphor I Left Behind

When Steve Jobs stepped on stage during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, I couldn’t look away. As a kid, I loved to plop myself down in front of a computer screen and watch Jobs’ keynote addresses. There’s one line of his in particular that has stuck with me:

Apple stands at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.

In middle school and high school, academic subjects lived in their own little silos—separated by the bells that rang between class periods. The idea that liberal arts and technology could intersect seemed both foreign and exciting to me at the time. I adopted the phrase for my own use and began describing myself as someone who stood at the “intersection” of technology, design, music, and writing. I didn’t want to have to choose just one. It wasn’t until recently that I started to second guess my decision to co-opt the “interests as intersection” metaphor.

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Why Interruption is Key to Good Conversation

The students in a mechanical engineering class I took last semester were separated by 300 miles. Three kids from Yale and three from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) came together to re-imagine what patient identification should look like in the 21st century.

The two groups met in the flesh only twice throughout the whole semester: once at the beginning and once in the middle. The rest of our interactions happened entirely over video chat. In the beginning, we thought that this video-only approach wouldn’t cause any problems. But we were quickly proved wrong.

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The Case for Walking Meetings

When I met Nick Winter in downtown San Francisco, he wasn’t wearing shoes. His dress pants and V-neck sweater kept him from looking completely homeless. Nick, a 28 year-old author and entrepreneur, wrote a book called The Motivation Hacker that follows his three month quest to achieve as many goals as possible: from launching a successful startup, to learning to throw knives, to skydiving, to running a marathon, and many more.

A few weeks ago, I suggested that he and I sit down for coffee. Always the adventurer, Nick instead decided we should go on a walking burrito breakfast. We covered a lot of ground (both physically and metaphorically) as we talked about his collection of crazy experiences. The content of the conversation was fascinating, but there was also something remarkable about the fact that we were in motion. If I could have it my way, I’d never go on a non-walking meeting again.

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Two Letters, Two Hours: Inside Yo’s first hackathon

The hackers at San Francisco’s Runway Incubator introduced themselves to each other with skeptical enthusiasm. “How’s it goin’?” said one, before quickly correcting himself: “Or maybe I should just say, ‘Yo.’” Pizza, computer chargers, and bottles of Blue Moon powered a hackathon last Friday that was organized by a messaging startup called Yo. For two hours, a group of 50+ developers hunched over their computers in a communal workspace with a distinctly industrial feel. The piping in the ceiling was completely exposed—a fittingly half-finished look for a hackathon that encouraged programmers to build fast, not beautifully.

Yo is an app for iOS and Android that allows users to do one simple thing: tap on friends’ usernames to send them a push notification that says, “Yo.” Nothing more, nothing less. When the company received a one million dollar investment last week, it took the media by storm. Business Insider, Forbes, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal have all sounded off on the minimalistic app’s past and future. After gaining a million users in just one week, Yo isn’t exactly sure how it wants to evolve. The hackathon seemed, at least in part, like an attempt to outsource product management to the Yo community. Yes, the company needs developers. But they also need ideas.

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Trigger Happy: The cognitive science of branding

You don’t own your brand. This, according to Robert Brunner—the chief designer of Beats headphones. When Brunner gave a talk last week at True University, this idea seemed counterintuitive. How could the creator of one of the world’s most successful brands claim not to own it?

Brunner’s statement got me thinking about a similarly surprising idea in linguistics: English is non-existent. When my professor made this argument on the first day of Cognitive Science of Language, it baffled me. I was worried I’d gotten myself stuck in another esoteric philosophy class. After a little explanation, English’s non-existence didn’t seem all that far-fetched. And the strange theories I learned in the linguistics classroom go a long way toward explaining Brunner’s brand psychology and the mysteries of communication.

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The Jobs That Aren’t On Your Resume

Whether I’m at Yale or surrounded by ambitious entrepreneurs in San Francisco, people often feel the need to make their accomplishments known. Last weekend, I went to a summit hosted by the Thiel Foundation—an organization that pays undergrads money to drop out of college and work on ideas they’re excited about. The attendees were interesting and absurdly successful for their age. But on the whole, the event felt more like a “humble brag” fest than an opportunity to make real connections. Many of the people I met were walking, talking LinkedIn profiles.

Their achievements were impressive and deserving of recognition, but there was something that bothered me about the quality of conversation. Several days later, I figured out what.

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Time Travel Accountability

If there’s anything I learned last year, it’s that keeping a team (and yourself) accountable is hard. People love to have planning meetings and meetings about organizing their next planning meeting. It’s easy to talk and much harder to do. I think the solution to this problem is a form of a time travel.

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