..FindingZuckerman: Explorations in business, law, tech, media, government, travel and anything in between.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How Foster.ly Came To Be


Although DC is known for being a transient city of 20-somethings, I was actually born locally -- and aside from a stint in the midwest for college and graduate school -- I’ve lived and worked here my whole life.  The DMV (DC, Maryland, Virgina) area invested in me throughout my upbringing, and this is a community about which I care deeply.

From waiting tables to slinging coffee, working in finance to directing non-profits, I’ve been fortunate to have some great professional experiences. And despite having both an MBA and a law degree, my real passion is for something they do not teach (well, something they don’t teach *well*) in any classroom: entrepreneurship.

In early 2011, I left my job as Vice President and General Counsel for a local creative interactive agency and took some time to travel as I figured out what I wanted for myself professionally in the long run.  As I was figuring out my next move, I couldn’t sit still and “just enjoy the time off” as others encouraged me to do.  

In the Spring of 2011, partly out of my own selfish need to interact with people while I was on “sabbatical” and partly out of the fact that I have always loved helping people, I began holding “Office Hours,” a concept whereby I’d pick a local coffee shop, tweet out where and when I would be there, and anyone who wanted to could come hang out and get as much free advice/feedback/conversation as I could offer.  If I could help you, I would.  If I couldn’t, I would try to find someone that could.

At first, a few friends came just to see if I was really there.  And then some people started coming by who heard about the free business and legal advice being handed out in coffee shops. Some days, nearly twenty people would show up -- some I knew; most I didn’t.  Some people came by just so that, like me, they didn’t have to spend the day alone.  It was great.  

People would come early and stick around late.  People would collaborate, help each other out, and everyone was better off for it.  We learned to leverage the power of social media to create pop-up co-working spaces for entrepreneurs.  Above all, we built community.  

Soon, “Office Hours” began taking over local coffee shops (as evidenced by others having them as well), and we realized that there was a genuine need and local demand for co-working, collaborating, and fostering community for entrepreneurs.  We wondered: What if local entrepreneurs from the District of Colombia, Virginia, and Maryland had an opportunity to co-work for an afternoon at no cost with no agenda other than helping each other out?  That’s how “Study Hall” was born.  (You can check out a fantastic video recap by Justin Gutwein/ShineOn Storytelling here:

I identified three groups of individuals who were engaging in Study Hall: 1) people interested in entrepreneurship; 2) entrepreneurs interested in keeping tabs on what’s going on throughout the community; and 3) people who want to interact with the entrepreneurship community (e.g. government employees, accountants, and service providers, etc.)  Despite an individual’s respective classification, the same questions were consistently asked: “Where are the funding sources?,” “where do people co-work?,” and “how do I find someone to help code my idea in to reality?”

One afternoon, I decided to start keeping track of the answers and created an online resource “A DC/MD/VA Entrepreneurship Primer.”  In the Fall of 2011, I further developed this primer in Foster.ly, a more thorough listing to help people in the community find what they need.  Today, after several iterations, many conversations, and the tireless help of some absolutely amazing local people who love this community as much as I do, I’m proud to announce that the next version of Foster.ly will launch in the next few weeks.

As a sneak preview, here is just an overview of what you can expect to see when Foster.ly goes live.

Directory: The Foster.ly directory will enable community members to meet and search for the best resources in our community: People, businesses, groups and events. For example, iFoster.ly can help you find a female graphic designer who lives in Virginia that is available for freelance.

News: By enabling community members to submit links to articles, press releases, blog posts and more, the news section will foster conversation among the community, drive traffic to websites in the community, and provide a venue for people to comment on the postings.

Events Calendar: Not only has finding the right event to go to become increasingly difficult as the entrepreneurship community becomes more active, but days are now frequently booked with several different events to choose from.  The events calendar will allow you to easily sort and search events that might interest you and avoid planning events which might conflict with other events.

Study Hall: Formally Study Hall DC, we’ve merged Study Hall under the Foster.ly umbrella (1/19 is the next event, register here), and as such, Foster.ly will have an online and offline presence.  We'll also share some exciting announcements in the upcoming weeks.

The Blog: Recognizing that all of the content on the existing Foster.ly site doesn’t fall in to one of the above categories, we’re going to throw the extra content in to a blog.  As a community member and/or subject matter expert, you’ll be able to create content and post it to our blog.  Eventually, we’ll launch a resource guide section of the site which aggregates all of the community created content.

What’s Next?

As it turns out, Silicon Valley is significantly larger in size as the DMV area, but our mid-Atlantic region actually fosters a series of robust entrepreneurship communities. One of the goals of Foster.ly is to help bridge the geographical and conceptual gap and elevate the entrepreneurial reputation of our region.

The above is only the beginning and there's a lot more in the works. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to help:

(1) Sign up on the Foster.ly website (it only takes a second) to stay up to date with our upcoming announcements.  (We have some great things in store.)

(2) Follow us on Twitter and give us a shout out at @Foster_ly.  (To make it easy on you, here's an example: "I'm part of the DC/MD/VA entrepreneurship community. Are you? Join me @ http://Foster.ly")

(3) Get involved.  Foster.ly is for the community, by members of the community, and there is lots to do. (From coding to copy writing and things in between.)

If you want to get in touch, pop the Foster.ly team an email at info@foster.ly or StudyHall@foster.ly.  

Lastly, to those of you who have contributed to the development, iteration, and success of Foster.ly and Study Hall to date, thank you. As you're likely already aware, we'll be highlighting your unique contributions when the site relaunches. 

With a great deal of community based excitement,

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Searching For Volunteer Work In DC

Image From www.volunteerscreening.org
This morning I received an e-mail from a friend requesting help on how to assist her college aged son find some volunteer work in the DC/VA/MD area.

In addition to offering a few ideas of my own, I've decided to crowdsource an answer (as my friends are a heck of lot smarter than I am).

Please post ideas to the comments, and I'll create a post summarizing all the helpful tips in a day or two.

Here are the the two e-mails (names have been changed):


"Michelle, thanks!

And hi, Adam! I spoke to Mark a little more about this yesterday..I'm not sure if he fully knows what he wants to do haha. I know he just signed up for Big Bros/Big Sisters for a year-long volunteer commitment.

So I know he may be looking for a job rather than volunteer opportunities after that..He graduates this Dec with a degree in Marketing/Business. Soo I don't know if he'd still be interested in volunteering, but if you know of any organizations that may be looking for volunteers or employees, that'd be awesome.

Are there any questions I should ask him? I feel like I'm being too vague about all this!

Thank you!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chat With X Prize Founder Peter Diamandis




This weekend, I'm spending my time at @Coloft in Santa Monica for Startup Weekend LA.

My team, tentatively named Omaze, is developing a platform that enables celebrities and luminaries to offer the chance to win once in a lifetime experiences in support of their desired charity.

For those of you who are fans of X-Prize, you're in for a treat.

Tomorrow, the Omaze team will launch a beta/proof of concept site enabling you to hone your next bold vision, in person, with the help of legendary entrepreneur Peter Diamandis.

That's right. You and a friend will have one on one coffee with Peter Diamandis, Founder and Chairman of the X Prize Foundation.

(X-Prize gives rich cash awards to the inventors and engineers who'll get us back to the moon, build a better car and explore the genome. Interested in Dr. Diamandis himself, here you go.)

I'll be tweeting from @AdamZ and will update this site with the link when the site goes live tomorrow. Want to help spread the word? (AKA: Please help us spread the word.)

Please retweet this: http://twitter.com/#!/AdamZ/statuses/105109843303604224

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Your Agency Thinks You Are A Fool

When you hire an expert, you hire them for their expertise, obviously and because hopefully, they a know a lot more than you do. Imagine a scenario where you have a need, such as a new website or mobile application, and you set a goal to seek out a design and development shop to code your dream to fruition.

You identify a boutique shop that has all the right credentials.  It boasts an excellent portfolio, a smiling and attentive sales person, and a promise that your product is going to have the hands on attention your mother would be proud of.  With a desire to launch as quickly as possible, you sign on the dotted line and believe your project is being coded on the other side of town.

It isn’t.

You see, your dream company booked your project despite knowing that it lacked the resources in house to complete your work and instead has plans to rely on its “distributed work model” - read, people all over the world - to bring the project to home.

The so called distributed work model, which used to be called subcontracting, isn’t necessarily a bad practice.  Yet, room for abuse, fraud and questionable ethics do come in to play, especially when companies sell themselves as larger than they truly are or farm out your project without a client’s knowledge and consent.

In such a circumstance, the client may be kept in the dark for the entirety of the project. However, a worst case scenario can be devastating.  Subcontractors may be unvetted, unscrupulous, and difficult to track down in the event your project takes a turn for the worse.

Deadlines may be missed, your brain-child of an idea may be stolen or sub-par in quality, and you may end up looking poorly in the eyes of your boss.

Fortunately, with a bit of diligence you can avoid this scenario from happening to you with a little bit of know-how and preparation.  

Right or Wrong?

More prevalent in the design, development, advertising, and marketing industries than one might expect, arguments exist which support and lament the practice of subcontracting work.  

At bottom, there is no “right” or “wrong” in a discussion of whether the practice should be permitted. In fact, many will argue subcontracting can reasonably be expected to happen in some form on most projects.  Instead, the issue revolves around “informed vs uniformed”, “ethical vs unethical”, and are you “protected vs unprotected” in the event something goes amiss.

The following is not intended to prevent you from entering into relationships where subcontracting may occur, but rather, to provide you with a sufficient framework to make an educated decision whether such a particular shop makes sense for you.

The Pros And Cons Of Permitting Subcontracting

Pro: In Support of Subcontracting

  • Many boutique firms experience difficulty maintaining full time staff with diverse skill sets to meet the demand of clients whose project span the spectrum. By maintaining relationships with subcontractors, they are able to integrate fresh ideas and technologies that otherwise would not be available on a full time basis.
  • As the quality of the final product and subsequent reputation ultimately rests with the contracting entity, the subcontracting company has to have properly aligned interests to manage the project to success.  Accordingly, clients should be able to rest assured that final product will be delivered as promised, and all problems will be rectified if they arise.
  • In the event that the scope of a project changes, subcontracting may provide the ability for a company to rapidly scale the size and scope of the project to meet the increased demand.

Con: In Opposition To Subcontracting

  • Subcontracting can complicate the process of ensuring that your intellectual property rights are maintained and protected.  Specifically, due diligence which will highlight items of concern between the company you hire and their and their subcontractors may be problematic, and as such, you may be setting yourself up for problems down the road.  Portfolio attribution, product promotion, and most importantly, ownership of the source final product, source files, and intellectual property are just the tip of the iceberg.
  • The further down the creative chain the project is from your lead contact, the greater the likelihood that your vision will be diluted.  In a worst case scenario of subcontracting gone amiss, instead of hiring a contractor you’ve hired an unnecessary project manager at superfluous cost.
  • Oftentimes the act of subcontracting occurs after work is booked.  At best, the subcontractor is on retainer, but oftentimes new contractors are identified at the last minute without proper vetting.  This scramble will inevitably locate individuals available to work on the project, and those individuals may not be up to par.    As such, your project may falter.
  • Without notice to the client, the practice is arguably unethical at best and fraudulent at worst.

How to Protect Yourself

Now that you understand the pros and cons, it’s time to make a decision on whether you would like to permit or deny subcontracting.  As with much of life, the answer is not so cut and dry. The following sets forth four scenarios which you can utilize to assist in framing relationships.  However, it is important to note that some shops may not entertain negotiation.

1. No protection.

Obviously the most risky of all potential scenarios and frequently the result of a lack of understanding of the process or an urgent need to begin the project, no protection can be established one of two ways.  First, and most frequent, no protection can be established by omission.  Second, a provision can be drafted to specifically set forth the framework.  In doing so, the company performing the work is protected from further claims in the event something goes wrong.  

2. Notification required.

A provision that sets forth that the company must notify you in the event that they subcontract out any portion of your project will help you keep tabs on the project as work is conducted.  Note that such a provision does not prevent them from farming out your work, but instead, merely provides you with notice.  This can be accomplished on a general basis (e.g.: “We are subcontracting out your work”) to a company and location level (e.g.: “We are subcontracting your work to Widgets, LLC in England”) to a named individual basis (e.g.: “We are subcontracting your work to Mr. Michael Smith of Widgets, LLC in England).

3. Notification required coupled w/ an advance right to refuse. (recommended)

This provision is designed to allow subcontracting to occur, but gives you the authority to approve or deny any potential distribution of your work.  The company you hired may not favor this approach because it has the potential to slow the design and development process and provide insight into who they are working with thus enabling you to contract directly with that entity or individual in the future.  But there are ways to avoid such a problem.   At bottom, this option provides you with the most control and knowledge over the project but is more time consuming than the other options.

4. No subcontracting permitted.

Such a provision prevents subcontracting under any circumstance whatsoever.  Although this may be warranted in certain circumstances (e.g.: Highly sensitive and timely projects), it prevents such a practice without an amendment to the originally executed agreement.  Lastly, this highly restrictive provision may result in the elimination of some highly capable companies from consideration.

Where To Protect Yourself

Any reputable shop should have you enter in to some sort of contract or agreement for services.  In doing so, you’re not only framing the scope of the engagement, but you’re protecting yourself in the event the relationship sours.  There is a reason the legal community espouses that “you don’t execute contracts for good relationships, you execute them to protect you in the event something goes wrong”.

Whether your relationship is governed by a Master Services Agreement, a Statement of Work, or something else, you can easily address the issue by including appropriate language mirroring the intent of one of the aforementioned provisions.

Specifically, and most frequently, the language you should keep an eye out for is contained within an “assignment of work” provision.  

Wrapping Up

Although there is no “right” or “wrong” in a discussion of whether the practice should be permitted, it is of the utmost importance that you understand the implications associated with the contracts you enter.  Consider the potential repercussions, and don’t hesitate for a moment to have your legal counsel look out for your best interests.