A Year in Review: 2016, The One Where I Ran A Lot

2016 was a roller coaster year both personally and more generally, and in all honesty I am ready to put 2016 to bed and focus on starting the new year afresh. But once again I am consciously reflecting on what has happened in the past 12 months as I did in 2014 and 2015.
I originally wrote this from my balcony overlooking the magnificent Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, so forgive the optimism, but I feel that the negative geopolitical events of 2016 will one day be looked upon as a wake-up call rather than the beginning of the end, a crisis necessary to spur people into fighting for their beliefs and for progress, rather than swimming through life on the assumption that progress just happens naturally.
2016 has certainly been a wake-up call for me. I think the key theme to my year has been proving to myself that I can live by my values and with concerted effort over time I can achieve goals that seem impossible in the near term. This lays the foundation for 2017, when I plan to build upon the positives in my personal life and take them to a broader audience, either through new side projects, one-on-one dialogue with friends and family, and even (post-11/8/16) through engagement in political activities.

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Electric Bikes, Communal Dining, & Coffeeshop+[Function]

As my thinking around my value-creation opportunities evolves, I find myself returning to the three markets that I believe match the three criteria necessary for me to commit time and resources to them; namely, a market which:

  1. aligns with my core values of living a value-creating, sustainability, community-focused life,
  2. offers me a chance to apply my existing skillset to a new discipline,
  3. is at an inflection point with exponential growth ahead of it.

Those markets are, as you may have guessed, electric bikes, communal dining, & Coffeeshop+[Function] (think Coffeeshop+Office, Coffeeshop+Florist or Coffeeshop+Bikeshop). At a glance you may think I’m crazy — those 3 markets are nothing alike (hardware, hospitality and retail?!), but I actually think there are opportunities to capitalize on changes in a changing operating environment and tweak the existing business models of each.

I’m about discuss my thought process behind each market below, but first I would like to make a request: if you know someone working in these areas, please, please, please let me know about them! It would mean a lot :)


Electric bikes as a mainstream mode of transport

There is no question that electric bicycles are experiencing a surge in popularity as battery technology improves, innovative designs are crowdfunded into existence, and cities across the Western hemisphere become more navigable/safer for urban cyclists. But in today’s environment I don’t see how the electric bike becomes anything more than a niche product for a relatively small demographic (typically males with an environmental bent and the disposable income to afford a $2,000+ bicycle).

However, I believe that we are on the verge of a revolution in personal mobility with the advent of the self-driving car that stands to reshape everything we think about urban design, and the electric bike could be one of major beneficiaries. When transportation becomes “as reliable as running water”, exponentially safer and effectively commoditized, I believe people will look to alternatives such as electric bikes to regain a sense of control and freedom in their mobility. Self-driving cars will further make cycling an attractive alternative through improved safety (no blind spots or aggressive driving from your Tesla Model 3!), and the likelihood of improved cycling infrastructure with a reduced need for vehicle parking.

Access to electric bikes is increasing, as well. Smart companies like Riide offer a monthly subscription membership at just $79/month — a bike-as-a-service so to speak — which includes theft insurance and free maintenance. As the quality of the experience increases, and the barriers to entry fall aside, I am convinced that the electric bike’s appeal will broaden and achieve mainstream status — a massive opportunity to massively improve the way we get around the cities we live in.

Communal Dining isn’t rocket science, but it’s effective

I have a separate post in the works regarding communal dining as this is the area I feel most capable of dipping my toes into in the near future before diving head first. To put it simply: 1) I think dining with interesting people from one’s neighborhood is an activity that many people would like to participate in, but currently have no outlet for doing so; 2) I believe that we can design a system to continuously host dinner parties where the diners want to stay in touch with one another after the end of the night — it can be scalable if designed intelligently; and 3) I believe that through bringing people together to break bread, we can support and bolster a community’s identity.

It’s not heart surgery, it’s not rocket science, it is just about getting people together to share a meal. And I think we need to do it more often.

(Keep an eye out for the separate post about communal dining next week).

Coffeeshop + [Function]: Why reinvent the wheel?

In 2016, there are clearly no shortages of coffeeshops. I consider myself hugely fortunate to be living in a time when cold brews and third wave lattes are dime-a-dozen, from Williamsburg to Nashville to Medellin, Colombia. I love coffeeshops and I’ve written about them here and here. And while coffeshops have multiplied like rabbits, traditional retail has struggled as more consumer dollars and attention is spent online.

The “experiential” side to retail is not a new concept, nor is the coffeeshop+[function] model. How long Coffeeshop/Bookshops existed? But I do think the model solves the biggest problems of each business type — coffeeshops need to find a way to increase the average check sizes for the foot traffic that comes through the door; retailers on the other hand just need a differentiated experience to get people in their stores.

I personally like the idea of the florist/affordable art gallery+coffeeshop: plants and artwork can provide a beautiful ambiance in which to enjoy a coffee, and plants in particular are affordable luxuries that people could purchase to bring a little piece of the coffeeshop home on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.


So, now that I’ve articulated each idea/market I’m asking for your input. Do you know anyone working on something similar? Do you know a restaurant that would be good for a 20+ person communal dinner? Please let me know!

Brooklyn Summers

Let me tell you about my weekend.

On Friday evening I walked three blocks down to the farm on the East River to watch the sunset over Manhattan. After the sky had blackened and KC had showered from her yoga class, we took a bottle of Malbec down to the Korean-French BYOB hole in the wall we were yet to try despite our one block proximity; two hours and three dishes later we were cursing ourselves for not having eaten there earlier, so delectable was the food and delightful the ambience.

On Saturday morning I ran 13 miles — across the Manhattan bridge, along the East River, by the UN plaza, and back across the Queensboro bridge. In the early afternoon KC and I headed North to Greenpoint, where our friend was having a party at the Brooklyn Barge Bar before she heads out to Grad school in Edinburgh. I initially knew ~10 people there, but by the end of the afternoon I had increased that number to 14 or 15 — we drank and we laughed with the relaxed freedom of twenty-somethings without obligations. A quick Uberpool ride back to South Williamsburg and KC and I were back at the farm, this time to attend a craft beer festival with 13 of New York’s finest local brewers: Sixpoint, Other Half and Threes Brewing were the standouts. We met KC’s director from work and her husband, recent NYC transplants from London, and enjoyed comparing cultures as the evening faded into dusk.

I tell you about my weekend not as a way to boast or brag. I have Instagram for that.

I tell you this because I am trying my best to appreciate just how amazing life is, and how fortunate I am to be living a life filled with food, friends, love and joy. While I take life in its stride, and enjoy the serendipity that comes with that, it is very easy for me to take for granted the simple pleasures I encounter every day or weekend. This post is about recognizing the little things in life:

Low key backyard BBQs on Sunday evenings. Watering the plants and seeing our Cayenne Pepper plant produce more peppers than we know what to do with. Reaching the crest of the Williamsburg bridge on a Citibike and reveling at the sight of the city skyline as the bike gathers speed for the downhill.

Mid-afternoon walks to Bryant Park from the office, stretching the legs and refreshing the mind. The first sip of a cold brew from Toby’s or Konditori. Deciding where to go for lunch with the TMT team.

Concerts in a sweaty Irving plaza. Sunset subway sets at Brooklyn Grange. The midnight walk home across the bridge from the LES.

The massive sunflowers at the farm, whose optimism is only eclipsed by Ryan and Henry, the farm’s lovable co-founders. Being teased by Kate from the Yoga studio about how often (or little) I attend class. Waking up from a nap and seeing the sun, streaming through the window, dance on KC’s restful face.

Brooklyn summers. These are the golden days.

The Coffeeshop Business Model (v1)

I love coffeeshops. Some of you probably know this about me, and some of you may even have read my blog post about my love for coffeeshops.

I (like many people) have a dream of running my own coffeeshop one day, establishing a community outpost that brightens the day for the weary, and offers a welcoming environment for every type of person imaginable.

So I did as any aspiring coffeeshop empresario with an investment banking background would do on a Friday night… I built a model!

Here it is (I recommend you actually open it in Google Sheets using the link, but you can also interact with it embedded here):

I’ll dig into some analysis/key takeaways over the weekend and next week, but there are  some important caveats:

  • I built this model on a Friday evening after 2 beers – it is far from perfect. I plan on building this out further, but if you have suggestions in the meantime, they are always welcome.
  • This model assumes that you have the full cash balance to start this today (i.e. no debt), and doesn’t take into account any ancillary/legal fees. Taking out a loan would affect the returns materially (planning to build into the model later).

Question for you:

Can I ask you to give me feedback on the assumptions I’ve made? If anyone has actual experience working in a coffeeshop that would be amazing, but even if you haven’t, do you think it’s reasonable that the average beverage check is $4? Does it make sense that less than 1 in every 4 orders involve food? What other line items am I missing?

TGIF!

Rambler-in-Chief

 

On the importance of escaping the NYC bubble

NYC is a magical place, and Williamsburg is the best home I could possibly ask for at this early stage in my career – a cosy apartment with 4 friends, a backyard for throwing BBQs, an easy commute to work, and all the bars & restaurants a 24 year old could desire.

But Logan Square in Chicago offers a comparable environment at a fraction of the price, as I discovered this past weekend. A long weekend getaway for KC’s birthday provided me with my first trip to the Windy City and a healthy reflection on what life outside the Big Apple looks like.

And just look at the pictures from the Airbnb we stayed in for $75/night:

Check out Maja’s place on Airbnb Read More

From across the pond… my view on “Brexit” as an Englishman in NYC

 This post was originally posted on Medium. View it here.

Cliché “Brexit” photo courtesy of Marketwatch

As you may imagine, coverage of the “Brexit” debate in the US has played second fiddle to the ongoing train-wreck that is the 2016 US Presidential election; but with obvious personal interest in the outcome, I have followed the debate online and frankly have been disappointed (although not surprised) at the negativity with which it has been conducted.

Before I really begin, though, I want to point out that this entire campaign has highlighted the flawed nature of the referendum process: asking the public to vote on a particular policy may be effective when the policy is something tangible and relevant to people’s day-to-day lives (e.g. banning smoking in public, legalizing gay marriage etc…) but extremely ineffective when the policy at stake is as nuanced, complex and removed from public life as national sovereignty and foreign relations.

When the consequences of a particular policy can only be conveyed through metaphors, abstract concepts and politicians spinning models to produce whatever output favors their argument, a public referendum will be decided by anything other than the merits of the policy itself.

We elect politicians to make political decisions, and we expect them to be experts on the political process. Political treaties such as the Maastricht treaty, which governs Britain’s membership of the EU, are some of the most complicated legal documents mankind has ever created, and it is the job of politicians to understand, interpret, and make decisions in the best interests of their electorate. Instead, the buck has been passed to the public, guided by sensationalist headlines and opinion pieces (admittedly, like this one) from people who do not fully understand the intricacies of the political process.

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Questions about the future on a Tuesday morning

  • When self-driving cars are ubiquitous and car ownership plummets, will more people take up cycling for short commutes/enjoyable journeys?
  • What happens to all the real estate currently occupied by  gas/petrol stations when cars charge themselves in our garages or parking lots?
  • When Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality finds its mainstream applications, will we finally see the remote workplace be as feasible as living and working in a creative cluster? If so, does San Francisco suffer a real estate crash?
  • If graphene lives up to its hype and revolutionizes industries as diverse as water desalination to transistor manufacturing to tennis racquet production, who will stand to lead the way in manufacturing? What does 21st century manufacturing even look like?
  • With a population aging more rapidly in China and Japan than in the West, do we look to these places for solutions to the massive gap in caretaking needs that will be required both there and closer to home in the near future? As the jobs in mass employment shift from labor intensive manufacturing to soft skill based customer service and caretaking, what are the implications for traditional gender roles?
  • As customers demand more local food production, is Amazon the Company who will build the logistics channels?
  • Once some form of a basic income is implemented, what are the implications for the entertainment and leisure industry?

Some things I’m thinking about on this grey Tuesday morning.

Changing the workflow to increase creative output

It’s amazing how a change in workflow can either create or restrict an environment for ideas to flourish. Without going into detail, I’ve been frustrated by my lack of creative output, and I believe it’s down to one or two obstructions in my work flow.

If I really wanted, I could probably push through these obstacles and make it work, but the nature of side projects like this blog is their capacity to act as a release. Adding a mental burden to the process is a recipe for failure.

Instead, I’m going to tweak my workflow, writing in a slightly different style (shorter, more conversational) using a different set of tools (for example, I’m blogging this within the WordPress editor itself, rather than my usual Evernote).

This is an experiment, and it may go badly wrong; worse, it might not change anything at all. For now though, I’m happy to be back pressing *Publish*.

 

I’m running the TCS 2016 New York Marathon! +Marathon Update #1

TL;DR: I’m running a big race, and I am asking you to support me here in order to give me the peer pressure I need to actually run this thing (…aaaand it also helps an amazing cause). Plus, I’m putting the FUN in fundraising by offering some cheeky perks and privileges for those who donate more than a certain threshold (see “How I’m Fundraising” below).

On November 6th, 2016, I will wake up at 5am, head all the way down to Staten Island, meet up with 50,000 people as insane as I am, and go on a 26.2 mile jog. You guessed it, I’m running the 2016 New York Marathon!

But…Why?

I could BS you and say that this is all about the kids (more on that later) but this is entirely a personal challenge.  As I try and build and live my life according to my personal values, I am making a conscious effort to grow into the type of man I always I hope I would be “when I grow up”, which includes a vision of how I look, prioritizing a healthy lifestyle, and continually striving to push my personal limits.

I have a list of goals I want to achieve in my lifetime, and graduating college and entering the workforce has made me realize that if I don’t take action now, I never will. Losing weight is a goal that I am entirely in control of, and a marathon (particularly through the heart of my favourite city) is a wonderfully tangible goal I can work towards with a set deadline and no capacity to lie to myself: either I run 26.2 miles in under 4 hours, or I don’t.

Furthermore, the transition from campus life to an office environment that tends towards a monotonous routine (despite the work itself being interesting and varied) has made me value the side projects and experiences that help me live a rich life. I have often found that challenging myself in an area outside my comfort zone is what makes me happiest (see my previous blog post reflecting on 2015), and there is nothing further outside anyone’s comfort zone than Ross Garlick running a marathon. Read More

A (Belated) Year in Review: 2015, The One Where I Graduated and Started Work

The delayed nature of this 2015 reflection is unfortunately an ironic metaphor for how the second half of my 2015 went… the intention good, but the execution lacking as I prioritized work and a somewhat hedonistic mix of laziness and gluttony outside the office. Truth be told, I have had an amazing year filled with incredible memories that will last a lifetime, but I feel as though my personal development stalled somewhat, and in 2016 I vow to get back on track with some challenging goals that will push me to the limits (keep reading to find out!).

But I think it important to reflect on 2015 as a whole, to acknowledge my successes and failures in equal measure, and draw lessons from them. This is my “almanac”, and here we go with volume #2:

Accomplishments

From an objective view, graduating college and making a good start to my career at J.P. Morgan would probably qualify as the two biggest accomplishments I achieved in 2015, but in all honesty they were minimum expectations of mine that I can now check off the list. It’s funny to see how my work style has evolved from college to the office – I now take a lot more pride in the finished project, and have actually surprised myself with the professionalism of my work (at least, I think so), but I still suffer from the same procrastination issues and have a hard time working proactively on a piece of work with no immediate or no set deadline. Either way, I am satisfied with my start and look forward to working #HarderBetterFasterStronger in 2016.

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Regarding Fordham, the highlight of my 2015 was not “walking” at graduation, but rather winning the Fordham Business Ethics Case Competition and subsequently competing (and winning) at the International Business Ethics Case Competition in New Orleans. The reason this was special is threefold: first of all, I was so happy to be able to work on a passion project with Lauren, Gabi and KC; secondly, the topic was something that genuinely interested me, and if you are interested in Self-Driving Cars I think you’d be interested in our presentation, too; finally, it was in New Orleans!!! My first jaunt to the capital of creole did not disappoint, and I can’t wait to go back for some more beignets, jazz and Hurricanes from Pat O’Briens!

Aside from these two “obvious” accomplishments, my favourite successes were my half marathon run and the blog posts I produced over the summer. Interestingly, the two things that made me happiest were both side projects that I said in my 2014 reflection I wanted to improve upon (note to self: side projects are great). The half marathon run was a challenge given the timing (February 21st, in the middle of a brutal winter), but ultimately incredibly rewarding as I crossed the finish line with my brother in 1 hour, 57 minutes. My blogging success took on a different guise than I had envisioned – I was hoping to write more often than I ultimately did, but instead the success came through the improved quality of the posts. This was reflected anecdotally, with people going out of their way to tell me how much they enjoyed my writing, and also objectively, with much improved traffic and even a front-page cameo on Hacker News for my post on co-living! I feel like I truly progressed as a writer in 2015, mixing analytical pieces with more personal contemplations, and I plan to take that to the next level in 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 9.36.22 PM

Despite writing just 11 posts last year (vs. 16 in 2014 and 18 in 2013), 2015 saw heavier total page views and unique visitors than any other year!

Failings/Room for Improvement

There were two areas of my life that unfortunately were submerged under waves of work and laziness, (not to mention waves of craft beers and mouth-watering meals) in 2015: namely following through on side projects, and keeping control of my weight. Unfortunately I have a tendency to put off things that don’t have a pressing deadline (see above in regard to work); as a result, the things that matter the most to my long-term happiness are often put aside in favor of an extra 30 minutes in bed, a mid-afternoon coffee and pastry, or a third craft beer to celebrate the start of the weekend. I didn’t blog as much as I’d have liked in 2015, and other side projects (dinner parties, Williamsburg bridge walking tours, brewing my own beer) never made it off the ground. Not only that, but my weight has slowly but steadily increased and I don’t like it. Today I weigh 185 pounds, probably 15 pounds heavier than I’d like to be. I acknowledge that it is easy for me to fool myself into thinking I’m doing well if I do 2 or 3 weeks exercise consistently, so by documenting my current weight here I will be able to compare like-for-like a year from now. In 2016 I will make every effort to right the ship and point it on course for long-term happiness (cheesy, I know but I had to tie the metaphor together somehow :) )

Travel

It would have been an epic feat if I had managed to topple last year’s travel haul, but nevertheless I managed to hop on a plane for 5 very different adventures in 2015: New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, a Californian road trip and a couple of long weekends in the Florida. It is actually crazy to think about how different these types of trips were: a college ethics competition, Spring break with 9 friends, an Easter backpacking with KC’s brother and sister, a 5-Star road trip with the fam, and a couple of trips to our home away from home in the Keys.

Fun & Other

  • I read a lot of incredible sci-fi books, inspired by the Asimov Foundation Series – Brave New World, 2001: Space Odyssey, Dune, The Martian, Cloud Atlas (<<< read this book)
  • I read some other great books – The 4th Revolution, Founding Brothers, Alex Ferguson: Leading, Career of Evil (3rd Cormoran Strike novel)
  • I read some incredible articles – check out my Pocket Profile for the best of the best
  • I loved continuing my relationship with the Compass Fellowship on the National Council, especially with great peers such as Amy Chen and Harry Shulman
  • I threw 2 kickass barbecues in our back yard, with more to come!
    Favourite Beer of 2015: Jammer, the Summer Seasonal from Sixpoint

So what are the goals going to be for 2016? What do I have to look forward to?

  • I’m running a marathon!!!!!!!!! More to come in a separate post, but I will aim to complete the NYC Marathon in Nov-16 in under 4 hours.
  • I want to be more proactive in achieving my goals, whether at work or independently.
  • I will write 26 blog posts in 2016, each of at least the quality I produced in 2015.
  • I have plans to travel to Oslo (for a weekend), Chicago, Brazil and Colombia; I’m hopeful that I can squeeze a trip home to the U.K. in there somewhere.
  • I get to find out if I am legally allowed to work in the U.S. for the next 5 years! H1-B decisions to be made in late April.

Wishing all of you a productive, positive 2016.

Ross

Rambler-in-Chief

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