An Evening At San Quentin State Prison

There are certain experiences that you go through in life which make you pause and reflect on the bigger picture. A few days ago, I had the unique experience to go to one of the most notable and oldest state prisons in California, San Quentin State Prison, and speak to a group of inmates as part of The Last Mile program.

A few months ago, I was talking with Chris Redlitz of Transmedia Capital about his new program The Last Mile, and his plans and goals with the program. Fast-forward to March 13th, 2012, and I find myself at the entrance to a prison which is home to some of America’s most notorious criminals. Words can’t describe the experience of walking into a prison and not knowing what was going to happen.

After such a powerful experience, I wanted to write a blog post to share my thought and try to bring light to some of the men that I met at San Quentin.

First of all, when you arrive at San Quentin, you go through multiple security checkpoints. The first was mainly for cars, and the second for all people coming through the prison. I was only allowed to bring three things with me: my car keys, drivers license, and a notebook. I also wasn’t allowed to wear any clothing that had blue or yellow colors, since that’s what the inmates wear.

Once we got through the second security checkpoint, there was one more door that we had to go through … the door that took you into the main yard of San Quentin. When I walked through the door, I had a mix of emotions- scared, nervous, hesitant. I had no idea what to expect or what would happen. Then we just started walking. Chris showed me the chapel where The Last Mile’s “Demo Day” is going to be held, and we walked by a group of inmates. All of them said “hi” to us, and asked how we were doing. I responded with “hi” and also asked them how they were doing.

We continued walking towards a group of buildings where we would eventually meet five men; David, James, JC, Kenyatta and Phil. We walked into the room, shook hands, said hello to everyone, and started the session.

It was at that point that I realized one of the most important lessons from this entire experience: David, James, JC, Kenyatta and Phil are real people. They are just like me. They have interests, hopes and dreams. A seven-digit number doesn’t define them. They are defined by who they are, and what decisions they make in their future.

As a society, we look negatively at these men for the actions of their past. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be punished for wrong doings, but it’s what you do after you serve your punishment that determines who you are as a person. If I had been in a room with these five men anywhere else, I would have never guessed that they were criminals.

Each man had his own unique characteristics. David is a big 49ers fan, and really enjoys all kinds of sports. James is very soft spoken, but extremely well respected. JC is literary master. Kenyatta is eager to learn. And Phil just lights up when you talk about music. These men were unique but all shared a drive to change their future.

They were all extremely polite, and excited to learn. They’re thankful for The Last Mile, and the ability to turn their life around. These are all qualities that many of us share.

When the session began, Chris went over the agenda, we talked about what had happened since the last meeting, and what was going to happen today. He introduced me, and I briefly told the story of how I started Teens in Tech Labs and what I’ve learned over the last four years since starting the company.

They all asked questions about how I got started, the reasons why Teens in Tech exists and many other questions. At this point, I realized something else; these men are intelligent. They’re asking good questions. And then I just started smiling. I was very surprised but excited and impressed at the same time.

I had no idea what to expect going into this experience, and now I’m surrounded by five incredible men who are truly inspirational, and want to change their lives.

After some more questions, Chris asked each person to stand up and pitch their business idea. As each of them did, I was I even more surprised and impressed. They pitched their ideas better than some of the pitches I’ve seen at some of the biggest tech events! One was a unique barbershop for college kids, another was an inner city technology center for young kids, a t-shirt company for young kids to express themselves, an interactive experience for watching sporting events, and a mobile recording studio for musicians.

All were great ideas that had a lot of meaning behind them. I was blown away yet again. We gave each idea a critique, feedback, and kept discussing ideas for their businesses. It was the ultimate brainstorming session.

We only had so much time for the session, since certain men had to go inside and get checked-in, etc., but I walked away for a newfound respect for these inmates. If these are the five selected people to go through The Last Mile, imagine all the others who have great ideas for businesses for when they are released from San Quentin.

After everyone left, JC stayed around and recited some of his amazing poetry. He’d been incarcerated since he was 17 years-old, and has learned a lot of lessons during his incarceration. He translates those lessons into words, and is true inspiration for many men at San Quentin. I asked him numerous questions about life inside the prison, and his experience over the last 17 years. I got a glimpse into what it’s *really* like to be an inmate at San Quentin State Prison.

As I left, I walked away with a new found respect for the men of The Last Mile. I’d like to thank Chris, Beverly and Kathleen for inviting me to be a part of this remarkable experience. I’m proud to be coming back to San Quentin in a few weeks to help with the pitches one more time, and then for the big day … Demo Day.

“Inspired” would be an understatement to describe this experience. I hope that at some point we can all look back on this program, look at these men, and be proud of what they’ve accomplished. No matter what your circumstances are, there is a way to dream big and go for it.

My Thoughts On Heather Harde Leaving TechCrunch/Aol

Earlier today news broke that Heather Harde, CEO of TechCrunch, was leaving Aol at the end of the year. During my nine months at TechCrunch, I worked closley with Heather (she was my boss) and had a few thoughts that I wanted to share regarding this announcement and my experience working with her.

Heather is probably the hardest working person I’ve ever met. Emails would be answered almost immediately, no matter what time of day it was. Whenever I would be at the office, Heather was there. Late into the night, Heather was always working. Even with her busy schedule, there was never a moment where I felt I couldn’t approach Heather for advice or help.

I can say decisively that Heather is the best CEO I’ve ever worked for. Although my time at TechCrunch was shorter than I had hoped, just having the opportunity to work with someone like Heather was an exciting experience. She taught me not only how to work effectively in high-stress situations but also how to become a better project manager. The work ethic and management skills I admired in Heather, are ones that I try to adapt myself.

The way Heather was able to take TechCrunch, and make it into a growing business, is extremely commendable. Being even a small part of that process, makes me feel proud.

As you’ll probably read from my former colleagues, the message is very clear and similar — Heather was an extremely hard working CEO who helped make TechCrunch into what it is now.

I can’t wait to see what Heather does next, and wish her the best of luck.

The Time I Met Steve Jobs

Over the last few hours, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the news that really shocked the world — Steve Jobs had passed away. Just six weeks before he passed, he officially resigned from Apple, the company he helped start and led for so many years. He really gave it his all, up until the very last bit he could.

As I was thinking about what Steve had done, there was one memory that had kept coming back to me. The time I got to meet, and shake Steve Jobs’s hand. It wasn’t until after that encounter that people started telling me that Steve doesn’t shake anyone’s hand. I felt honored. I felt lucky.

It was 2007, and Steve Jobs had just gotten off the stage at Macworld after he had announced the revolutionary iPhone. We were all blown away by this device. I was sitting towards the back of the room with my good friend Adam Jackson, when we both decided to head up front and see what all the hubbub was about. It turns out Steve was in front of the stage chatting with some folks.

Keep in mind, in 2007 I was only 14, so I was still quite small and could maneuver around a crowd much better then others. There was a large group of people, and I snuck under all of them. As I turned around, Steve Jobs was standing right in front of me being escorted out. I quickly said “thank you!” and put out my hand, and he said “you’re welcome,” smiled, shook my hand, and ran off.

That is a moment I will never forget, and I will cherish for the rest of my life. We will always remember you, Steve. Thank you for everything.

A Look Back, A Step Ahead

With yesterday being my 18th birthday, a lot has changed in the last year. I’ve had a lot of time now to reflect on the actions that took place earlier this year, and I’d like to share my experiences with you all today.

I’ll be the first to admit that I made a mistake. Not just any mistake, but a big mistake that is going to follow me for a long time, and at this point, there is nothing that I can do about that, but take 100% responsibility for my actions.

I made a critical error in my judgement that could have been easily avoided, and I take full responsibility for my actions that put myself, and others in harms way. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this entire experience, and hope that not only can I grow from this, but others will be able to learn from my mistake, and hope that they don’t have to go through something like this.

Specifics aside, I took advantage of a previous relationship that I had, and engaged in an extremely inappropriate conversation that should have never occurred, and now we can all see what happened. What happened has happened, and I can only look back, and take responsibility for my actions.

Going forward, I have become smarter and more self-aware and conscious about my decisions when I talk to people. There is a fine line between what’s okay to say and do, and what is not, and I clearly crossed that line further then I should have been.

I can’t turn back the clock and change what I did, but what I can do is only move forward and keep my head up, and make sure I never make a decision like this ever again.

I can’t say enough about how sorry I am for my actions earlier this year. I made a very stupid decision that cost me more then just a job; it cost me friendships, respect, and trust from people I respected, and looked up to.

To my family, and closest friends, I sincerely and deeply apologize for everything I have put you through this year. From here we grow and don’t look back.

As Euripides, an ancient Greek dramatist once said, “Along with success comes a reputation for wisdom.”

Some Updates (Updated)

After taking a few months off since February, I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect on these last few months, and choose my next steps going forward.

I’ve tried to stay off the grid as much as possible in terms of public events and such, but I’m excited that I’m starting to ramp up my speaking engagements, starting off with Tomorrow’s Web at the end of this month in San Francisco. Sure, Tomorrow’s Web maybe a competitor to the Teens in Tech Conference, but in the end, we’re aiming for the same mission, so I’m gladly going to help where I can to achieve our mission. Grant and his team have put in a lot of work into Tomorrow’s Web, so I’m excited for the upcoming event! I’ve also got three 20% off conference ticket codes that the first three people can use. If you want to attend Tomorrow’s Web on Saturday, July 31, use the code “DANIELBRU” when checking out, and your ticket price will be deducted 20%!

I’m really excited to announce that at Tomorrow’s Web, during my talk, on stage, I’ll be announcing two new exciting things that Teens in Tech is working on, as well as side project that Michael Costigan and I have been working on.

Also, since stepping down as CEO of Teens in Tech Networks, I’ve had a lot more free time to think about the future of the Teens in Tech Conference with my business partner Sam Levin. In the coming weeks, we’ll be announcing some exciting news from the company that I’ve been hinting at on my Twitter feed.

Not to be left out, of course, that I’ll be starting college in a few weeks as well, which I am more then excited about. I’m more excited about the courses that I’ll be taking, like Video Production, Digital Video Editing, and more!

Another thing that I’m excited about, is the launch of iPhone Case Finder. Much like its sister site, iPhone Case Finder is all about finding iPhone cases that are right for you, the user. We’ve been focusing on iPhone 4 cases, after the whole “Antennagate” issue, so if you need an iPhone 4 case, iPhone Case Finder is your place. Check out the site, and let me know what you think!

I’m really excited for the future, and I hope that you all can join me in it!

Update: So after some miscommunication, and disorganization, Tomorrow’s Web was unfortunately canceled. Hopefully next time around, they can prevent the issues.

Announcing My Next Venture — iPad Case Finder

Well, that didn’t take long! A few days ago, I got an IM from Lachy Groom, a friend of mine. Lachy and I had a chance to work together when he was the Director of Product Management at Teens in Tech Networks for a little bit. If you don’t know Lachy, then you probably should. He started PSDtoWP.com, and grew it into a sustainable company. Since then, he’s sold the company and moved on.

After I got Lachy’s IM, we quickly got down to business. He was launching a new venture, and we wanted to work on it together. That venture is launching today — it’s called iPad Case Finder. The name speaks for itself, but in a nutshell, iPad Case Finder helps iPad users find their iPad case.

If you think about it, peripheral makers are like developers in the App Store. There are tons of apps in the App Store that do the same exact thing, but some stand out. Same with cases — they all do one thing, protect the product, but some do it better then others. So how do you know which one is the best?

The concept is simple, and so is the execution. Here’s how it works. You go to iPad Case Finder, and you can either look at all the cases, or search for cases from a particular case maker. Once you find a case you’d like to find more information on, you click on the case, and you get a hi-res photo of the case, along with a detailed description of the case, with features, etc. You also get price information on the case, where you can buy the case, and similar cases to the one you selected.

This is just the start for iPad Case Finder — we’ll be adding tons of features like ratings, user profiles, favorites lists, and much more. Check out the site, and let me know what you think! We’re still fixing bugs, and adding features, but we’re on the right track.

Update: How crazy! Just launching today, and already getting on Daring Fireball!

Thanks For The Memories

Before I start of, I wanted to let everyone know that this has probably been one of the hardest posts I’ve written on my blog. Over the last two years, I’ve done a lot in technology — I joined Qik in January 2008, started Teens in Tech Networks in February 2008, worked with some amazing companies like Apture, TechCrunch, atebits, Wonder Warp Software, etc., and had a blast doing it all. I’ve worked with startups in the past, but there is nothing the feels the same as working on your own startup.

I’ve made a very important decision in my life that was not easy, but I feel is the right thing to do at this time. Today is my last day as President and Chief Executive Officer of Teens in Tech Networks, the company I started over two years ago.

I would not have made this decision if I didn’t feel confident in my successor, and their abilities to lead our team. Spencer Schoeben, who is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Teens in Tech Networks, will become the the President and CEO of Teens in Tech Networks.

Spencer has been my right hand man at Teens in Tech Networks for the last seven months, when he joined Teens in Tech Networks in October 2009, and has been an amazing asset to the company.

I may not be the CEO anymore, but I will remain the Chairman of the Board of the Directors, and remain a key asset to the team helping with the products and the business.

I’m excited to see the company grow under new leadership, and being Chairman will give me a different perspective on that. I’m also looking forward to attending college, like I mentioned in my last post. Who knows — maybe I’ll have a new company by the end of the summer!

Thanks to our amazing Advisors, and the amazing team we have at Teens in Tech Networks. I feel very confident that Spencer will be able to lead Teens in Tech Networks into its next phase.

Welcome to College

If anyone knows me, they know that I do not like school. It’s not something that I enjoy, or at least have not enjoyed in high school. Being a senior in high school, these last few weeks have been filled with senior news and updates — most having to do with college.

About two years ago, I “gave up” on school. What does that mean? Well, I just stopped caring. I didn’t see the purpose of the curriculum my teachers were attempting to teach me. Until very recently, I only thought of school as a waste of time. I wanted real world experience, which is where I went wrong.

I recently had a conversation with Meebo Co-Founder and CEO Seth Sternberg. Seth went to Yale for his bachelors, and Stanford for his MBA, which he actually didn’t finish, but that’s besides the point. We spoke about a lot of topics around school, and how if you look at the people that I look up to from companies like Rock You, Meebo, Facebook, Microsoft, they all had one thing in common — they went to college. They may have not finished college, but they went.

I haven’t exactly taken college seriously, until I got this wake up call from Seth and others.

Today, I’m extremely happy to say that I’m going to college, and attending the College of San Mateo (CSM) during the fall semester in 2010. I’ve already taken my placement test, figured out my base classes, and have scheduled myself for orientation.

Never in a million years did I think that I would be saying this, but I’m truly excited to go to college. After I got the email saying I’ve been accepted, it was one of the happiest feelings I’ve had.

To make it even better, minutes after getting accepted, and getting my new student identification number, I got my email account for CSM, which happens to be hosted on Google Apps. I have a feeling I’ll be alright in college 🙂

So that’s the story of college — I’m going, and I’m truly happy that I am. Also, don’t forget that I’m training for the Carlsbad 5000 in April, and you can track my progress through Twitter and the blog.

Running the Carlsbad 5000

I typically don’t write about specific personal events in my life, but I feel like this one is something that I want to share with everyone. Many people don’t know, but my mom is actually a marathon runner. And of course, I’ve been inspired by her, to train for my first official running competition — the Carlsbad 5000.

In April, I’ll be heading down the coast from San Francisco to Carlsbad to run in this event, with my sister, who also is a runner (it runs in the family).

I’ll be tracking my progress on Twitter, Facebook and this blog, so if you want follow my training, go ahead and subscribe.

Wrap Up: Teens in Tech Conference 2.0

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On Saturday, February 6th, it was the second Teens in Tech Conference, or as we called it, Teens in Tech Conference 2.0. It was a really exciting day filled with amazing attendees, speakers, sponsors, giveaways and overall fun. I just wanted to take a little bit of time to go over some of things that happened at the conference.

The conference would not have been made possible with out the amazing content of our speakers. Danny Trinh from Digg kicked off the conference, and gave an amazing talk, just like last year. Joey Primiani started his talk off with a bang, entering the room in a space suit, and with a “fan club” — it definitely woke everyone up in the morning. Our first interview in the morning was with John Ramey and Zak Hassanein, the Co-Founders of isocket, a new startup that handles advertising solutions for companies, which recently raised $2 million in funding from top VC’s and Angels’ in Silicon Valley. Tim Showalter-Loch from Best Buy talked to the crowd about what Best Buy, a large electronics seller is doing to attract teens, and to make their business more eco-friendly, as well as their new project, @15.

Our amazing sponsors had a few moments to demo their products, and give a little talk about them. Following that, we had lunch along side some networking between attendees.

Alex Nichols kicked off the afternoon sessions talking about marketing and entrepreneurship in the 21st century — Adam Debreczeni, who designed and built our conference web site, talked about designing for youth, and gave some really interesting examples on good and bad designs. We ended up the afternoon with a eco-friendly talk from SmartPowerEd, an interview with Josh Shipp, and a really great talk from Dropbox Co-Founder and CEO, Drew Houston.

Whenever someone registers for the conference through Eventbrite, I get an email notifying me. At 6:00 PM, I got a very interesting email from Eventbrite, saying that Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, just registered for the conference. My jaw immediately dropped. At first, I couldn’t believe that it was actually him, but when he showed up on time at 9:00 AM on Saturday, I was blown away even more. Steve was an amazing attendee, offered feedback, signed a few attendees personal MacBook Pros, and even helped us giveaway some raffle tickets!

The Teens in Tech Conference would not have been made possible with out the support of our amazing sponsors and partners. Most importantly, I’d like to thank Google for letting us use their San Francisco office, as well as provide snacks, drinks, audio equipment, chairs and tables for us to use. Not mentioned, Google gave away two Nexus One’s at the conference, plus t-shirts, puzzles, stickers, Wave and Voice invites, and much more. Some of our other sponsors, like Pana.ma gave away an iPod Touch, and Altec Lansing gave away amazing speakers, and list goes on. If you’d like to see all of our sponsors, check them out here. Lastly, special thanks to Rickshaw Bagworks for creating custom Small Zero Messenger bags for the conference.

If you weren’t able to make the conference, we streamed the entire conference via Ustream, where you can watch all the sessions.

Obviously, there is a lot that we can improve on for the conference, and we are always open to suggestions, but in my opinion, this years conference was much better then last year, in all ways. Thank you for making that happen! Until next year, we’ll see you online!