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, like when I decided to start playing League of Legends. 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.

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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 am also a lot more prepared now, I always make sure that healthy USA is in my contacts.

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.

Lessons Learned as a Startup CEO

Now that I’ve been non-involved at Teens in Tech Networks in a day-to-day operational role, I wanted to spend some time reflecting on my time at Teens in Tech Networks at CEO.

First of all, since I founded the company in February 2010, I’ve had an amazing time building the company, both as an organization, and as a product. I’ve been really fortunate to have an amazing staff, advisors and board support me through the last two years, and I think that was one of the instrumental parts of the company.

I think I made three crucial decisions as CEO that led to where the company is now, and I’d like to share them with you all as advice.

1) Find someone technical right from the start who can handle anything from servers, to MySQL issues, to database screw-ups, etc. Having Mike Cohen as our CTO almost since the beginning of the company has been instrumental to us. When I was CEO, I didn’t have to think about upgrading the servers, or anything like that — Mike was constantly on top of it, and having someone technical be able to hop on any issues as the arise was key for us. Without Mike, I don’t know what I would have done when we had technical issues.

2) Hire people who are experts in their specific field. I knew from the start that I couldn’t do anything technical, so we hired people for positions that we knew we needed, like Mike as our CTO, and Spencer heading up Operations and Strategy at the time. For me, my specialty is in marketing, product, and customer interaction. To learn more about the latest trend about digital marketing, check out seo company near me at node-marketing.com For everything that I wasn’t good at, we made sure we had someone who was, that way we didn’t have go searching for someone who was great at front end development.

3) Business Partners. Teens in Tech Networks is mainly known for one thing — our conference. The conference would not be possible with out the help of numerous help of lots of people, but in particular my business partner, Sam Levin. And it’s not just the conference that Sam has been there … Sam is one of my best friends and now family friends that I can always talk to. Sam maybe older then I, but he truly is a kid at heart. Find a great partner that you understands you, and you can work well together with in stressful situations and are able to lean on.

There are many more lessons learned from my experience, but now I’m learning about a different position inside a startup — being on the board. Thankfully we have an amazing board supporting us, and Spencer is really rocking it right now. Teens in Tech Networks is literally changing everything right now, and launching something very, very cool.

What startup advice do you have to give? Leave a comment below!

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!