Mark Jeffrey

Author of the Max Quick Trilogy; Founder & CEO Guardian Circle

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 14, 2015

Discussion

Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
Hi I'm Mark Jeffrey, author of seven books, including the bestselling Max Quick trilogy, and Founder of Guardian Circle. Max Quick #1 was originally a serialized podcast in 2005 that got 2.5 million downloads. I'm also a founder / entrepreneur with two exits, and I've worked directly with Travis Kalanick (Uber CEO) and Jason Calacanis (LAUNCH, Inside.com). I've also been a dead broke failure and had to live on a friend's boat after the dotcom meltdown of 2000.
Scott D. Reinhart@sdreinhart1975
@markjeffrey How do you see Guardian Circle fitting into the daily lives of its users?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@sdreinhart1975 First of all, for those who don't know: Guardian Circle (www.guardiancircle.com) is an app we will be releasing *very* soon. It is a Personal Safety Network app -- mobile messaging for safety. When in trouble, a button is pressed to send an alert — along with the type of alert and a description if you are able to — to your pre-arranged circle of guardians. When your guardians are notified, they will open the app to see your GPS location as well as all of the other guardians’ locations. The guardians can then chat with one another as well as the person needing assistance in your own personal Alert Room. Beyond just emergencies, our hope is that people will use it for 'low level emergencies' -- you're stuck across town and you need someone to feed your dog. Stuff you would never think of calling 911 for, but stuff that's important anyway, an 'emergency' in your world. Especially in the developing world, where public services are non-existent or not reliable, peer to peer protection like this could turn out to be a really big deal. This is essentially a public access emergency network and communications grid -- it'll be interesting to see what people do with it.
Nicki Friis@nickifriisw · Entrepreneur. Former Partner @ Ideanote.
Hi Mark! What advice do you give to larger corporations about staying competitive against startups?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@nickifriisw I've done some consulting for companies that have interfaced to large companies, and they always seem like a mess to me. The people in them, they're so concerned with not being shamed or not appearing to lose, that they actually forget to win. Having as your goal "Don't fuck up or look like you fucked up" is very different "Make something huge and win big". The latter is doomed to fail MOST of the time, so if your goal is the former, you're screwed from the get go. You have to be tolerant of failure -- and indeed, embrace it and learn from it. No one is as awesome as someone who is fresh off a failure. It is then that they FEEL it most, and have learned the most -- and really want a win really fucking bad. They're hungry. Big ideas are crazy and most of them fail. Shouldn't matter. Don't let it.
Scott D. Reinhart@sdreinhart1975
@markjeffrey Tell us about your greatest success as an entrepreneur.
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@sdreinhart1975 In terms of popular success, that would be a tie between The Palace with ten million users in 1998 and the Max Quick podcast in 2005 with 2.5 million downloads. Neither were great businesses but both were immensely popular in their day. But in terms of an exit, that would be the business network / LinkedIN competitor ZeroDegrees. I cofounded that company in 2002 and we sold to Barry Diller / IAC in 2004 with a million registered users. I was the idea guy behind the product (which, to be fair, was a mash-up Ryze, Plaxo and Friendster, basically) and the acquisition of the company happened specifically because of a pitch I did to someone I knew at IAC. (And -- we were later told that Reid Hoffman could not raise money for LinkedIN for an entire year because IAC had obviously 'won' the space now :) ) So that was both a business idea / product design and biz dev win for me personally. But even after the acquisition was complete, when Diller asked us to figure out our business model, I came up with the correct answer: Jobs / Employment -- which was not at all obvious at the time. But IAC thought that chasing the Jobs market meant spending $100M on ads like Monster.com, so we weren't able to follow that vision. Still -- I'm quite proud of how much we got right, despite the fact that it wasn't even near a LinkedIn-level of success, the exit was a great success financially for me.
Scott D. Reinhart@sdreinhart1975
@markjeffrey How hard is it working in both Technology and Creative areas? You are a writer and technology entrepreneur. Does that ever cause conflicting trains of thought?
Scott D. Reinhart@sdreinhart1975
@markjeffrey Do you have people you look up to? Who are they? Why do you look up to them?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@sdreinhart1975 Yes I have many -- but I'll name Nikola Tesla. I know, it's all hip to like Tesla nowadays, but I was a Tesla fan in the 80's (and I don't mean the hair band). But Tesla was a horrible businessman. So my admiration goes to a point :) Edison, on the other hand, was a fiend. I'm glad to see that Tesla's rightful place in history has been steadily displacing Edison's -- and that the latter is being viewed as the patent troll he was.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Mark, what has been your proudest moment?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@ems_hodge Proudest moment ... Probably seeing my novel Max Quick: The Pocket and the Pendant in hardcover for the very first time. :) Companies are not as personal as novels ... novels are YOU, your emotions, that sort of thing. I had spoken in public on many occasions, even at Harvard in front of Gates and Vint Cerf (!!!) and a thousand or so others -- but the first time I read aloud from 'Pocket' in front of probably eight people, my knees were knocking. So -- yeah :) That.
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Can you tell us more about your writing process? I am traditionally a blogger/journalist, so that style of content is easy for me to write. But, I'm writing my first book right now and it's entirely different. I'm running into mental blocks, difficulty thinking about structure, and having a harder time getting into a consistent writing habit. Any advice for structuring my book writing more effectively and getting unstuck?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@melissajoykong Yes. For me, I copy structures. And there is NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. I didn't realize I was doing it at first. If you look at The Pocket and the Pendant, the story goes like this: Time stops all over the world, except for one character -- who then goes on a journey to survive and understand it, picking up other time-stop-free characters along the way. By the end of 'act 2', they meet a seemingly wise god-like character who explains their plight and what's special about them -- and act 3 is these characters no longer just surviving and reacting, but now on the attack, reversing the time stop (or 'pocket'). It was after I wrote this that I realized that the structure is Wizard of Oz. Or Star Wars, which has the same essential structure. So when it came time for Max Quick 2, now that I understood what I was doing, I intentionally copied the structure of The Empire Strikes Back: A crisis splits the main characters into two storylines. The ending brings them all back together and the main character actually loses -- but gains great insight (I am your father, Luke). Of course my details are VERY different :) But having that structure map helped immensely.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@markjeffrey Thanks for your previous answer ;) What would the you of 5 years ago think of the you of today? What would be your biggest shock?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@bentossell At how fat I've gotten! Dear lord, get back in the gym!!! :) I think 5 year ago me would be surprised -- pleasantly so -- that I was so into Guardian Circle and what I'm doing there. It's been a really long time since I've had an idea that I personally thought was absolutely killer -- so old-me would be all like, Damn dude!! Nice! :)
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
What would you say 2.5m downloads in 2005 is equivalent to in today's podcast filled world?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@andrewmettinger I am not actually up on 'what's huge' in today's podcast world, but I'm going to guess 100M downloads is pretty big now? At the time, 2.5M was fairly large, enough to chart in iTunes. I was never #1 or anything, but #30 or #40 for awhile for sure.
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
What's the single best advice you've received? Don't mean to be vague, but there's gotta be just 1 mantra that you always repeat to yourself. Aside from, "please no black soled shoes on my boat, man".
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@andrewmettinger "Always fight up." -- Jason Calacanis. When you fight up -- that is, when you attack or argue with someone bigger than you, and they respond, they automatically confer equals status upon you. This raises your esteem in everyone else's eyes. Eyeballs matter :) When you fight down, you lower your perceived status. If you're a new kind of rideshare thing, attack Uber, not Lyft or some other me-too. JCal has a number of great pithy little things like this that have stuck with me -- this one comes to mind because I was just thinking about it last night watching the debates and how the 'red shirts' -- that is, anyone other than Bernie or Hillary -- were squabbling with each other. Each one of the red shirts should have been attacking either Bernie or Hillary and not wasted any time on each other.
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Tell us about your greatest failure as an entrepreneur.
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@alexcartaz Ahhhhh. SuperSig. The pain!!! It burnses us preciousss, yesss. In 1999, I co-founded a company called SuperSig which was all about app-enabling the signature portion of emails. The insight for the company was this: Despite the popularity of the web, something 90% of everyone's time was still spent staring at email. The 'dark matter' of attention energy was totally untapped! But what if we could get inside those conversations between people directly? We would do so by enabling additional value for the sender. For individuals, they could graphically brand their signatures, but it was more about apps that had value at 'open time': for example, a wedding registry with clickable rotating products of 'what was left', and a countdown to the wedding that was up-to-the-second accurate at the moment the email was opened, not sent. Or if I ran a Launch Music Channel (a popular thing in those days), my email might tell you what song was playing on my station right now -- with a link to listen in. That sort of thing. To top it all off, when you saw a SuperSig in someone else's email, there was a small tag at the bottom telling you how to get your own SuperSig: it was viral, and multiplied like a weed. Well it started well enough. I raised 2.3M in about two weeks from several names, including Ron Conway's Angel Investors, LP (the #1 top Angel fund in Silicon Valley at the time). We gained Williams-Sonoma, ITXC and LAUNCH as brand customers. And then came the dotcom market crash of April 2000. I didn't really grok what had happened at the time, because I had never seen a crash -- much as a lot of entrepreneurs today have yet to see one. But basically: after 140+ VC pitches for additional funding, we were running out. At the last minute, we had a deal on the table to sell to eGroups for 22M. But then Yahoo acquired eGroups while the deal was in motion -- and Yahoo didn't care about the deal and it died. This began the horrible dark times of 2001 - 2004. It was SUPER grim -- hard to imagine today. Imagine if the Internet kind of just went away and you didn't know whether it would ever come back. And all the people you knew doing cool things just vanished. It was like that for three years or so. I started wondering what else I would do because this was really all I knew. Of course that sounds silly in retrospect but at the time it didn't feel that way to a LOT of people.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Where does inspiration come from for your writing?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@ems_hodge Mostly other writers and tv and movies. I see things I really like and want to do my own twist on them. For example: I have this theory that right now we are on the cusp of seeing a tentpole Steampunk movie that will define the genre -- much in the same way we were on the cusp of seeing a tentpole Cyberpunk movie right before The Matrix. Now you think Cyberpunk -- you think The Matrix. They are synonymous. Somebody's going to do that with Steampunk very soon. The Matrix took 'jacking a brain into a computer' and did a twist -- we were all ALREADY jacked in, but didn't know it -- and added Kung Fu and gnostic mumbo jumbo. And BAM! Done. That's how they did it. So what's the analog way to do it with Steampunk, I asked myself? My answer is that since Steampunk is victorian, therefore it should be a Great Romance. AND instead of Kung Fu, we add in time travel, so it becomes a time travel romance. The time travel goes wrong, giving us an excuse for a forked, electricity-free timeline in the past -- thus, steampunk world! One of my favorite time travel romance movies is Somewhere In Time -- so I'd always had it in my head that I wanted to do a Somewhere In Time type thing. Time-crossed lovers!! So: I wrote AGE OF AETHER. It's a steampunk time-travel romance. The logline would be steampunk time travel Casablanca, to be exact.
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
Were you already a great writer? Have you always like to write?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@jacqvon Well no of course not :) After the SuperSig failure, I had a lot of time on my hands and I really had always wanted to do a novel -- but had no idea whether I could REALLY do it or not. So I started work on it in secret. NOBODY knew I was working on it. It wasn't until a year and half later that I had 97,000 words that I felt pretty good about. And even then, I had rewritten it like six or seven times -- changed everything around, made it completely different. Then I began to socialize it with friends, and they were encouraging, so I put my old dusty and somewhat bloody entrepreneur hat back on and tried to figure out how to market it. I tried a bunch of things that didn't work at all. The I hit on podcasting in 2005, and that worked like a charm.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@markjeffrey Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@bentossell Ah ha! GREAT question. :) Yes I DO respond to them, unless they completely savage me. In which case, I read them and laugh. You have to. I have other author friends and we prize our most savage reviews. It's kind of like Kimmel's segment 'Mean Tweets' where he has celebs read mean Tweet about them live. It's awesome, right? Even the celeb loves it usually. You have to look at these things like Mean Tweets. And of course, when the reviewers love your work, that is really rewarding, especially when they detail what it was they loved and analyze things to death. I love interacting with readers and I do make sure they know I 'see' them whenever possible via comments or email or Skype or whatever.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
This is a wild one: What do you want your tombstone to say?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@jakecrump "Upgrade In Progress ...." (progress bar)
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What literary character is most like you?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@jacqvon I like to think Thomas Covenant, because he's the hero of one my favorite book series :) But that's probably me just thinking that and in reality, I am in no way like him :D
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Do you think the current tech scene is in a bubble? Does it feel similar to before the 2000 crash?
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@alexcartaz Yeah. It does. I do worry about that a bit. BUT. The last time, we had super-inane companies with no hope of turning a profit ever. And this time, we have Uber -- which is massive, but is a very real business with a $44B worldwide addressable market. Now -- you can argue that with a valuation of $50B, Uber is overpriced (or you can argue that there is just that much potential for growth in adjacent markets like food delivery and logistics) .... but nobody says there's NOTHING there. There was a lot of nothing there the first time around. So I do think there will be a crash, but it will be surgical. Uber will be relatively unscathed, while, say Snapchat -- which is more of a phenomenon than a company with an obvious business model like a ride service -- might not fare as well.
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
@markjeffrey hey Mark! What is your favorite book that you've read recently? :)
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@nivo0o0 I just re-read the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Really great, even better the second time around. But for more mainstream stuff? Ready Player One and the Silo Series by Howey I really liked. Also Alive by Scott Sigler.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Who would your 4 fantasy dinner party guests be and why? (Dead or Alive)
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
@ems_hodge John, Paul, George and Ringo. Well maybe not Ringo. Nikola Tesla. :)