Random Hacks of Kindness Philadelphia: organizing, judging hackathon

One half of the teams at Random Hacks of Kindness Philadlephia, held June 4-5, 2011. Photo by by Philip Neuffer for Technically Philly.

This weekend, I spent at least 30 hours in a windowless room of Drexel University for Random Hacks of Kindness Philadelphia, an international globally-minded hackathon brought to Philly by computer science PhD student and West Philly homeowner Mike Brennan.

It was actually a total hoot.

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Fifteen businesses Philadelphia should poach from the suburbs and how they might

In a Technically Philly Entrance Exam back in March, Wil Reynolds called for reminding suburban companies of the value of being in the city: transit, regional hub, talent, quality of life, innovation and the like.

In truth, large companies followed their employees to the suburbs in the 20th century for many of those same reasons, in addition to space and taxes. I wonder if these companies would ever follow their employees back into cities. It’s tricky as Mayor Michael Nutter has repeatedly said during his tenure that he won’t compete with the region for business, and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Economy League have been built up around lobbying for the region, not for the city in particular.

I, too, believe in the strength of the region, but I think it’s disingenuous to ignore that Philly is both the region’s face to the world and its driving force, so Philly is the hub and everything after is ancillary. Fundamentally, I believe a strong region starts with a vibrant city. That means jobs to me. (Philly and Pittsburgh each have five Fortune 500 businesses headquartered there)

When I look at Philadelphia regional employers of large size, I can’t help but think of courting them for Philadelphia locations. It makes my blood curdle when I think of Philadelphia leaders who transplanted from homes in, say, New York but upon relocating here, they go to the ‘burbs. Admittedly, there are a lot of cultural and perception issues that go along with that, but I think jobs and high-profile businesses is a big part of that. So I got to thinking how you’d pitch these companies… and why it might never work.

Below is my list of businesses to chase and dissection of how.

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How to choose a credit card for my small business

Over at Technically Media, I had a bear of a problem for a few days trying to figure out how we could get a company credit card.

We had no credit. We were a new business. Plus, there were three of us, and we wanted all to have equal footing. What was more, I struggled to find good, meaningful information about credit cards online, instead I found spam.

I took to social media and was repeatedly recommended American Express and other cards that had credit limits that precluded our new business.

I did a little reading — tried BillShrink, this BusinessWeek story and a Business.com option — but in the end, I went to the bank where we have our business account.

In the end, all three of us became guarantors — putting our personal credit on the line — to get a business credit card with a small starting balance. We’ll be able to wean off of our personal reliance, I’m told, and continue to build business credit, which is our goal.

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“Being a reporter is only lately a respectable occupation:” Calvin Trillin

Former Time and New Yorker journalist Calvin Trillin on why there is less drinking in journalism. He references this New York Times story on the changing face of big name journalists.

“Being a reporter is only lately a respectable occupation.”

Former New York Times reporter Gay Talese telling a story about drinking in his old newspaper days

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Can you be a star in Philadelphia?

Back in February, Philadelphia magazine profiled Doogie Horner, a quirky stand up comedian who has gotten some national attention, a major publisher’s backing and has the audacity to think he’s going to stay living in Philadelphia.

Doogie Horner is a comedian, and he isn’t encouraged by what he sees inside Noche, a Center City bar filled with binge-drinking 20-somethings on this cold Tuesday night in December. The room is jet-engine loud — not the ideal setting for tonight’s stand-up gig. None of the comics are getting paid. Horner thinks the guy who booked the show is a dentist. Seriously.

While the piece was largely a profile of Horner, there was this undertone of his still trying to make in Philly — a big city in population but not in celebrity or national voice.

Los Angeles has Hollywood. New York is the country’s capital of publishing, financial and TV. Las Vegas had created an entertainment industry. Other cities have a national voice by way of a central figure who forced it that way: CNN made Atlanta a news hub; Oprah gave Chicago a national platform; Warren Buffet made the financial world come to him in Omaha. So can you be a star in Philadelphia?

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Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk: take aways and thoughts

The basic philosophy of one of those early web pioneers, Gary Vaynerchuk, was the subject of his buzzy, well-selling book ‘Crush It’ back in 2009. I’ve only gotten to it now that the second in his famed 10-book deal is coming out.

The book does two very basic things: (1) outlines Gary’s general philosophy that the Internet offers an opportunity for anyone to make money off her passion and (2) gives very simple, early steps for doing so.

Here are my take aways from reading the book:

  • First, of course, I agree with much of his perspective and love his attitude, though, in building a business around news that now supports three people full-time, I read his chapter on journalism business with some degree of skepticism. 
  • In being supportive, Gary may be offering some false hope — By looking at the two objectives this book hits (his passion and very basic steps to start following the same path) I’d picture his audience are those somewhat new to the web. His spirit — which is a noble one — is about persistence, but I don’t believe hard work wins out all the time. Businesses succeed with hard work, passion, and skill, of course, but personality, luck and timing play a big part, too, I believe, and I think Gary’s success has quite a bit to do with personality, luck and timing. I wonder how much of the audience building some of his readers have are, indeed, his other readers and how much is real business momentum.
  • Gary’s impact is for big brands first, but his book is sold to little brands — Part of that is marketing from Harper Collins, of course, but I’m always a little skeptical of the ‘you can do anything you put your mind to’ mantra, as there are real audience building challenges some small brands and individuals will have, as noted above.

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Gentrification: thoughts from seven years as student and young professional in Philadelphia

Urban neighborhoods change.

We’ve known that for, what, like 150 years or something? In the past quarter-century or so, as educated (mostly, but not entirely white) professionals moved back to neighborhoods that had populations that didn’t always resemble them — in race or class or culture or all and more — there were natural clashes.

Mostly, I feel like those clashes have mostly been put in three categories, one initiated by new residents, one from more native residents and one that both share:

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WHYY: NewsWorks and other thoughts on what the public media org should be

Creating a bold and serious collaborative niche membership network with existing and emerging independent media should be a primary objective of WHYY, the Delaware Valley public media organization.

Highlighted by its six-month-old NewsWorks online news site and hyperlocal news experiment, WHYY has attempted to recast itself as something more than a stodgy PBS TV channel and NPR radio affiliate. While progress has surely been made, WHYY is short of being as fully integrated and networked as the ‘public media’ nomenclature might suggest.

Whereas Philly.com is driven primarily by eyeballs and so its strategy should reflect that by becoming a truly comprehensive portal for the region, WHYY is ‘member-supported public media,’ so its driving focus (and its relationship with Philly.com) should reflect that. I’m not entirely sure that’s the case just yet.

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Three most important numbers to Philadelphians right now

Courtesy of the Inquirer

Three recently shared numbers stand out to me as being incredibly powerful, evocative and important for the future of Philadelphia:

8,456

The tiny, 0.6 increase in Philadelphia’s population from the 2000 to the 2010 U.S. Census, a small grow that halts an enormous trend: 50 years of population loss from a 1950 height of 2.1 million. MORE HERE

16,032

The gain from 2000 to 2009 of the number of 25 to 34 year-olds who have a four-year degree or higher and live within three miles of Center City, the third highest U.S. numerical total (beyond New York City and Boston) and one of the 10 highest percentage increases, 57 percent, in the country. MORE HERE And for broader perspective on youth and wealth growth in specific neighborhoods, despite citywide trends, check this Inquirer article out.

+17,000

The number of children born to Center City parents between 2000 and 2008, a total that was 300 in 1990 andmore than 2,000 in 2008. Moreover, “nearly three-quarters of kindergarten students in Center City schools are drawn from downtown neighborhoods….So, not only are Center City denizens birthing, they’re staying” MORE HERE

And for dessert, though admittedly not nearly as broadly impactful, I offer you news that again Philadelphia has more per capita bicycle commuters (like me, mostly) than any other of the 10 largest cities in the country:

“…Of the nation’s 10 biggest cities, Philadelphia’s bicycle mode share (which means the percentage of commuters who bike to work) is twice as high as the next-best major city, Chicago.”

Number of Views:16203