Thursday, August 31, 2006


Dear Samuel,

I ran into a business last week that embodies synergy, or mutually reinforcing business ideas. A neighbor had invited us to her son’s birthday party. It was at this little store in a strip mall called ‘Cute As A Button’ – (CAAB)

CAAB is a thrift store similar to salvation army thrift stores, but with a focus on baby and toddler clothes. When I went through the door there were bags of donated items off to the side in the room. One major difference is that CAAB works very hard to show their merchandise in a way that normal retailers do. You aren’t going to see stained shirts, or anything smelly on the racks. Just quality, gently used merchandise, that any reasonable soccer mom would be willing to buy and clothe her kids with.

This is a good business model. I’ve seen this elsewhere, like in St. Louis where they have ‘The Scholar Shop” which is a thrift store that donates all its profits to scholarships for local high school kids. You’ve been to these kinds of stores before, and the fact that they’re around means that the business model actually works. I assume.

But I probably confused you a little bit at the beginning of this narrative. I didn’t start out talking about thrift stores. I was going to a birthday party. Well the back half of this retail space was decorated little city for small people where CAAB hosts birthday parties. We walked in and there were all these little shops with costumes. My 3 year old immediately dressed up as a fireman and walked around. Then he dressed up as an astronaut, then as a race car driver. There was a doctors office where my daughter gave little toy shots to dolls, and listened to my heart beat on a toy stethoscope. There were chairs for the adults to sit down and talk to each other while the kids basically entertained themselves. There was even a flat screen TV with the football game on so the non-attentive fathers could do something they enjoyed. After about 90 minutes we were shepherded into the back room which had wall decorations and tables set up where we ate birthday cake. The food was provided by the party hostess, not CAAB, and I don’t know if CAAB even offers to supply food for these parties. As soon as we were moved into the birthday cake area another party started in the play area. We ate cake, and opened presents. One of the CAAB employees wrote down the list of presents and who gave the present so the Moms and Dads could take pictures and whatever. Then we went home. Compared to the fairly stressful experience hosting a birthday party for my 3 year old, this was an extremely good party. I don’t know how much my neighbor paid CAAB but it was probably worth every penny.

So imagine yourself as the owner of CAAB. You’ve got a good business model of a thrift store. You can make decent money running a thrift store, but there are some drawbacks. Everybody knows what Salvation Army is, so there’s a name recognition that they have but CAAB doesn’t have. If you’re the owner of CAAB you’ve got to figure out a way to get people walking around inside your store. You’ve also got to pay rent every month so any way of increasing revenue will only help. Combining a thrift store for kids clothes, with a birthday party venue is a great idea! The birthday party revenue alone probably covers the fixed costs overhead for the operation each month. Think about it. If they charge $100 to host a birthday (they probably charge more) and have 3 birthday parties each Saturday that equals $1200 in revenue each month. And don’t forget that every invitee to each birthday party is one more potential customer on the thrift store side.

I’ve got another idea for CAAB. Sell personalized room decoration. The birthday party area was totally decorated with paint on the walls. The city had to be painted with a doctors office, a restaurant, fire station etc… The cake room had a peter pan theme (or something) going on.

In college I had a friend who painted people’s rooms like that. She was going to school out west, and would fly home to Raleigh North Carolina on the weekends. She would work all weekend painting somebody’s rooms then fly back to school. That was her job. To justify a 1500 mile round trip flight she had to be making pretty good money back home.

Well CAAB should get together with whoever painted the birthday area and work out an arrangement. Put some kind of display together showcasing the possible room designs and sell them for the room painter. Anytime CAAB sends the painter a client, the painter will pay CAAB a commission. I am one hundred percent positive that in my community there are hundreds if not thousands of people who would be interested buying in a custom painted room for their spoiled spouse or 10 year old.

You probably aren’t going to open up a thrift store, but it’s a good idea to train your mind to recognize instances where somebody is doing something smart. Over time you’ll get better at coming up with smart things on your own.



Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Dear Samuel,

Here's another Paul Graham essay. The title is 'Why Nerds Are Unpopular". I'm not saying you're a nerd or anything. It's just a good read if you get a chance. Here's a quote from about halfway through the essay:

If I could go back and give my thirteen year old self some advice, the main thing I'd tell him would be to stick his head up and look around. I didn't really grasp it at the time, but the whole world we lived in was as fake as a Twinkie....

And as for the schools, they were just holding pens within this fake world. Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done. And I have no problem with this: in a specialized industrial society, it would be a disaster to have kids running around loose.

It's a wide world out there grasshopper.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Dear Samuel,

You're almost 15. Now is the time to be serious about getting your Eagle Scout. I'm totally serious. How much longer to you have be finished with it?

You will have much more fun in scouts if you get past the Eagle Scout milestone before you get your drivers license. Why will you have more fun? Because you can focus on the fun things about scouting - camping, eating marshmallows, building fires, and telling people what to do, and you won't have to worry about all the merit badges.

But you'll probably want to get some more merit badges. Because out of the something like 200 merit badges there will be a few that are interesting to you. Getting your Eagle Scout earlier rather than later will be more valuable to you anyway. It will be more valuable to you for several reasons, but the biggest reason I can think of is you will have been exposed to all those ideas earlier and will have plenty of time to use them.

There are other, cooler things in store for you that are coming right up in the next couple of years. You will want to be spending your time doing those things and not having to worry about getting your environmental science merit badge.

I'm not going to let this rest. The eagle scout badge isn't that hard, but it requires you to be proactive and go out and get it. In the future some posts on this blog will be idea for possible eagle projects that you can do.

Okay. I've got that off my chest. Talk to you later




Dear Samuel,

If you're interested in making some sweet moolah I've got an idea for you. Be a shoe shine guy.

Today I was setting up a mail room for a gigantic corporation up in Connecticut. I was working with the mail room staff to get the route books, policies and procedures together and I ran across these shoe shine guys.

The shoe shine guys travel around the business districts and shine people's shoes. I saw them up on the 7th floor, and they just worked their way down the building floors. They charge $5 per pair of shoes. They come by every Tuesday and Wednesday to this particular building. All they've got to do is shine 10 pairs of shoes and they've made fifty bucks. They moved through the building fairly quickly, but you could tell by the number of shoes they were polishing that they were making decent money. At this particular office park I'm in there are nine buildings right next to each other.

I'm telling you it's a great idea. It's pretty easy and definitely passes the McDonalds test.

Anyway, it's just an idea to kick around.




Dear Samuel,

I'm a rock and roll consumer. For the most part I don't listen to country music. But if you want to be a well rounded consumer of music you've got to know some country. It's one of those facts of life.

For people like me there is Toby Keith. His songs have enough good guitar, combined with his manly man voice that I can stomach it. But do yourself a favor and don't watch any of his music videos. If you do, you'll see that he's got some of the Vanilla syndrome. He's trying just a little bit too hard to be cool. Pick any video of his and you'll see what I mean.




Dear Samuel,

Here's a song that you need to learn the lyrics to:

Ice Ice Baby - Vanilla Ice

Basically this song is the only cool song ever performed by Vanilla Ice. Everything else by him has sunk into mediocrity and if you were to play any other song by Vanilla Ice, nobody would recognize it.

Apparently Vanilla is a pretty normal guy now. I've seen him on VH1 and he seems to be a likeable person, who is in a stable marriage with a reasonable woman. That makes me happy for him. The Ice man will always be sort of cool, but he'll never have totally cool status. If you want to know some of the many reasons why, you need look no further than this book.

My theory is that Ice burned out early because he was this totally popular person, who was never quite convinced of his own coolness. Seriously, read the book and you'll see. He's constantly trying to convince the reader how cool he is. Trying to convince somebody else you're cool is one of the most un-cool things possible.

So take my advice. Memorize the lyrics to one of the coolest rap songs ever. Then soak up the pages of 'Ice By Ice' - autobiography of Vanilla Ice, and learn some great lessons of what not to do.

Word to your mother



Dear Samuel,

Here's a good song to put in a mix tape sometime. Oh wait, I forgot, people don't make mix tapes anymore unless they're walking fossils. Here's a good song to put on your mp3 player, or a CD you burn sometime.

Teenage Wasteland by 'The Who'

It starts out with this funky electronic computer generated tune, followed up by some heavy bass chord progressions. Don't bother learning the lyrics. This is a music only song. That goes for pretty much every song by The Who.

Rock on grasshopper


Friday, August 25, 2006


Dear Samuel,

I found a cool website:

This link is to an essay titled "What You'll Wish You'd Known". Paul Graham wrote it in preparation to give at a high school graduation but never did. I think you'll like it. I've quoted some text below to whet your appetite:

In the graduation-speech approach, you decide where you want to be in twenty years, and then ask: what should I do now to get there? I propose instead that you don't commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.

It's not so important what you work on, so long as you're not wasting your time. Work on things that interest you and increase your options, and worry later about which you'll take.


Most people like to be good at what they do. In the so-called real world this need is a powerful force. But high school students rarely benefit from it, because they're given a fake thing to do. When I was in high school, I let myself believe that my job was to be a high school student. And so I let my need to be good at what I did be satisfied by merely doing well in school.

If you'd asked me in high school what the difference was between high school kids and adults, I'd have said it was that adults had to earn a living. Wrong. It's that adults take responsibility for themselves. Making a living is only a small part of it. Far more important is to take intellectual responsibility for oneself.

If I had to go through high school again, I'd treat it like a day job. I don't mean that I'd slack in school. Working at something as a day job doesn't mean doing it badly. It means not being defined by it. I mean I wouldn't think of myself as a high school student, just as a musician with a day job as a waiter doesn't think of himself as a waiter. [3] And when I wasn't working at my day job I'd start trying to do real work.

When I ask people what they regret most about high school, they nearly all say the same thing: that they wasted so much time. If you're wondering what you're doing now that you'll regret most later, that's probably it. [4]

Anyway, I'll talk to you later


Monday, August 21, 2006



I know you perceive that you're far from needing / wanting to know about this stuff, but I was thinking about making a regular habit of telling you ways you can make money while you're a teenager, when you're in college, and after you graduate. It'll be a smattering of career profiles, business ideas, and low tech small capital teenager business ideas.

I actually googled 'teenager money making ideas' the other day and ran across this site: The Teenagers Guide To The Real World - By Marshall Brain. A great book that I'll probably buy. You can read about half of the chapters online. The funny thing is, I had planned out and outlined a similar book last week. I've got some different things to say than he does, but he brings an interesting, well informed perspective that you ought to check out.

Marshall Brain is best known for starting the website - you've seen that site right? Anyway you'll see that he also has a cool alternative energy blog, and cool blog about robots in the future, in addition to the book for teens.

I don't know if you have online access at anytime while you're actually at school, but if you're interested in checking out the teenagers guide to the real world, doing so at school would probably be a good idea.

Talk to you later,


Wednesday, August 16, 2006



You know, it's the first week of high school. I don't really expect you to do jack while you're there other than get acclimated.

But right off the bat, it's good to have somewhat of a roadmap to show how to move past the situation you're in right now - high school.

Obviously you're going to go to college, but it would be nice if someone else paid for you to go. Well, there is one easy way to make that happen... Become a national merit scholar. If you can do that, your chances for getting a scholarship are radically improved.

How do you become a national merit scholar? Easy. Just score in the top 2% on the PSAT.

Don't do what I did. I thought the PSAT was a 'practice SAT' test so I totally blew it off. It was a big mistake for me to blow it off because I was left out of the scholarship pool when the time came. I was in all the same classes, doing all the same assignments with the national merit scholars, but they took the test seriously, and I blew it off.

The PSAT is the most important way you will distinguish yourself from other scholarship applicants. The score you're looking to beat is 1500. Get that score and people will beat down your door to give you money for college. You can do it.

But the PSAT isn't until October in your junior year. Why am I telling you this now? Actually I told you this for the first time 2 years ago. The same summer you were living with me in Idaho. I also told Spencer R not to blow off the PSAT that year. The reason I'm telling you so far in advance is the 5 year rule. You see, the first time you are exposed to new knowledge, it goes over your head. You could be hearing the most amazing piece of information, but if its the first time you're hearing it, and your mind isn't prepped, it will go in one ear and out the other.

What can you do about it now? Here's what I reccomend. Go out and buy a PSAT prep book. Take one of the practice tests, and see how you do. Don't worry about what score you get, just take the test and note your score. Think about the one thing you need to focus on to improve your test score, and work on that issue for a few months. Within six to eight months, take the second practice test in the book. Again, you're not even close to actually taking the test, but it's a good idea to get acclimated to the kinds of questions asked on the test. Then when you're in class doing the usual schoolwork thing, and the teacher starts talking about something you've seen on the PSAT, your ears will perk up and you'll know that you need to pay attention.

What I'm suggesting will take a couple of hours every six months or so, but those hours will definitely pay off when its time to apply for scholarships.

Anyway, this is just an FYI,




The previous posts weren't written in an effort to bore you. I'm just trying to lay a groundwork of fundamentals so that in the future when I explain something you'll have somewhere to put it in your brain and organize it.

At this point in your life you are doing just great. But life is kind of like a video game. Later on the game is harder than at the beginning. My logic for starting this blog stems from something I learned when I worked for this guy on the left:

That's Zeke Sanchez and one of his sons. He's one of the founders of the Anasazi Foundation. I think you already know this was my favorite job I've ever had. That's largely because Ezekiel Sanchez was the best boss EVER.

One of the things I learned when I worked at the Anasazi foundation was the 5 year rule. Here is the rule:

"Start teaching a concept 5 years before the person really needs to know it."

Its also something you can do with yourself. Go somewhere quiet, and visualize yourself 5 years from now. Where will you be living? What kind of food will you eat? How tall will you be? What is a typical day going to look like? What do you know then that you don't know now? Spend a little time, and get a list together of the things you think you'll need to know in 5 years and pick two things you can start on now and work on them for a few months.

If you do the 5 year visualization exercise every 6 months, you'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish.

Remember the 5 year rule grasshopper,



Dear Samuel,

We’ve been through the 80% law of success, as well as the 20% rule of attracting success. I want to discuss another piece of the success formula. I want to write about the geysers in Yellowstone Park to emphasize the concept of consistency, or predictability.

You may already be able to tell where I’m headed with this. That’s a good thing. If not, well just keep reading.

The Old Faithful geyser is easily the most popular geyser in the world, if you measure it by people who come to see it every year. Roughly 2.5 million people each year watch Old Faithful erupt. No other geyser even comes close in terms of visitors.


Old Faithful shows up, every 90 minutes or so – which is 80% of success. Old Faithful does a great job. It’s a classic geyser and it looks spectacular. What really sets Old Faithful apart, however, is the fact that it is predictable and consistent. The park employees can predict within 20 minutes or so when it is going to go off next. There is an inn close enough to the geyser so if you’re there, you can tell if you have time for lunch, or just a snack before it erupts.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that Old Faithful is not the biggest geyser in Yellowstone. That distinction belongs to Steamboat geyser. Steamboat geyser can erupt for hours at a time, and shoot as high as 380 feet in the air. That’s taller than a football field. Steamboat is not only Yellowstone’s tallest, but it is the world’s tallest geyser. Unfortunately it has periods of dormancy that are unpredictable, sometimes even lasting decades. It’s not a mystery as to why more tourists go out of their way to see Old Faithful when they go to Yellowstone, but don’t bother going to see Steamboat.


This lack of predictability gives Steamboat geyser a lot of disadvantages. Nobody can plan around it. You might show up wanting to see it erupt, then have to wait for days or weeks until it erupts again. If you wait around you miss all the other cool stuff in the park.

Hasta La Vista Hombre,


Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Dear Samuel,

I actually just spoke with Mom on the phone. I'm glad to hear that at scouts today the whole troop ran 3 miles. That makes me laugh. A lot of good it will do. Now if you ran 3 miles every day...then you'd have one heck of a cardiovascular system.

You know that club idea we've talked about? I still think you should start your own club, but you may be able to join an existing club and do something similar. Is there a service club in your school? In my school it was the Key club, but it's probably got a different name for yours. Look into it.

Also, Mom told me that you just went through a 4 hour ordeal with a neighbor lady who gave you a battery of standardized tests. That is awesome dude, I have been thinking about sending you a PSAT prep book, for reasons to be explained in a future post. Anyway, Mom said the lady is going to tutor you for a couple of weeks on how to do better.

I really want you to write up a summary of what you've learned from her about doing well on standardized tests, and post it on this blog.

Anyway, did you like the last post? The one about the 80% rule. Did you wonder about the other 20 percent? That's what I wanted to talk about today.

This is something I've basically made up in response to the Woody Allen quote. Again, I'm going to use all caps.


Let me try to elaborate. Showing up will take you most of the way there. You can gradate from high school by just doing the minimum, and coasting along. But when you get to college it will be progressively harder. Showing up will still get you most of the way toward success, but it will be harder to show up. If you show up at high school, it's free, and you don't have to pay rent at Mom and Dad's house anyway, and besides, you're basically legally required to attend high school at this point. Showing up is a foregone conclusion. But college is different. You have to pay tuition, you have to pay your own rent, and buy your own books. It takes work. Eighty percent of success is still showing up in college, but it's harder to show up. A lot of people end up dropping out, or don't even go. It was a lot of work for me to graduate from college, because I was always short on money, and consequently had to get a job the entire time I was in school.

Contrast my college experience with my friend N. He did a great job in high school. He did a great job of getting good grades. He had plenty of extracurricular activities. He did great on the appropriate standardized tests. When it came time for him to pay for college, a lot of successful people showed up and offered to pay his tuition for him. This situation continued throughout college. He made the extra effort in college to get good grades, and continue to do well on the appropriate standardized tests. When the time came for him to go to Law School, successful people showed up and offered him money to go to their law school. Up until Law School, N hadn't paid a dime in tuition costs. I don't know if you noticed this, but N finished Law school before I finished my undergraduate degree, even though we started college at the same time. N consistently does a great job, at whatever he is working on, and successful people continue to show up for him.

The twenty percent rule applies everywhere. Do a great job and successful people will show up for you.

Talk to you later,

I hope you liked your 3 mile run,


Sunday, August 13, 2006


“Success with women is a function of personality and guts. You have a good personality. I’d say 9 out of 10. But you have zero guts. Zero times anything is still zero. That puts you right there with some chump who has zero personality and lots of nerve.”- N

Dear Samuel,

Today I want to tell you about one of the coolest success principles that I know of. This rule has given me the mental freedom to accopmlish all sorts of things that I probably would have given up on if I didn't know it. I call it the 80% rule of success. But I didn't think of it. I totally ripped off the 80% rule from someone famous.

I don't know if you've ever heard of Pareto's law - which some people call the 80/20 rule. Pareto's law states that for many phenomena, 80% of the consequences, stem from 20% of the causes. It was named after the Italian economist Vilfreid Pareto who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. The assumption is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes. This idea is often applied to data such as sales figures: "20% of clients are responsible for 80% of sales volume."

Pareto's law is probably valid, and can be applied to many situations. I'm not actually talking about Pareto's law when I want you to think about the 80% rule.

Here is the 80% rule. I'm going to write it in all caps for emphasis. Oh, and just for the record, this is a Woody Allen quote.


The 80% rule of success is more relevent than you can possibly know as a high school student. But just to give you an example. You know a guy with the initials JSB. When he went to high school back in the day he decided he was going to drop out. He went in to the office and announced that he was dropping out of high school. They pulled him into the principal's office and gave him this offer:

'If you come to school, don't miss more than the maximum number of school days, and sit in your seat in every class, we promise you that you will graduate.' - All JSB had to do for another year was show up! Of course you and I both know that he didn't show up, and he didn't succeed in high school.

But for practically anything else, the 80% rule of success applies.
Want to succeed at _______? Show up and you're 80% of the way toward success!

One career path that I always thought would be awesome, but I never did anything about was becoming an Airline Pilot. I never knew the steps I needed to take to become an airline pilot. I always wondered what you had to do to go from high school (or college) graduation, to get a job as an airline pilot. I obviously went on to a different sort of professional job.

One day I had the opportunity to have a one on one conversation with an airline pilot. "How did you do it? If I could go back in time and do my academic training what would I have to do to become a pilot like you?"

"You could start on a path to becoming an airline pilot right now." He replied. "Just go down to your nearest airport and take a flying class. Then just keep taking classes, and keep flying and pretty soon you'll have your license to become a commercial airline pilot."

All I had to do was show up at the local airport and I was 80% of the way there!

That's an oversimplification of course, but there is more than a particle of truth to it. Name me one thing that you want to do, and 80% of success to actually doing it is showing up somewhere.
Say it every day, whenever you doubt yourself. "Eighty percent of success is showing up." Think about the things you actually do successfully. Marching band - most of success in marching band is showing up to practice! Church - somebody could in actuality be a slime ball, but if they show up to church every week they look like a good church going person. (Not 100% - 80%) I'm here to tell you that 80% of success at whatever university you choose to attend is showing up to class every time. If you get a job at McDonalds, eighty percent of success is showing up.

You're capable of doing pretty much anything. When you have doubts, just remember the 80% rule.

Eighty percent of success is showing up.



Saturday, August 12, 2006


Dear Samuel,

I had a great time in High School. I felt like I had plenty of friends, got decent grades, and I eventually moved on to College, and graduated. Now, as you know I have two kids, a beautiful wife, live in a decent place, and have a decent job.

But I look back on some of the things I missed out on and I shake my head. There are a lot of things in the world that I have become aware of over the years, but never took advantage of, because I wasn't aware of them.

This blog is meant to introduce you to some of those things early enough so that if you're interested, you can take advantage of the opportunities that are there for you if you're interested. Or you can just keep doing what you're doing. No pressure. I'm under no delusions that these letters are going to change your life or something like that. This is just a forum where I can put the ideas out there so when I'm visiting Mom and Dad, I don't waste your time cornering you with things like "You know what sport you should play? Football!" Or "This is why you should run for student government." Or whatever. You're the captain of your own ship, and I want you to live your own life. So don't interpret any of what is to come as me telling you what to do.

I went to Yellowstone National Park a few years back. The guy who I went with had been to Yellowstone a lot of times before. The inexperienced Yellowstone attendees (us) all basically wanted to see Old Faithful, and a buffalo or an elk. Our guide took us to those places but he also took us to several other, cooler places in the park that we wouldn't have gone to on our own. He knew where the cool spots were, and where to stay away from, and it totally enhanced the time we spent up there.

I see myself in the same role. I'm like a guide on your ship. I don't tell you where to go, but I definitely want to make you aware of certain opportunities or pitfalls along the way.

Anyway, I'll talk to you later.


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