0 + 1

I'm borrowing the title of this article from Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal and and author of the book Zero to One. I think it's appropriate now because I've just celebrated my first year of business ownership. I'm making no money, but I'm gaining something much more valuable to me...wisdom.

In the book, Thiel argues that if we are all at a state of normalcy - zero, then entrepreneurs should be seeking to go from 0 to 1. In other words they should be coming up with ideas no one has thought of. He calls them "secrets" and suggests that anyone who wants to make a change in this world ought to be looking for them. 0 to 1 then is the act of creating something new. 

The concept of Tomo is not particularly new, but the creation of a business from scratch is for me. Also, the fact that it's been exactly 1 year makes the analogy that much more intriguing. During this year I've learned a great deal. The biggest lesson I've learned is that doing this was possible. Sure, to some that's not a key learning but I disagree. The main thing that keeps many people from creating a life of their dreams, or from trying to create a business in the first place is the question of whether or not it is possible. "Is there enough money, is the time right, or do I have the necessary expertise?" I've learned that 'yes', it is possible, and the fact that I'm still here plodding along this unbeaten path a year later is proof positive.

I've also learned that prediction is futile. You just never know what's going to happen. Anything, and I mean anything can happen. People you expect to fund you might not, and people you might not expect to fund you, just might. People might think your brilliant idea sucks. People might think your sucky idea is brilliant. One just never knows, but the fact that you can't predict the future doesn't mean you shouldn't go forward without a vision. After all, I have something I'm creating and in order to get there, I have to know what it looks like. Long story short, I've realized that not knowing is ok.

Finally, there are some amazing people in my life that have helped me to get to this milestone. There are people who give me a word of encouragement when I need it, who support and fund this project of mine - people who give me the time of day and speak with me even though they are busy running companies of their own. It's because of people like them that I'm always pleasantly surprised by how generous we humans can be toward each other. To everyone supporting and rooting for me - A HUGE heartfelt THANK YOU for your support. I know Tomo will be a success.

The Cheapest Commodity

So on this entrepreneurial journey I've been learning some fantastic lessons.  The one that's freshest on my mind of late was sparked by a quote by Napoleon Hill, author of "Think and Grow Rich" (A great read in my opinion). The quote begins "Opinions are the cheapest commodities on earth."  At first I wasn't sure if I agreed, but I've been chewing on this thought for several weeks now. Also, I've noticed some changes in myself that are swaying me towards his perspective.

My thoughts about responsibility is one of the first things that I noticed had changed. That included my views on responsibility as well as those things I considered to be my responsibility. Being responsible for myself means a little something different now than it did when I was working for someone. Chiefly, I am now responsible for the survival of my dream. 

The difference in my views on responsibility naturally lead to a difference in choice making. My rationale is different. That's because what is now important to me is also different. The vision I have for myself has changed since I've embarked on this journey.  My responsibility is now for the growth and success of a business that is deeply personal to me. 

Now to the final thought. Choice making correlates directly to a belief in one's self, or at least the belief that he or she can accomplish the vision they have chosen for themselves. Here is where I pause a moment. I now believe that protecting one's own belief in their ability to achieve the object of his or her chief desire is of the utmost importance. And I believe that because I now believe that the entrepreneur's most precious commodity is the belief that he or she can accomplish their chief goal in life. In stark contrast to this most valuable item stands the world's cheapest commodity - everyone else's opinion on the matter. 



Entrepreneurship and Personal Life

I asked my girlfriend to marry me and she said no. Ok, perhaps I’ve oversimplified things a little here but that’s ultimately how the situation turned out. I do not mention this bit of personal life to say I’m the good guy and she the bad, but rather to say that life is so unpredictable. I expected things to turn out one way and behold, another thing altogether appears. You may have your plans but then there is life with all its mysteries. As a matter of fact, the night I proposed – rather poorly I might add - was only a few short months after I made the decision to quit my job and go it alone to create Tomo. Funnily, I now think the best day of my life and the worst day of my life are inextricably linked. It’s a bitter, yet sweet moment in time that lingers until the next major event in my life arrives to announce the beginning of the next chapter.  

There are moments when I feel unbelievably strong and unstoppable but somehow in the next moment I’m frail and weak, and vulnerable. These are my emotional states while trying to etch my name in the sand of time with my own two hands - deep enough to be seen by future generations. Tomo is the object I slave over and yet every time I sit down to work on the business plan, or do research it can be such a struggle to get where I need to be mentally. I no longer know how to summon all the excitement and optimism I had when I first began at will any more. This has become a new challenge to solve for on this journey. Mainly, how do I separate my personal life and emotional state from the business I’m growing?

Entrepreneurship is a deeply personal thing. It takes personal conviction, personal energy, and real tears. You can’t just throw up your hands whilst exclaiming “it’s not my business anyway – who cares what happens.” Of course you care. When starting your own business, sometimes there is no longer a clear distinction between your personal life and your professional life. I was prepared for this reality but I didn’t expect my personal life to take this much of a detour. How do I keep something that happened in my personal life from negatively affecting my business at this critical start up stage? Frankly, I don’t have the answer. I realize though that that’s what startup life is all about. Not taking the path most trodden. Finding your own answers to questions you yourself ask. With that said, I’ve discovered a few ideas that seem to help me with this question while on this startup journey.

My first observation is recognizing that once your idea is out of our mouth it has begun taking on a life of its own.  Therefore you must treat it as such. Speak about your product as if it already exists. This really helps me in my decision making as well as confidence building. This mindset also helps to manage personal stress. When I feel badly about something that happened to me personally, I recognize that it doesn’t mean that it also happened to the business. This thought is sometimes confused when thinking of the business as your own self. The idea is now its own entity. It’s a subtle but necessary distinction.

Another observation is setting regular work hours and goals. It’s extremely easy to slip here when you are your own boss so this takes determined effort. Having a bad personal day can really mess with your routine. This is an obvious point I know, but realizing you should act and actually acting are two very different things which actually leads me to my next point.

Create a team. This can be very difficult because it’s hard to trust someone else with your vision. Trusting someone who is not you is so necessary in moving your business along because I have come to realize from experience that you can’t do it on your own.  Trusting someone else also allows for an accountability partner. Someone else holding you accountable for deliverables and deadlines is seriously important. I have overlooked this point myself so don’t make the same mistake. Find someone or a group of people who share your passion about what you’re doing and can see your vision and bring them onboard. It’s critical that they are a correct fit so this may take a while, but I believe it will be worth the time.

Lastly, have faith. I am beginning to realize that this concept is way more powerful than we really know. An unshakeable belief in your own success brings with it strange and almost providential occurrences. Don’t underestimate the power of your own mind. This faith will take you through all of the lows. It will shield you from all of the naysayers and will allow you to forgive yourself for as well as correct your shortcomings as an entrepreneur.

You Won't Believe the Next Place Tomo will Appear...

Hi gals and bros,

I just got the exciting news that Tomo will be featured on Newswatch next week! They have a section of their programming called "Appwatch" and Tomo will be featured on live television on the 18th! We are so excited and proud of this achievement and we couldn't have done it without your support and encouragement. I want to say a personal thank you to everyone who has contributed to me over the course of these 6 months. 

The spot will appear on the History Channel between 6:00 - 6:30am and the FYI Network between 7:00-7:30am EST. If you're up that early, please tune in!


Kickstarter Update...

Firstly, I want to thank all of the people who backed this project. You give me the courage to continue pursuing my dreams. The fact that you believed in me and this project means a lot to me. 

Unfortunately, this project was not funded and it makes me a little sad. But not sad enough to quit! It does teach me a few lessons which I've detailed below. I've come to realize that everything in life is a lesson if you're paying attention and we can learn from all of our experiences. Here are a few key learning points which I feel obliged to share with you.

1. Marketing Effort - for those of you who plan to start a Kickstarter of your own at some point don't underestimate this point. You should really have a clear marketing effort to make sure that people know about your project. Get the word out as quickly as possible and don't ease up!

2. Communication - I think I could have done better with communicating with my audience more directly and made the project more relevant and more practical to people. I also learned that I needed to have clearer messaging about the app that was to the point. People should understand the concept of the app without having to read whole paragraphs. Cutting my information down to bite-sized morsels is what I can do in the future.

3. What do the people want? - I have to look this one in the face and not blink. I do believe there is a market for this app but did I reach it with my marketing efforts? Is this app exactly what people want or is it some other version or is there another feature that people would be more interested in? I can't make any excuses because at the end of the day this project didn't get funded and many others did and it's my job as Founder to find out exactly why and address it - and I will.

I want you all to know that I haven't given up, and the beta version of the app will still be dropping in December. I'll be testing the app heavily to make sure the product is what people want, and I think bringing the app into reality will help convince the folks who need to "see it to believe it". That said, like the Terminator...I'll be back!

Please reach out if you would like to continue to stay in contact at cescoffery@tomo-app.com. 


    Design Changes

    Things are moving ahead. I want to update everyone on the status of the app and we are still on schedule for a December release. I am super excited to show what some of the latest mocks look like. UX - wise, we've gone through some significant changes, but all of the features are still there. The app centers around close communication between users. The website will be completely re-designed as well taking into account our new design focus. Please take a look at some of the images below!

    Major Lessons I've Learned Building a Startup

    As I'm working feverishly towards the getting my beta complete and verified, I can't help but note three lessons that I've learned thus far. That's not to say I won't learn any more in the future but these three really stand out as items I would certainly tell myself years ago.

    1.) No man is an Island - I don't know who said it first, but they were certainly right when they said that "teamwork makes the dream work". As an entrepreneur, you really get tempted to stay in your head and work everything out there. It's really helpful to have a team of folks to depend on and to give honest feedback. Oftentimes, there are items we can't see that are more obvious to others looking from the outside in.

    2.) Have a Marketing Strategy - You don't have a product if you don't have customers. Period. When building an idea, be very careful not to spend time building a piece of art and not a real functional business. Sometimes we as entrepreneurs get so caught up in building out the exact replica of what we had in our heads that we neglect the question - do people actually want this? After that question is asked, you've got to reach the people you are solving an issue for. I realized that you can't just build a product or start a kickstarter and just expect people to understand and support you if you don't have a plan for reaching and communicating with them in the first place.

    3.) Believe - Seems obvious, but it deserves repeating. If you don't no one will. There are a ton of people who will gladly tell you you're nuts, or what your doing is going to fail. Even if they are right, so what? As Steve Jobs said, "The journey is the reward". Every day I see more and more why that's true.

    Party Time!

    This is just an update to all of our followers and fans! We are going to be having a fundraiser at Mrs. Dorsey's Kitchen in Brooklyn on November 29th. You can get tickets here

    I'm proud to say that I'll be partnering with Ron Johnson, Owner of Mrs. Dorsey's and a mean grilled cheese sandwich maker! For our ticket holders, food will be provided in addition to a chance to win the grand prize! 

    Today's Pain - Tomorrow's Gain

    Today we're planning our first fundraising event! I'll be sure to post all the details on our events page as well as on Facebook and Twitter. There is a lot that goes into planning these things and you don't want to miss any details. We've got some super cool prizes and we can't wait to connect with all of our supporters and future app users! We'll be hosting the event at Mrs. Dorsey's Kitchen in Brooklyn. 

    As an entrepreneur, sometimes you want to only focus on app development, design and marketing, but you've also got to do event planning as well! I've partnered with some awesome people so I'm sure the event will be a success and I can't wait to connect with folks that I've only dealt with digitally. Again, more details to come soon, but I'm making an effort to keep everyone posted on what I'm doing and how the app is coming along. Talk to you again real soon!

    Entrepreneurship as a Person of Color

    Honestly, I battled with writing an article like this for a while. As an entrepreneur, I hate pigeonholing myself into one group. I hate being defined by other people. So that's why I rarely mention the fact that I'm black online. What does it matter? My business is meant to be universal, and not necessarily to used by one section of the country or world. I believe most people could use help saving money and through Tomo, I seek to help everyone achieve more financial freedom to purchase items or to put away for the future. I also believe that saving alone is more of the same. Even revolutionary companies seeking to change the way we see money and interact with it, still focus on the individual. With Tomo, I want to connect people and use community as a means of financial empowerment and support. At it's core, Tomo is meant to connect people who have the same goals and who are invested in each other's success. I really believe this is a new perspective on money and yet Solomon says there is nothing new under the sun. And he's right. The way Tomo works is not a new concept, and is derived from what is commonly known as a "Su-su". Most people believe it's African in origin hailing from Ghana, but many other cultures have a similar way of saving money. Many West Indians today utilize this form of saving money and what I've done is tweaked it to make it safer, more secure, and added gamification. Where am I going with this? 

    After reading the article by J.J. McCorvey on Tristan Walker entitled The Visible Man, I was moved. Reading about Walker's experience in Silicon Valley resonated with me. There's the quote about Ferguson (When demonstrations were being held because of the death of an unarmed black teenager by Police) that echos very much what I felt at the time. "...there were levels of outrage and betrayal in my [Twitter] stream, which I wanted to retweet. But I don't want to be an 'angry black man.' I don't want to be pigeonholed to the stereotype." I did manage to do some retweeting myself, but not without this same exact thought. And this is not just about what happened in Ferguson, or necessarily something racially charged. I think often about how to represent my business as a whole. I'm black, but I don't want my business to be pigeonholed as a business only for Blacks, West-Indians, or any other specific cultural group. My goal is to make sure this app is Universal, has universal appeal, and helps people universally. 

    That said, I can't deny where this concept of saving money comes from, but that doesn't mean it can't be used by everyone else. At the end of the day, I feel it's best to be as transparent and authentic about one's goals and motivations. Communicating in this way doesn't deny, but rather transcends racial barriers. Transparency and authenticity have no ethnic makeup, and this is the currency I wish to do business with.

    The App Guy

    I know I wrote about this in a previous blog post, but the podcast interview that I did with Paul, The App Guy is now fully live on iTunes and his site. I encourage everyone who is reading this blog to A. Listen to this podcast because there are tons of insights that come from this conversation and B. to subscribe to TheAppGuy Podcast. He's got tons of really poignant and inspirational conversations with entrepreneurs that will really keep your spirits up. It was a pleasure to be on the program, and I encourage you all to check it out.

    New Feature Update

    So we've been speaking to folks who are patiently waiting for the app to drop in the app store at the end of this year and one thing is beginning to come out of those conversations. Some folks want the flexibility to roll-over their saved funds into another "Partner" (Savings Instance) and continue to save with other people. Now to be clear, we are not offering banking services, however, we think this is not a bad idea to accommodate these "rollovers". It affords users who are more supportive types to be able to finish one partner and roll right into another one that's just starting without needing to cash out. This allows the user to continue to hold friends in another "Partner" accountable as well as support them in their savings goals. This is totally in-keeping with our philosophy so we think it's a great idea!

    Another idea we've been toying with is allowing users to keep the money they've saved in the "Partner" until the last person in line has deposited their savings so everyone receives their cash payouts at the same time rather than by their order in line. We want there to be a choice for our users as some don't mind getting the money all at the same time, while others would like the ability to receive the cash earlier which is one of the benefits of using Tomo™. Both scenarios will be accommodated in the app and we think it's great that we can offer features that our users will enjoy.   If you have any ideas or suggestions - let us know in the comments section below.

    Solving Challenges One Day at a Time

    One of the main issues we had to think about when creating the business model for Tomo was how we were going to send money back to individual users once a savings round was complete. Now the obvious answer here is to send the money directly into the users bank account but there are two issues with that first approach.

    The first is that it starts to defeat the purpose when the user has just sent the money from that same account. Granted, the money is being saved so who cares right? That might be true, but we want to make sure there is a distinction between the money in your bank account and the money that was just saved communally. That’s a great segue into the second reason for a different approach which is that we wanted to make sure that the money that was saved went towards the purchase of the intended item or goal. We want to make sure that users don’t get too tempted to spend the money on an impulse buy that may hinder his or her main goal.

    The solution we came up with was a Tomo Cash Card. We think that giving every user their own cash card is a really intuitive solution to the two issues we noted above. It allows there to be a distinction between the saved money and your normal bank account and keeps the money separate so you can put it away until it’s time to use it for a specific purchase. This will be your personal card so no one but you will have access to the funds on the card. Having cash cards doesn’t mean that we won’t send the money directly to a bank account if a user so chose. However, we think it’s a great option to have for users who will want to make sure the money they’ve saved goes to what it’s supposed to go to! Let us know what you think of the solution below in the comments!

    I’ll be writing about different challenges that come up and how we’ve solved for them in the coming entries so it will be fun sharing the adventure with you. 

    Kickstarter is a Go!

    We here at Tomo have been working quite diligently in getting this app out and to the public. With that said, we are proud to announce the start of our kickstarter campaign. We've got some awesome prizes so please give it a look!

    This whole project is such a learning experience for us and for me especially as the founder. I'm learning a tremendous amount each day about the product and about it's potential users. As I speak to people, I become more convinced that this product is needed and people could really use a helping hand when it comes to saving money. What's unique about Tomo is that it fosters a sense of community around a shared goal. Even if that goal isn't really yours per-say, you're still invested in someone else's success. When your friend succeeds you succeed figuratively and literally since everyone has saved the same amount of money. I've gotten lots of great feedback and if you're reading this and want your voice heard, please take a few seconds to send me a note. I read everything I get so your voice will be heard.

    Lastly, I want to talk about development. Development on the app is coming along and has officially started! I'm super excited about this because it quite literally is a dream come true. I remember when I first got to New York with $40.00 and a dream to make something of myself. Yes, it was literally $40.00 as that was what was left after I bought my plane ticket here. I came to New York for two main reasons. The first was to prove to my family and to myself that I could make it here in the Big Apple. To prove that I was worthy to be called a New Yorker (I was born in New York but grew up in the south) and I wasn't going to leave until I made my mark. The second was because of a lady. Things don't always turn out as we plan, but the moral of this story is to never give up and to go after what you're passionate about. Don't let the flame go out. When I die, I don't want to have left anything on the table. No stones unturned, no idea untried. That's what Tomo represents for me. Join me in this adventure as we move closer to it's reality.

    The Problem with Saving Alone

    Saving money is one of those things – not unlike eating healthily or exercising, that is a no brainer. These are the things that we know to do, and we know are good for us. Yet, for some reason there are these huge industries that have been built around finding ways to get us to do what we already know we should do and are clearly not doing. Tomo is centered on solving the problem for saving money. Just under 50% of Americans today don’t have any savings put aside for a rainy day. This is fascinating given the many saving solutions our banks provide us with to save our money. This shows that the issue is not a lack of solutions. I also don’t think there are many people who will disagree with the notion that saving at least some portion of one’s income is good thing, so the issue isn’t lack of education either. I think it’s a habit thing.

    People who get into a routine can train themselves into making positive choices about pretty much anything, including saving money. This is true for exercise, diet, and a plethora of other life choices. The challenge for disruptive technology is to disrupt human behavior. It’s to encourage the change of a negative habit into a positive one which means, said piece of technology has to affect the user in a deeply personal way.

    Tomo is being designed to change people’s saving behavior to the point where they are saving more money with the app than they would be saving without it. The way I’ve thought about doing this is to enlist the help of the people around the user who want to see positive change in the user’s behavior, and who will not only encourage but hold that user accountable for their savings behavior.  I came to this rationale because if we really think about it, our habits are mostly learned. I pick up many of my habits based on my interactions with the people I interact with every day. The folks I hang around with have a huge impact on my personal habits. For example, I take my shower in the morning rather than at night because that’s how my parents taught me to do it. I go to a particular coffee shop because they are nice to me. The list goes on and on. My point is that with other technologies designed to change user behavior – they almost always focus on that user as an isolated entity. It’s almost as if they are collectively saying “There is something wrong with the user and this product is designed to fix you so you can be like everyone else”. Tomo is different in that we facilitate community around what needs to be changed and we enlist the user’s close network of supporters to help them with the habit change. In this case, we bring the users friends and family together to help them to achieve the financial goal they have set, which we think is a better solution than trying to get the user to change their behavior by themselves. We think people united in a common cause can be extremely effective in causing habit change which is why we’ve taken this unique approach to saving money.

    So in a nutshell, we want to use your friends and family to encourage, hold accountable, badger, and yes – shame you into reaching your goal! My next article will deal more with how the savings program works, and how we plan to achieve it as well as how you can help!