McKay Thomas

High Highs, Low Lows

By McKay Thomas

On December 6th 2012 I left Brazil for San Francisco to answer a call. The universe had been reaching out to me and inviting me to do something more, or at the very least different, for weeks, and it was that day that things finally aligned for me to answer.

I was scared, but at the same time the blood in my veins had been replaced by electricity and my eyes by telescopes. On the plane from São Paulo I would frequently go to the lavatory and just stare in to the mirror. My facial expressions changed every second or so between elation and blindness. Conquering and fear.

"Fear. Deep rotting fear. They were infected by it. Did you see? Fear is a sickness. It will crawl into the soul of anyone who engages it. It has tainted your peace already. I did not raise you to see you live with fear. Strike it from your heart. Do not bring it into our village."

These wise words from a father in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto came back to me as I splashed water on my face from that little washbasin. Was I truly afraid? Had this cancer taken root in me? I reflected then, as I reflect now, on my family. My wife. My two-year-old daughter. My six-month-old son. Why would I leave them even for a day if I could help it? Why for a week? Or weeks and weeks? And who knows how long this will be before we find an apartment. Or feel ready to find an apartment in the same city, or even the same state.

Am I afraid?

The months leading up to my departure from Baby.com.br were filled with imbalance, a lack of equilibrium, and a scratching knowledge that there was a road, a path before me that would lead me forward on my life’s mission. And I followed it. There are many things that I didn’t know about this road before I began walking it. There are also many things on this road I knew would lie ahead when I took that step out in to the darkness. Was I ready to face those things I knew and those things I knew I didn’t know? Was I ready to be alone? Was I ready to be rejected? By peers. By legends.

The universe guided me here. Picked me up and shot me across the sky. My head exploded with pyrotechnics and a sound we’ve all heard before. Boom.

Am I afraid?

Am I completely nuts? Is it even moral to do what I’m doing and leave my darling wife in Utah while I enter a fray that has claimed more than I care to dwell on?

So, am I afraid? No. I don’t wake up every morning and shudder. When I look at myself in the mirror I don’t question. When I pitch my business, I do so with the knowledge that I have a whole universe behind me pushing me in to an industry that is aching for disruption. When I look back at my life I see a slew of innumerable moments that have prepared me to wake up this morning, to put on my pants and my t-shirt and stand at my desk and write a note to any would-be entrepreneur, founder, investor, and my family and say to all as a kind of invocation: let’s start this thing up.

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HTC has introduced what many are laughing at, which is a companion device to a very large phone. A phone that solidly would be considered a “phablet”, a phone and tablet in one. Although I agree that having a little cordless phone device in addition to your “phone” sounds funny, there is something about this general concept that feels correct to me.

A few weeks ago I bought an iPad Mini and it has changed the way I work and browse and read. It’s ULTRA-portable. It makes the full-size iPad look clunky and feel so heavy. The iPad Mini is perfectly sized and is feather light. I have stopped using my phone as much as a result. When I got my first iPad I would constantly think to myself, “I’d rather just be doing this on my iPhone.” The roles have now switched with the iPad Mini.

It works so well at everything, it makes me wish it could take calls. Calls?! If you think people who talk on their Galaxy Notes are ridiculous, wait till you see people holding their iPads to their ears. It’ll never happen. But I do want an option to take calls on the iPad. So what is the solution?

There are certain things that are so natively human that we never question them. I believe that speaking in to an object that you are holding up to your face isn’t one of them. It’s weird, right? We seem cool with the idea of holding our phones, which are getting larger and larger, to our faces for now, but I believe this will change. It has to. It has simply been grandfathered in from another time where the future didn’t exist. But today it does. We don’t have to hold these things on our faces anymore, we just do it because there isn’t a better option yet.

Yet.

HTC has introduced a plausible solution. One that may come across as ridiculous right now, but that is only because it challenges the status quo and is coming from a company very few people respect as an innovator. They have released a companion phone device for their phablet. Their solution looks like a cordless phone. Buttons for dialing, a small screen, and a speaker and receiver.

I don’t think this will be the final solution, but I will say that this idea greatly interests me and solves a problem with device size. Talking on the phone isn’t just another app. It needs to be dealt with in a unique way, different from the other native and app functionalities of our smartphones.

In fact they are even called smartPHONES, even though we email, Facebook, text, and do other things far more frequently that talk on them. The phone is different. And as our devices begin homogenizing, companion devices will become the norm.

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My news app of choice, Undrip, is using their hip hop skills to help get a few local businesses affected by Superstorm Sandy get back on their feet. Their video embedded below is awesome! It’s a kind of hommage to those who give their life to the dream. I can’t stop listening to it.

After listening you can also donate to help the cause. I already donated this morning. You should too.

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I stumbled in to a “news” story aboutBlackberry this evening that proved that they have learned just about nothing since there very public downfall.

In an interview with a German newspaper just yesterday, said Thorsten Heins, Blackberry’s CEO:

"We have taken the time to build a platform that is future-proof for the next ten years."

That assumes so much. They are basically over engineering an OS that competes with the existing mobile OSes. The status quo, basically. Also called playing catch up. I think it’s safe to say that their new OS, BB 10, is just as “future-proof”as the company itself. Which is to say, not much.

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Lonely

By McKay Thomas

A week ago I landed here in San Francisco. I’ve left my darling and supportive wife and two kids in the care of my parents and her parents in Utah, while I flex my creative muscles in pursuit of a call. The call to build something. The call to create something. The call that comes to each of us, which demands you ask yourself what more the earth could have, your life could have, if you were to jump in head first.

I have about as many answers as I came here with, which isn’t many, but I have come to learn something about loneliness. Before I came here, I thought that being alone was as lonely as it could get. But that’s wrong. Being alone is not as lonely as being around the wrong people. 

I came here in search of business and commerce and technology, but all I’ve found so far was a little voice inside that keeps telling me that I’m no longer alone. I’m on the side of the universe, now. And although that means very little in terms of having answers, it means I know I can find the answers.

I will start this business. I will grow this team. I will get my wife and my kids in to an apartment here. I will build a technology that will make being a parent easier and more peaceful. The universe, which was reaching out to me and shaking me and my life until I could hardly hear anything else, has aligned with me. As if to say, “Hardship behind, hardship ahead, but this time it’s what you were sent to do.”

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Smart write up on All Things D this morning about making the most of an advertising-centric online world. Although it hasn’t really changed my views, I’m a big fan of making the most of my situation, and that’s largely what I took away from the article.

"What you can do is actually get value from being tracked — while holding companies to a high standard of responsibility, of course."

Read the full thing linked in the title.

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Every now and again a device gets released, that I buy, that everyone I sit next to on planes or at church or just around want to talk to me about. The iPad Mini has been such a device. As someone who has used an iPad from the first version, up until now I haven’t been a huge fan of them. I like the idea of them, but found that I’d rather just be using my iPhone to do basically everything the iPad could do.

The iPad Mini changed that.

Dan Frommer outlines in the article linked above how he feels the iPad Mini is the real size iPad. The size the iPad should have been the entire time. I’m completely compelled to agree. Where with my iPad I kept wanting to simply do every task on my iPhone, I actually am forgetting to take my phone with me now.

In truth, there has been days that have passed without me even knowing where my phone is, and those that know me can attest to just how crazy that is, but its the truth. The iPad Mini is my main iOS device now. More than my phone. I enjoy it more. It’s more functional. It’s INSANELY light. And I highly, highly recommend it.

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CES Update

By McKay Thomas

So far CES has been a series of what I am allowed and not allowed to do. Don’t walk here. Don’t go in there. Out this one. Stand over here. Don’t sit there. I feel like I’m back in 2nd grade, only there’s no Mrs. Rochester promising snacks afterward.

The other thing has struck me is the sheer scale of this event. For instance, they have maps you can use to see where everything is as part of CES. But these aren’t the normal pieces of paper maps, these are full blown fold out maps. And there isn’t one of them. There are FOUR!

I feel lost and I’m not even allowed “inside” yet.

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My First CES: The Awfulness And Excitment

By McKay Thomas

I will be attending this years CES, which will mark my first time at the event. I’ve read the coverage in the past and fully expect it to be filled with out of touch former big leaguers trying to dazzle the press with products that clearly won’t compete. Yet, I’m not going so I can be a part of that.

Although I’ve wanted to experience the awfulness/excitement first hand for several years, what actually allowed me to justify it this year is the Digital Health Summit, which will be a part of the conference this year. I’m hugely excited and bullish about the space and look forward to meeting with people to talk about the future of the human body as it relates to technology.

I’m not a live blogger, and actually I’m not much of a gadget blogger, so I’ll leave the pros to do what they do best. But what I plan on writing about over the next few days is how my experience goes with CES in general and how my experience goes with the Digital Health Summit. I hope to come away feeling inspired by the big projects that will undoubtedly shape the way we look at and treat our bodies.

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Life Is Not Surprises

By McKay Thomas

What started with a simple, one room hotel in the sketchy part of town, is ending with dear friends, damp eyes, and a road that feels solid enough to walk back to the US on.

I don’t know why, but life never surprises me. When I was younger, I was quite the embellisher. I felt deep inside that my life should have been more than what it was. As I’ve grown older and experienced more, I feel that slowly my life has caught up to my expectations and, if anything, I’m not even telling full stories when people ask, because I doubt they’d believe it anyway. But as my life unfolds and big changes get made, it all ends up feeling like the next natural step. Like it was always and obviously going to happen. And this last big change, leaving Baby.com.br and starting something new and on my own, seems like what was obviously going to happen the whole time.

But life couldn’t be that simple, could it?

It may just be. I have no idea what will come of my next venture. Of my next chapter in San Francisco. I have hope that it will be all I want it to be, and plan to make something along those lines happen. But I’m not alone in feeling that way. I feel I have a rendezvous with destiny, and I must do everything possible to make that appointment.

Here’s to life. Here’s to living it. Here’s to risk and doing what you’ve always dreamed of. Here’s to the high country and riding it. Here’s to destiny.

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The New Business

By McKay Thomas

Although I’m not ready to discuss everything, I do want to say that my new business is very much picking up where I left off at Baby.com.br and is actually inspired by all that I learned while building its expansive audience of over two million moms. Moms are a special group. A noble group. And a pain for them, in my eyes, is worthy cause of my time.

Stay tuned.

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The Beginning

By McKay Thomas

There is something completing about a year’s end. Everyone writes something about it, either in the coffers of the mind, the pages of journal, or the walls of a social network. We find ways of resolving things, if at no other time, at the end of the year.

The last year, 2012, was very complete for me. What had barely just begun in 2011, Baby.com.br, entered 2012 with a few employees, big hopes, big promises to big hires and big investors. 2012 was to be defined by what we could do with the expectations we set for the business. But business, I’ve come to learn, is a fickle friend. The friend you think you know and can second guess. The friend you long to be near to and make sacrifices for. The friend that you think you can trust. However, every morning when you meet this friend for coffee they’re different. Their ambitions are smaller, then bigger, then entirely new. Like any loyal companion, you adjust and adapt to the new horizons, but business has an appetite that can never be quenched. An appetite for capital. An appetite for strategy. An appetite for technology. 2012 would be the year I would have my last coffee with this business. The year I would give all I would ever give to Baby.com.br. The team of a couple dozen that greeted 2012, became over 250 that greeted 2013. 2012 would be the year a promising startup would become a very promising medium-sized business. And the year I would let the team I helped grow and the technology I helped shape, continue on their course without my day-to-day guidance.

My last few years have been stacked with really unique, very challenging, and sometimes almost braking experiences. It can be difficult to place them on a scale and say with certainty which ones were easier or harder than the other ones. Almost like choosing a favorite child, I would hate to offend or diminish any one of the moments from the last few years by comparing them to their peers. Each one was met with newness and curiosity, a little bit of fear, and the belief that the human spirit could overcome. Could create. Could build. But this last experience, that began on December 6th, just a few weeks ago, feels unique amongst the unique.

I first started working on startups when I was 18 in 2003 when my brother Kimball and my cousin Davis first wanted to start something on their own. Between selling roses in parking lots and pool tables online, over the next 7 years we would end up working together to see some modest successes, if by no other gauge than by teaching us all what not to do. We created Baby.com.br to be what our previous ideas weren’t, huge. And the last few years have been spent in the pursuit of size and market and success and, in many respects, achieving it.

Flash forward almost 10 years, and for the first time I’m on my own. Leaving Baby.com.br was equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring. Anytime you put your soul into something, it hurts when it ends. And yet, from my co-founders to my friends to the universe itself, I’ve received much strength and optimism in my next project. I feel the time is right to start something new, again. And this time around my brother and my cousin will not be together with me. My trail is my own to blaze. But I couldn’t think of a better way to be brought up. A better course to have taken to prepare myself to strike out and begin walking alone.

2012 was complete for me. Taking a business from its earliest days and passing it off to the most capable team imaginable is very completing. Leaving to start something new, although technically a beginning, it is where I’ve been heading my whole life, and although I have no delusions about how long or hard my road ahead will be, the fact I’ve arrived at the road at all means I’ve completed the most crucial step, the beginning.

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With Google’s new maps app, my Apple Junk folder is now full. Why can’t we hide these apps?! Their replacements are so much better and are updated so much more frequently, I just don’t understand.

With Google’s new maps app, my Apple Junk folder is now full. Why can’t we hide these apps?! Their replacements are so much better and are updated so much more frequently, I just don’t understand.

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How you can tell that someone was really just using social media as a means to an end. Mitt, if we didn’t trust you before, what are we going to do now? His last tweet reads like a eulogy to his followers. In essence, I love you but you’ll never hear from me again. Posted November 10th.

How you can tell that someone was really just using social media as a means to an end. Mitt, if we didn’t trust you before, what are we going to do now? His last tweet reads like a eulogy to his followers. In essence, I love you but you’ll never hear from me again. Posted November 10th.

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