That Thing Where Your Toddler Suddenly Wakes You Up All Night Again

Recently a coworker asked me about if I ever dealt with my 3-year-old waking up many times throughout the night. We did! And it made me realize that perhaps we weren’t the only ones who dealt with this. I’m about to tell you what I believe should practically become a patented method for resolving this issue.

Why is this happening?

These are dark times! My daughter was a perfect sleeper after sleep training. Even in unusual situations like hotels and visiting family, she slept like a champ. When she turned 3, it suddenly changed. I am sure there is some brain development thing happening but the general vibe was that she discovered she could control this nighttime part of the world by wandering into our room whenever she woke up. Many times we woke up to this horror-movie-like scene of a small child, breathing heavily into our faces, staring at us while we slept. (I think sometimes she was nervous to wake us up! She should be!)

Her reasons for waking up were practically nonsense. Sometimes potty, which is legitimate. But most of the time it would be something absurd, like to ask about why the winter is cold or where we put her art project. Most of the time she would obviously um and uhh about why she was up and then invent a reason right there on the spot. Our stress only grew with how ridiculous her rationale was — how is she not getting this?

Aside: There was a little view into toddler “stress” that created a tad bit of empathy in my angry, angry, tired, exhausted brain… often her reasons had to do with losing a sticker or forgetting to clean up part of her room. This is what keeps a toddler up at night? It actually caused me to consider how absurd it is that I remain awake at night over an inconsequential conversation with my general contractor.

Typical solutions

Some of our friends recommended basically Sleep Training: Toddler Edition. One of them literally reversed the door knob in their child’s door so they could lock it from the outside. We actually went and bought the Door Monkey thing which achieves a similar thing. But we never used it! Because my plan worked sooner.

There are some obvious downsides to locking the door. Paramount is that in the case of a fire or a real emergency, you’re locking them in their room. Horrifying thought. I couldn’t live with that. But there’s also the fact that they’d get the real feeling that they’re “trapped” once they discover the door is locked for the first time. I didn’t want her to have that feeling. But maybe all of these risks are minimal — to each their own!

Frankly, I don’t know what else people do. We definitely looked. “Rewards?” That’s part of my method. But I don’t think that works on its own.

The breakthrough

The breakthrough for me was to interrupt my daughter’s habit by changing the script a little bit. In fact, she’s allowed out of her bed. She just has to call an adult into the room first. Then, we’d determine if her reason for waking up merits leaving the bed. Do you see? So now it’s not up to her if she gets out of bed. It’s on our terms. So her old habit was 1) wake up 2) leave the room 3) do whatever I want. New habit is 1) wake up 2) call a parent into my room 3) share the issue and do what the parent allows.

I’m not like a psychological genius or anything but this felt to me like one of those mental tricks like BJ Fogg’s idea of “just flossing one tooth.” (that worked for me)

Putting it into practice

It’s a little complicated to reinforce this change. And actually, in dissecting this change, it helped us understand why this is hard for a toddler to wrap their heads around. How are they supposed to know what is a good enough reason to get up at night? They’re only 3.

To be more specific, the rule becomes: You are not allowed to get out of bed unless it’s an “emergency.” If it’s an emergency, you can call mom and dad into the room to help you. We are talking about toddler emergencies here (potty, diaper leak, bad dream) but also real ones (a fire).

  1. So, the first step is explain the rule. Talk it over with them a lot, get them ready for it, let them ask questions. Review it when you’re driving. Use the same key word like “emergency” so that it’s really clear: things are either an emergency or they’re not.
  2. Next, we are going to reinforce it during the bedtime route. Each night before bed, we would play a game where we’d talk about different scenarios and she would have to identify if it’s an emergency. We’d act this all out while she’s laying down in the bed and she’d even mime the reactions. We could come up with all sorts of absurd things to make her laugh (what if you wake up and smell cheese?) but really the point is, only a handful of things you decide are emergencies (potty, smoke/fire/alarm). If it’s an emergency, her answer is “I can say, ‘mama, papa, I need help!'” For everything else, the right answer is “you can go back to sleep” or “we can take care of it in the morning.” Use real situations to help her understand. This was a chance to clarify that whatever absurd thing she woke us up about other nights was not an emergency (like “we forgot to put away the puzzle” or “my butt itches”). This ended up becoming the highlight of bedtime so I think it really engaged her brain on it.
  3. To prevent her from immediately waking up moments after putting her to sleep, there’s another new addition to the bedtime routine: the 5-minute check-in. You’re basically going to assure her that you’ll come back to check on her in 5 minutes. Again, getting out of bed is on my terms, not hers. So, there’s no reason to get out of bed right now. If you don’t have everything you need or are having trouble going to sleep, I’m coming right back. So just stick around! “OK, do you have everything you need? Good. Go to sleep now, don’t leave or call for us. We will come back in in 5 minutes to check on you.” Mostly she would be asleep but sometimes she would potty at the 5 min check-in.
  4. Ok, now what happens if she still wakes us up? A few options. If she got out of bed herself, you bring her back to the bed, and ask her to do it the way we practiced. Again, reinforcing that she must call us into the room first by instructing her to do it over. If she didn’t get out of her bed, she hollered to bring you in, now you have the conversation: “Hi, what’s the emergency?” and help her with the problem if it’s an emergency. If it’s not — sometimes she would sheepishly admit it wasn’t — then we “can take care of it in the morning” or just tell her it isn’t an emergency and go back to sleep. There were a few times where that conversation ended in tears but I think that was mostly part of her understanding the rule.
  5. One more mitigating factor is preventing wake-up reasons before she even hollers. As really prevalent excuses come up, we would make a solution she could do on her own. Thirsty: a water bottle sits bedside. Nose is running: kleenex is here. Lost teddy: piggy is waiting here as a backup. Lips are chapped: chapstick on the nightstand. Too dark: nightlight.
  6. Lastly, rewards. We made a tracker and would reward her for streaks. First it was 3 nights, then 5 nights, then a week. Each streak got her a Tonie or matchbox car.

This honestly only took a few weeks to begin working! And a lot of the scaffolding, like the 5-minute check-in, the “pretend game” eventually started to naturally phase out. She actually became excited to learn what was an emergency and what wasn’t! And excited to reach her streaks, bragging to us about how she didn’t get out of bed all night.

I hope this works for you! Let me know!

Business and life strategies from a disclaimer tag

I bought this new rug for our family room and I love it. It came with this disclaimer slip which reminded me of a crucial strategy in business and life:

This company wants to combat returns and replacements — it’s expensive to return rugs, they’re awkward to ship. So they’ve taken the flaws in the rug, the “irregularities and variety of shades,” and reframed them as advantages: “unique beauty” and “natural.”

The lesson is simple: Figure out how to make any weakness, flaw, blind spot or disadvantage into an asset and nothing can stop you.

The Best Live Streaming App for Private Events and Social Distancing Broadcasts

As you can see, this was one hot ticket!

This January, when I had my daughter baptized, I couldn’t invite any friends or family because of the pandemic. I still wanted to invite folks to see the ceremony and join with prayers remotely. This seems like a really common circumstance in 2020 and 2021 but I struggled to find an app that solved this simple problem. All I needed was:

  • An easy-to-access live stream — I couldn’t put older relatives through software downloads and didn’t want to sack folks with social media account sign-up hoops. I just wanted a link they could go visit on any device.
  • Free or inexpensive — being a very small audience, I couldn’t justify a large cost (although after hunting for solutions for hours, I got pretty close to paying whatever it would take)
  • Mobile-friendly — honestly, my iPhone 12 is probably the best all-around camera I own so the software had to be a mobile-friendly app
  • Private — I don’t want to share this stream widely — it’s basically an invite-only, private virtual ceremony I want to email to only family and friends

I went to all the usual suspects but none came even close to fitting the bill:

  • CONFERENCING SOLUTIONSZoom, BlueJeans and Google Meet are kind of the first thing you think of during these social distancing times but all of them are really optimized for two-way communication and I didn’t want folks talking amongst themselves or to require people to download special software.
  • CREATOR PLATFORMSTwitch and YouTube are known for quality live streaming but because they cater to creators, they didn’t work. YouTube doesn’t allow mobile live streaming unless you have thousands of subscribers. Twitch wants you to reach an audience so their interface makes you share the broadcast into a channel — last thing I need are gamer trolls watching my baby’s baptism.
  • SOCIAL SITES – I tried Instagram, Facebook, Periscope and Twitter but all of them required you to broadcast to a select “group” for a private stream. It’s all part of their growth hacking obsession and switching cost manipulations: they want you to invite friends to make an account or continually prove the value of their network effect to folks who are already signed up.

The winning solution

I was shocked at the ultimate perfect solution: IBM Watson Media Live Streaming. I love it! I haven’t thought of IBM as a go-to problem-solving purveyor in years. You may as well tell me that the best solution is a product from Texas Instruments.

I believe the product is meant primarily for corporate live streaming but that pretty much made it an even better lock for private, secure, reliable streaming. That also means it’s probably outrageously expensive — but that’s okay for you and me and our one-off private events because they have a free 30-day trial!

IBM bought Ustream years ago and this mobile app and desktop interface is the result of that acquisition. Here’s what you get:

  • Private place to stream — generate your own private link where the stream will live, in advance, and you can even password-protect it
  • Seamless mobile app — so I can take advantage of the great camera (and decent audio capture) on my iPhone
  • Customize interactivity — you can allow or remove comments and social sharing to your liking

One important downside: the free trial only lets you have 5 live viewers of your stream. But this should be plenty for a small event where grandmas and grandpas are probably sharing devices from home anyway. You can also publish the video when it’s through which allows unlimited viewing afterward, on-demand. If 5 viewers is still too restrictive, their full account is $100/month.

Other solutions that came close

I’m sure there are others out there Googling and researching desperately as I was. If IBM isn’t the right fit, here’s what else I considered:

  • Livestream — Livestream.com was purchased by Vimeo and actually, many churches use their service because it’s so great for this use case. For whatever reason, Vimeo has bundled this in with their highest-tier $75/month account, which I came close to plunking down for, even with my small event.
  • Microsoft Stream – From what I understand, this is included free in business Office accounts, which nearly every professional has. I, unfortunately, have a “home” subscription so it wouldn’t work for me — even though that’s nearly the same cost as the business version. Microsoft should seriously reconsider this policy because it would be a nice add-value for families.

Avoid Back Pain While Bathing a Baby

Boy, I’m really into the parenting stuff lately! Didn’t mean for this to become a mommy blog, I just feel like even if these breadcrumbs help one friend, it’ll be priceless. Hope they do! 

I’ve been dealing with terrible back pain over the past few years and having a baby certainly doesn’t help! For me, the most back-breaking activity is bathing her. Bathing requires tremendous core strength because you’re typically, it’s like holding a wiggling kettlebell with your arms extended straight out. And if you drop the kettlebell, it’ll drown.

Speaking of kettlebells, think about how you squat with one — you actually hold it low around your crotch so that it’s within your center of gravity. That’s how you should reposition bathtime to save you from back pain. I never thought about this until I found this little-known YouTube video with like 200 views on how to re-think how you bathe your infant.

Here’s the game changer: roll up your pants and straddle the edge of the bathtub or just put both feet in. Then position the child (or the container they’re in) as close to you as possible, like you would a kettlebell. You can keep your back aligned better this way and all of your movement is closer to your center of gravity.

I use this cushion that was actually meant for your forearms as a “seat” which makes it a little more comfortable and also keeps soap and wash towels within reach.

Check it out:

How To Pick a Baby Monitor & Why Closed Circuit is Better Than a Wifi Security Camera

Boy, I’m really into the parenting stuff lately! Didn’t mean for this to become a mommy blog, I just feel like even if these breadcrumbs help one friend, it’ll be priceless. Hope they do!  

Here’s an email I sent to a friend who was (like I clearly did) over-thinking which baby monitor to purchase. Many pros and cons to consider but here’s my thinking on it:

I’m told you’re in search of the perfect baby monitor. We have the Wirecutter pick, which is the very popular Eufy Spaceview. It’s been pretty good but it has three main drawbacks — I think all of them stem from the fact that this (and maybe all) video baby monitors are forms of security cameras that are slightly repackaged as baby devices:

  • It’s a little loud when you pan/tilt and makes a “click” when the nightvision engages — it very rarely disrupts the baby but sometimes
  • It has this boneheaded LED on the front that for weeks was blasting straight into the baby’s eyes without us noticing it (easily remedied with some opaque paper and tape)
  • It needs a special mount to work with a crib because the camera can’t point itself “down” enough — hard to describe. We jury-rigged it without buying the special mount (see pic attached) and it’s working fine. 

All that said, it’s been pretty solid. I’m nit picking. 

The overall thing I struggled with was… why don’t we just use something like a Eufy or Nest cam? Who needs a specialized babymonitor? There are four things I realized, stemming from the fact that most other options work via wifi/app:

  • INTERNET – When wifi isn’t working, your baby monitor isn’t. Not a regular occurrence but occasional at home and who knows when you’re asleep. Further, when traveling, setting those things up on hotel wifi can be difficult, you’ll have to lug around a base station with it, connections reset, etc.
  • SOUND – You need to be able to let the camera’s AUDIO run in the background… that’s the key. And if your baby monitor app is running in the background or your phone locks, you won’t be able to hear into the baby’s room in realtime which is key, especially at night. To be clear, your nighttime routine is something like: 1) hear baby having a problem 2) check on baby through camera to see if this is a get-out-of-bed type problem.
  • SCREENS – Here’s another problem with using an app in the background: if you’re playing with your phone (lots of that when baby is sleeping) you can’t keep your other eye on the monitor unless you’re constantly switching between apps.
  • SECURITY – And finally, a little part of me thinks that some day a creep could hack into something wifi-enabled and watch my baby. Extremely unlikely but with a closed-circuit, at least I never need to give it a second thought.

That’s my treatise on baby monitors. The short version is I ruled out the wifi options and we’re happy with the Eufy one! Hope that helps. 

UPDATE JUNE 2021: I’m still happily using the Eufy Spaceview even as our little one is now a toddler. We just got back from another couple-day trip and it’s a tremendous time-saver to use that product over the wifi/app equivalent — you have a million things to setup in a hotel room, it’s nice for one to just work. Meantime, I’ve also began using the Arlo Pro 2 cameras around my home for security purposes. Because they’re so easy to move around, I have a mount in our child’s room where I plunk one of the cameras sometimes as a backup or when she’s home with a babysitter. The Eufy is still our “worker” though!

Here’s the picture I attached showing my setup without buying the special Eufy attachment. I basically drilled the mount directly into a nearby dresser:

5 Unexpected Things Every New Dad Needs – Expecting Father’s Baby Gift Ideas

If you (or someone you know) is expecting a newborn I can already predict that their baby registry is packed to the gills with ironic onsies found on Instagram and useless organic baby bath salts. What’s NOT on the registry are these five things. And these five things are the dad gifts that will actually be useful to your expecting father friend.

These items are weird. In fact, if you put them on your baby registry, your relatives will be perplexed. And yet I’ve found them absolutely indispensable after 6 weeks taking caring for a newborn baby. These 5 purchases were essential to my newly-“dadded” man-brain and they were absolutely overlooked by Blake Lively or whatever blogger’s top ten gifts for dad list, so that’s why I’m sharing them here.

1. 50X Blue Surgical Huck Towels

By far and away the most useful thing in our entire household for 6 weeks straight has been all 50 of these simple reusable surgical huck towels. What the hell are surgical huck towels? They’re basically just uber cheap towels the use in the ER. This may seem straightforward so stay with me for a few paragraphs…

The idea of using a towel completely changes when you have 50 of them. When you just depend on the dozen or so “burp towels” you might get in a few gift baskets, you’ll subliminally limit your usage to just the dozen. When you feel like you have infinite towels, you will finally. be. FREE.

And you are going to need infinite towels. Towels for messes. Towels to protect areas from messes. Towels to cover up areas already covered in messes.

Basically, every time you do something with a newborn, you should start first by laying down a towel to contain whatever hazmat they might inflict on your world. When you have 50 of them, you’ll keep them in every basket, cabinet and drawer within arms reach of baby activity. Use them like paper towels, only they’re washable, soft and reusable.

2. Mini “Button Lamp” LED Lights

You will be amazed as how critical light management is. Even the slimmest shaft of light from the crack of a doorway will startle awake the little one you just spent hours shushing to sleep. So, your job as a dad is to create very simple and non-disruptive lights for essential tasks that take place late at night.

Your old man used motion-activated night lights. The best new solution are these simple mountable LEDs with a basic switch. LEDs are so low-power that they don’t need a wall socket so you can affix them anywhere — both discreet and right where you need it.

These are surprisingly bright for a single-bulb running on a hearing aid battery. You’ll want to stick it in a hidden-away spot both for aesthetics and because it’ll help your light “bounce” more softly into the right position.

These are both your “oh shit” lights and your crucial partners during regular nighttime chores. Here are the essential places we plunked them:

  • In the master bathroom so you can sneak in to pee without lighting up the whole room
  • Right next to the crib for emergency spit-ups
  • Above either side of the bed so that we can feed her at night without waking her too much
  • Behind the changing table because sometimes you can’t quite see if things down there are clean
  • Above the kitchen sink because you’ll be washing bottles, pumps and pacifiers at all hours

3. Temporary blackout shades

For like $5 each, you can buy the most impervious blackout shades available and then just toss them when you’re done. These are temporary disposable ones that stick anywhere with paint-friendly masking-tape-like stick.

Like I mentioned above — you need to prevent even that slender strip of streetlight from peeking between your mini-blinds and the window sill… and on to your newborn’s face.

The master bedroom’s baja chic window treatment is not going to cut it for the next few weeks while baby co-sleeps. Dad’s going to have to buck up for this temporary fix in a few rooms. Just layer them over the terrible light leaks. It’s a little ghetto but you’ll only need it till she sleeps in a more permanent place.

4. Hatch devices — more importantly, their app

My wife and I got on the Hatch train much too late for their epic smart scale to come in handy… I remember thinking, who the hell would want to weigh their baby so frequently? Well, new parents quickly learn how crucial the newborn’s weight can be to their happiness and sound sleep.

You can do two things with a baby’s weight: 1) get a sense of generally how long they can go between feeds because a heavier baby sleeps longer (in other words: estimate how long you can sleep without interruption) and 2) find out how much they’ve actually eaten on a given breastfeeding session (by weighing them before and after).

Another key: The Hatch App

Even if you’re not using the Hatch tech (we also like their sleep light) everyone can benefit from using the Hatch app — and it’s free. You can track everything from diaper usage, weigh-ins at the doctor’s office, nap times and feeding durations. What gets measured gets managed! And you’ll like managing your baby’s stats for two main reasons:

  1. COMMUNICATION – You, your partner and (God willing) some other helper/relative will all be caring for this baby. It helps enormously with communication if all parties know when the most recent diaper change happened or how long the last nap was. For instance, late at night, if one partner skips a diaper change, when then next partner wakes, they can just see on the dashboard what happened rather than waking their snoozing friend.
  2. ANALYSIS – Maybe, just maybe… you can begin to read the tea leaves of the child’s schedule, detect patterns and better diagnose the troubles that ail them and cause all the fuss and crying. Good luck with this one but sometimes we’ve had epiphanies looking at the “Schedule” tab. If anything, it will help you estimate the number of diapers to order on Amazon.

5. IKEA smart lighting with Alexa

Okay, I’m back on the lighting thing! But this is less about maintaining the oh-so-important mood lighting in your home and more about being hands-free.

When you’re angrily hot-stepping across your home with a flailing baby in your arms, it’s a huge win if you can plop her on the changing table, grab a wipe in one hand, a diaper in the other and holler “Alexa, turn on the lamp!” If a stubborn child is growing drowsy in the perfect position in your arms, you can hands-free ask Alexa to turn on white noise to further lull her… or your favorite podcast to lull you!

I’ve found IKEA’s lights to be very buggy but cost-effective enough that you’ll convert nearly your whole home in a weekend. Once a new dad has an inexpensive Alexa device and a few bulbs installed in the nursery, the family is pretty much kitted-out with hands-free automation.

Still not inspired? – More Dad gift ideas

It should go without saying but please PASS on the ironic onesie or the plush corgi and if all else fails, buy your expecting dad one of these things:

So those are the top 5 gifts I give every dad now that I’ve had a newborn myself! People will buy a new father all the other crap he needs so I’ve skipped that important junk. These 5 things will come in true handy and are at my fingertips when a new colleague or friend has a little one coming.

Complete-Meal-In-A-Cup Gazpacho Recipe

Bowl of gazpacho

In college, my friends and I joked that fast food would eventually evolve to the point where young professionals in suits would beer bong a perfectly balanced meal at a chain down the street to get their lunch down in minutes. We haven’t gotten there yet but this cold soup is certainly close. An incredible combination of superfoods that’s cheap, you can make in no-time and grab quickly from your refrigerator when it’s time for work.

Gazpacho brings me right back to the “turn” playing golf midday in the summer as a high schooler… ah, screw that, most food blogs do this storytelling thing right about here in the post but I know you don’t care about me and my lifestyle so let’s get to why you should care about this. It’s time for:

THE BENEFITS OF THIS EPIC SOUP AKA WHY THIS IS A LIFEHACK:

My Complete-Meal-In-A-Cup gazpacho is low carb, slow carb and whole 30 compliant. It’s damn good and only takes about 15 minutes to make. I’m not even on any of those diets and I make it almost every month. I’ve always looked for super-light lunch solutions (mainly salads) because I’ve found that a calorie bomb midday slows me way down and I’d rather jam through my work and leave at a reasonable hour. Plus, if meetings run over or cram you out of a lunch break, gazpacho requires no re-heating and is very easy to down quickly. 

As far as pre-prepared lunches go, this one matches the Sunday preparation requirements perfectly:

  • Quick to make — a fraction of the chopping of salad prep — let a blender do that work
  • Barely any clean-up because most blenders also do that themselves
  • Gazpacho in vertical mason jarsCheap because you won’t get conned into eating out for lunch; and if you’re in college, you can get a lot of these ingredients frozen or canned and it’ll still be delicious
  • Easy to grab-and-go and it stores efficiently in the fridge all week; I keep it in these long narrow mason jars because they use a lot of the vertical space of a fridge that other tupperware won’t maximize

Having a Vitamix probably helps a lot with getting that speedy chop going plus easy clean up — you can just run it with water on high for a few mins and it’s clean.

For the record, I don’t usually post recipes on this blog but my wife said she wouldn’t buy ingredients for my recipes unless they’re on Pinterest. I think this will allow it to be “pinned” although I don’t know how Pinterest works.

INGREDIENTS

The ingredients are ALL optional. Do what tastes good.

Take a quick browse and you’ll notice this thing is healthy as all hell. Protein, veggies and fiber all in one delicious package. 

I’ve listed the ingredients in order of unusualness in order to catch the attention of people who are quickly browsing:

  • 3-4 hard boiled eggs — source of protein and gives the soup a creamier, thicker consistency
  • 1/2 cup shelled edamame — more protein; I usually get this frozen and pre-shelled from Trader Joe’s
  • 3-5 vine-ripened tomatoes (about 1 lb) — it’s OK to use canned, in fact, in some climates/seasons, those will be better
  • 1/2 a can of V8 or 4-6 ounces of tomato/vegetable juice
  • 3-4 TBSP of ground flax seed — you can hide a ton in there, thickens the soup and gets you some healthy fiber and fatty acids
  • 3-4 TBSP of red wine vinegar
  • 3-4 TBSP of EVOO (together, these are like a salad dressing)
  • 1-2 green or red bell peppers — you can also get away with these frozen in a pinch
  • 1/2-3/4 of a hothouse cucumber — no need to peel
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • Ground pepper like a madman
  • 1-2 TBSP of salt

That’ll make about a Vitamix-worth of gazpacho which translates to about 3 tall mason jars of the stuff (18 ounces each). I find that half a mason jar is a normal lunch amount for me but sometimes I have a whole jar if I’m hungry.

PREPARATION

  1. Start hard boiling your eggs using your preferred method — I use this really easy Dash Rapid device. This takes the longest so do this first and they’ll be ready when you’re done.
  2. Second, I grind up the flax seed in the Vitamix because it won’t get shredded up enough if you dump it in with everything else. When you pour it in, it won’t reach the blender teeth but when you run it on high, the breeze will suck it in and grind it to bits. Side note: If you grind up flax seed on a weekly basis, this is a good time to do it… dump the excess into a container for the fridge and leave enough in there for your gazpacho.
  3. Next, cut up all the produce. Here’s the cool part: you BARELY need to cut this stuff up. Rinse it all off and you can just cut it into big 1-2 inch square chunks. The bell pepper will need some seeding, the onion/garlic some peeling and I like to cut the top off the tomatoes, but otherwise, it can all go right into the blender with a rough chop.
  4. As you chop things up, you can toss it right into the blender to minimize clean-up. Try to get the liquid into the blender first, then the tomatoes and cucumber, then the rest… for an optimal blend.
  5. Run the blender on LOW for about 15-20 seconds. Then, taste it, make any additions (usually salt and pepper) and run again for about 15 seconds. It will taste about 3x better once cold. If you’re using a Vitamix, flip it on at 1, turn it up to 2 and let it hang there… the veggies will gradually get sucked down into the blades.
  6. Pour into individual mason jars or one big pitcher and refrigerate! You can serve it immediately if some of the ingredients were frozen because that stuff will cool down your room-temp items.

This is seriously one of the most pro moves ever. To hell with all those people who think this is just drinking salsa. It’s an unmatchable fast, easy and cheap meal with incredible nutrition… it’s the Complete-Meal-In-A-Cup Gazpacho.

Gazpacho in vertical mason jars

Marie Kondo For Your Email Inbox

Lots of folks are talking about Marie Kondo now that she has a Netflix show. I haven’t watched the show but I skimmed her book. And my clothing drawers have never been the same! I love her advice of thanking items “for their service” — gratitude is awesome.

The phrase that’s never helped me much is the “spark joy” rule. It seems to work for everyone cleaning their rooms, but not me, until now. I realized lately that it helps me enormously with defending my email inbox, instead.

My email is a private line right into my pocket so everything in there should spark joy, not dread! Does that email newsletter spark joy? Before you hand out a business card: will this person bring me joy?

It’s actually a very good test. Many email newsletters are awesome– but for me, they sometimes inspire panic to buy something or the anxiety that I’m behind on reading the news. Unsubscribe! And it’s for the opposite reason — sparking joy — that I violate the sacred rule of “inbox zero” and keep subscriptions to a few newsletters that I love.

Apple’s Rumored Hardware & Content Bundle – Maybe Content is Just for Retention?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the rumor of Apple’s hardware and content subscription bundle. The idea — whether it actually happens or not — is that they’d create a very expensive subscription of $80/month or so that bundles Apple Music, the new Apple original content, Apple Care, iCloud and a new iPhone every year. This is very much a rumor but very viable avenue posited here and by Matthew Ball at Redef.

This immediately reminds me that for years, Americans paid $100+ per month for another expensive hardware and content bundle: cable TV. I remember the salesman coming to my home and explaining to my parents what cable TV included. It was much more than TV, because before the internet, that box was your only gateway to many things. It was movies, music channels, educational programming for your kids, breaking news, live concerts and the hardware to make it all look beautiful on your only screen.

One way to frame Apple’s rumored hardware/content bundle is that they attract you with their device ecosystem (hardware) and then keep you hooked with their shows and music (content). The phone and its TV and cloud components are already a huge draw for audiences so their content can play the role of keeping users engaged there by making that ecosystem useful on a daily basis.

This got me thinking… maybe content isn’t really an effective audience awareness or acquisition tool AT ALL. Maybe, when all the cards fall, content is just the retention piece of a recurring payment business model and other elements of the bundle are what bring you in the door. This is somewhat reflected by the calculus Amazon did around their original video: it turned out that prestige TV shows like Mozart in the Jungle and Man in the High Castle weren’t such an efficient acquisition tool for Prime.

Amazon shows don't easily drive Prime memberships

Check out how this thinking might apply to other businesses. I’ll use this analogy: come for X (acquisition); stay for content (retention).

  • Apple hardware/content bundle – Come for the hardware ecosystem; stay for Oprah.
  • Amazon Prime – Come for free shipping; stay for Nicole Kidman.
  • HQ — Come for a cash prize; stay for the trivia.
  • Facebook — Come for your friends; stay for Facebook Watch.
  • And the corollary seems to also be true with failed SVODs and streaming services — there’s no acquisition component, just a bunch of originals and licensed content to retain the audience that never came.

There are probably a bunch of examples that prove this thesis wrong, chief of which are Netflix and HBO. (But you could argue that they OVER spend on content, trying to force content into becoming an acquisition tool.)

Even if it’s only a little true, it’s a helpful thought experiment: what if you had to launch a streaming service WITHOUT using content to acquire an audience? You’d have to offer real utility to your users — some other valuable product or service that would attract them to your subscription. Apple already has that part figured out: the phone, the ecosystem. And on the content side of your business, brands like Marvel, leagues like the NFL and celebrities like Oprah wouldn’t be as valuable because you already have a giant draw for new users. If your content is only playing the role of retention, it doesn’t need to hit an attention-grabbing must-see fever-pitch. It can be much less ambitious. You can spend way less than Netflix.

Why Netflix Needs a Mobile Content Strategy

Netflix is killin it and I continue to be bullish on their future. There’s one corner of the business I’m afraid they’re being just a little too pensive about: mobile.

This year, they’ve launched some of their first short-form programming and some new native portrait features in their mobile apps. But I’m afraid this won’t stop other mobile competitors — Google and Facebook — from locking them out of this critical piece of the entertainment pie. Now is the time for them to begin spending in the mobile content space and here’s how they should begin.

Why mobile is critical to Netflix

Let’s start with why Netflix should care.

There’s an obvious massive market of short form video consumption, well-proven by YouTube and Facebook. 34% of global internet video traffic is shortform. So, when Netflix says they’re competing with all forms of entertainment, this seems like an obvious adjacent area to pick up some additional engagement — whereas interactive, live and sports are much more of a moonshot.

But I think all of that frames this as a business expansion opportunity when I actually think this is a threat to Netflix’s stranglehold on the streaming market. Have a look at this graph, which explains the userflow of new subscribers to the service.

When this slide first broke, a lot of emphasis was put on the fact that after 6 months, 70% of Netflix subscribers were watching on a big TV. What stands out to me is that 10% are STILL watching on a mobile phone. Just 1 month in, more than 15% are still struggling to watch long form TV shows and movies on a tiny mobile screen. And right from the getgo, a full THIRD of Netflix’s new users start on a mobile device.

We are in a mobile world and who cares that people watch more content on their mobile phones — people TRANSACT more on their mobile phones. Enough people subscribe to Netflix straight through iOS that they’re trying to bypass Apple altogether — another sign of just how many folks sign up on mobile. Given that Netflix’s model is dependent on one giant transaction at the top of the funnel (their subscription), many more of their new customers are entering their ecosystem through mobile phones. And this user flows shows just how long it takes that mobile customer to begin finding big-screen-TV-type-value in their subscription. Were Netflix to actually provide valuable mobile content during that couple-month transition, they’d reduce churn among new users. (Still another strategy would be a freemium model of mobile-only content to lure users through the paywall when they realize the app’s value on another screen.)

What Netflix is already trying in mobile

Netflix is not completely blind to this. They’ve launched a few new short-form originals and mobile products this year. For those trying to reverse-engineer their mobile content strategy, here’s a recap of their short form content:

  • The Comedy Lineup (15 minutes) – Mini stand-up comedy specials
  • Explained (14-18 minutes) – Newsmagazine (Vox)
  • Follow This (16-18 minutes) – Newsmagazine (Buzzfeed)
  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (12-25 minute) – Celebrity interviews with Jerry Seinfeld
  • Marching Orders (12 minutes) – Docuseries
  • Cooking on High (14 minutes) – Competition reality

In the scheme of Netflix’s $6 billion content spend, I’d call this an extremely modest beginning — it’s really just a test. It’s heavy on news and unscripted, there are no filmmakers, high-value talents or standout IPs. I estimate their 2018 spend on short form around $20MM at most. To make a meaningful move into mobile, they’ll need to spend 5-10x that.

How Netflix could form a mobile content strategy

It’s clear that Netflix needs to get into the mobile content game ASAP. But how? So many short form content platforms from go90 to Watchable have flamed out because of a lack of distribution.

Broadly, I’d approach this similarly to the rest of Netflix’s business:

  1. START FAST with a mountain of inexpensive mobile content that’s easy and fast to launch.
  2. PIVOT TO PREMIUM – Use the analytics gathered from starting fast to inform a mobile Originals strategy and finance exclusive new series.

Why this two-part strategy always works is the subject of a whole other blog post. But Netflix is in a unique position to build a war chest of start-fast mobile content at a low cost-per minute without sacrificing their premium values. Step one of fast/easy/quick mobile content — pretty obvious — is licensing. Now is a fantastic time to cheaply license premium mobile content. Every mobile content studio is clamoring to work with Netflix which earns them outrageous leverage. Plus, many of them were gifted back go90 or other mobile series that they have no place to distribute. The second source of start-fast content is probably less obvious: the content they already have. Netflix outright owns a lot of their shows and by getting creative, they’ll find a new life if they’re re-cut for a shorter runtime or carefully cropped for a vertical screen.

When audiences coalesce around their start-fast mobile content, they can decide where it makes sense to pivot to premium, maintain licenses or trim back.

In sum, I think mobile is a crucial growth area for Netflix and a place they have some natural competitive advantages. They could quickly turn a source of churn into a new source of revenue and expansion. I predict they’ll make some dedicated moves in this space but it’s going to take a larger commitment to realize the potential mobile content has in Netflix’s future.