Saturday Cup of Joe: a lending and tech(ish) newsletter

Friends & Colleagues,

SCJ67. If you’ve read SCJ, then you know I’m working to rebrand the Rust Belt into the Next Belt. A new name so that every article I read doesn’t begin with the “Rust Belt” or “former Rust Belt.” Since I’ve been writing about the #NextBelt, one of my first readers, Jim Czapiga the CEO of CATIC actually found a product called NexBelt. He was kind enough to bring me one. And it’s great!

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Now if only the NextBelt project were as easy.


Challenge question: Are you the best at whatever you’re trying to do? If not, just redefine the industry (or category) so you’re the first. By default, you’ll be the best. Admittedly, I can get caught up in these high level, entrepreneurial “inspiration posts” or “motivation posts.” When I was in college, the same thing happened with movies. I saw Good Will Hunting and wanted to go on an epic journey. I saw Garden State and wanted to have a quirky adventurous night. The upside side is that inspiration helps spark creativity and provides energy, even if it is the emotional equivalent of a sugar high. The downside is it doesn’t necessarily result in action. Jeff Goins wrote an interesting post this week that I really wanted to highlight for one reason — everything’s subjective. It used to be “everything’s negotiable.” Now, it’s less about negotiating and more about setting the narrative. Goins writes unless you are the standalone best at something, just tell the story that makes you the first or sets your work apart.

As our legal interns wrap up their summer and head back to college or law school, I’ve received several requests for meetings. Inevitably the conversation turns to advice or “what did you wish you knew at my age?” Which besides making me feel old, always brings me back to the same topic. It was not until law school that I exercised or at least internalized the belief that everything is negotiable. You get to decide what you want to experience. You get to tell your story. Someone tells you that you can’t take that many credits in a particular subject — ask how you establish a new major. The rules say you can only have X number of credits of externships — ask how you request a waiver. But it’s bigger and bigger as life goes on. Rejected for a small business loan? Ask who approves exceptions or ask who their #1 competitor is and go there. Denied a promotion or raise? Ask what 3 steps or accomplishments in the next 6 months are likely to ensure your employer revisits the conversation with you. For me, the number 1 thing I’m trying to teach my daughter, Tess, is when you encounter an obstacle immediately start thinking about all the other ways to achieve your objective. No limits, no boundaries. Considering she’s only 4, I call it “We’ll Figure It Out.” As she gets older I’m hopeful it becomes ‘find another way around’ or ‘what’s a solution no one has considered before.’

This is the one thing I wish I had started practicing earlier in my career.


Speaking of my daughter, she has been doing chores in exchange for allowance over the last 2 months or so. She saw a Princess Jasmine doll that cost $9.99 at the end of Spring and asked to buy it. This set us down the road of explaining that she had to have her own money to buy and what are various ways she could earn money. She did everything from picking up trash on our block to helping her grandfather with yard work to returning the recycling at the grocery store (yeah, I know, but we get 10 cents for each returnable in Michigan and Detroit isn’t great about picking up the recycling yet). Tess earned a $1 or $2 depending and over the course of a few weeks had her $10. Well, not surprisingly, my wife had to spend 45 minutes in Target the other day while our daughter decided which doll she could get. Overall I’m not sure this process had quite the monumental lesson I was hoping for but she did recognize that the work was not easy & earning money is not easy. She also took her decision to spend the money incredibly seriously which I think is important. She settled on a replica necklace from the movie Moana complete with a glowing green rock to represent the Heart of Tafiti. She probably opened and closed that necklace 75 times between the time I got home from work and bedtime. For all you parents out there, I’d welcome any ideas or thoughts you have on money lessons — earning/saving/working — that were successful with your children.


Included below:

  1. Corporate landlords. Back again. (Of Interest)
  2. Apprenticeships available in the D. (NextBelt)
  3. Everybody is gonna be famous. (Fintech, am I right?)
  4. Rise of B-Corps (Millennial Minute)
  5. Serendipity is tough to read about (Walk the Talk)
  6. What does it really cost? (Valuable Lessons)
  7. Today’s Thought and the Quote
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Of Interest: “Sorry you lost the house to an all cash buyer.” A frustrating moment for any home shopper because potential home buyers make all kinds of assumptions about institutional buyers who may not “need” the home as much as the family who lost the bid. At the same time, I’ve written previously about more and more companies buying up single-family homes to rent out to American families that cannot own a home on their own. This week brought more such news and 2 of the largest companies in this space merged to create a stock jump for each company — Blackstone’s Invitation Homes (INVH) and Starwood Waypoint Homes — and accounts for almost 100,000 homes nationwide.

Even though certain markets like Nashville, TN have experienced success in renting out these homes, “the economics of buying recently foreclosed homes to rent out have become more challenging for Wall Street firms that seek to generate double-digit returns for investors, and for publicly traded real estate investment trusts that promise shareholders hefty quarterly dividends.”

In my view, it’s a creative business model that leverages a specific customer who either needs a few years to create the financial backstory to be approve for a mortgage or for customers who want the stability/space of a single-family home without the geographic or financial commitment of ownership. What’s more, it doesn’t seem like anyone is talking about the value of the consumer data of these renters. This is not a database of 22–35 year old professionals but its pretty close. Young families and young professionals who live in mid-sized cities and have a sense of the local market. If these companies could figure out how to leverage the data about their renters, the profitability of these entities will shift dramatically. Otherwise, the risk taken by first-time homebuyers is likely about the same as these companies are taking by renting out single-family homes in this way. Will be curious to watch how this merger and this market segment reacts to trends over the next 3–5 years.


NextBelt: One of the requirements of large development projects in Detroit is that a certain portion of the workforce employed in the construction & development project be residents of the city. The intent here is sound. At the same time I’ve heard stories about how difficult compliance can be. For instance, there are not that many union, skilled tradesmen living in the Detroit. That’s why I was excited to see the developers building the new Little Caesar’s Arena for the Red Wings & Pistons have created almost 700 apprenticeships and plan to continue to grow that number as the surrounding neighbor grows too.

I’ve written before how important apprenticeships could be going forward. Experiential learning is the future and apprenticeships are an ideal way to prepare people for future work.

Millennial Minute: Somewhere at the intersection of fintech, millennials and NextBelt is the idea that companies (and cities!) should have personalities & values. Companies from Apple to Uber to Under Armour have come under intense media pressure for the actions of their CEOs and/or the perceived values of the company. There’s a lot of interesting movement going on in several ways across the market (and the country) as I see it. First, you have the pressure from customers/users for companies to take a stand — immigration, living wage, equality, etc. A new breed of mission statement and marketing accompanies these activities or corporate choices. Second, many tech start-ups and companies in Silicon Valley have social purpose (or a purpose larger than pure profit) built into the business model. It’s becoming more and more popular to pitch the social value of the app in addition to its customer base and subscription fees. Third, traditional or old corporate forms are being challenged by new, interesting ideas and business models. Perhaps in the future we’ll be adding actual corporate types to our lexicon. That’s the topic or the very early stages, perhaps, of the topic of an article on this week. This article explores the use of B Corp in banks. Something for banks, cities and others to consider. Thought it was worth sharing.

Fintech, am I right?: There’s a great scene in an episode of West Wing where President Bartlett is talking to Sam Seaborne about Americans and taxes; Sam is questioning why there isn’t greater public support for taxing the wealthy. If I remember the scene correctly, Bartlett lets Sam in on the great deception of the American Dream — everyone believes they’ll be in the 1% someday (I’m paraphrasing). Because everyone believes they’ll be incredibly wealthy one day, voters act to protect the person of their dreams as opposed to their actual, practical self-interest. I thought of that this week when I read a blog post on Medium describing how to best issue stock when you found a startup. Seems unlikely many readers actually need this advice. However, I did find the post useful in understanding certain nuances and technical terms. Here’s the link for a plain English description of stock options and you can imagine your successful startup as you read along.


Walk the Talk: Can I just go on a tangent for a second? FirstRound published a profile of the founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian. Normally I’d highlight his experiences and lessons learned from his leadership, but I couldn’t resist writing about a story from the middle of the article about how Alexis & Reddit connected for the most influential relationship in the company’s history. To save you some time, one of his early Board advisors suggested he conduct an amateur press tour and meet some tech writers in NYC. Without even knowing how, he basically emailed 50 people and sat in a coffee shop and waited. Approximately 5 showed up and none wrote an article about Reddit. However, one author mentioned to their editor the potential in the website and the growing user base. The editor went home and mentioned it to her spouse. The editor’s spouse was responsible for business development at Conde Nast. Conde Nast not only supported in Reddit in those early days but eventually bought it making Ohanian one of tech’s biggest success stories. The amount of things that had to click into place is insane to me.

The advisor has to push Ohanian to create the press tour. Ohanian has to agree. Ohanian’s email has to reach the writer who then responds (and/or is available that day). The writer then has to mention it off-handedly to the editor who also has to find it interesting enough to mention it to their spouse. Of course, Reddit was likely to be successful in some other way if that hadn’t occurred but it did & Reddit was successful in this exact way. It can be crippling to dwell too long on these moments as you look for them in your business or in your own career. At the same time, it makes me crazy to try to figure out where I need to be versus where I should be and try to ensure that key relationships or moments occur. Obviously the answer is some balance where you are thoughtful about choices but don’t overly analyze every move to the point of paralysis. When I read great stories of companies or CEOs that almost didn’t make it or had a big break moment, I can’t help but get caught up in the drama. Luckily, I always consider it, shake it off and get back to work. And usually, as is the case here, there are other valuable lessons within the article that are worth your time. Check it out.


Quirky find of the week: Check out this home listing complete with mannequins, presumably to show how inviting the kitchen island could be.


Valuable lessons in (un)expected places: “Yeah, but what does it really cost?” Too often we don’t count the entire cost of a decision. Take a home renovation for instance. Build it right, according to code, the first time by a professional and you’ll likely pay more. Find a low price contractor, cut corners on materials, and you’ll likely pay less at first and more over time. Perhaps a lot more. I once heard this described this way: “you think a professional is expensive, try an amateur first.” I found the what-does-it-really-cost lesson on full display in an article on Medium describing why an entrepreneur found San Francisco to be a better deal than San Diego. The opportunity cost alone might have closed the gap even if the plane flights and access to investors didn’t. The bottom line is that many decisions have context and additional value beyond the simple dollars & cents. How you look at value (a.k.a ROI) can make all the difference.

Perhaps it’s not a decision-making framework that you are looking for, but a way to move from amateur to professional. It is as much an approach as anything. Farnam Street published “The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals” highlighting the mindset of growth versus being right or wisdom versus power. Perspective, confidence and results.


Today’s Thought: Relationships take time. I was talking to one of my best friends this week about how long it can take to cultivate relationships. Whether its new friends in a new town or new colleagues at work, trust is earned. Do not underestimate or mistaken building trust for a lack of community or lack of confidence. It can take up to a year for people to accept a new team member or new neighbor. This week, don’t rush trust.


Quote: “You cannot reason your way out of something you did not reason your way into.” — Tim Ferriss

Bonus Content: One website has figured out how to map cities based on AirBnB reservations. These cities, including Barcelona, show the rate of AirBnB rentals and tend to show where tourists target for visits. Interesting data sources and possible new analysis as a result.

Continued success,

Written by

Thinker, curious leader, once an attorney…always trying to answer well.

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