Author Archives: admin

Personal

The Time Adam Vaughan Pressured Me To Change a Torontoist Post

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.28.28 AM

In September of 2007, Toronto’s most interesting temporary nightclub, CiRCA, was about to open. Exiled New York City club king Peter Gatien of Party Monster fame granted me an interview about the entertainment facility; I was thrilled. The club had faced years of delays, mostly regulatory, led by an alliance between the AGCO and Adam Vaughan. Vaughan was the local councillor in the ward, and one of his raison d’êtres was putting a cap on the number of nightclubs in Toronto’s Entertainment District, something about which we frequently sparred in public forums.

I faithfully transcribed my interview with Peter Gatien in the Torontoist post and I was very happy with it. It gave a glimpse into an amazing project many people thought was going to be just another mega-club on Richmond Street, when it was so much more. Not everybody was happy with the post, though.

A day after I posted it, my phone rang. It was Adam Vaughan and he was pissed. Apoplectic even. His objection was the following line in the post, specifically the second clause:

My guess is it’s probably some special interest like real estate developers, my guess is their contributions to campaigns have influenced politicians who might want to help companies develop in the area. -Peter Gatien

He yelled at me for roughly twenty minutes, saying the post was libelous. I objected, saying I had only transcribed another person’s words, and he said I knew nothing of the laws of Canada because I was a “foreigner.” He said that Torontoist could be sued, I could be sued, and I should know better than to insinuate that he took money from developers and that they were affecting his judgment on the local nightlife issue. He brought up his decades-long journalism credentials, as well as his campaign promise not to accept developer money. He was furious.

What I did next was definitely the wrong move: I changed the post without asking my editor David Topping. Adam had given 20 year-old me a good scare, and he convinced me that I was somehow guilty of libel. I removed the line that says, “my guess is their contributions to campaigns have influenced politicians who might want to help companies develop in the area,” and replaced it with a line I had edited out for brevity: “To the condo developers, this area is still pretty cheap.”

For the record, I know Adam Vaughan never accepted developer money for his campaigns. He made a point of this and published a list of his contributors; no developers were on the list.

This story is one of three times Adam and I publicly faced off; the other notable one was when he called me “a tough little 20 year-old” for challenging his infamous “mess of drugs and graffiti” video that he eventually pulled from his first campaign website.

Read More
Entrepreneurship

Thinking of doing a startup? Try Airbnb first

They say there is no “school” for startups, and that no matter how many blog posts or Paul Graham essays you read, you can only learn how to do a startup by experience. I disagree – if you want to see if you’re well-suited to running a startup, set up a profitable Airbnb first.
 
Airbnb? Startup? What does one have to do with the other, you ask?
 
By running an Airbnb, you will learn the following skills: assessing markets, hiring people you trust, customer service, cutting costs, growing revenue, legal compliance, copywriting, contract law, and hustling hard. If you are doing an Airbnb in New York, for example, you will have to aggressively negotiate with everyone from your landlord to shady contractors to mattress wholesalers.
 
It doesn’t necessarily need to be your own apartment; in fact, it’s better if it’s not. Rent an entirely separate apartment and treat it like a business. Incorporate a legal entity (for tax purposes) and track your revenue and expenses. Hire somebody to clean it between stays or do that part yourself. Learn how to systematize guest checkin (Keycafe or a Master Lock Key Box) and how to deal with guest complaints. Rent multiple rooms or Entire Apartment rentals. You will learn a ton about business.
 
The major upside of Airbnb is that it is not nearly as hard as a startup, and won’t take much time after it’s set up. Airbnb is growing rapidly, and as long as you’ve chosen your location correctly, you will become profitable in two or three months. There is a big safety net, the tools are already built out, and you should be able to afford the startup costs with your own money or the help of a relative. If you can’t make money off Airbnb, you have no business running a startup.
 
And here’s the thing: after running a successful Airbnb, you may realize, “Hey, this is pretty sweet” and not want to run a startup. You may actually be more suited to running a lifestyle business, which is a great gig if you’re cut out for it. Quit dreaming of raising capital and read The Four Hour Work Week and subscribe to the AppSumo mailing list instead. If all you’re dreaming of is “being your own boss” and generating a recurring monthly revenue that frees you up to do the things you love, DON’T DO A STARTUP.
 
However, if you decide that yes, you will still commit yourself to quitting your job, building a product, raising money and everything else, keep the Airbnb – you’ll need it when you’re broke. If you don’t think you could go broke running a startup, you almost certainly will at some point. The Airbnb money will increase your “personal runway,” meaning even when times are really tough and you’re living off ramen and sleeping on couches because raising money has taken a lot longer than you thought it would, you will have an advantage over other startup guys in your situation. Hell, you may even be able to make a pretty normal American salary on Airbnb in just your spare time, and be able to test out a few different ideas for your startup instead of saying, “This one has to work.”
 
So before you decide to double down on a single startup idea and risk it all, see if you’re really cut out for it, and give yourself a safety net, by trying out Airbnb first.

 

Read More