Jared’s Austin Guide

I wrote this for my friend Kat who is visiting Austin with her family. My guide is just a brief glimpse into a city with lots of depth; If you’re reading, I hope my guide enhances your experience of wonderfully weird Austin.

Want to Play Outside? 

  • Spend a day outside at Barton Springs and Zilkr Park
  • Kayak/Paddleboard on LadyBird Lake. Run around the lake if you’re baller!
  • Play par 3 golf at Butler Park Pitch & Putt (near auditorium shores/LadyBird Lake).
  • Watch the bats come out from under the bridge.
  • Visit the Capital. Made of a red stone native to Texas (from Marble Falls I believe) and financed by bartering Austin soil to northerners, the capital is beautiful to behold and full of history. Go on a tour :)

You want BBQ??!

  • Franklin’s BBQ, considered the best in the west.
  • If you want “all you can eat” with a sprinkling of redneck, go to the Salt Lick
  • I ate a lot of free BBQ from Ironworks BBQ during SXSW, it’s also very good.

You also want Tacos!

  • Rosita’s: receives the Jerry award for most authentic. Try the al pastor with the home made tortilla. Make sure you get lots of green sauce. The barbacoa and azada are also tasty. Tastiest tacos in Austin and oddly, the cheapest.
  • Taco Deli: Jerry award for most popular amongst the gringos. Expensive, hip and lots of variety.
  •  Izzoz: Jerry award for gourmet but simple. Try the Padre, the Slow Rider and the Bowman. Good God! The Fried avocado also rocks. Love this place. If you go, try Gourdough’s (next to Izzoz) afterwards :)
  • Torches: ties Taco Deli for Jerry’s “gringo taco award”. I saw many Austinites order the Trailer Park (fried chicken and green chili) extra “trashy” (extra cheese). Any taco with copious amounts of cheese, queso or sour cream is a “gringo taco” (I should write a blog post on taco types). Overall, Torches has solid Tex Mex tacos. Give them a try.

Want Coffee?

  • The best coffee in Austin… kind of a tie between Medici and Houndstooth. If you go to Medici, go to the downtown location with the island barrista bar.
  • I list other great coffee shops in my Austin coffee shop breakdown.

See a Movie?

See a contemporary or old school movie at the Alamo Drafthouse.

See an indy movie at the  Violet Crown. Reserve seats in advance for the comfy and badass front row :) You’ll see.

Want to Go Out?

Let me preface this with the fact that I didn’t possess much disposable income in Austin. As a frugal bootstrapper, I don’t spend money on large quantities of drinkey drink. I’ve learned to relax, laugh and have fun without alcohol :) However… Austin does have some awesome places to go out. Here are a couple that I remember:

  • Rainey Street. Take a bunch of broken down historic houses, renovate them, turn them into bars and you have Rainey Street! It’s a little dirty, a wee bit hipster and a lot of fun. Check out Garage MaHal for some Indian food in this area of town too. I like Rainey a bit more than “dirty 6th”.
  • The Gingerman, an awesome pub with a great selection of craft brews on tap (if you’re into that). Beer fanatics this is your Austin spot.
  • Halcyon, known for their espresso cocktails. Also a solid coffee shop
  • 6th Street (i.e. Dirty 6th). Crazy. Lots of students and weird people going out and tearing it up. Embrace the weird.

Need a Haircut? I’m pretty random right?

Bird’s. Get your hair cut/hair styled  at Bird’s. An Austinite favorite. Grungy, classic video games (Pac Man? hell yes), colorful conversation w barbers and they serve you a Shiner beer or bottle of water.

A note on Austin slang

  • San Jacinto St., pronounced “San Jack”. 
  • Guadalupe St., prounounced “Guaddaloop”.
  • Guadalupe near campus, called “the drag”.
  • Dirty 6th, Sixth Street. Where people go out! It gets craaazzzaaay! Connor and I lived on 8th and Brazos during our first 2 months so dirty 6 was always two streets over. Enjoy the madness.
  • There’s other slang, let me know what you hear.

Was Epinions Successful?

Depends on what you mean by success. 
Success for the founders, investors, acquirers, for the current users? Let’s take a look.

Survived the Bubble
Like many tech comnpanies, Epinions ran into major trouble when the .com bubble burst. They survived the crash by adding a referral revenue model instead of relying solely on ads. http://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/17966.html 

Acquired (High Five!)
Epinions went on to be acquired by Shopping.com in 2003. Then Ebay acquired Shopping.com in 2005 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epinions)

Epinions Darkside
Happy fairy tale tech startup ending right? Not so much. 

Breaking Sillicon Valley precedent, 3 of the 5 Epinions founders sued their investors. To learn more about the suit, check out Ravikant v. Tolia by Eric Goldman: http://blog.ericgoldman.org/personal/archives/2005/02/ravikant_v_toli.html

Other sources on the case:

Epinions ended up settling with the founders and former employees who sued, providing closure and setting new precedent: http://venturebeat.com/2005/12/09/epinions-settlement-a-black-eye-to-vcs/
Money was doled out to satisfy the former founders and employees who sued (not sure how much).

Epinions Today
Judging by contemporary web app standards, Epinions isn’t very good. Personally, I wouldn’t use it. Here’s some comical ranting by a die hard Yelper who dislikes Epinions:  http://www.yelp.com/topic/san-francisco-rant-epinions-sucks

Epinions’ 2 million monthly page views pales in comparison to Yelp’s 20+ million monthly views. But 2 million is nothing to scoff at; they are hanging in there.

Short term, yes. Long term, not really.

*I wrote this post while answering the following Quora question: How Successful is Epinions?

My Oakland Crib


Rally.org, Discoveries in Online Fundraising

While browsing the interwebs for a scholarship ticket to Netroots Nation, I stumbled upon Rally’s Raise the Future Competition which gave contestants the opportunity to use the Rally fundraising platform to win a VIP ticket to the conference. Here’s how it worked: The top 10 fundraisers with the most donors win a ticket.

*Note* Most donors, not the most donations… Rally is obviously trying to acquire more users and spread awareness.

I had a couple weeks before the fundraising competition deadline so I figured I’d give it a shot. Along the way I learned some lessons in online fundraising and won a scholarship ticket to Netroots Nation. I ended up raising over $400 in 4 hours (20 minutes per day for 12 days) for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) using Rally. Here’s what I learned: 

Step 1: Hit your “Tight Knit” Network,

By “tight knit”, I’m referring to close friends and family. I don’t think it’s smart to begin a fundraising campaign by targeting strangers you follow on Twitter or designers you admire on Dribble. If they aren’t close friends or family, don’t contact them for a donation… yet. Not yet.

You want your Rally page to show activity, to have a life of it’s own and if possible, to be entertaining. Friends and family start the forward momentum of your fundraiser. Acquaitenances and strangers will be more likely to donate if they are joining a cause or movement with activity and momentum.

Quick Aside: When Contacting Friends and Family…

  • Send a personalized email or Facebook message.
  • Explain the cause you are raising money for.
  • Explain why the cause is important to you and why it’s important to your friends/family
  • In your email, include a call to action to your Rally fundraising page (a url or button if you are using one of those fancy email templates).
  • Ask friends/family to invite their network to donate
  • Follow up. These are your friends and family! Have manners, show your appreciation, call them and thank them.

You may find it helpful to give a quick call to your potential donor ahead of time, explaining that you are about to send an email their way with a link to your Rally page and that you are not spamming. I received a few calls from older family members asking if my Rally fundraising page was legit.

Grams: “Jerry, am I going to get a virus? Jerry is this one of those Nigerian scams?”

By calling ahead I could have put Grams’s identity theft and virus worries to rest.” *note* All old people will call you Jerry if your name is Jared. It’s a natural law or something.

Jared: “Nope Grams, this is just a cause that I’m raising money for and that I believe in. I need your help. Please donate on the internets and invite your friends.”

Step 2. Mass Message Your Network & Create More Content

Once you have some momentum on your Rally page, it’s time to mass message the rest of your network. When composing your email, remember to concisely describe your cause, ask for their donation and include a call to action to your Rally page. 

Keep updating your Rally page with relevant posts, and links to external but related articles. Constantly thank your donors.

Step 3: Reach Out to Strangers with Social Media

After you’ve hit your entire network, reach out on Facebook and Twitter to users and organizations that might be interested in your cause. Getting retweeted by large non-profits and thought leaders in your space will spread the word about your Rally page.

Effectiveness of this strategy varies. Sometimes it can be difficult to get through the social media noise and to build rapport with people and organizations that you have no connections to. However, you are much more likely to get their attention if your Rally page has activity and momentum. If you have one donation and one post, they won’t take you seriously. 20 donations and a dozen posts in the past couple days? They might listen. They might even lead by example and donate. 

Step 4: Reward Your Donors

It’s important to show appreciation with a thank you. It’s also important to go beyond a thank you to reward your donors in another way (get creative). I’ve listed common-sense ways to say thank you and also a way to digitally reward your donors (meme style).

Saying Thanks: 

  • Acknowledge your donor with a sincere thank you on your Rally page.
  • A follow up personal email or personal facebook message is a good idea as it gives a personal touch. This is also a great opportunity to ask for additional support by asking your donor to invite their network or by asking them to become a "fan fundraiser" for your Rally Page.
  • Tweet your thanks. It’s a great way to simultaneously promote your cause and give your donor some exposure on Twitter.

Digital Rewards:

Connor, my co-founder, suggested that I further reward my top donors by finding animal pics and photoshopping them to be animal memes. In the spirit of I Can Has Cheezeburger, I looked online for photos of wildlife, fired up Photoshop and created personalized thank you’s for the top donors. Several of my donors loved the animal meme’s so much that they showed their friends and family which resulted in further donations.

Here are my 3 favorite animal meme’s from my NWF Rally Page:




Wrap Up

I enjoyed using Rally’s fundraising platform to help the National Wildlife Federation and I’m thankful for winning the scholarship ticket to Netroots Nation. Below is a quick recap on my lessons learned in Online Fundraising: 

I.  Timing is important.

With zero momentum, you start by contacting friends and family; with a bit of momentum, you contact your acquaintances; when your Rally page has energy, you reach out to complete strangers on line. 

2. Go Beyond a Simple Thank You

Creatively rewarding donors is fun and results in more donations. I took the animal meme approach and my donors loved it. This may not be applicable for all campaigns, but I’m curious as to how other Rally users have rewarded their donors. Please share.

3. What Rally is for Me

For me, Rally enables people to fundraise for a cause and reach the maximum number of people online and raise the maximum of funds in minimal time. You don’t have to make fundraising your full time job to further a cause you believe in. A few hours a week should be enough if you’re smart in your execution. I didn’t invest much time in my fundraising campaign; I was able to raise over $400 in approximately four hours. Without Rally as a fundraising framework, I wouldn’t have been nearly as efficient in my fundraising efforts. I’m curious as to how other people have raised money efficiently using Rally; please share your techniques.

That about wraps it up. Thanks for reading.

Favorite Education Startups

Startups are innovating new education models which may eventually replace traditional schools (fingers crossed). Here’s a few of my favorite education startups: 





Code School



Roosevelt, the Man in the Arena

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

An excerpt from Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910 

Falafel Ball

During undergrad, I worked at a middle eastern restaurant situated in a very southern but pleasantly progressive college town. 

I was a cashier, but a more accurate description is “jack of all trades”. Work duties extended beyond the norm of taking orders, collecting payment and counting out exact change. Cashiering was interesting. Cashiering meant doing whatever it takes.

My normal duties included running food, bussing tables and cleaning up the food spillage that littered the floor like shrapnel. When the line cooks were busy, I assisted them by crafting falafel balls, stocking their stations with fresh veggies and refilling their condiment bottles with harissa hot sauce, smooth Tahini and cucumber cool Taziki. 

Without fail, something out of the ordinary would occur every week.

I remember a particular day in early May, just a few weeks before final exams. The day was sunny but the recent rain made the air dense, like a warm wet blanket. The air smelled of turtles - churned soil, pond water and algae.

My 92nd food delivery was to an old couple, weekend regulars, of about 92 years of age. I figured they were poor, probably just getting by on their social security checks. They always wore the same khaki pants that smelled of mothballs.

Surprisingly spry, the old couple made frequent visits to the condiment bar, hoarding feta cheese, olives and pickles. Diligently packing and sealing dozens of small plastic condiment cups, they were planning ahead, saving a snack stockpile until their return visit next week. An ingrained habit, probably a remnant from their experience growing up during the Great Depression…

I once gave this old Bonnie and Clyde free dessert. I smiled at them and said “great to see you ole rascals again, try these geriatric delights!”

I meant Turkish delights, but they bobbed their heads up and down and didn’t notice my slip of tongue.

They chewed the gummy treats for what seemed like hours. Afterwards, they took out their fake teeth and soaked them in their water glasses to remove the leftover sugary residue. I never gave them free dessert again.

As I went outside to the Florentine street seating and placed chicken shawerma hummus platters on the old couple’s table I heard a shrill voice behind me, “Oh my gawd, oh my gawd he’s choking!”

Behind me wiggled a panicky mother with frizzy red hair that flapped in the breeze. She was doing a little dance, like a tribal rain dance, around her son who was grasping his throat and struggling for air.

She gripped the boys shoulders and began shaking him back and forth. “Call 911!” she said.

The attention of Franklin Street focused on the choking boy. 

Clickety, clack, beep, bop and pop went the cell phones. People Googling what to do, others texting, some calling 911. The old couple continued eating, unaware of the commotion.

I grabbed the woman’s hands, stopping her from shaking the boy and said “Ma’am I don’t think there’s time for an ambulance. He’s choking and somebody needs to give him the heimlich.”

I straightened up and addressed the crowd, “Can someone give this boy the heimlich? Any doctors in the house?” No one volunteered. People looked around at each other or typed furiously on their cell phones.

 The boy’s face began turning blue.

"Ma’am, will you give me permission to heimlich your son?" She nodded her head up and down.

"And will you agree not to sue me if I screw up?"

"Yes, okay. I agree," she said.

I squatted down behind the boy and eased him out of his chair. I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed up and into his abdomen in a pumping  motion. On the fourth pump the boy’s food shot out of his mouth and smacked his mother in the forehead. The soggy falafel ball fell to the table, one of the ones I’d made earlier when the cooks were busy.

The crowd started clapping.

The mom hugged her boy while the boy hugged me.

The old couple began removing their teeth again…

I grinned.

Just another day cashiering. Making people happy by doing what needs to be done. Whatever it takes.