Max Gladwell

Entreprenurship and Adventure Sports

Max Gladwell header image 1

Snapchat is Crossing the Proverbial Chasm

April 21st, 2016 by Max Gladwell· 1 Comment

As Snapchat goes mainstream, we simultaneously enter a new era in the smartphone revolution

That sound you’ve been hearing in the background but couldn’t quite place it? It’s the sound of Snapchat crossing the chasm. It’s the siren song of the next big thing in media, entertainment, and communications. The early majority is showing up. Snapchat is going mainstream. Here’s what you need to know if you’re a brand, entrepreneur, or just over the age of 30.


What is Snapchat? Many know it as “that sexting app.” In other words, Snapchat offers ephemeral messaging, where risqué or embarrassing photos disappear. It’s true that this is how Snapchat started. It struck a chord at the right time with the right audience, enabling the app to quickly establish critical mass among innovators and early adopters. Disappearing messages was the killer feature. But Snapchat has evolved past this and now finds itself in a position to disrupt the entire media world.

Looking back, I see similarities with the “social-local-mobile” revolution of the past six or seven years, which was inconveniently labeled SoLoMo for short. Indeed, the mainstreaming of Snapchat really marks an end to this era and the start of a new one.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 1.33.09 PM

In 2011, just after closing the seed round for MomentFeed, I wrote The SoLoMo Manifesto, a tongue-in-cheek eBook about the unification of these trends and technologies. At the time, few agreed about how profound the change would be…that smartphones would go from the third to the first screen, that we’d rely on these devices for so much of our daily lives, that mobile was not a channel but a lifestyle, that consumer “moments” would be at the core of the smartphone experience, and that brands needed to take a holistic approach to mobile or risk irrelevance. By and large, this has all happened.

Facebook successfully pivoted to become a mobile company. Google’s transition to mobile was cemented by Android, the Maps and YouTube apps, and its dominance of local search. And Instagram became the most important media brand to emerge from this era. Today, these are the only companies that really matter on mobile. They account for eight out of 10 of the top mobile apps in the world.  But Snapchat is on the rise.

A year before I wrote the manifesto, I penned a blog post about what it will mean to be “smartphone native.” In 2010, modern smartphones had only been around for a few years. We were all immigrants to this technology. We used familiar frames like “social, local, and mobile” to understand and adapt to it. We learned to swipe. We marveled at location awareness, checking-in to places, and sharing contextual moments with friends. It was so new, and we were so young. But what about people who were born into the smartphone revolution, who didn’t know a world without them? How would taking this for granted change the experience? Snapchat is a platform — perhaps the first — built for smartphone natives. Just as smartphones ushered in the post-PC era, Snapchat could be the start of a post-SoLoMo era.

In the SoLoMo era (2007 – 2016), we needed the technical designations. We needed to categorize what was social, local, and/or mobile. In the Snapchat era, though, it’s all implied. It just is.


Snapchat can only be accessed on mobile. It’s a social app on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis. You can add Geo Filters to photos and videos based on your location and consume media from your local area in real time. And yet it’s so much more. The whole is truly greater than the sum its parts, and it’s most obvious in the user interface (UI).

If you want a beginner’s guide to Snapchat, venture capitalist and prolific blogger Mark Suster wrote an excellent post for old folks (like me and probably you). He speculates about why the UI is the way it is: “The starting screen every time is the camera. This is the dog whistle. It’s the frequency designed to keep old people out and keep the product cool and hip for young people.” This is an old folks excuse. Snapchat’s UI was not deliberately designed to keep old people out. It’s a progression in mobile UI that non-smartphone natives just don’t get. The best way to illustrate this is through the evolution of music.

Rock ‘n’ roll, punk rock, rap, new wave, EDM. These were not created to keep old people out. These ground-breaking musical genres represented artistic progress. Each drew inspiration from what came before, but they were entirely new and fresh, often fueled by new technology. Naturally, they appealed to people with open minds, who were predisposed to new things (what it means to be young). The oldies, naturally, have an allergic reaction to anything that alters or breaks their frame (what it means to be old). And this is what’s happened with Snapchat. The oldies don’t get it, but that’s because they’re too attached to the SoLoMo era of UI design.

The Snapchat UI is designed for smartphone natives. It opens to the camera. The navigation is entirely swipe based…swipe up, swipe down, swipe left or right. And there is a complete absence of menus and explanation. Smartphones are nothing if not intuitive, thanks to Steve Jobs, and Snapchat takes this to the extreme. Use it enough and you’ll figure it out. In fact, the UI is having such an impact that it’s being replicated in other apps.

TasteMade is one of the media companies with a channel in Snapchat’s Discover area. It’s a daily dose of snap-sized content for foodies, entirely programmed by TasteMade as if it was programming a TV network. So the company is uniquely familiar with the UI and how people use Snapchat. When TasteMade expanded into the travel vertical with an app called Facet, it borrowed liberally from the Snapchat experience. This is validation and a sign of how mainstream vertical video and the UI is becoming.


If you’re a brand, you should establish your Snapchat presence ASAP. The username land grab is already happening, so you may have to be flexible. Consider the medium and the audience, and start posting relevant Stories. If you’re an entrepreneur, start thinking about the forthcoming Snapchat ecosystem. Many believe it’s the next Facebook, so use that for historical reference.

And be sure to add me on Snapchat:

How to Win an Oscar on YouTube

March 28th, 2016 by Max Gladwell· No Comments

Or, how Shareability cracked the code on viral brand videos

Shareability is a new type of media company. So new and innovative that The Chernin Group, lead by media titan Peter Chernin, recently invested in the Los Angeles-based startup. As you might expect, the financing story was covered in the entertainment press, including Variety and The Wrap. Shareability was described as a “viral-video studio” and “branded video maker.” Both are accurate. However, these characterizations miss the true magic of what Shareability has built. In order to fully appreciate it, you have to know the genesis story.

Shareability was founded by Hollywood agent Nicholas Reed and Tim Staples, who spent a career in the agency world. A few years ago, Reed decided to produce a documentary passion project. The subject was the oldest living Holocaust survivor, Alice Sommer. The story is both inspiring and humbling, the type of story you want to share. But when Reed attempted to sell the film to the typical Hollywood buyers, he “couldn’t give it away.” No one wanted to distribute it.

In search of an audience for the film, Reed and Staples found their way to a group of twenty-somethings in Provo, Utah, who were masters of YouTube — masters of both the content and how to get it distributed. Reed worked with them to cut a preview and generate some online buzz for the film. That clip generated more than million organic views. Which lead to an Oscar nomination.

[

Weapons of Sight: The Best Bike Lights of 2016

March 25th, 2016 by Max Gladwell· No Comments

As motorists become more and more distracted while driving, cyclists have to become more and more visible at all times of day.

Annoyingly visible. That’s my goal with bike lights. Because if people are asking, “WTF?” when they drive past me, I know I’m being seen. And that’s at least half the battle in not getting run over. Below are the latest and greatest bike lights aka “Weapons of Sight” for 2016.

Specialized Flux Expert ($275): The Flux is the double-barrel shotgun of bike lights. It provides maximum coverage with a bright, 180-degree beam that is visible from 1/3 of a mile away. With an output range of 400 to 1,200 lumens, it can be blindingly effective. What I like most, though, is the mounting mechanism. It provides huge vertical range, such that you can position the light below a computer mount or just below the bar for a superior aesthetic. And it detaches with a single button for recharging. Designers of bike lights should be thinking about seamless integrations like this. It feels like it’s part of the bike. This is my light of choice for bike commuting.


NiteRider Lumina OLED 800 ($170): This is the assault rifle of bike lights. It provides a powerful 800 lumen beam in a very tight package. New for this year is an interface that lets you know which of the various modes you’re in — steady, flash, pulse, SOS — with corresponding battery life. The way I use this light is to mount it under a Garmin computer with an aftermarket adapter. It’s not ideal, as I have to feel around for the controls to change modes, but it’s something you get used to. So this is the light I use for everyday road riding.


Light & Motion Urban 800 FC Barfly SLI Combo ($180): This is the sidearm of bike lights. It’s powerful yet light and maneuverable. The killer features are found more in the mounts. This combo includes a Garmin computer mount with a GoPro-style attachment. It just makes it so simple and easy to attach. I use this as a helmet-mounted mountain bike light, since I already have the GoPro mounts installed on my helmets. It’s like a universal adapter.

[

Project Ski Family: Park City, Utah

January 15th, 2016 by Max Gladwell· Comments Off on Project Ski Family: Park City, Utah

Park City Ski Resort connects with The Canyons in a $50-million upgrade that makes it the largest ski resort in the United States. And it’s the next stop on Project Ski Family.

Video Editing by VidMob

On the path to becoming a ski family, all roads lead to Park City, Utah. Quite literally, it’s the most accessible resort destination in North America. For my Southern California family, it’s only a two-hour flight from Los Angeles followed by a 30-minute drive from Salt Lake City International airport. In other words, you can board a 6am flight at LAX and hit the slopes of Park City by 11:30am. And with a new eight-passenger gondola that connects Park City to Canyons, you can access 300 trails and 7,300 skiable acres of terrain in one resort. This makes it the largest single resort in the United States while maintaining the same renowned snow that’s made Utah a mandatory destination for powder skiers.

Destination: Choosing Park City as a Project Ski Family destination is no coincidence. In addition to its accessibility, the Canyons Village area of the resort is seemingly designed to serve young families. When you have two kids, five and eight years old, in their first year of skiing, you really need to optimize for proximity and convenience. Otherwise, it’s possible they’ll remember the inconvenience of getting to and from the skiing as opposed to the skiing itself. With the Canyons Village area of Park City, you can catch a shuttle from the airport and scarcely need any further transportation during your stay.


Accommodations: There are several hotels and condos in Canyons Village. Each is a short walk to the Red Pine Gondola and Orange Bubble Express lift. We stayed at the Sundial Lodge, which offers condos with full kitchens. The best units have balconies that face the “Ski Beach,” as it’s called, which hosts daily après-ski parties with live music. The resort features two hot tub options (always a big hit with kids). We found that the ground-level facility with a heated pool was best for families as opposed to the rooftop location. There is a complimentary ski valet just next to the lifts, so you just about eliminate the need to schlep ski gear–a huge benefit with kids in tow. [Read more →]

Project Ski Family: Mammoth Mountain

November 12th, 2015 by Max Gladwell· No Comments

Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort is the first stop on our quest to become a skiing family.

A major milestone for Project Skiing Family: Riding Discovery Chair together

You can teach your kids to ski, exposing them to the sport through the occasional ski vacation. Or you can commit to becoming a skiing family. These are fundamentally different propositions. One of my missions as a parent is to achieve the latter.

Becoming a skiing family is as much about your family identity as the activity itself. To become a skiing family is to establish certain preferences and priorities. There are only so many weekends in a given ski season and only so many vacations in a given year. Children can only participate in so many sports. The skiing family views all of this through a snow-frosted lens.

As of this writing, my kids, Charlotte and Georgia, are 5 and 8 years old respectively. And while my motivations are partly selfish, to be sure, becoming a skiing family is truly about them. Unlike most other sports they’ll pursue — soccer, gymnastics, and volleyball to name a few — skiing is something they’ll do for a lifetime. It’s something they’ll pass on to their children. Because skiing is uniquely tied to Nature. It’s about the mountains and the elements and the winter season. It’s about the physical and mental challenge of performing in this environment. It’s about the social experience, on and off the slopes. But young children don’t fully grok all of this, which is why parents that want to become skiing families need to be deliberate. Success is not guaranteed.

The immediate goal is for your kids to love skiing — to love the activity. It’s not enough to merely like it because there is so much else competing for their attention and desire. What’s more, there are plenty of ways for them to have bad experiences. In order for kids to love skiing, they need to be comfortable. This means having the right equipment. You can’t have fun if you’re not warm and dry. It also means strategic planning i.e. where to stay, how to get there, ski conditions, and the overall process. Kids need to progress quickly and become proficient such that (a) it’s fun to do and (b) they want to get better.

We’ve been on the path to becoming a skiing family for the past two seasons. We live in Los Angeles, which makes it more challenging than places like Denver or Salt Lake City. But it also encourages broader exploration of the skiing universe. The first stop on our mission was relatively close to home — Southern California’s premier ski resort, Mammoth Mountain.

View of Mammoth’s volcanic peak with Chair 2 in the foreground

Destination: Mammoth Mountain ranked fourth in last season’s “Top 10 Ski Resorts in North America” for its great terrain and reliable snowfall. The latter has been challenging in recent years due to California’s epic drought. And though we’re hopeful El Niño shows up with 500-plus inches this season, my kids didn’t know any different. It’s not like they were seeking powder days. And thanks to Mammoth’s expansive, top-to-bottom snowmaking and high elevation, the conditions for learning were about as favorable as one could hope for. One of the best qualities of Mammoth: if it’s not snowing, it’s warm and sunny.

View from the Mammoth Mountain Inn

Accommodations: The most convenient lodging is found in the Village at Mammoth, where shops, restaurants, and the Village Gondola are just a short walk from the condos. However, in optimizing for ski-school access, we chose to stay at the Mammoth Mountain Inn. Adjacent to the Main Lodge and Panorama Gondola at 9,000 feet, many of the rooms offer panoramic views of the mountain, complete with the ski school in the foreground. Yes, it’s that close. This minimizes the distance kids need to walk in ski boots. As a basecamp, the Inn is ideal in that you can drop the kids at ski school, take the gondola right up to the peak, and do big laps with periodic check-ins (and photo ops) during the course of an otherwise superb day of adult skiing. And for younger kids, the daycare facility is located on the ground level.

2015-01-02 15.47.15
Mammoth’s mascot, Woolly, is a big hit with the kids. He’s often found skiing on the beginner slopes.

Ski School: We’ve progressed through the Pioneers (ages 3-4) and Explorers (ages 5-7). We’re now on the verge of Adventurers (ages 8-12). Packages include rental gear and lift tickets. Ideally, you want to pick up gear and tickets the night before to avoid the morning mayhem. You’ll also want to book ahead, which require heights, weights, and shoe sizes. The Pioneers do a half day of skiing followed by lunch and a few hours of daycare. Explorers and Adventurers ski the whole day with a break for lunch, which is included. The groups tend to be three or four kids per instructor, but we had a couple semi-private lessons when other kids dropped out. You’ll get a report card at the end of each lesson that tracks mastery of key skills. If you’re doing a multi-day trip, these will help to get the most of each lesson because the instructor will know where to start each successive lesson. A full-day group lesson with rental and lift ticket costs $215, and there are price breaks for consecutive days.


Dining: The Mammoth Mountain Inn offers a free shuttle to and from the Village, which is the next best thing to staying there because you still avoid driving. This gives you access to the best restaurants in town. And in my family’s opinion, Campo is the best of the best. The rustic Italian dining experience from renowned chef Mark Estee is derived from a host of local sources along the 395 corridor, from Bishop to Big Pine, Mammoth Lakes, and Reno. In particular, the meatballs and wood-fired pizzas are exceptional.

Local Knowledge: The Mammoth Mountain Inn also offers strategic access to The Yodler Restaurant & Bar for lunch and après skiing. It’s so close to ski school that you can actually watch your kids take lessons from the sun deck, drink in hand.

Travel: From Los Angeles, Mammoth is a five-hour drive. It doesn’t sound easy, but the Eastern Sierra scenery helps it to fly by for adults. iPads are critical for the kids, who will still ask, “Are we there yet?” at least a couple times per hour. It’s also possible to fly to Mammoth by way of LAX, SFO, SAN, and DEN on Alaska Air and United.

News: Mammoth was the first major resort in North America to open on November 5th for the 2015/2016 season with 33 inches having fallen this month.