Rochelle’s Latest Venture – A TransContinental Tour

I want to share some very exciting news with you!

On Sunday, May 20, my husband, Geoff, and I will be leaving for a 3-4 month trip across Canada and the Northern USA. Geoff is bicycling across the country! Yes, ALL the way to St. John’s, Newfoundland – over 8,000 km from Vancouver, BC (for my US family/friends = 5,000 miles!) :-) This has been something Geoff has wanted to do his entire life and we decided there’s no better time to do it than now.

VanGo - Our (T)rusty Touring VanI will be driving the support/chase VW camper van, affectionately called “VanGo – Our (T)rusty Touring Van”. (The intentionally misspelled, “catchy” name is both aspirational (since the van is OLD, from 1984, and we’re hoping it “goes” the entire trip) and a gentle nod to our business activities (more below).

If you’re interested in following our progress, you can do so at either GeoffsTour.com or www.facebook.com/GeoffsTour. Geoff and I are very excited about our trip and also a bit anxious since we’re not quite sure how this will all pan out. That said, VanGo is completely decked out with a bunch of technology tools and gadgets (as well as a beefed-up electrical system to support it). This will allow both of us to work as usual while on the road and for those of you who know our uber-techie lifestyle, this should come as no surprise. :-)

In terms of work, you may have read, I left BookRiff in March and Geoff and I have decided to focus on a “side” business we launched almost 7 years ago that has steadily grown, based completely on word-of-mouth. It’s called ArtSites.ca and is a very simple, inexpensive website-building platform that allows visual artists to create and manage their own websites. We already have a good-size community and we thought this trip would be a great way (1) to breathe some new life and energy into the business, as well as (2) to meet up with several of our artists and artist communities as we drive across the country (hence the name “VanGo”) :-)

Over the summer, both Geoff and I will be focusing on further developing and updating ArtSites and if you want, you can help us by:

  • Recommending ArtSites.ca to your artist friends
  • Recommending Art Fairs we should hit along the way
  • Letting us know about opportunities for informal ArtSites “meetups”, e.g. where we can do a demo or tutorial of our service for a group of artists or an Artists Guild/Association
  • Donating to the Tour (either to the Tour directly or the Canadian Cancer Society)
  • Sharing any “must-see” attractions we should hit along our route!
  • Sending us lots of positive “vibes” for the trip! :-)

So, that’s the latest on my front…please let me know what you’re up to and feel free to follow our TransContinental progress online and find out when/if we’re in a city or town near you! If you want to meet up with us in-person at any point along the way, do drop me a line! I’d LOVE to see and reconnect with you! (Phone numbers and contact information will remain the same. Again, technology is our “bestest” friend!)

Geoff and I are very much looking forward to an exciting summer journey! Now, back to my LONG to-do list of last-minute errands! :-D Cheers!

Posted by Rochelle on May 18th, 2012

Thank You and Farewell to BookRiff

Rochelle GraysonIt is with a deep sense of sadness that I announce I am no longer with BookRiff Media for financial reasons. For almost two years, BookRiff has been my “baby” and I want to truly thank BookRiff founder, Mark Scott, for entrusting the company to me. I have learned so much about the publishing industry and have thoroughly enjoyed watching BookRiff grow and evolve during my time with the company.

I am also SO proud of the BookRiff team and what we have accomplished! We have built an amazing technology, product and I still firmly believe in a very promising and profitable market opportunity! People are looking for ways to monetize and curate content and BookRiff can definitely solve many of these issues. I can’t wait to read about BookRiff’s future success in these areas!

Right now, I am simply “mourning” the loss of a very important and significant part of my life and am taking some time to decide what’s next for me. I have truly fallen in love with the publishing industry and would LOVE to continue my work with publishers and innovative ventures in this space. If you hear of any opportunities that might be of interest, please feel free to pass them along! :-)

Many thanks to all of you for your ongoing support and encouragement! It has been a true privilege and pleasure working with you and I do hope our paths cross again soon!

Please do keep in touch and I will be sure to do the same!

Posted by Rochelle on April 3rd, 2012

Entrepreneurism Goes Beyond Race or Gender

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been following the heated online discussions and twitter conversations about CNN’s documentary, Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley, which profiled Black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and aired last night.  In response to some preliminary clips that were distributed, we have seen a defensive and candid post by Michael Arrington, a rebuttal by Soledad O’Brien, and many very thoughtful and astute posts like Curtiss Pope’s How Black Entrepreneurs Can Succeed in Silicon Valley, and Ameen Safir’s How Pattern Matching Can Work for Minority Entrepreneurs.

As a half-Puerto-Rican, half-Black, American, female entrepreneur, who grew up in Germany and now lives in Canada (yes, you can tick off quite a few boxes with me :-) I have to say a sincere “Thank You” to Mike, Soledad, and all the other Black entrepreneurs who have participated in this online discussion! Through this conversation, I have discovered several other minority entrepreneurs and have read about their innovative ventures. What I have most appreciated about many of the posts in this aftermath is the focus on building a solid business!

I am a serial entrepreneur. My first start-up sold, the second one was too early to market and was tabled, the third one has turned into a “lifestyle business” and is growing modestly and bringing in revenues, the fourth one was only a feature and never meant be a business, and I’m currently launching my 5th, an innovative digital and social publishing platform. I cannot claim to speak for other black, Latino, or female entrepreneurs. However, I can speak personally to the satisfaction of building something “meaty” that has the potential of truly disrupting business-as-usual. And, as someone who has been down this path a few times, it is not as easy as many suggest.

I, too, am currently raising the next round of financing (as a start-up CEO, when are you not doing this?!). And, I sincerely hope that the financing I receive is based on my business and the potential it has to give investors (and me!) a HUGE return. I do NOT want to be “given” anything simply because I represent a “diversity quota”. I want to be backed by investors who believe in what I am building and believe that my business deserves their support!

Once again, thank you Mike, Soledad, and all the others for recognizing that the issue is much bigger than race, gender, geo-location, or whatever. Yes, we all bring our cumulative, personal experiences to each of our ventures and that diversity of perspectives should add value to each new opportunity. That said, it is ultimately about building a truly disruptive, innovative and solid business. I firmly believe I am building such a business and my job, as is the job of any entrepreneur, is to sell everyone I can on my vision, the business potential and my ability to deliver everything I say and more! No less, and hopefully a lot more!

Posted by Rochelle on November 14th, 2011

Long-Form vs. Short-Form Content

A recent New York Time article reports that young people are less interested in (long-form) content on blogs and are more interested in (short-form) content on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. A colleague of mine, Mark Evans, writes a great post as to why he still sees value in blogging and the additional benefits he gets through his blog. For those of you that know me, you’ve probably heard me say MANY times, that I really do not like writing (which is why there are so few blog posts on my blog :-) ). That said, I do find this discussion around long-form versus short-form content quite interesting!

Over the weekend, I had an exchange with another colleague of mine about a great online video that was an hour long (for those of you interested, it’s about How and Why Ideas Spread in Social Media). My colleague mentioned that the video would be much more “viral” if it were shorter and better edited. I did not disagree, but also argued that SOMETIMES, if something is important to you/your career, you need to invest the time and the effort to learn about complex insights and wisdom. And, in fact, it is perhaps those who do take the time to watch and listen, who may come out ahead.

Now, I’m the CEO of a publishing technology company, BookRiff, and I teach Social Media Strategy & Marketing and Social Media Monetization at the University of British Columbia. I firmly believe that BOTH long-form and short-form content have their places. That said, I am always surprised at the expectations of many people who believe they can quickly become “experts” or “gurus” because they can get bite-sized pieces of information quickly and efficiently.

Perhaps I am just an “Old Fart”, who has spent many, many hours reading, listening, watching, and networking. Maybe I’m missing something in the “New School Way of Learning”. But, I do believe that sometimes we simply have to put in the time and effort. For some, it will be spending hours using the new tools and coming to their own conclusions. For others, it will be spending the time reading others’ summaries and lessons learned. In either case, I do believe that there are few short-cuts to climbing the mountain. The paths may be different, but in the end, they all require a certain investment of time, money, and effort. Whether you choose to spend your time, money and/or effort is purely a personal choice. But, thinking that everything can be internalized and distilled down to 140 characters is probably not the answer either!

What do you think?! Am I just an “Old Fart” who’s hoping experience, thought, and analysis still count for something or am I simply missing something in the “New School Way” of communicating, building relationships, and learning? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Posted by Rochelle on February 21st, 2011

Comparison of XBOX 360 Kinect Exercise Games

Happy New Year to you and Steve, too!
To provide you with some context, my husband and I got our XBOX 360 the night they launched Kinect. (We just happened to be up at midnight and decided, literally at 11:45 PM, to go out to see how long the lines were and how devoted XBOX fans really were ;-)
In terms of exercise programs, let me give you a little background on me. I HATE exercise with a PASSION! The only way I will do it is if I can do at home and without much fuss! I was an avid fan of EA Sports Active (and all the subsequent versions) for the Wii (my first console purchase ;-) and had been using that program religiously since they launched. What I LOVED about the program was that they put me on a daily/weekly routine and I just had to turn it on and they would lead me through it, without me having to select exercises, etc. I also really liked that I could workout with my husband at the same time (side-by-side). That said, I was getting bored of the exercises in the last version and was excited by the potential of getting rid of the controllers with Kinect and allowing me to use free-weights and other exercise equipment. So…I waited for the EA Sports Active Kinect release and started with this program first.
Unfortunately, EA Sports Active for the Kinect was AWFUL. The menus were NOT Kinect-friendly (I had a really hard time keeping my hand steady enough to navigate through them) and more importantly, while exercising, the program would launch into tutorials, when it thought I was doing something wrong, instead of just letting me continue…way to break any momentum! The one plus was that I could still work out with my husband side-by-side. The heart rate monitor was intriguing, but overall, I was incredibly disappointed and saddened! This was the most expensive exercise program of the bunch and I had waited for it, but unfortunately, it did NOT deliver!
I then bought Ubisoft’s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved (FE). This was an incredible upgrade and the menus were easy to navigate and they also had programs that put several exercises together. However, most of the routines were lower-body ones and once I picked a program, it was relatively repetitive on a daily basis. In other words, the programs didn’t offer alternating routines on different days, etc. And, once again, I’m far too lazy to want to figure this out! ;-) Also, there was no way to work out with my husband, which meant we had to coordinate who worked out first and then change players…a bit annoying. Overall, the menus and navigation on this was superb, but the workout routines, for my needs, were not varied or full-body enough.
I then picked up the Zumba Fitness. I must confess that I’ve spent the least time with this program since my first session was a complete disaster! I have not taken any Zumba classes and do not know the moves. The tutorials were useless and the pace was WAY to fast for me to figure it out (and I’m not a bad dancer – thanks to my Puerto Rican and African American genes ;-)  and a very fast learner.) I couldn’t figure out the tutorials, which seems to go faster and faster randomly and I couldn’t make heads or tails of them. I tried a few routines, but again the pace was quite fast for a true beginner. If you are an experienced Zumba person, your experience might be different.
For Christmas, I asked for (and received) The Biggest Loser. (At this point, I thought I might as well have them all ;-) I’ve been using this for a few weeks and have found the workouts to be much more full-body, and quite rigorous. (Do note that when you first start up, you’ll need some time to get your routines and fitness levels set up…set aside a good 30 minutes for this.) The menus and UI are okay, but once again, there are times when I wish they would give me another way to navigate. Getting my avatar personalize was quite painful and doesn’t even really look like me! Once again, it works only for one player at a time and I still haven’t figured out how to change players other than exiting the program completely and starting it up again, which takes far too long in my opinion. I have to say that for my needs, The Biggest Loser is probably the best bet, but there are many trade-offs I have had to make.
Here’s my summary of the XBOX 360 Kinect Exercise Programs:
EA Sports Active
Pros: Workout together with someone else (side-by-side) at the same time (great for those days when one person isn’t very motivated) Has weekly routines that are varied and full-body, i.e. it’s more like a personal trainer that creates a program for you. Heart rate monitor is interesting.
Cons: Awful menus for using with Kinect, clearly optimized for navigation with a controller. Interrupts exercises when you’re not doing it “right” and launches into Tutorials, which can be frustrating when the technology is not capturing something and breaks any momentum.
Zumba Fitness
Pros: Great music
Cons: Pace of the tutorials and routines…clearly this was meant for people who are familiar with the Zumba dance steps already.
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved (FE)
Pros: Excellent menus and Kinect navigation; launches and gets to routines quickly
Cons: Routines are very lower-body focused and you must vary them (from day-to-day) based on what you think you need. No ability for two players to work out together at the same time.
The Biggest Loser
Pros: Nice full-body, rigorous and varied routines. They set up the exercises and I can just follow along from day-to-day.
Cons: Menu navigation could be better, especially for all the ancillary activities (avatar personalization and getting recipes, was painful). No ability for two players to work out together at the same time. No ability to set specific workout days, e.g. M, W, F or add other outside activities, e.g. running, walking, etc.
Now, I am not the most experienced user and as I said, I HATE exercise. So, if there is any way to avoid it, I will ;-) That said, I do know the benefits of exercise and workout (in some form) 4-5 times per week. If some of the things I mention CAN be done, please let me know! Overall, I think I’ll be bouncing between the Biggest Loser and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved. (Please note that I also have Dance Central and have very much enjoyed it, but don’t put it quite into the fitness category, even though you can work up quite a sweat! ;-)
So there you have it, a very amateur’s perspective of the XBOX 360 Kinect Fitness Programs. I will continue to try others as they become available and welcome any comments you might have!

Happy New Year to everyone! Yes, it’s that time of year again and no, I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. I did that 8 years ago and did lose 135 lbs over a 2.5 year period. That said, for those of you who are beginning this journey, I thought I’d finally write-up my experiences over the past few months with the XBOX 360 Kinect Exercise Programs: EA Sports Active, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved (FE), The Biggest Loser, and Zumba Fitness.

To provide you with some context, my husband and I got our XBOX 360 the night they launched Kinect. (We just happened to be up at midnight and decided, literally at 11:45 PM, to go out to see how long the lines were and how devoted XBOX fans really were ;-) )

In terms of exercise programs, let me give you a little background on me. I HATE exercise with a PASSION! The only way I will do it is if I can do at home and without much fuss! I was an avid fan of EA Sports Active (and all the subsequent versions) for the Wii (my first game console purchase ever!) and I had been using that program religiously since its launch. What I LOVED about the program was that they put me on a daily/weekly routine and I just had to turn it on and they would lead me through it, without me having to select exercises, etc. I also really liked that I could workout with my husband at the same time (side-by-side). That said, I was getting bored of the exercises in the last version and was excited by the potential of getting rid of the controllers with Kinect and allowing me to use free-weights and other exercise equipment. So…I waited for the EA Sports Active Kinect release and started with this program first. Here is what I thought… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Rochelle on January 6th, 2011

Publishers’ Value: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Seth Godin is making waves in the publishing world today! He has stated that he is giving up on the traditional publishing and will pursue other distribution channels. I am finding the responses and comments quite intriguing and insightful. Some are arguing that Seth Godin isn’t a “real author”, others are saying “why should we care or listen to what he has to say”, and others are saying “yes” and “Amen”. Clearly, he has touched a nerve!

Unfortunately, many are focusing on Seth Godin or digital publishing trends, and not on the value that publishers need to offer. I strongly believe that the publishers are (and will continue to be) necessary for some authors and for some areas of content. However, to say that their value is equal for ALL writers is incorrect. There will be some areas where authors will be able to market and distribute their content on their own. Will this only be for well-known authors? It will definitely be easier for them, but I wouldn’t say categorically that that is true either. Will it be easier for how-to/advice/resource writers? Again, “maybe” is the only answer that is correct.

What I can say is that publishers will need to clearly articulate what they can do for authors and how working with them will increase an author’s chance of success and ultimately, recognition and rewards. With increasing amounts of “published” content, we will still need human filters and domain experts to filter out the noise. Publishers can and have filled this role — as trusted sources, trendspotters, and domain experts. The marketing and distribution tools of the publishing industry have changed and the path to the consumer is shorter. However, the ROLE of publishers may be more important now than ever!

What do you think?!

Posted by Rochelle on August 23rd, 2010

Amazon vs. Apple: Different Business Models

There has been a great deal of discussion about Amazon’s recent announcement and pricing for the Kindle 3. (And yes, I will probably be purchasing one!) Many are saying that the Kindle 3 may very well put an end to the eReader wars, with Kindle clearly on top. (The iPad appears to be in a category of its own.) I still think it’s too early to say. That said, Amazon has made an interesting business move and here’s why…

Much like Apple, Amazon is building an ecosystem around digital content and the Kindle eReader. But, unlike Apple, Amazon is betting on digital content not the hardware. It is well known that Apple makes more significant margins on hardware sales and not as much on iTunes or its Apps Store. (I haven’t seen any figures yet for the iBookstore.) Amazon seems to be following a different approach and is betting on its Kindle/Amazon Stores to be the revenue drivers. (I guess it is similar to the HP printer model, where profits are generated from the consumables and not the hardware.)

Given Amazon’s leadership position in the ecommerce and online shopping space this makes perfect sense and it will be interesting to see if there comes a time when the Kindle will even be sold at a loss (people are already saying that it’ll be $99 within the next year).

Both Amazon and Apple are playing to their strengths and I look forward to seeing how these business models pan out in the coming months! Will it be an Amazon vs. Apple world? What role might Google play with the launch of Google Editions? Can B&N or Kobo come from behind?

What I do know is that exciting times are ahead and I am thrilled to be a part of this amazing publishing transition!

Posted by Rochelle on July 29th, 2010

Announcing My New Job: CEO of BookRiff

It’s official! After my last post about the challenging business environment in Vancouver, I am thrilled to announce that I have taken on the role of CEO for a top-notch startup called BookRiff! So, Vancouver, like it or not, you are stuck with me for a little more time :-)

I am extremely excited by BookRiff because they have developed a solution to a very important (and fundamental) issue facing media today, namely: How can consumers use media as they wish, while also ensuring that content owners get paid?! BookRiff answers this question quite elegantly and simply.

Essentially, BookRiff is a technology platform that allows consumers to mix content from virtually any source–published books, websites, and their own files–to build custom compilations called Riffs. Think of Riffs as “Mixtapes of Text”. Each time a Riff is distributed, all content owners and contributors get paid. BookRiff’s technology manages the authoring, bundling, licensing, attribution, and payment details for each of these custom compilations. That’s pretty powerful!

To provide a little history, BookRiff was initially incubated within Vancouver-based D&M Publishers, one of Canada’s largest independent publishers, and was recently spun-off as an independent venture.  I have been “dating” the company for a couple of months and we mutually decided it was finally time to “go steady”! I am thrilled that President of D&M Publishers and founder of Bookriff, Mark Scott, has entrusted me to drive BookRiff’s future success! We already have some great partners and plans in place and we are building a phenomenal team! Do stay tuned for more exciting announcements in the very near future!

Posted by Rochelle on June 20th, 2010

Vancouver’s Challenging Business Environment

Yesterday, I read a great post by Alex Samuel, “Even in a virtual world, where you live still matters“. Her thoughts were incredibly apropos because recently, I’ve been stewing about what the city of Vancouver has to offer business people like myself. As I stated almost two years ago, Vancouver has the potential to truly become a global business centre. I’m sitting on several municipal, regional, and industry Boards to play my part and what I hear over and over again  is that Vancouver lacks the senior management talent and financing/investment ecosystems to reach its full potential. And, I couldn’t agree more!

I’m often referred to as one the “Exotic Birds” here in Vancouver. (I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. ;-) ) I have lots of senior management, operations, finance and investment experience and the city would like to court more people like me. So, why aren’t there more people like me in Vancouver? Well, based on my experience, I think there needs to be a realignment of what it “costs” to be a global business player.

Recently, I’ve been approached by several local companies and organizations to join their teams, and while the opportunities have been very exciting, the conversations have come to a screeching halt (a little exaggerated) once dollars start being discussed. Now, I do understand that Vancouver isn’t NY, San Francisco or Toronto, but why am I consistently presented with compensation packages that equate to what I earned 10 years ago?! (And, this is not to point the finger at any one Vancouver company; this has happened numerous times.) At the same time, I’m being heavily courted by companies in other cities that are offering packages that are 2-3 times higher.

I really want to stay in Vancouver! But, as a business person, I am trained to balance opportunities with maximizing revenues. And, that’s exactly what these companies want me to do, once hired. So, why would I act any differently when it comes to my own earning potential. Now, I am not completely mercenary. (Frankly, if I were, I would be much richer and definitely NOT living in Vancouver.)

So, where does that leave us… well, I would like to see a shift in valuing those very skills that seem to be lacking here.  Right now, we aren’t raising the bar to make Vancouver business opportunities attractive on a global scale! (To this point, I have spoken with at least a dozen phenomenal/qualified/ambitious colleagues in the past two weeks and we all joke that we’ll meet at YVR on our way to companies that do value us.)

Vancouver did a fabulous job raising the bar for the Olympics and for two weeks it truly felt like a global city! Now, we need to take that same energy and investment to make it become a world-class business environment! I’m not leaving, yet…but, I am putting the city on notice! ;-)

Posted by Rochelle on April 10th, 2010

Phenomenal Women in Science and Technology

Yeah, today is Ada Lovelace Day! And, that means that for almost 50 hours (think of the entire world), we are paying tribute to phenomenal women in science and technology! Quite frankly, it’s a real shame that we only focus on this topic for 50 hours because I’m sure the kudos could go on and on!

That said, I’d like to honor two women in science and technology! As a half African-American, half Puerto Rican woman in technology, I tried to find someone similar to me, but that seemed to be asking for just a bit too much :-) So, I decided that I’d still honor my heritage and break it up into two extremely honorable mentions!

Valerie ThomasThe first woman I would like to highlight is African-American Valerie Thomas! Valerie Thomas received a patent in 1980 for inventing an illusion transmitter. And why should you care?! Well, this “futuristic” invention extended the idea of TV to having 3D projections appear as though they were right in your living room! For any of you who were at CES or watched the movie Avatar, I’m sure you can understand the impact Valerie’s patent may have on our future media consumption and experiences. All I can say is that I am in complete awe of Valerie’s foresight, intelligence, curiosity and achievements!
Congratulations, Valerie, for being such a great visionary!

Olga Gonzalez SanabriaThe second woman I’d like to celebrate is Puerto Rican Olga D. González-Sanabria! Olga played an instrumental role in the development of the “Long Cycle-Life Nickel-Hydrogen Batteries”, which helps enable the International Space Station power system. As someone who watches the ISS, whenever it flies over Vancouver, I am once again humbled by such an achievement! Muchas, muchas gracias, Olga, for your vision, intelligence and commitment to exploration, on so many fronts!!!

What I do find interesting is that both women spent most of their careers at NASA and excelled there. Hmmm…something to ponder!!

Clearly, we’ve come a long way, but we still have much further to go! I just read a New York Times article today stating that women continue to face cultural biases in science and math fields.

Nevertheless, please join me in truly honoring and celebrating Olga and Valerie (neither of whom, for the record, do I personally know ;-) ) There are literally millions of women who have paved the paths and who inspire me to continue my journey! I am extremely grateful to all of you! Many Thanks and Muchas Gracias!!

Posted by Rochelle on March 24th, 2010