Author Archives: Nicole

Why Repealing Affordable Health Care Will Hurt The Freelance Economy

Photo: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash

Photo: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash

The Affordable Care Act has made health insurance accessible for millions of freelance workers, a number that is expected to account for 40% of the workforce by 2020. For various reasons self-employment is also increasingly popular amongst millennials, with nearly 40% of the millennial workforce already describing themselves as self-employed. To put things into perspective, that is 60 million Americans, and the numbers are on the rise.

A freelance economy revolves around companies who hire independent workers on a short-term basis to complete a specific set of tasks. The term “freelancer” can also include consultants, solopreneurs, lifestyle entrepreneurs, and other types of independent workers able to contribute to a company’s operations while remaining lean to both parties’ benefit. This cohort, known for being nimble and resource-savvy, is key to job growth, economic innovation, and technological progress.

If the American Health Care Act act passes (currently passed by The House but not the Senate) and the Affordable Care Act is repealed, it is certain that the monthly cost of health care for self-employed individuals will skyrocket. This will make acquiring health care near impossible for many independent workers.

Under the law, individuals who make roughly less than $46,000, or families of four making less than $95,400, qualify for lower premiums. This means that they can pay as little as a third of the retail price for health insurance via federal taxcredits — that is, if they don’t already have access to health insurance through an employer.

Growth of the freelance cohort will stall as many new freelancers will be intimidated by the astronomical monthly expense without these credits — or simply put, they will be unable to meet the expense all together. Many existing freelancers will undoubtedly be forced to return to corporate life, surrendering the freedom and flexibility that made freelancing so attractive to begin with — or alternatively, forgo health care altogether if securing full-time employment at a company with health benefits is not an option.

The suggestion that the United States will not provide reasonable health coverage to its independent working population is troubling. Not only is it bypassing what should be a fundamental right for any member of a functioning society, but it stalls innovation in a competitive and ever-changing global economy. Let us not forget, many of our recent industry disruptors began their ventures solo and/or relied on contractors in the early stages of business.

Freelancers Union, a non-profit organization that aims to ensure that independent contractors receive adequate rights, protections and professional benefits, has handpicked health insurance plans on their website to fit freelancers’ needs. The online private exchange requires a qualifying event in order to apply (examples include: job loss, relocation, discontinued carrier plan). If qualified, HMO plans with a deductible of $5,500 for an individual ($11,000 for family) start at $285 per month for freelancers in the state of California through plans offered by Kaiser, Blue Shield, Anthem, and Sutter Health. For a lower deductible, plans start closer to $760.00 per month.

The Affordable Care Act has made healthcare available to millions of Americans striking out on their own. By repealing it, we are placing freelancers in a precarious position. Health care will become too expensive for the fastest growing segment of today’s soon-to-be largest workforce. As a result, we are not only inhibiting the health and wellness of this large cohort of Americans, but we are limiting the options for the workers of tomorrow’s economy.

Virtual Reality And The Future Of Storytelling

virtual reality

Photo: Pixabay

“Just so I understand this correctly, it’s possible to experience death in virtual reality. To experience what it’s actually like to die, in the brutalist of ways even. And as our senses develop — touch, smell, things like that — this experience is only going to get more realistic.”

The woman nodded in response. We were sitting across from each other in a large yurt that overlooked the Pacific Ocean, the door flap of the enormous tent making a gentle slapping sound in the wind as six of us sat cross-legged in a circle well past midnight.

The topic: virtual reality and consciousness.

“But you have to consider another scenario,” she said, leaning in further.

“What if experiencing death enabled us to face our greatest fear, and what if that wasn’t a bad thing? What if experiencing death gave us a greater appreciation for life, maybe even enabling us to live with more appreciation, empathy, and gratitude?”

Last fall, we gathered at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur for Digital Raign, a week-long summit created for bringing together industry folk (and curious minds – me) in the virtual, augmented and mixed reality worlds to discuss the state of the industry.

*

According to a report by Canalys, over 2 Million VR headsets were shipped in 2016. While this is a notable number, it remains small in comparison to the hundreds of millions of smartphones sold each quarter.

Still, we are on the brink of an industry that is set to change the world as we know it.

With last year’s launch of Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR at under $80each, wider accessibility to VR is finally possible. And for $15, you can buy Google Cardboard or even build a headset on your own for free. (Hint: it involves cardboard, bi-convex lenses, magnets, velcro, and a rubber band.)

The biggest setback that prevents VR from truly taking off is content. VR content is expensive to produce and funding usually comes from supporters who see enough traffic to turn around and monetize big on advertising.

Users show up for content. And more users = more traffic = sponsors, who in-turn fund content. It’s a chicken-egg scenario.

Music video director Chris Milk (Kanye West, Arcade Fire) is out to change that. Milk has dabbled in virtual reality concepts early on and in 2014 co-founded a production studio with artist and entrepreneur Aaron Koblin.

His first TED talk on the topic was in 2015, entitled “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine.”

“VR is the last medium for storytelling, because it closes the gap between audience and storyteller. -Chris Milk

Linden Labs, the founders of Second Life, are also betting big on VR with the upcoming launch of a new platform.

Variable Labs is one of many other companies dedicated to creating immersive VR experiences in order to help individuals foster empathy, develop soft skills, and help change behavior through therapeutic techniques. Last year, it was also announced that Reel FX was teaming up with Facebook’s Oculus for a $1 million ‘VR for Good’ initiative dedicated to inspire social change.

From spirituality and healing to education, work, tourism, and of course entertainment, the possibilities in virtual reality are endless.

VR is too new for us to fully understand the full scope of its implications, but it’s good to know that as it emerges as a platform for mass-consumption the social good element is breaking through sooner than it did in its predecessors, despite the outliers.

And, as early consumers and content creators, we have the unique opportunity to help decide which direction it goes in.

Whether it be transformative and uplifting, or dark and potentially traumatic.

The time to call it is now. And the great news is, good things are on the horizon.

More:

Chris Milk, Virtual Reality as an Art Form (TED talk)

VR for Good at Sundance

Goal Setting – Designing A Life Plan In 2017

Photo: David Schap via Unsplash

One year ago I hired the talented Harper Spero to help me find the time to complete a creative project. My life was action-packed and I needed to figure out how to make quality time and space for my craft in order to ultimately reach my writing goals for the year.

What Harper helped me to understand was that it was everything around the project that needed to shift first. This shift was necessary to bring my best self to the table as a creative professional and burgeoning business owner.

Let me explain.

The process began by optimizing first for health. Getting the proper nutrition, the right amount of sleep, and regular exercise were key to functioning at a high level.

After that, I needed a support system in place. It was critical to surround myself with a steady stream of quality individuals and communities.

After that, I needed to make sure that all of my work — creative and otherwise — had meaning.

A year ago, I knew that I wanted to branch out on my own at some point. I also wanted to help more people and dedicate more time towards creative projects.

Of course, there were other things too. I also wanted to get in better shape, start a regular meditation practice, and all of the things we aspire to be and do when the new year rolls around.

It was a lot. So with Harper’s help, I began measuring how I spent my time.

This enabled me to generate balance and see where I was (or was not) focusing the most.

First, I created five core areas of focus.

One year ago today, they were:

1. Health/Wellness/Fitness

2. Friendships

3. Community

4. Career Transition

5. Writing Projects

I had target units to hit each week per category. This gave me something to work for each week. For example, 2 units of community, 10 of health/wellness/fitness.

Every night I marked off the units that had been achieved for the day. One unit of meditation. One community event.

We put a running tally in place to see how I was performing week-over-week, month-over-month.

I am proud to say that after 12 months, I now meditate almost every evening and have successfully transitioned to take on freelance marketing work full-time, bringing in on other partners to work with in the process.

I am also close to completing a creative writing project that I’m eager to announce later in the year.

I have made some great friendships, been part of a happy romantic relationship, and have dipped in and out of several communities where I have found incredible camaraderie and support in my journey.

This in mind, my goals for 2017 have been slightly edited to the following:

1. Wellness/Fitness

2. Business Building

3. Craft/Writing

4. Relationships

5. Community

6.  Learning

7. Experiencing Joy

 

I wanted to make my goals productive and also enjoyable, keeping in mind the holistic model of incorporating all aspects of life into the plan.

The biggest challenge I noticed from last year have been showing up consistently for the units I have the most fear and/or apprehension about. For example, I’m not the best at sales, so I already know that business building will be a challenge.

I also get nervous about attending new community events for the first time — just another thing to be aware of.

I am willing to tackle these challenges head-on because 1.) each unit is driven by my core values and beliefs, and 2.) through other exercises undertaken in 2016 I have become increasingly risk-hungry (and therefore am willing to get uncomfortable).

With those goals in mind, alongside my core values and principles, I use this methodology as a means for taking action on my goals.

Some good working templates and resources for making this your best year ever can be found at the following:

Bullet Journaling

Hive Leaders – resources 

Technori – The Most Effective Goal-Setting Plan You’ll Ever Find

The 2017 Volt Planner

Environmental Biohacking & Rumbling With The Unknown

Sunset at Big Sur taken during week 4 of my bio-hacking experiment

Big Sur, CA – Taken during Week 4 of my experiment.

The following is based on a talk I gave a few weeks back at Twitch HQ for Women’s Catalyst Lightening Talks.

At the end of September I deliberately kicked myself out of my studio apartment.

I sublet to a friend for two months and hit the road.

Now, I didn’t go very far. I drove around California in my trusty Prius C – living with friends, crashing on couches, spending time in nature.

I did this because I needed to get uncomfortable.

Because I believe that curiosity is greater than comfort.

[ Curiosity Zone > Comfort Zone ] *

I didn’t always believe this.

I’m a virgo perfectionist who likes her creature comforts. I’m in the upper half of my 30’s. What sense did it make to live out of my car when I had immediate goals to achieve?

Because I needed to clear my head. Because I wanted to get better.

Biohacking is a systems thinking approach to our own biology.

Here’s a short list of hackable things** :

• Nutrition – what we put into our bodies

• Physiology/Movement – muscle activity, cardio-vascular health, stretching & posture

• Environment – lighting, air quality, spending more time in nature

• Meditation – it can literally rewire the brain

• Mindfulness – practicing gratitude on a regular basis

• Sleep – measuring how much you get, performing regular quality checks

• Attention – how you think, learn, reason and focus

• Getting Uncomfortable…

…Ah ha!

Getting uncomfortable can mean a lot of things. It can mean taking a cold shower, contemplating death, or giving rejection therapy a spin. For me, it was a version of being homeless.

I’m not going to say it was easy. I oft dreamt about returning to my peaceful Oakland apartment.

But as soon as I returned to Oakland two weeks ago I felt a wave of disappointment wash over me. I walked to the window and looked out. Where was everyone, and…

…When can I do it again?

Here are my findings post-experiment:

1. Possessions – I can get by with less. A lot less.

2. Focus – Having less allows me to focus directly on my goals.

3. Self-reliance – I became stronger with my asks because my needs were clear.

4. Self-Awareness – I became more open minded to new situations.

5. Planning – I made a choice to just show up and take it one day at a time. And it worked.

Most of all, I learned that I don’t need to have everything figured out.

Becaue we are a generation defining life on our own terms. There are no right answers, no playbook to live by. We can write our own stories as we go.

 

* via this post by James Altucher

** via this post by Dave Asprey

Apple Search Ads And Mobile Acquisition: A Primer

An example of how an ad now appears in the Apple App Store

An ad in the Apple App Store

Apple recently launched Apple Search Ads, the first paid advertising channel for the App Store.

The platform has demonstrated notable success to-date. Initial findings show that these types of ads deliver quality users at scale with solid retention.

Bottom line: Apple Search Ads show huge potential.

This is in comparison to other install acquisition channels, for example advertising on mobile ad networks.

As opposed to mobile ad networks, Apple search ads are not display-based. You’re not going to see a random ad when browsing the app store.

Instead, they work a lot like Google’s search network.

You only see an ad when searching the app store for something specific.

It’s intent-driven marketing at its finest. You are offering a solution to a potential customer who is already searching for something related to your product.

You are providing a solution to something they are already looking for.

The meat of a campaign is keyword-driven.  It’s similar to Google’s PPC (pay-per-click) advertising – you bid on specific keywords and only get charged per click (or in this case, tap).

The beauty of this is that you can run tests on various groups of keywords. And your audience consists of potential customers who are already looking for a product or service like yours.

This is perhaps why Apple Search Ads are out-performing other mobile ad networks.

The customer is targeted directly from within the App Store.

They already have the intent to install.

Only time will tell if this channel will be a.) viable in the long term (e.g., most cost-effective) and b.) scalable, particularly with the holidays right around the corner when ad cost tends to go through the roof.

As of now, it’s safe to say that ASA is looking promising as a reliable long-term solution for mobile user acquisition.

You can find a nice preliminary findings report presented by AppsFlyer here.