Your New Best Friend on the Road: Bizly

3454937700_c4b11b9453_zHave you ever been in another city and needed to meet up with a colleague…but where? Location is key–it has to be close to your next meeting. And you need something with a little more class and panache than Starbucks, a place where you can find a quiet corner and have a cup of coffee or cocktail while you discuss business. It’s tough.

Or, have you ever gotten frustrated as you tried to find the very best hotel near your meetings, a hotel with the specific amenities you most care about–let’s say free Wi-Fi and breakfast–and you spend an hour sifting through TripAdvisor reviews, finding the ranking of business hotels questionable?

That’s where Bizly comes in, the mobile app I’ve been working on with a talented team based in New York. It’s an app that will help you quickly find the perfect places to stay, meet and work when you’re on the road (or in your home city, for that matter). We’ll launch with New York in April, then take on the world.

Check it out here, and jot down your email address, so we can update you on the launch.

Photo: Flickr/smannion

Mother Nature Needs Your Likes

4069019233_1cbb70b9bf_zWould rain force my son’s Halloween party to move indoors? This morning I cruised on over to weather.com to see. The tile in the weekend forecast said 70% chance of showers on Saturday. Fine. Now I know. But I looked down and was shocked to see LOVE and UGH buttons at the bottom of the tile. Call me old-fashioned, but I found this revolting.

This bothers me because it’s actually a gambit to take you over to Facebook to post on the weather.com page there. I suspect there’s also SEO value. I’m OK with giving users easy ways to show they like certain content. It gives other users and the content-creators a gauge of the content’s value. But the weather? That’s not content to make a judgment about. And things are shallow enough online, but posting about the weather on Facebook? Digital small talk.

I’m in the content business, and I get that it’s a business. But many content creators these days don’t have the best interests of the reader (otherwise known as the user) in mind. I found the interview Tim Ferriss did recently with Maria Popova so refreshing. (She’s the brain behind BrainPickings.org, one of my favorite blogs.) Her philosophy is to always think about what she as a reader would want when making content decisions about her blog, not what gets traffic. No slideshows. No listicles. No advertising. It’s a long-view approach, and I’m so glad it’s working for her and others like her.

I may not be thrilled about the showers on Saturday, but I refuse to “vote” or even comment on that with an UGH button.

Photo: Flickr/Neal Fowler

Chengdu and Chicago?

8720092834_d440bbc958_zHuh? you may wonder from the headline. Well, I’m catching up on posts about my trip on United’s inaugural flight from SFO to Chengdu, China:

My piece on Chengdu and whether it compares to Chicago went up on SFGate yesterday. You can check it out here to learn about my impressions of the Sichuan province’s capital. (Spoiler alert: Chicago and Chengdu don’t compare!)

Also, a post about my love for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is on TravelSkills, here.

Photo: Flickr/Paul Wolneykien

My Executive Travel Journey

Executive Travel closes its doors today. In thinking about this personal milestone after more than 12 years as the magazine’s managing editor, it strikes me that ET’s tagline, “Savor the Journey,” has never been more appropriate. It’s been a heck of a ride.

We launched Executive Travel (originally named SkyGuide Go) just after the terrorist attacks of 2001 because we felt business travelers needed a deeper source of information. These travelers faced fear, hassle, and uncertainty in the air and on the ground: the painful start of airport security and its long lines; a major disruption to airline schedules, fares and procedures; and a shaken economy that meant getting out in front of the customer was more important than ever.

So four of us sat in a small conference room in San Francisco for two days and sketched out a magazine for business travelers on a whiteboard. What an opportunity to build a publication from the ground up! While we made some rookie mistakes in those first couple of years and the magazine evolved and grew over time, much of the structure conceived of in that little conference room remained intact until the end. To this day, its “lifestyle” approach (a 360-degree take on the business traveler’s life that included content not just on travel, but also on management and time off) has been one of its strongest differentiators. And that is a hole in publishing that Executive Travel will leave empty.

By necessity we were scrappy…in a good way. Our editorial and production processes required thinking out of the box. With offices in New York, my base in the San Francisco Bay Area, and our art department in Seattle, we “worked remotely” before that was even a term. This helped us be super efficient: We had no time to waste on meetings that wasted time. Unencumbered by a traditional publishing history, we were constantly asking, “Is there another way to do this?”

In the end, the goal of any enterprise is to make a useful product, while providing a wage and building a community for those making the product. Hearing from readers about what they found useful in the magazine was always a pleasure. (My most recent favorite letter: “I have developed much of my expertise in international business from articles and perspectives read in your informative magazine.”) But I personally valued most highly the community created by those of us who crafted Executive Travel.

I had the pleasure of working with incredibly talented writers, designers, copyeditors, marketers, strategists, board members, online producers, researchers, consultants and even attorneys. But most importantly, many became friends. Yes, there were a few bumps along the way—the crazy writer who threatened to ruin my career, the disaster of a coverline that we still joke about, the ongoing butting of heads over words in a mission statement, a couple of writers gone AWOL mid-story. But the warm and collaborative relationships were what made the job a joy, and I leave with deep gratitude to those good people.

I have “savored the journey” with Executive Travel for a long time now. But the thing about journeys is that they are never in straight lines. There are always the left turns, missed connections and bumpy landings that make life interesting. I’m looking forward to the next twists and turns in the journey, and I have every intention to savor those, too.

Finding Enthusiasm

Yesterday I bought a new pair of running shoes. Behind me were my old shoes’ cruelties: pinched toes, tingling feet and a sense that I was slogging through mud. Over the last month, my running motivation had begun to wane (unrelated to shoes) and what was once a joyful ritual was becoming a monotonous chore. But today, lacing up the new shoes filled me with an eagerness and enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in quite a while. A fresh start.

Cracking the spine of a brand new Moleskin notebook brings on the same sense of lightness and enthusiasm, with the blank page awaiting notes, insights and sketches. Add a new pen that’s just right—smooth handling and a thin but dark line—and suddenly ideas just want to jump onto the page.

Enthusiasm can be transformative. My favorite work experience this year came when I assigned a story to a writer who had subject matter expertise but had never before written a feature story (or anything for a magazine, for that matter). But his enthusiasm was confidence-inspiring and contagious, and when he said, “I promise I won’t let you down,” well, I couldn’t help but smile. I knew the draft would be top-notch. (It was.) What a pleasure to work with someone who radiated this enthusiasm!

Unfortunately, at some point enthusiasm usually wanes. Once, I was talking with a friend of mine who is a painter, and I mentioned that I had a discouraging day. I said something like, “When we plan a magazine issue, we have such an exciting vision of the stories, how it’ll hold together, how it will inspire. Then when the drafts come in, reality hits. Stories are too long. Too short. Uninspiring. Overdone. Disorganized. Almost always they fall short of expectation.” She said, “I experience the same thing with every painting. The actual painting rarely lives up to my hope for it.” Somehow, I found comfort that this was just part of the creative process (and not that I was “doing it wrong”). There is a gap between what we dream of creating and the reality. I’ve noticed this gap is where enthusiasm can wane.

A goal for me this year is to hold onto enthusiasm deeper and deeper into creative projects. When enthusiasm flags, I plan to remind myself to look for a new approach or tool to get that fresh start feeling. Or I’ll hitch a ride on the co-tails of an enthusiastic colleague or friend. Turning to inspiring music or literature works wonders, too.

If my newfound eagerness for morning runs lasts as long as my shoes (should be good for 500 miles), I’ll be well on my way.