Swiss Trail Running – Alpstein

TrailRunningAlpstein-07378My head was exhausted and I needed an escape. My UX flows for lostinreality were past due and I was still working on organizing the overview for the Zurich Health Hackathon. I didn’t know where to start so I decided to skip out on everything and go trail running in the Alpstein in Switzerland. The Alpstein encompasses the massif around Mt. Santis, the high-point of the region, and according to tradition, the refuge of a mad weather man who had murdered his wife. The Santis region is dear to my heart, as it was the first Swiss region I started hiking in and could call my own, in so much as I could go there without a map and feel confident of knowing where I was headed.

I decided to start from Wildhaus, with the objective of summiting the Altmann, and then heading down to Schwendi. This is the perfect place for trail running in the mountains, which is essential for finishing races like the Sardona Ultra or marathon, which I dropped out of in 2013. The startup world has made my muscles weak, and I’ve made a commitment to myself this year of getting back into the mountain adventures which make living in Switzerland so different from anywhere else.

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 18.09.27Route

The route was pretty basic, start from Wildhaus, head up to the Zwingli Pass, then over towards the Rotstein Pass and head up Altmann. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t start running from Wildhaus until 3pm, which is rather late in the day, risking that I wouldn’t be able to make the last train in Schwende. As I eventually got lost and ended up in Brülisau, the deadline eventually became irrelevant.

I had just participated in an interview for a shot film on mobility in Switzerland, and I felt a certain desire to document this run. Being mobile for me is about choice, and retaining a sense of control and exercising choice in how you experience the world. Running over the Alpstein (or rather hiking quickly) gives you a true sense of how rugged the region is. Grass meadows and valleys define the foothills of Santis, the glaciers are mainly gone, but so early in the summer you still traverse bits of snow, and in between you might find cracked earth, more reminiscent in appears to a dry lakebed.


The word “daunting” fills your mind as you look up towards the Zwingli Pass, and you wonder if you’ll be moving slowly up it all day until the sunset. If you look back each pause, you’ll notice that the valley is gradually falling below you, and the mountain horizon begins to reveal itself. It is that horizon of hope and a view of an expansive world and future, that let my mind swim free of User Journeys and mobile app requirements, putting the larger picture into perspective. Once you rise above the details, it’s easier to focus again and systematically attack the problems at hand. When you’re out on a trail though, there’s nothing to do but head up, mind the weather, and make sure you don’t risk your life too much.



Cresting the ridge at the Chreialp the mountain panorama opened up to my eyes. The grass was starting to give way to the remnants of glacier formations showing up here and there at the higher elevations. The beautiful thing about the Alpstien though is that you’re still basically running over a gradual rounded field, the formations of neighbouring peaks are of to either side and clouds are just shadows adding layers over the green brush strokes and jutting rock slabs. Eventually I made my way to the Zwingli Pass Hutte, I had stayed there many years ago, it has a fantastic position overlooking the Churfirsten on the opposite side of the valley where I had started from. It was now late in the day, my assent had been slower than desired, and there was no chance to summit the Altmann as my water was getting low and it was after 6pm already. I instead headed down towards the lake of the Fahlenalp.

Descending the north-facing slopes is often fun trail running in this region of Switzerland because even in the early Summer you find long passages of snow. You just have to take large leaps and sort of shoe-ski down the slopes, which is faster than on rock and make me wish I had taken time to ski tour last season. Along the way I passed a family of Steinbocks, the mountain goats of the region and marmots sent high pierced warning signals through the air as I passed by, altering all the marmots in the vicinity to my presence. Eventually I was down at the Fahlenalp, where I could have taken a mattress to sleep for the evening, but there was plenty of light and I pushed on.


The Fahlenalp has a large alpine lake, parts of it recede depending on the water levels, and it forms a flat plane, now covered with blankets of yellow alpine flowers pushing up through the grass bed. The grass has that hopeful green like the intense hue that sustain Gatsby all thought years yearning for just another whips of Daisy. It is a golden corridor, and behind you stand the mountain gates, the fortress you just descended from, with militant towers on either side.

I had planned to catch the last train from Schwende at 21:10, but when I noticed that the signs only pointed towards Brülisau, I figured I should just head there instead. The sun was slowly falling into the distant horizon now, and eventually I stopped around Ruhsitz to watch the darkness embrace us. The fireball in the sky, so strong and relenting during the day was now a calm and gentle being. I stared longingly into her as she raised her warmth up towards my cheek, and touched my lips in a fading kiss before expiring.


I ended up in Brülisau well after the last bus had left, and took a pizza in the Hotel Kroner before heading off to bed. On there terrace there was a dinner party of Swiss, elder Swiss from the region enjoying a fine dinner in the Alpstein. They were singing together in the local Schweiz-Deutsch language of the region, their voices carried across the valley, I had heard them on the descent into the village, I had followed the songs to the Hotel Kroner. There tempo was not unlike the title song from the the movie, the Grand Budapest Hotel, and every so often the cadence was accented with a powerful Yuuppp from one of the women. I wish I had had my audio recorder, and I wonder how long those songs will persist in the local culture. Then I had a short chat with local who had come in to order a Cafe Lutz, he told me he had been to Chicago once to show off Swiss cows from the region. I used my hand to illustrate Michigan (where I’m from) and the position of Chicago in Illinois. The next morning I ran to Weissbad and jumped on the train back towards Zurich just as I arrived.

Swiss Train Passenger Perspective Landscapes

TrainLandscapeSwitzerland-06281If you live in Switzerland and have no car you ride the trains a lot. It’s one reason why I like living here, because the time in-transit can be used for something. When you’re driving here or there or biking, you have limited attention and ability to do anything beyond watching the road. I stated doing train passenger landscapes on the train last winter. I wanted to create some slightly blurred landscape images to layer into the Toy Warz storyline I’ve been developing with Bratz and Monster High dolls.

Toy WarzToy Warz

Here for example, you can see how the blurred background trees give just a little landscape texture to the background, mixing in will with the foreground but giving some sense of depth and context to the central image. I wanted to give a bit the post-apocalypse feeling and the texture layer of clouds could be blended into the narrative of the image. Expanding beyond that, I was also looking for image to give more texture or shadows in waves, to mix on either side of portraits or or to direct the eye of the viewer from top to bottom.

Relative Motion

These image have been taking mainly from the route from Zurich to Winterthur and from Zurich towards Chur. I started expanding on this theme and realized I just like the landscape images, in particular when I pan while shooting. The effect is that the background landscape is sharp while the foreground elements like trees and houses are blurred. It’s an experiment of image capture and relative motion of the train to the landscape, mixed in with a long shutter speed, it gives a nice surreal feeling to the shots. If you shoot while the train is curving away from the foreground, you get an added wave texture to the image. Some of these I’ll use for the Toy Warz backgrounds, but I also love them as a series on their own.


Swiss Irontrail Mammut Trail Running Test Event

It pays to keep tabs on social media streams and to apply to things you find on the internet. I saw a posting from Mammut about a race called the Swiss Irontrail, the longest single stage foot race through the Alps, and via that I learned about the Mammut test event. The race comes in four flavors, T201, T141, T71, and T21. This being my first ultra, I decided to sign up to run the shorter of the ultra races, the T71. It’s about 68km long with about 4300m elevation gain (and then subsequent descent). Along with sponsoring the race, Mammut has also organized a test week with some pre-selected runners before, and after applying I was one of those lucky few invited down to Pontresina for their pre-Irontrail running event next week. This should a fabulous time running in the Alps, getting my lungs ready for the T71 and testing out the latest trail running gear from Mammut. (more…)

2011 Jungfrau Marathon Report

There’s a loud contingent of German and Dutch runners crowded into the lounge of the Villa, watching recaps from the 2010 Jungfrau Marathon on a flat screen TV and pounding coffee and beer…getting fired up. I am content to sit outside on the patio, contemplating death and the implications of an undereducated American workforce. Balls – I’m just out here enjoying the last glow of the sun defining the mountain landscape around Interlaken. I’ll try to code some Python on my netbook before going to bed, and tomorrow I run the 2011 Jungfrau Marathon.

So It Began

At the start of the race I decided to snap an image of the start inline with my Ricoh GRD, and it said there was no memory left. As it happened, although I was smart enough to charge the battery, I forgot to put in a memory card. I can still see it plugged into the reader on my computer, waiting there patiently to be retrieved and made ready to record more memories. Maybe I could just use images from my Lauterbrunnen – Eiger Rotstock run? Essentially it was the same views, but my run had more altitude and a little climbing at the end. There were just a few key memories to photograph anyways, such as the guy running as a caveman with a plastic blow-up mauler-club hanging off his back. Or there was the twin tower runner, a guy put a building over this head, with the words 9/11 We will remember written on the back. A fitting tribute, after all, the Jungfrau marathon was on Sept. 10, 2011, just one day before the 10 year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centers of Sept. 11, 2001. Most everyone else just ran in normal running uniforms, stretch pants, tight shirts, the normal garb. I was decked out in Salomon S-Lab running gear (basically the same as my portrait here). A few had custom shirts listing their finished marathons, or finisher shirts from races like the SwissAlpine or Boston or…where ever. I have to say I’ll probably never wear my Jungfrau or SwissAlpine finishing shirts anywhere – not even for a photo shoot. Maybe I’ll put one on my kid if I ever become responsible for one (which feels like a long-shot at this point to be honest, but people keep telling me I’m still young).

The conditions for the race were sunny and clear skies the entire day. It was amazing how clear and blue the sky above the Eiger group was, and this meant an alpine sun beating down on my body. I’m a Pole and Ukrainian mix by history. I don’t really get drunk easily and I can toil in a field all day, but if the sun is beating down on my back it can suck up my energy and endurance quickly and without remorse. That’s one reason why the SwissAlpine K42 wasn’t such a bad trip for me. The sun was barely out and half the race had some form of rain. Cool temperatures, and my body regulates that temperature environment very well – it’s my zone.

The marathon started in Interlaken, just in front of the Hooter’s restaurant. In Switzerland they try to be conservative and instead of two giant eye attracting O’s to mimic the pneumatic attributes of the staff, they have a small, respectable sign that makes you think they serve up owl as a faux-delicacy in hamburger form. The start of a marathon is always filled with hope and apprehension for me. Will I, could I, should I finish? The start is announced and the static topography of heads in front of me start bobbing up and down in alternating rhythms, and as the wave moves forward and cheers erupt from the spectators, you have a tangible feeling that what you are doing is noble, and relevant to the world. Then you stop because the people in front of you stop because the people in front of them ran into the people in front of them, and the process starts again.

The name Jungfrau conjures up notions of high altitude snow capped peaks rising above the Swiss landscape. It gives you the impression of running up through the trees and rock trails to the base of the Eiger. However, my notion of adventure, my dance with the romance of another mountain marathon was wounded, knocked down and kicked in the stomach while rubber hoses whipped me near unconscious – because the majority of the race took place on asphalt and dirt roads.

Asphalt Torture Ordeal

The first 23 km from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen were basically all on asphalt (with some welcome variation). Asphalt – that black hellishly flat torment under my feet. Why do people enjoy running on this hard shit? Completely illogical. The sun shoots back at you from the street and it’s just one foot after the other on the same flat black mother-fucking god-damned spine breaking solution engineered for automobiles. In retrospect, I could have just stayed in Zurich and run through the alleyways in the Niederdorf. In the future I’ll be checking the marathon routes more carefully, and avoid those with excessive lengths of the pointless hard black torment. My body tried to be optimistic and accommodate this madness at first, but after I hit the 20 km mark in Lauterbrunnen my back sort of ceased up and I had to stop to stretch. I was reduced to a near-broken robot, fatigued in the joints by too long a life on the assembly line of some vast post-apocalypse IKEA production facility based on the dark side of the Moon. I just decided to walk until the madness would end and the highway would become trails and would finally begin ascending in altitude instead of looping around the valley for no good reason. Lush green fields all around with mythic rock walls climbing to the sky and I was walking along a long black strip of pain. Very enjoyable.

The asphalt hell was bound to end, and as soon as we began ascending into the woods I began passing people who thought they had left me on the black flats. Finally the black torment was gone and I could jog up the hiking path headed towards Wengen, and then it would be just a bend in the road with the Jungfrau peak in view and then onwards to the mountain trails leading to the finish line. I kept on pushing, my legs starting to burn and the sweat was starting to pour. I was beginning to think I should just walk the rest of the way. But in my despair appeared a savior – and inspiration lifted my soul.

The Wall

The most majestic moment of the day occurred when I was below Wengen, my legs tired and my heart was protesting in my chest, I thought I would fall in line with the other runners and just walk slowly up the route. Then the mountain air was permeated by soul lifting familiar line, softly and far away at first, it cut through my physical despair as I went higher and lifted my feet upon ancient Greek sandals, beckoning me towards the Gods…“We don’t need no education…teachers leave them kids alone.” Some fantastically awesome person was blasting Pink Floyd the Wall through the forest – energy coursed through my body and I floated up the inclined path, filled with a beautiful spirit, leaving colleague after colleague behind to contemplate the form of my legs ascending the mountain. Philosophically, The Wall is probably one of the most magnificent songs a person can hear on a marathon when the trail turns steep and you think you can’t keep going. The Wall is a mental block inside your head telling you to stop and take a break. Breaking on through The Wall is the mental challenge long-distance running is supposed to represent (although now marathons are more of jogs next to the 100km races). There is nothing more glorious than feeling that energy burst through your body and feeling the weight evaporate as you fly onwards. So, to whoever it was blasting The Wall through the trees below Wengen, you’re awesome, thank you.

This amazing feeling died after I couldn’t hear the music anymore and the route switched back to the asphalt of the Disappointment of Wengen. This is really something I can’t get my head around, you have an awesome, beautiful area to run in, and the organizers decide to include as much fucking asphalt as possible. Why? I know this area, I’ve been up the way a number of times and I know that there are hundreds of kilometers of nice Swiss Alpine Club trails to run on, but we were back on asphalt, the scourge of my soul, the tormentor of my body.

Thanks to the God-forsaken asphalt my hip was sort of killing me beyond Wengen, and I had to walk, there was no realistic choice and I saw no point in hurting my body for an asphalt run. I made my way up past the dorf and onto the dirt road heading eventually up to the scree ridge and the Eiger glacier – nearly to the beginning of the end now. Then I saw that there was a time check point. There was a giant clock and guys starting to draw a line across the trail. They called out my name and encouraged me to press on. It seems (and I would need to independently confirm this) that I was one of the last people to make the cut-off for finishing the Jungfrau ordeal.

A Joyful Exit

Now that my body was brutalized and I could barely run, the fun part of the race began – negotiating a few kilometers of alpine trail, leading up to the high point of the race and an easy descent to the finish line. This last section climbed up through rocks and trees on a mountain hiking trail. I was moving slow, but my slow was still faster than everyone around me. This is the stuff I love to run on. The trails are intricate puzzles of foot placement and climbing. You fall into a comfortable flow of concentration jumping from rock to earth and finding ways to pass the people around you. The scree is the last section, it’s the remnants of the glacier climbing up and up to the pinnacle. This is where people take breaks, vomit, and occasionally need medical attention from the race support staff. I alternated between hiking and jogging my way up, the biggest problem being that I couldn’t easily run around the other folks on the narrow trail in front of me. My heart was pumping like mad and I just wanted to finish as quickly as possible. We ran under farmers waving Swiss flags, we ran past the Alpine horns blowing mythic notes into the mountain winds.

Passing by the last water station I carefully folded my cup and placed it in a garbage bag by the trail. This caught the attention of one of the marathon helpers, who couldn’t believe I would take the time to not only dispose of my trash, but even take the time to fold it up first to reduce the garbage volume. The marathon helpers are lucky if the runners try to drop their cups by the trail instead of tossing them over their backs in an overly dramatic gesture of exhaustion. Yes people, you do have the energy left to put the cup in the garbage bag instead of blindly throwing it into the wind.

One of the coolest things about the Jungfrau Marathon is way everyone addresses you by name (it’s written above your number), from the race organizers offering encouragement to the moms who are happy when you take the time to give their kid a high-five, to the random spectator who yells out, “Hey Mark, the beer is at the end on the right.” And then I saw it, the finish line was just a few seconds away and I pulled out some energy out of my deep near-gone reserves to run over the line in style. I was greeted by a smiling friend of the marathon, who placed a medal around my neck, and I was done.

Beyond the Jungfrau

The Jungfrau Marathon was, fuck…that was a hard run. Excessive asphalt is an unholy way to organize such an event, but probably I just need to stick to mountain marathons. Maybe I’ll start a new Greek myth about a man condemned to an afterlife of running the same asphalt road each day to attone for his sins. I’m not a flat surface runner, it just doesn’t offer my soul anything. I finished in 6 hours, 35 minutes, a full half hour more than I needed for the SwissAlpine K42 – but I don’t like to piss around about numbers and statistics, this isn’t football after all. The Jungfrau is probably an excellent (and enjoyable) marathon challenge if you normally run on roads and enjoy the normality of hard blackness under your feet. The views of Jungfrau and Eiger are amazing, but I’ve been on other fantastic runs this year, and nothing beats the SwissAlpine, where you run in the mountains as opposed to below them. The short mountain trail at the end kills most of the runners – it was where my heart filled with joy and I found the motivation to not just press on to finish but to take my body as far as it could go.

Now it’s the start of the 2012 running season, snows are starting to melt from the passes and I’m thinking, I’m thinking….Adelboden to Kandersteg over the Wildstrubel. And then…maybe the Leadville 100? No, first we start with the Swiss Irontrail T71.

Swiss Trail Running 2012: Irontrail T71

The thing I love about trail-mountain running is that it combines the best elements of speed and terrain. As a runner I move over mountain trails with speed inspired by ski touring. I use the foot work and balance I’ve developed as a sport climber. I stay light and go from valley to peak to valley in one day and feel a sense of exploration that traditional mountaineering doesn’t provide.

In 2011 I started with trail running with the Swiss Alpine K42, a nice little mountain marathon in the Davos region. I continued with the Jungfrau faux marathon and learned how much I hate running on asphalt, and now it’s 2012 and the passes are starting to clear of snow. In a race I look for elevation change and mountain terrain. I look for alpine exposure and the elements. The Junfrau marathon was a big disappointment in this respect, and that’s why this year I have my eyes set on the Irontrail T71.

2012 is the inaugural year of the Swiss Irontrail, with distances ranging from 21 to 200 km it has the longest single stage race in existence. As this will be my first ultra marathon I’m going to start easy and do the T71. The T71 is sort of short by ultra standards, 66.3 km distance but includes + 4’830 m / – 4’830 m. The basic path is Chur – Malixer Alp – Churwalden – Lenzerheide – Rothorn – Arosa – Weisshorn – Joch – Chur. It’s one of those races where you need to take a minimum amount of material with you to reduce the possibility of a runner dying during the event. I have my eyes on a Salomon XA Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 backpack, but have yet to find a way to buy one in Switzerland.

Naturally I’ll needs some shoes for this race as well. My beloved Salomon Crossmax XR shoes from 2011 are at the end, I’ve broken out a new pair (this time in blue) but I’m also looking at the La Sportiva Vertical K shoes. Anyways, here’s a good bye photo of my red Crossmax shoes, still a little muddy from running up and down and then back up again the Hornli in Zurich.

My Swiss Alpine – Elm – Linthal Run

Since running the 2011 SwissAlpine K42 marathon (and deciding the morning after to do the Jungfrau marathon) I’ve begun amassing mountain runs around Switzerland. These little adventures, or fast hiking exercises, I’m not sure what the current marketing concept is from Salomon, I guess I just like going from point A to B as fast as possible (hence the running) in the Swiss alpine environment. Afterall, you don’t need the organization of an actual marathon event to enjoy some trail running. In this edition, I present the run from Elm to Linthal over the Richetlipass.

I didn’t really intend on doing this trip, originally I wanted to go from Steinibach. to Linthal, but I took the wrong bus and ended up in Elm Dorf at 977m. I considered just running over the Segnaspass to Flims-Laax, but the trail was closed and the route to Linthal over the Richetlipass at 2261m was now the only option for getting out of the valley. According to the signs it’s an eight hour hike as you ascend up a beautiful valley and then negotiate some alpine terrain before descending down and finding the train station on the opposite side. The local drum band might be practicing along the path, and you’ll pass by a few award winning milk producers, who proudly display their achievements on their barns. This initial ascent continues for a few kilometers, and gradually beings rising as the mountain peaks come into view.

Swiss Tank Base

Soon the mountain panorama beings to reveal itself, and if you do the run on the right day of the week, you’ll now quite clearly discern the sound of artillery fire reverberating off the mountain walls. That’s not some sort of acoustic trickery, at the end of the valley there’s a Swiss Army tank base, officially named Schiessplatz Wichlen. Yes, a bonafide panzer firing range in fact, where locals and army fanatics can drop by to watch the Swiss tanks train their shooting skills. Being a fun-loving explosion boy I also wanted to check out the experience, but I also wanted to not miss the last train from Linthal. I did however, stop to take photos with my Ricoh GRD of the old panzer rusting in front of the base. From here you just follow the signs down the road a bit, then hang a left and begin the ascent to the Ski hutte. As a side note, if you’re running here don’t pick up any random tank shells you might find along the trail.

I stopped at the ski hut for a drink and enjoyed a Sinola, a type of Coca-Cola imitation. I got rid of the carbonation of course, stayed for a few minutes and then pressed on. Beyond the hut you’re on mountain trails heading up to the pass. The alpine sun was high and strong this day – and my body is tuned for cold-weather endurance. It’s just a few hundred meter assent, really just a short Swiss mountain jog up to the pass and then down the other side (sort of).

Mountain Panorama

I began ascending up and up along the trail. The higher ridges that seemed a world a way a few hours ago were now just above me and I was headed to the top of their backbone. Beyond the first ridge you have to descend down, and enjoy a fantastic alpine amphitheater, peaks filling 180 degrees of your vision. I stopped to shoot a panorama and then continued on. There’s another hut along the way, and on a fine sunny Saturday expect to say Gruezi to men with large white beards enjoying large steins of beer in the hot alpine sun. There’s a giant boulder, about halfway between the amphitheater ridges, and I stopped for a climbing break. The Salomon Crossman shoes sort of suck for rock climbing, but the boulder is easy enough to play around on without killing yourself. I like mountain running for the environment, and if you can’t stop to enjoy it there’s no point in running through it (for me at least).

Beyond the boulder pause you have a short ascent up to the final pass. From here you can continue up the blue alpine route (no trail just a rock ridge) up to the summit, or head down to Linthal. Naturally, I wanted to do the summit, but I also wanted to be on a train by 4pm, and the summit would wait for a day when I wasn’t already low on water. The descent down to Linthal is quite steep and muddy. It basically goes straight down and if you’re not accustomed to these trails expect to go slow or trip and fall on your face. Hiking sticks are highly advisable for the descent here, it’s just grass and rock, but it’s a steep beast when the sun is high, also expect to find shrooms along the way and indulge in fantasies of fairy kingdoms getting squashed under your feet.


The final run to Linthal is a gradual downhill descent, passing through woods and next to streams fed by the melting glaciers and mountain snow. If you get tired and ask the right person you’ll get a ride on a farm tractor, but don’t plan for it. I arrived at the Linthal train station at 4:30pm, making the adventure a comfortable 6.5 hours of mountain running (and walking) with tank picture breaks, a little bouldering and a cola in between. This was the hottest run I’d ever been on and drank half a liter of mineral water at a cafe while waiting for the next train.

Looking for more info on mountain running in Switzerland? My collection of running articles is growing.

Founder Institute Switzerland – Application Deadline

I was at a bootcamp event for the Founder Institute the other week. The event was held in the Swisscom Brain Gym, a cool part of the office in Bern where they’ve created a sort of creativity friendly place with living rooms like you might find in a Swisscom customer residence. There’s also a fine collection of phones on display, including a giant brick mobile phone. I thought Google Zurich has cool offices with their sofa made of tennis balls (and it is cool), but the Brain Gym is really a step above the Google model that people always drool over. Google feels like another planet, the Brain Gym is feels like a comfortable living room, but almost from another planet. A designer tennis ball sofa is cool, know what’s cooler? A whole wall made of tennis balls.


So what is it? The Founder Institute is a startup incubator organization coming out of Silicon Valley with the purpose of spreading entrepreunerialship to people like me, young professionals who like the flexibility of starting up a company but need some direction. Essentially you develop your company from the early idea stage with FI and are mentored by fantastic start folks to help you along your way and scale your great concept.

The Offer

The institute offers mentorship from partners and helps you form your team and shows you how to execute. In return you provide a 3.5% warrant on your company that you found, and everyone from the institute (including yourself) benefits from the growth and prosperity of the other companies that are founded. In this way it’s not about competing with your classmates, it’s about everyone having a vested interested in each company succeeding. I love this concept, and it makes a bit more sense to me at the moment than just going to school for an MBA. I like to learn by doing and I have enough degrees at the moment.

So here’s the deal, the Institute needs a certain number of applications to start the thing in May. If you’re interested in joining or just interested in this being possible, then please apply. The goal is close to being met, but if it’s not done by this Sunday it won’t go forward. The best part of the application is writing about why you want to join. I ended up quoting both Malcolm X and Hunter S. Thompson in my application, and now that I think about, I’m applying because I want to impact and hack the future instead of just passing through the present. Will you join me on this journey?

Apply to Founder Institute Switzerland

My Awesome Hedingen Wohnung zu Mieten

Various events in life now make it necessary to find a new renter for my current apartment, my wohnung is now free zu mieten. It’s at Arnistrasse 16, CH-8908 Hedingen in the Zurich countryside. In order to promote the project, I decided to make a website for it. It was a great time to apply my knowledge of SEO, and first I picked up the domain www.hedingen-wohnung.ch and then starting putting together some photography for the site. I needed some proper pictures for the apartment  – well, technically it’s more of a house, anyways, it was the ideal time to start playing with HDR photography. I played with the HDR option in Photoshop (CS3) and it resulted in some amazingly horrible results. So, I decided to get a proper program HDR tone-mapping program. After a little searching I decided on Photomatix Pro, a fine piece of software that makes high dynamic range imaging painless and the results are fantastic.

The apartment is fabulous combination of an old 200 year farm house rebuilt from the inside, but retaining much of the original wood and structure. A steel stair case connects the floors and the whole place is like a warm hug. On the top floor there’s a gallery and I put my photo studio up there. The ceiling is high enough for a small trampoline, but I just have a background setup.

Getting the place ready to shoot also entailed clearing things away to make it all minimalist and show off the design (as opposed to views of my camera equipment cluttering up the floor space). When you get that far you might as well wash the floors too, so I did that and then setup my Sony A900 with a 20mm Minolta lens to shoot my first interior images. I’ve seen amazing house photography before, but was mainly just hoping to produce some nice images. Happily, Photomatix is an excellent software program and you can easily produce natural looking images with minimal time input. I supplemented the natural light in one image with an Elinchrom strobe, but otherwise it was all just natural light. Photomatix gives you different tone mapping options which range from that horrible gaudy-over-saturation look to the very natural, almost like you’re standing there, but with a little pop so it feels just a tad like the image is from Wonderland look.

Arnistrasse 16 is easily the best designed place I’ve ever lived in, and I feel like I’m walking through a magazine some days. It includes such funky amenities as an induction oven and internet connection in every room. It’s a certified Minergie place, which means it uses the minimal energy for heating and cooling. It technically has four floors, with an open gallery on the top level where you can setup a studio, or an office if you like. More information on the wohnung is on the main site, www.hedingen-wohnung.ch and if you’re interested in visiting the place I would be happy to show you around.

My Swiss Alpine Run – Luaterbrunnen to Eiger Rotstock

One week to go before the Jungfrau Marathon, and I was in the Jungfrau region to train. This was a special training run in fact, because it was an essentially unplanned for screw up. See, I got a few dates mixed up in my head and when I left the house on Friday morning on the 2nd of Sept. I thought I would be running the Jungfrau Marathon the next day. As it turns out – in reality, the race is on Sept. 10th, one week away. I realized this later that morning, but since the hotel was already booked I figured I would just go there anyways and run from Lauterbrunnen to the Kleine Scheidegg, which is the last 20km of the official Jungfrau Marathon race route. Now I am relaxing on a German train speeding towards Bern with my netbook and a fine Franziskaner Weissbier to recount the adventure, all is well in the world.

A Jog in the Alps

The run up from Lauterbrunenen was uneventful, the roads give way to trees and dirt and little rocks. This climbs passed Wengen and soon the view of the mountains comes into view. Those high peaks kissed with snow fields and glaciers melting into history. I try to get into the Alps and shoot a lot of pictures so maybe one day I’ll show some grandkids what it was like the when the Alps still had ice and snow. I’ve done this route before when hiking with Kate, a friend of mine who was visiting Switzerland and I decided to show her the Alps. Any route which starts in trees and green and ends in glaciers and high peaks is a fun day for me. This route is a fun run, but leaves my body unfulfilled and a lingering desire is present at the end, with a lust for thinner air. When I reached the remnants of the Eiger glacier my legs were a little tired, but I must be in half-way decent shape, because I didn’t feel any need to stop or have a beer at the restaurant. It was still early, just 10:30am and since I was already there, I figured there could be more to do and see. This is the mountaineer in me, always pushing for more. I imagine I’ll feel differently when I run the full Jungfrau Marathon, which starts in Interlaken and ends at the Kleine Scheidegg. But on this day, my spirit desired something more.

Thinner Air

It took me just over two hours and thirty minutes to get from Lauterbrunnen to the end of the race at the Eiger glacier (what’s left of it at that altitude). This was only 20 km and I really wasn’t that tired and it was still early so I decided to just keep going. Beyond the Eiger Nordwand train stop there’s the trail leading up to the mountaineering routes, and I decided to just see what was up there. The normal trail stops at this point but there’s one of those nice blue SAC Alpine trails which includes ropes to climb up. I kept ascending till just below the famous wall of the Eiger and then saw a continuation of blue to a little peak to my left. To be honest, if I had had a climbing axe and better shoes I might have just kept on going up – but this of course, would have be irresponsible and…totally awesome (maybe another day). Instead of climbing the Eiger I continued to the smaller peak and a few minutes later I was on the summit of the Rotstock at 2660 meters. At the Rotstock I stayed to run around and pose for some self-portraits, naturally I want to look cool in my Salomon running gear. I also figured it would be a good time to record some thoughts in the SAC summit book. So, in total I started from Lauterbrunen at 796m and ended up at 2660m, a nice workout for the day. This was my version, what I call the Jungfrau-Rotstock half-marathon, which ascends just a few more vertical meters than the SwissAlpine K42.

Mountain Zen

I’ve never been much of a runner, but mountain running has a fine allure. Being light, going fast and traversing up and down peaks gives me a certain sense of freedom. I find it fun to train for marathons when I take the opportunity to just run and see what I’ll find. You might find Swiss Army tank bases doing target practice or just some peace of mind pushing yourself over passes and through mountain ampitheaters, either way it’s a fun way to spend the day and if you take a camera you’re sure to capture some wonderful mountain vistas. That’s the real reason why I like this mountain marathon thing, the adventure of discovering new places and just pushing myself a little to see what will happen. Cape diem and all that mens sana en copre sana bullshit. Plus I like to dress up like an X-man in Salomon running gear and do something with the look aside from planning a trip to comic-con in San Diego (although it’s on my to visit list).

Jungfrau Marathon

Next weekend on the 10th of September 2011 is the official Jungfrau Marathon, it starts just in front of Hooters in Interlaken (or in front of the Grand hotel, depends on where you look), and ends at what is left of the Eiger glacier. I still need to find a hotel, I imagine that Interlaken will be booked out so I may be staying in Spiez. I’m looking forward to the starting bell (I’m assuming a giant cow bell will kick things off). I didn’t die on the SwissAlpine K42 so I’m planning to survive and write an article about the Jungfrau Marathon experience. And then, well, who knows? The passes don’t have snow yet so I’ll probably go on a few more running adventures in the Alps before the ski touring season starts.

SwissAlpine K42 Marathon Report

I paid for the ticket and decided to run the race. I finished the SwissAlpine K42 in just over six hours. 1800m up, 1600m down, 42 km from the start to finish, my first marathon experience and enough of an adventure to peak my interested in future races. SwissAlpine, more than a race, but sometimes it’s mostly a walk. Here are my thoughts on the race. What it was like running the highest marathon in Europe – what I learned, what worked, and what comes next.

But First: Why?

Running a marathon makes as much sense as climbing a mountain – there is no point to it. Why put your healthy body through such a torment when it’s not going to directly help your survival in this life? For the sense of adventure and accomplishment, an honest answer indeed. I didn’t decide to run the marathon for any particular reason except that my girlfriend suggested it, and I agreed. Although there’s no point in it, it seemed like an interesting challenge, my nose smelled a wisp of adventure and I was committed. I’ve been living in Switzerland for going on 8 years now. Hiking in the Alps turned into mountaineering, I like to ski tour, sport climb, and just generally enjoy finding adventure in the mountains. I don’t really feel a need to run anywhere however. There are no ghosts from my past I feel a need to get away from and I enjoy taking my time strolling down the streets. The draw of the SwissAlpine was to see if I could do it and to feel like an American hero. Of course, this was all in my head. When you stand at the foot of a mountain, the brain will always tell you to turn back. It is the concept of failure, of not being able to climb a crack to summit that makes mountaineering interesting. I like the idea of moving fast over rocks and across wide distances like I can do ski touring – and if you drop the weight of a climbing pack and use light shoes, you have this wonderful combination of speed and can experience the mountain environment in ways only mountain goats and lions know. Plus, you get to wear awesome running gear from brands like Salomon.


I started with the best intentions, and began training for the SwissAlpine back in May. I ran in the mountains around Zurich like the Hornli, and then Rigi Kulm and even headed to Bettmeralp to train at altitude. I found that I could generally maintain a pace of 500m/hr elevation gain and I only trained on vertical ascents, not focusing so much on flat land running. Then an emotional bomb exploded in the start of July and I spent the rest of the month pulling out of the heart breaking madness. For nearly all of July and most of June I hardly ran at all. However, I subscribe to the notion set down by Hunter S. Thompson, that if you buy the ticket, you take the ride, and I set out with the goal of finishing the K42, and a day or so before affirmed in my head that I would go to Davos and do this thing. The morning of the race, July 30th, 2011 I heated up some pasta and took the three hour train trip to Bergun, a little mountain village where the race would start.

Bergun – Kesch – Pass

I felt good waiting for the race to start in the little mountain village of Bergun. I had a start time at 11:30am (for those of us who would need more than five hours to finish). The speakers blared some music I can’t quite remember, it could have been “you’re never gonna keep my down” but it’s irrelevant now. My mind was lucid, but with a determined focus sitting in the back of my primal brain. The purest times in life are when you know that you’ll embark on an adventure, but harbor few expectations for the outcome. Then it was time, and we started running. We started in a field of the village and then went through the main street. From the onset of the race I was getting passed right and left as we exited Bergun and began ascending in altitude. I expected this – I hate running on pavement. I was a little bummed at the start of the race, because we were running on pavement and asphalt, the reason I don’t normally like running races in the first place. “Get me off this dammed surface and onto some rocks” I thought. After a few kilometers we started the ascent up the mountain along a little river, and the trail turned to compacted earth and rock. At some point, everyone around me started walking, and I did as well. This was the point that I started passing people on their rights and lefts. I hate running on flat pavement, but love going up mountain trails. By walking with a long stride I was actually able to pass some people who were still trying to run up the beast. My training was in mountaineering you see, so I had no problem maintaining a quick walking pace up to the hut. Sure my legs were getting fatigued, but normally I’m doing an ascent like this with a 20-30 kg back on my back and mountaineering boots on my feet. The biggest hassle was trying to pass by people on the trail who didn’t see the point in standing aside and letting me go by. Beyond the river our path began winding through the trees and wisps of the cool mountain air began permeating my skin. There were clouds in the sky, but the sun was warm and I wondered why I had taken a jacket in my pack.

As the woods gave way to alpine loveliness the landscape opened up. That wide rocky expanse flooded my soul and I felt at home. Now we were on the mountain hiking trails above 2000m, climbing up to the hut – the high point of the race at 2625m. On these trails it’s easy to lose your sense of time and think you’ll be there forever in a perpetual quest for the end, but then you turn a bend and catch a glimpse of the hut, it gives your body hope – and you try to run a little way before your lungs complain about the lack of oxygen. The weather on the ascent up to the hut was rather nice. A little bit of sun and nice cool temperatures, perfect for my body type. They checked us at the hut, looked into our eyes to see if were still coherent or not. My lungs were feeling fine and my legs didn’t want to sit, it was far easier than some of the 4000m peaks I’ve ascended. I contemplating stopping to rest, but only stayed long enough to put on my jacket as a wind was blowing from the ridge. From the hut we had to descend down and then climb back up to the pass. The fun was about to begin.

Over the Sertigpass

From the Kesch hut we had to descend to the mountain plateau and then up to the Sertigpass. Often times one side of a mountain looks fine and the other is grey and cold, and that’s what we had here. After the hut the wind was blowing and it started to rain on the way to the pass. For me this is the best weather to run in. I love it when it turns nasty, clouds envelope the ridges and the Gods start to forsake you. Your body is more efficient when it’s a little cold. Muscles don’t overheat, you just need to worry about tendons and ligaments losing elasticity, making an injury more of a risk. I just put on my super light Salomon running jacket and Mammut gloves and was good to go. Most folks on the race had nothing but their shorts and shirts, and wrapped themselves in the light orange ponchos the organizers were handing out. I couldn’t imagine running up a mountain in shaky weather in only light shorts and a T-shirt, but I guess it’s what a lot of people like to do. I prefer staying warm and flying down the mountain trails like a half-human mountain goat super hero. In the future, I’ll pick up a pair of Salomon running pants, probably the 3\4 length version – it would have been better to keep my knees warmer.

I think the cold and terrain was a torture for some people, but I relished in the nastiness. This is my environment. My body is tuned to survive when the weather wants to kill you. My only challenge was trying to pass all the people on the mountain trails. These trails are only for one person at a time, and it’s hard to find room to overtake, but I’m a resourceful basterd. See, most folks had basically no idea how to run down on mountain trails, and that is by far my greatest strength. Running down hiking trails is what I excel at. It’s sort of a combination of dancing and climbing technique. I get into a rhythm and my legs just dance along the trail. My training has been descending down those trails with a 30 kg mountaineering backpack, and when you remove the mass of the pack and put me in light trail running shoes, well…I can literally fly down the trails. I only saw two other runners who also knew how to jump along the rocks and float with the environment. Everyone else was going sort of slow, small little steps and trying not to slip. They would avoid all the big rocks and timidly step down the trail. I on the other hand would jump from one rock to the next in long strides and sometimes float for 2 meters of trail in the air before the next foot placement. I was easily gliding past runners and felt like a bird. Rocks are your friend on these trails. The big ones are the best, you only need some decent shoes to grip a bit (and the Salomon shoes were excellent for this), and then just let gravity pull you down the mountain, hopping from rock to rock to maintain direction and to control your momentum. I was a super hero. I was spiderman and I felt an amazing sensation of freedom and quiet calm letting my legs navigate the trail like a jigsaw puzzle that I could solve without thinking. Then the descent ended, back on the normal trails were the fun ended.

The Long Run to Davos

I probably sound like an arrogant cocky prick describing how easy it was to pass people on the ascent and descent, but that’s just my environment. Running on a flat surface is by far my largest weakness however, and after we got off of the mountain trails I was again getting passed right and left by folks who seemed to know how to run a marathon. After the descent from the pass the race was just another 20 or so kilometers to Davos Platz. The trail was basically flat at this point, descending gradually to the stadium and the finish line. This is where I slowed down and many who I had passed on the mountain were now going by me with large smiles on their faces. For the past 6 or 7 years I’ve been doing mountaineering and climbing. So my legs are highly optimized with muscle memory reactions for going up and down mountains, balancing on thin rock ridges, and going all day long, but I hate running on flat surfaces, my body literally doesn’t know how to do it (and has shown to desire to learn). Unless I’m sprinting my body doesn’t feel right and I would rather walk. On the flats your feet are just going the same way with the same stride, and my mind sort of gets bored and I think it would be more enjoyable to walk. In the future I’ll train more on flat runs to get the right stride and increase my flat stride endurance, but for the 2011 K42 the last 15-20 km is where I took the most time.

Heart Exploding Finish

The last 15 km to Davos Platz were enjoyable (despite being mostly flat). Green and grassy, probably the easiest leg for most of the runners. Since this part is closer to the mountain villages, we were often greeted by random folks along the trails ringing giant cow bells – a fine motivation it was. The locals all seemed to show a great respect for us mountain marathon fools, and I thank them for that. A gradual downhill grade and drink stands with water and warm flat cola and random cow bells. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday. I started drinking the cola at this point, the Isostar mix I had in my backpack sort of tasted like banana and made my stomach ill. Eventually the valley opened up and you could hear the music coming from the stadium area – the finish. But it was also 7 or kilometers away. My energy wasn’t tapped out at this point, but I could feel the tension in my legs, and figured it would be a shame if I pulled a tendon on my first marathon, and walked a lot to go easy on my legs. At this point I knew I would finish, and wanted to do it strong.

I know that with a marathon you’re supposed to ramp up your energy from start to finish, but I love sprinting to the finish line. This implies that I didn’t use enough energy during the rest of the race, and I’m fine with that. I ran the last 2 kilometers non-stop on flat asphalt (my least favorite thing in the running world) and when I heard a woman yell from the sidelines that it was only 500m to the finish I ramped up my speed. As I entered the stadium my lungs were exploding but I had some energy reserves and decided to push myself just a bit more and I passed a guy next to me as we ran around the track at Davos Platz to the giant Migros finish line. People were lined along the finish corridor cheering, and that energy feeds you like an adrenaline shot, and I had a fine sense of super-human accomplishment as I passed the final line and resisted the temptation to collapse. The official time was 6 hours and 6 minutes. 1800 meters up, 1600 meters down, 42 km all the way, the first time I’ve run more than 10 km in my life, the first race I’ve run since the last Detroit Turkey Trot I did back in 1998 or something. Was it worth it? Hells yes. Mountain marathons are a fun way to experience the Alps. Ascending fast, moving over the mountain terrain like a wind spirit and pushing my lungs to the limit at the finish was a fantastic feeling. Now for some thoughts on gear and trash.

What Gear Worked

Basically, all the gear I had worked fucking amazingly well. The Salomon running gear is just basically the most wonderfully designed gear you could imagine for the sport. The compression shorts and calf compression things really are like a second skin, breathing extremely well, and actually help to support your muscles. The Lab running pack feels like nothing on your back and I could trek all day and night with it. I also took a pair of Mammut gloves along, which are essential for me when the weather turns nasty. When it rains and gets cold you stand to lose a lot of energy via your hands, and a nice pair of wind-proof gloves will keep you comfortable when it starts to rain or snow. The light running jacket from Salomon was also essential. It’s super light, fits easily in a backpack or on your belt and actually keeps the rain off of your body. It has a hood, which was great and kept my ears from freezing. The Pearl Izumi arm warmers were fantastic as well. They retain heat over your arms even when it rains and you can pull them down over your forearms if you get too hot. Plus, all of this gear weighs next to nothing. And now for a scolding…

Pick up your trash

No, I get it, you’re running a marathon in the beautiful Swiss alps and you think you have the right to litter? Oh right, you’re just so exhausted, you just got a cup of water and it’s just too much trouble to drink it and put in the multiple trash cans so you just drop it somewhere along the trail? Really, are those few seconds needed to stop at the trash bag going to cost you the race? I think not, please pick up your trash and leave it at the next station. I can understand dropping cups near the water stations (like those nicely lined up in this photo), however, I came across a lot of things like empty power gels and rain ponchos along the race path, and it was sort of amazing to me that people would just leave their shit along the beautiful mountain trails. If you’re running in a city at least a cleaning crew can easily follow the race and collect trash, but it’s not so easy in the mountains. Just because you paid a race fee doesn’t give you the right to litter. See, it’s easy, if you consume a power bar or gel, then just stick the wrapper in your pocket. Is that really so hard? The next time I see someone just dropping their power bar wrapper on the mountain trail I may just push them off the side, but I guess then it would be even more work cleaning up the wrapper of their body impacted on the rocks, and…I’m not an aggressive person to start out with. I follow the ethos of “pack it in, take it out.” It implies that you’re personally responsible for the waste you generate and transport out of the backcountry. With my backpack it’s easy, I eat a candy bar, and then stick the wrapper back in the pocket, then I throw it out when I get to a trash can. Respect the mountains that your choose to run in…trash rant over.

The SwissAlpine K42 was an awesome race. It’s a fabulous was to experience the Swiss mountains and I can highly recommend it for those adventurous souls who like to run at altitude. Thank you to all the organizers, to Florian Kistler from Salomon for making awesome race gear, and to my girlfriend for suggesting that I run. What comes next? Well, I have a spot in the Jungfrau Marathon in Sept. It goes from Interlaken up to the Eiger North Wall and sounds like a fun time. The SwissAlpine was indeed more than a race, it was an experience.

Swiss Startup Camp 2011 Basel – Recollections

The train ride from Basel to Zurich on a Friday night is wonderful place to be. Half the people are calm family types, smiling and say they love each other as they sit down, and the other half are pre-drinking Feldschlossen or some cheap wine, getting ready to live it up at the Zurich clubs all night or a party in Sissach. I’m calm and alone on my computer, recounting an amazing day at the 2011 Swiss Startup Camp in Basel. The day was a blast, a warm, invigorating tech-blast of knowledge and inspiration. It was a high-speed infusion of energy and inspiration, and I hope the momentum will take me places I never imagined.

This is a summary of my experiences at the third Swiss Startup camp in Basel, one of the premier gatherings of folks in the Swiss startup scene. You enter not really knowing what to expect, and after picking up your t-shirt and grabbing a coffee we started to discuss who wants to talk about what (the usual barcamp procedure). There are many things which can happen at such an event, but for sure you’ll walk away from the day with a head full of ideas and inspiration to boot. For the past half year I’ve been focused on painting, photography and learning to make movies, and to a certain extent dropped out of the startup events around Zurich. However, I’m ready to get back into it and see what happens. I’ve also been in a sort of tech-soul searching mode for the past half year, and have now focused my energies in three convergent directions: mobile technology, UX/UI, and ebook design. I found my way into sessions about Lean Startup, Scrum, and the Quantified Self.

Lean Startup Factory

The Lean Startup Factory session by Remy and Reto had the biggest impact on me. Lean startup is trending on the Swiss Startup Scene, a take on the Lean Startup Factory from the US. The point is that there’s lots of business ideas every day, week, month, etc. What do we do with them, nothing goddammit, and that needs to change. Forget about sweating the domain name, half desiging a logo, and then failing to execute the idea. What good are good ideas if they never get off the ground? Execution is far more important than inspiration. So fuck the NDAs and business plans, we need to execute, get to the core of beast and start the rock n’ rolla. Well, that was what was going through my head when I listened to Remy (SuperText) and Reto (Doodle) talk about the idea of organizing a Lean Startup Factory weekend in the Zurich area this summer. The main (Fight Club free interpretation) is to dedicate one weekend to breath life in one of your ideas – Build the next twitter in 2 days.

No SWOT, no business research, just team building. 30 people get together on a Friday night, build the teams, and find the core of the idea. Get to the core and execute the idea. No secrets, each team owns the project. No NDAs. Each team owns what they have (because ideas are worthless without execution). The point came up, what about the Swiss startup weekend that already took place. Well, word is that pre-planning and NDAs killed it, because you start to fight between one another instead of creating. Someone said on the street that this will be corrected for this year, but I’m totally inspired by Remy and Reto. Now, who is it for? The startup factory is not limited to developers, but also open to people keen on visual design, interaction design, usability, copywriting, etc. It’s about the whole picture, not just the code. This is the stuff I dream for. During the (t)here Magazine 1 Day of Art in Copenhagen I was exposed to the same method. You go to an inspiring location, dream up ideas on a Friday night, and then create hardcore all of Saturday and show the result. During 1 Day of Art I created paintings I wouldn’t have done in Zurich, and it was all due to the unique energy and inspiration created around the event.

For me, lean factory feels exactly like 1 Day of Art. When I went to 1 Day of Art Copenhagen, it was all hardcore expression and creation. The fine folks from (t)here Magazine put the day together, and I was able to attend thanks to exposure on Talenthouse. However, at the end of the day it was the excellent creative energy and environment of the weekend, cutting out all distractions and just painting with determination in the bathroom of Hotel Fox. It was environment and execution of the idea, trust the process and ride the creative wave and you won’t have to worry about the weekend being a failure – success is the only mother fucking option. The word Factory conjures up the work of Andy Warhol and music from Manchester. You just need to trust in the method and the people. Get people together who want to create, put them in a room with the tools they need, and good things will happen, failure isn’t an option because it’s not part of the equation. The factory plan is like this, everyone meets on Friday, present and talk over ideas, then form some teams and spend the weekend creating, coding, designing, and see what happens. If you’re into this head over to the group, Lean Startup Factory on Amazee.

Lukas Fischer – Lean Startup

I like Lean, and I love reading about management strategies in IT and dreaming of applying them to engineering projects, so after the factory talk I headed over the listen to Lukas Fischer give a rundown on Lean Startup. Lukas heads up netnode.ch, guzuu.com, and spent some time chilling in San Francisco last summer learning and meeting with folks and he wanted to share his thoughts and experiences with Lean. The lean startup trend seems to be trending hard on the Swiss startup landscape, and the room wall filled to capacity to hear what the buzz is about. Lukas started by stated some facts, 70% of startups fail, 10% make money. Why? Because startups often don’t make stuff customers actually want (logical, no?). Lean isn’t a management magic bullet, it’s just a set of best practices to help startups succeed. The concept was set down by @ericries, and @sgblank, considered the fathers of lean startup. First, let’s start at the start. What is a startup? It’s a human institution to deliver a product or service under extreme uncertainty. It could also be an organization used to search for a scalable business model. Lean helps to do that. Here’s my summary of his talk (a bit with my interpretation filled in), but you can also get the slides directly (below here).

So, what is best way to see if there are customers for your idea? Well, you can go through these steps to topics with CUSTOMER DEVELOPMENT:

  • Customer discovery – test hypothesis
  • Customer validation – charge money
  • Customer creation – start sales
  • Scale company – scale it

This sounds all well and good, but what does Lean mean? With Agile development, the point is to do customer development really fast. Speed is key, so use an iteration process (as opposed to Waterfall) when developing your product.

Ideas – Build code – Measure data – Learn – Repeat

Now, the Waterfall model is ok if you already know the solution. However, it is not good for startups because you don’t know the customers, and therefore you are also ignorant of the final solution. So it makes sense to use an interaction process as shown above. So how do you get Lean?

  1. Forget Waterfall
  2. Build up Agile
  3. Build team – focus only on problem team and solution team
  • To reduce the clutter, focus on the Problem and the Solution. The problem team focuses on customers and finding the perfect solution. The solution team builds it as fast as possible
  • Minimum viable product (MVP). When you start with an idea, you need a product which solves a real client problem, but just solves one pain.
  • Eliminate features. Throw out features and resolve a problem for a customer, if it doesn’t solve a problem, remove it from your code.
  • Early evangelists. Feedback of early adopters and people who love your vision is very important, they will tell you early on what features are missing
  • Continuous integration. Iterate, iterate, iterate, deploy your application as fast as possible, measure if the new version is better than old one.
  • Product market fit. A company has “product market fit” when it has found a product that customers really want.
  • Measuring product market fit. Would you be sad if the product no longer exists, if less than 25% are very disappointed, then your product just sucks.
  • Charge. People pay if they can solve a real problem, charge from day 1, it finds out quickly if people are willing to pay for a product or not.

All in all Lukas gave an excellent talk on Lean. For more information you can check out the 5-step startup metric model by @davemclure, and there are internet sites like startuplessonslearned.com. So, my take away messages included, iterate, fix problems, make an error only once, ask why if it happens 5 times, and use lean to stop creating products people don’t want.

Scrum – What is it?

After two sessions of Lean I was looking for something else along those lines, so I headed over to Scrum with Steve Holyer (@zurcherart). Steve is a web worker and a certified scrum master, so he’s a reliable person to talk with on the Scrum subject. What is Scrum? The term originates from Rugby, where a scrum is used to restart the game when the ball has gone out of play. It can also be, an iterative, incremental methodology for project management, often seen in agile software development. What can we use to describe it? Visibility,empowerment, commitments, agility, efficient, hard, easy, fun, self-managing, cool, it works, best practices, hyper-productive. I’m totally new to Scrum but, from Steve I got the basics. There are some main team roles: Product owner, Team, Scrum master.

Product owner: Knows the customer, decides where the team should go, but not how they get there or how fast, owns the product backlog, prioritizes the product backlog (but does not estimate the stories in the backlog). Usually not the line manager.

Team: 5-9 people, doing the work to complete the project or sprint, self organizing, the team want to get it done and it’s up to the team to get it done, cross-functional, attend the daily scrum, not limited to coders and developers but also analysts, testers, etc. Can also include scrum master.

Scrum master: Coaches everyone in the process and scrum practices, removes impediments, holds the daily scrum, usually not part of the team, usually not the line manager, usually not the tech guru, protects the team. Leads most of the meetings.

Then we move into activities, what is the scrum, how does everything work? We start out with activities. Activities are basically just meetings, but very well defined meetings, which follow the same format in a limited time and are well structured. These include sprint planning, daily scrum, and review. The first two are the less-obvious for me. Sprint Planning: Product owner presents the backlog, the team is there to question the product owner, re-estimate, re-prioritize, estimate velocity, select stories for the sprint. Part two starts after lunch. Break down tasks, at the end the team commits to delivering so and so stories at the end of the sprint. Daily Scrum: This is the sprint commitment, the team has committed to deliver this to you, if you add new tasks in the middle of the sprint, you’re asking them to do something that breaks their commitment. Do you really want to do that? If yes then stop the sprint and replan.

As a mechanical engineer who is always working in Waterfall, it was very interesting to hear Steve talk about Scrum. Some of these techniques are being brought over into the mechanical world, where it has been called Concurrent Engineering. However, I would rather go to the source, and I like the terms Agile and Scrum a lot more. I’ll see how I can integrate the Lean and Scrum management and development ideas into my future projects. There are many parallels in the mechanical engineering world, especially now as more and more projects rely on simulations and virtual prototyping in the development process, but change doesn’t always come easily. Still, I’m optimistic for the future.

The Quantified Self

My last session of the camp was about a website called Quantter (Quan#er) and the Quantified self by Denis Harscoat (@harscoat). Do you know what that means? I had no clue, but it’s the future, and this is how it has begun. The quantified human was the most experimental session I attended. I say experimental mainly because the movement is still so new that even a wikipedia entry didn’t come up when I googled for it before the talk. Quantified Self refers to humans who have quantified themselves, it means people who gather, digest, and interpret data about themselves. Their heart rate throughout the day, their brain waves and sleep patterns, how much they walk each day, what they eat, all these things can be easily measured and recorded now using basic sensors or an iPhone app. This will be big for various reasons. On one hand, we all know that people love to collect and analyze data, and if they can do it about themselves and then share it, it opens up a big market for people to compare their data with that of other people. It’s also an avenue for medical research, and helping people gauge their own healing process and for doctors to monitor patient stats in realtime. The idea is really very powerful. It is the idea of knowing yourself in numbers. It means development of tools for quantifying parts of your life, and using technology to understand how to live in a better way. Once you have and can see the data, the next question is how to interpret it, and then to take action on what you’ve found out about yourself. The website Quantter (Quan#er) is a platform for people to share tweets and things about the stuff they’ve quantified. I can see this as being a big, actually potentially huge growth area in the future if it takes off. For it to take off there needs to be mobile applications to easily record relevant information that can be quantified, and I think that’s where the money will be made. For more info on the quantified self, check out Quantifiedself.com to get info on what people are doing with it and meetups. There’s also a video of Denis of a meetup in Amsterdam on vimeo.

The End: Moment of Zen

Thank you to all the organizers and sponsors, this third Swiss startup camp was fantastically awesome. The startup camp is a wonderful platform for startup folks around Switzerland to meet and develop new opportunities and ideas. It’s consistently the best barcamp I attend every year (yes, it beats out Berlin) and I left Basel with some serious motivations and ideas. Now it’s time to go to work. But first, your Moment of Zen, here’s my favorite random quote from the day (picked up at the after-party):

9 women working one month can’t create a baby.

Ruins of Detroit Matterhorn of Michigan

I don’t see ruins in Detroit, I see mountains and inspiration. The term ruins implies that something has not simply fallen into neglect, but is somehow lost to society. It is degraded beyond its intended state to such a degree that it is lost from redemption. The inspiration, the reason for creation has been lost and totally forgotten by those who built it, and no one wants to carry on the idea.  We don’t remark on the ruins of Notre Dame or the ruins of DDR Berlin, and we don’t talk about the ruined glaciers and mountain ranges in Colorado. Ruin is a physical and mental state of being. A building can be old, the walls crumbling and the facade faded, and we can call Versailles a monument to the pinnacle of French art in the time of Louis XIV. I think of the chateau west of Paris as ruined as any other tourist building in Europe, where the inspiration for its creation has long since been neglected and ignored. The buildings exist to what was, but speak nothing of the future. What good is a beautiful building if it doesn’t inspire? Keeping the outside looking nice is irrelevant when the purpose for being no longer exists. Nothing useless is truly beautiful. Everything is in flux, and it’s all falling apart in one way or another. The Duomo cathedral in Milan is in ruins from my perspective, and as it’s rebuilt and reconstructed it contains physical pieces of yesterday and today, but the idea of Rome is as dead now as it was when the Empire failed and fell because no one cared to keep it going.

Remnants and Ruins

I think of the remnants of the empires of Detroit as the mountains of Michigan, physically and philosophically, and should all be turned into parks for everyone to experience and to explore. Exploration of the natural world feeds the adventure centers of the brain. The unpredictable landscapes and oceans challenge us to survive outside of our comfort zones and the trappings of society. I’ve always found adventure difficult to have in a city environment, and it’s a primary reason why I live in Switzerland, where a healthy balance between cities and outdoor exploration is embedded into society. I like places that inspire me to do things today.

Standing at the gates of Versailles makes me wonder what it was like when an angry mob knocked on the door for the head of Marie Antoinette (or was that only a movie). Standing in the main entrance of the Packard plant in Detroit makes me wonder what I could do in life if I applied myself a little bit more. I don’t see ruins in Detroit, I see mountains to explore and to be inspired  by, and the main and most accessible mountain range is the Packard automotive plant. Packard is the Swiss Alps of Michigan, the Urbex Matterhorn of the Motor City. The feeling I have walking up crumbling stairs in Packard is the same sensation I experience descending down the ridge of the Zinalrothorn in Zermatt. The terrain is unsteady, you don’t know what’s around the next corner, and your sense of adventure is highly tuned to your surroundings.

Glaciers of Detroit

Packard is not a collection of ruins to me because I don’t feel like the inspiration which created Detroit is dead, but rather sleeping a little bit. Packard is a great collection of caverns to explore. Staring down the long dark halls is as mystifying as staring out across the width of the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland. Cracks in the floor exposing the lower levels is like looking down into the long darkness of a large crevasse.  The  fallen ceilings and walls remind me of the car-sized boulders that litter the Oberaletsch Glacier. The plant is filled with the history of the city and the Empire era of Detroit. Like the glaciers telling the story of the ice leaving the landscape of Switzerland, Packard is covered with grafitti on the inside, telling different stories as time ticks by. The collapsed floors make me think of how the ice has carved images into the rock faces as it flows and then recedes.

Both are living in a sense, the transformation is due to weathering and to humans. Water flows into cracks in rock and concrete, expands upon freezing, and another little piece breaks off the walls and mountain peaks. Both are dangerous and deadly to the naive who venture there, and a helmet, boots, and rope would be advisable in both the mountains of Detroit and Switzerland. Walking through Packard in my Doc Martens, I feel I look like the Japanese and Korean tourists who head up to the Junfraujoch in tennis shoes and a light jacket. We’re all looking for the same thing I think, life isn’t as complicated as writers like to think it is. Exploration is an important part of life, and both urbex and mountaineering combine physical tenacity with mental stamina.

Packard is explored, Packard burns, it’s been gutted and probably there are sill bodies hidden away in dark corners, but it’s not a scary place to me. I stand there in awe.  I’m awed by how it crumbles, how nature is taking it  back to the earth.  Empires can fall as quickly (or faster) than they were built, and this is an important perspective to understand. Europe houses the ruins of Monarchs, Fascism and Communism to name a few. Detroit saw the birth of industrial empires, but the inspiration for a second coming of Detroit is all around. Humans build up large things and think the monuments should exist forever, but they’re all being knocked down by time and the desire of people to maintain the momentum of an empire.  This is perspective, this is the life and transformation of an Empire and everyone should see it. Empires are built and they fall. Huge masses of concrete can be built up and a few years go by and they are skeletons, just like you’ll be one day.

Packard looks like a city in the aftermath of a war, sitting on the far edge of the blast radius from a nuclear impact. Standing at that point where everyone gets vaporized and all the windows are blown out, but the buildings remains standing. I used to play paintball in Packard at a place called Splatball City, and if you look you’ll find remnants of those wars and happy times of my teenage years. People say it’s the fallout of economic war. They say that the result is the same as a military confrontation. Windows blasted out, nothing inside the walls anymore to support life – just places to hide away in from the wild life outside.

Detroit and Berlin

Packard 2010 probably looks a bit like Berlin in May of 1945. You can imagine snipers hiding away on the roof tops of Packard and werewolves plotting in the shadows as Russian soldiers drag German women into empty rooms. Or you can imagine Bratz dolls roaming the halls and chilling on window sills, but that’s just my imagination filling the page with bullshit for an unwritten movie script. A fitting notion, given the booming movie industry in current-day Detroit.

Like the glaciers, the ruins of Detroit won’t last forever, they are mortal, and must undergo the aging process like everything else in this world. The ruins of Detroit are fading like the ice in the Alps, or the melting snows of Killamanjaro. If you have the motivation and the opportunity, go check them out while you still can. Urban exploration is something you have to do in the moment. Old buildings get demolished or closed off, or their innards gutted as they transform from majestic theaters to forgotten memories. I take pictures of the glaciers because I want to show my grandchildren what it was like, in that time long ago when ice covered the Alps. It’s all in flux, and Detroit is getting reworked like Berlin in the late 90’s.

It’s not a bad thing that Potsdamer Platz now has a Sony Center instead of a no-man’s land, but’s good that you can still find one of the last guard towers if you know which street to walk down, and deportation memorials are all over the city if you care to notice them. Thousands of bodies and still forgotten in shallow graves on the WWII battle fields around the city. I feel like I barely know some parts of Berlin anymore because it has changed so much between 2003 and 2010, but that’s not a bad thing, that’s just life. I hope Packard will still be there in 10 years. However, if the skeleton is still there it might be a shopping mall, or a set of affluent apartment studios, but I hope that a few graffiti walls are left standing – like that lone section of the Berlin wall at Potsdamer Platz with a peace sign on it. I should live long enough to find out.

Eternal thanks to gatsbyj who I met via Flickr for taking me shooting in Packard.