Our journey from grief to action - there is no utopia, there is only us

You know how when you read books as a kid, about princesses or wizards or superheroes, so many of those books had a premise of an unloved child transformed by the unveiling of their uniqueness? A poor, sad girl turns out to be a princess, a weird nerdy boy turns out to have magical wizard powers, a strange child sings songs that conjure the almighty.

As we get older, it turns out….while we’re all unique, we’re not as special as we would have preferred to be, in fact we’re just normal people, like everyone else! But the flip-side is also a gift. Those special powers don’t need to be special; we can access the resilience, kindness, love, and forthrightness from within and give that to others.

This talk is about moving into the unknown, specifically regarding quarantine. While a lot has changed since I gave it at the end of May, I still think the premise holds true: you have what it takes.

I’ve spent years reading about utopias, about the hope that a new technology, a new political movement, a new society will radically transform everything. I used to believe in saviors, but now I believe there’s only us.

Hope you enjoy.

How I got PPP as an independent contractor


I announced this consultancy in the middle of February, at the beginning of coronavirus and got promptly paralyzed by fear. Was this a dumb move? Brave? Perhaps a mixture of both? How can I reach out to people during this time? People are getting laid off. Budgets are getting cut.

So like millions of people, my business took a hit when coronavirus started. Luckily, the Paycheck Protection Program was designed for people with small businesses, including independent contractors. Last year while consulting I was mostly 1099-MISCs, and so I was eligible for PPP.

This is a post describing all of the Kafkaesque hurdles I had to jump over in order to get PPP.

Anyone trying to get PPP will know that the hardest part is finding a bank to file your application. Banks are incentivized to help out the people who want millions of dollars, and I was applying for less than $15k.

Now listen, I’m not gonna lie - I’m a little bit of a hustler. If there was a way to get this figured out, I was gonna do it. I’ve supported credit unions sincle Wells Fargo fucked me over too many times to count, so I already had a personal account at the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union, which had an added benefit of getting a CitiBike discount in NYC.

But I had a lot of work to do, in a very short amount of time.

Here’s what I did the first week of April:

  • filed my 2019 taxes
  • got an LLC in NY State
  • fulfilled the NY State publishing requirement for LLCs
  • got an EIN
  • applied for a small business bank account immediately with the LESPFCU, as I had already been a personal member
  • asked to file PPP with the credit union, and even though I was a new business account, they still let me

April 10th:

I applied with the LESFPCU and didn’t hear back. I called them every day. They told me not to apply anywhere else. At this point, I was majorly stressing. Should I apply with some of the fintech startups that said they were taking applications? I was already looking into Fundera and BlueVine.

April 16th:

The worst thing happened – the SBA ran out of money. I had called the LESFPCU every single day. I was devastated.

April 20th:

I regretted just trusting the credit union. Fundera announced on their website that you can apply with many lenders, because the SBA’s E-TRAN system will only take one application per person/SSN. After getting that information, I applied for PPP with every possible fintech startup that was taking applications: Fundera, Cross River Bank, Kabbage, BlueVine, Paypal, Square and TCF. Some of them emailed me back, asking for more information. I still felt completely frozen.

April 27th

Congress approved more money for the SBA, with $30 billiion going to community lenders, small banks and credit unions. I called the LESPFCU (yes you could actually talk to a human person). They said it was looking like my application would be approved. I started to feel some hope.

April 30th:

LESFPCU emailed me to tell me my loan was approved! I literally danced in my apt. They sent out an email last week. It turns out they only processed 30 small business applications (!!!!) and have stopped taking applications.


I cancelled all my other applications with the fintech startups, but I have no idea if any of them would have ultimately gone through.

Ultimately, independent contractors were left to fend for themselves. Independent contractors make up 36% of the workforce nationally, but in metro areas that is much higher. They are in this middle ground between PPP and unemployment.

I’m insanely grateful that I was able to get PPP, and I feel for anyone who has struggled to get it.

IRL Research Lab conducts research to predict possible futures, helps companies start interesting projects, and builds tech roadmaps that maintain alignment with your mission. I’m happy to chat with anyone that is trying to apply for PPP. If you have any questions or if I can help in any way, feel free to email me.

How to Have Ideas


I was inspired to write this post after after a recent client asked me to help him work on building a product to respond to coronavirus. How do people have ideas? Somewhat of an existential question, similar to breathing, but I wanted to write down some pathways that could help.

  1. Cultivate a sense of wonder

    The screenshot above is from an advisement session I was doing with second-year ITP students working on their thesis.

    In this session, students created a text-based creativity analyzer, an online dance party mimicking real physical space, and a visual chat logger.

    One student wondered what would it be like to be a bat in Times Square…? And then recreated Times Square in VR, but you were a bat, and in order to move forward you had to echolocate by screaming. Which brings me to…

  2. Ask Better Questions

    As a consultant, I love being able to ask the questions that bring clarity for my clients. Most products begin with a great question that leads to the deep unknown.

    Good ideas come from getting curious about what is happening around you. And we can think of products in the same way. Why are things the way they are? Why are they not a little bit different?

  3. Solve a Problem

    In 2013, I wanted to figure out how I could access all of the information that smartphones had available to them, but I was still stubbornly using a dumb phone.

    So I co-created a Twilio-based open-source app platform called The Dumb Store. And we got to the top of Hacker News and had thousands of users.

    The best way to solve a problem is to notice that you have a problem to solve. If you have this problem, there are probably others that have it as well.

    My problem was pretty clear, and I knew I had technical resources to solve it.

  4. Have bad ideas

    This one doesn’t come naturally to me! As an eldest-daughter recovering perfectionist, I like to be right, you know? And I often am! But it wastes too much time trying to be perfect.

    If you keep waiting around for the right idea, you’ll be waiting for a long time.

    Having bad ideas means you don’t take your idea personally, and it means that you’re able to think of a bunch of possibilities without attachment to outcome.

  5. Create Associations

    The cool thing about most new products is that they aren’t entirely new. They are just a new combination of previously uncombined tools or services.

    Canopy, where I consulted last year, wanted to combine two things: differential privacy and on-device machine learning. The combination of the two means that you can give people entirely private recommendations.

So what’s your idea? What are you wondering about? What problem are you struggling to solve? Send me an email or book a session and let’s talk.

Introducing IRL Research Lab


Hi, thanks for visiting. Consider this the “hello, world” post for IRL Research Lab.

Launching a consultancy in the middle of a global pandemic is not ideal. In fact it’s the opposite of the situation that I was imagining.

But I’m trying to get over that. We do not live in an ideal world. And I think that some people are just waking up to that. We can see in real time the system that we have built being stress tested. Next, we will be able to see some of the most beautiful humans shine with bravery, sacrifice and risk. And we will also see the ugliness of greed, fear, exploitation and control. And we will grieve.

We’re facing one of the biggest crises that this generation has experienced. There are many unknowns to the future. But there are some knowns. People need health care, housing, work, food, and community. And they want a future they can believe in.

I want to help you build that future. I’m talking about climate resilience, AgTech, food infrastructure, biotech, privacy, psilocybin/ketamine for mental health, batteries, 5G, space. Complicated projects that maybe don’t have a clear endpoint.

I have a lot of experience holding space in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. And I’m ready to do it now, with you. I’ve opened my schedule March 23rd-April 3rd to talk to anyone who is working on something urgently relevant. There is no project too big or too small. Let’s be brave together.