Every year I write a long email update to my friends, which you can sign up for on the far right hand side of this site. This year I’m also posting it on this blog as an experiment. The following is the full, unedited text of that email.

Happy New Years!  You are receiving this email from me because I want to keep you updated on what I’m up to. I send out between 1 and 4 emails like this a year (but always one on New Years Day) and focus on big updates and “best-of” tidbits to share.

If you’ve never received an update from me before, it means you signed up on my website for an update or that I added you to the list — you probably did something that was awesome enough for me to say, “Hey I should keep in touch with them.”  If you thought I was less awesome, or don’t want to receive these updates from me in the future, please accept my apology and unsubscribe (or reply to this message and let me know — I’ll unsubscribe you by hand).

I hope to summarize my year for you and then proffer a few lessons I’ve learned. Finally I’ll include a few links I feel are worth sharing. This is the longest message I’ve ever written, if you’ve only got the inclination to read one part, please skip to the end and read the segment titled Reflection and Projection – it’s the part I feel is most important and that I’m most proud of.


This message is broken into several parts and should take about 9 minutes to read all the way through. Each section can be read independently of the other sections and includes a title and estimated reading time at the beginning.


Summary of 2008  (estimated reading time: 3.5 Minutes)

I’ve always found the act of waiting for a specific day to look back and project forward a year a little ritualistic and weird, but it does create an interesting phenomenon — my friends seem to be singularly focused on reflection and projection and that makes it easier to see what friends, mentors and idols are doing. This is good because applying the lessons they’ve learned is a great way to improve.  And with tools like Twitter, Tumblr, Blogs, and Facebook, sharing those lessons is easier than ever – making massive emails like this valuable. I think in the next 5 years or so, I’ll be able to send yearly updates via a service that makes email less valuable.  I’ve started doing that already by posting this note on my blog (link)

2008 was a heck of a year, I struggle with picking the parts to summarize. I turned 22 this year, and, largely speaking, 2008 has been one dedicated to making Involver succeed.  For those of you that don’t know my company, we help marketers distribute and track video campaigns on social networks, like Facebook. The company is young, and it’s been a wild and fun ride watching it succeed.

With regards to that work, Involver has truly had a breakout year. At this time last year we were subleasing a small office in Palo Alto and were yet another unheard of startup, toiling in a popular and crowded industry.  In the first quarter of the New Year we established some great success with the Help Vinay campaign (which registered 26,000 South Asians for the bone marrow registry in 6 weeks) moved to a new office in the financial district of San Francisco and changed our name to Involver. Following that we launched our Pilot Program and started creating commercial campaigns. Now, brands that have used Involver’s platform include Puma, Chiquita Banana, Maker’s Mark, Reader’s Digest, Serena Software and Kiva.org. Not only that but our first commercial campaign won an OMMA, the industry leading award for Online Marketing, and our campaign for Kiva.org resulted in $300,000 for loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world.   This generated some amazing press for the company — we’ve been featured by countless bloggers and appeared in Inc., Wired and PBS — and Inc. Magazine named our co-founders two of the “Top 30 Entrepreneurs under 30 Years Old”.  And we moved, again, to bigger offices; we’re now in the SOMA district of San Francisco.  Just imagine what we’ll be able to do with a year of experience under our belts and you’ll see why I’m so excited about next year.  J

I’ve taken my work close to heart this year, but I still was able to take some time to have a personal life. In 2008, I moved apartments twice in an effort to experience more of this city and continually vary my experience (being open to randomness is a very effective way to grow quickly). I’m now in a beautiful place and have really enjoyed the live music, better access to transportation, and ample eateries in my new neighborhood.

I also launched a new personal website — http://www.tylerwillis.net — which chronicles my life and aggregates a lot of information about me. If you’re interested in more frequent updates on who I am and what I’m up to, that’s a great resource, and if you want the up to the minute updates, I post often to two services that allow for frequent but short updates, you can always visit my profiles on twitter or tumblr for that. 

I spent much of my remaining free time this year supporting Barack Obama by writing articles, donating, and hosting an event — my birthday party featured live music and raised several hundred dollars for the campaign — I believe he represents an amazing opportunity for American politics and I’m ecstatic that he’s our leader.  There is a movement growing in America, which is making politics attractive again to the best and brightest. Our political system will benefit from the economic collapse and a generational changing of the guard, and there is great opportunity to improve the system. I’ll be participating on a more local level in 2009 and implore you to do the same.

In the bucket that qualifies as both personal and work life, I made some strides as well. Early in the year I hosted a massively successful event, called Weekend Apps, which launched 11 new companies and brought together 100+ entrepreneurs to work together in new ways — around the same time, I shut down the consultancy I’d founded. Willis Media Group had a good roster of clients, but at the end of the day, I simply couldn’t get it to profitability. I learned a lot about struggle and the difficulties of service businesses, and even more about the value of limited liability — but life has trotted on nicely despite that failure.

Finally, I was also blessed with the opportunity to travel around the country a bit, in 2008 I visited New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Black Rock City, and Vancouver. I took two road trips through the West and Pacific Northwest and was able to reflect on the joys of travel and it’s importance to maintaining a healthy mind. On these trips, I took up a copy of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and yet again found inspiration there for my traveler’s soul.

I closed out the year in the most fantastic fashion, by doing an 18,000 foot skydive in Monterey Bay with very good friends who are all as excited about the future as I am. I was happy to be surrounded by them and their optimism, the same way I’m happy to be surrounded by you and your experience, intelligence and friendship heading into 2009.


Looking Ahead   (estimated reading time: 1.5 minutes)

2009 is poised to be a great year for Involver. The horrible financial crisis seems to be affecting almost every vertical in the industry except the ones we’ve focused on. I’ve heard that recessions don’t slow trends, they speed them up – and that would seem to be true. With advertising budgets dropping across the world, most agencies and companies are reporting increases in video and social media spend. We’re hiring and I think we’re well positioned to grow by helping more marketers run more effective and successful campaigns. The trends are on our side — and we’ve got more money and experience than we did at this time last year — I’m very excited for 2009!  I’ll also be hosting some events, the largest so far planned being SF Startup Weekend 2 in the spring.

2008 has also really excited me for the future on a larger scale than just work. Specifically when it comes to the possibilities of space.  Watching the Mars Phoenix mission (link) filled me with a sense of wonder and awe, and was a moment I felt truly engaged with what was unfolding. I was lucky enough to meet Peter Diamandis shortly afterwards and in a span of about 15 minutes, he convinced me that there was a tangible way to funnel that excitement into compelling action.

So, this year I joined the International Association of Space Entrepreneurs and started supporting the X Prize Foundation. In the next 12 months I plan on attending several space related conferences and events, read and write more about industry successes and failures, and explore ways to volunteer some time or resources to help groups at the cutting edge of commercializing space access. I can’t think of a more exciting way to spend my free time than supporting this burgeoning industry.

I’m also planning several trips.  In addition to work travel, I’d like to make it to either Dubai or India for a vacation and I will be returning to Black Rock City for the Burning Man festival in late 2009.

Reflection and Projection  (estimated reading time: 2 minutes)

It’s plain to see that I’m an optimist, sometimes more than is socially comfortable. The ease with which I dismiss the disastrous economic decline above serves as one example of that. I wrote that the recession will benefit our political system, and, before I cut this line, as having “rewarded our company for methodical execution and ruthless efficiency by removing competitors from the landscape.”  I make no mention of the disastrous effects on millions of people, and the great uncertainty that grips any well-briefed mind, because it truly doesn’t stand in the foreground of my mind (despite suffering personal loss of wealth).

Our species is running towards a precipice with looming dangers like economic decline, political unrest, climate crisis, and more threatening to grip us as we jump off the edge, but my optimism is stronger now than ever before. On the other side of that looming gap are extraordinary breakthroughs in healthcare, communications technology, access to space, human productivity, artistic creation and literally hundreds of fields. With the right execution and a little bit of luck we’ll all live to see these breakthroughs — and members of my generation will live to see dramatically lengthened life-spans, exploration and colonization of space, and more opportunity than ever to work for passion instead of simply working for pay.

Instead of taking this space to regale you with the many personal and focused changes I intend to make in 2009, let me rather encourage you to spend time this year thinking, as I’m going to, more about what we can do in 2009 to positively affect the future our culture will face in 2020, 2050, 3000 and beyond.

Support stabilization efforts in governmental structures, by joining the change congress movement or forming, researching, refining and voicing your opinions at Change.gov, the new open government system Obama’s administration is attempting to create. Volunteer for an organization that you think is going past triage, and actually doing something to solve a major problem systemically — do the triage also, but let’s work a little harder and make some headway on these problems.

These don’t have to be big efforts, but they should be continual and properly focused.  A group of us, doing small actions continually, will inspire larger groups and result in larger change.  There’s a trend of human’s banding together to build a better future that we can align with and help propel.  Remember Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I’m excited for 2009, and I look forward to sharing it with you.  I hope to build more frequency into this email list, and as such would love to hear about what you’d like to hear from me.  Please don’t hesitate to ever email me at tyler@tylerwillis.net

Happy New Year!

Tyler Harrison Willis

Things Worth Sharing           

·      http://bit.ly/KIrF  My friend Ramit is giving away $2500 to a young person with a concrete idea for social innovation. Deadline is Jan. 15th

·      http://bit.ly/2qXWUp  Malcolm Gladwell gave a great talk at The Moth, it’s a tall tale about his experience getting into Journalism.

·      http://bit.ly/ovOx   Explaining the political awakening of Generation X in the form of an apology to politically active Boomers for taking so long.

·      http://bit.ly/m1NC  A 4-minute-long video about wearable computers. Something I think will change personal interaction in the next 10-15 years.

·      http://bit.ly/17Rvn  The evolution of wearable, non-intrusive displays. Extremely important to improving the move towards wearable computing.

·      http://bit.ly/M0pD  A good mini video bio of my favorite modern poet, Rives, watch it, then watch this: http://bit.ly/2OiC8g

·      http://bit.ly/w24M  An elegant short story about the subject of death.

·      http://bit.ly/kCpq  Several very good remixes of Silversun Pickups songs.

·      http://bit.ly/11ML1  How to create the bullet-time effect from the matrix cost effectively.