A Week in Turks and Caicos

One of my favorite secrets about living in New York City is how easy it is to visit our favorite Caribbean destination - Turks and Caicos.  Over the last ten years, I have watched it go from a virtually unknown chain of islands to a common celebrity and honeymoon destination.  If only I had bought that condo on Grace Bay back in 2004.

Getting There

Turks and Caicos is a absolutely beautiful place with perfect weather, but the real beauty of Turks and Caicos is its ease. It's a 3 1/2 direct flight from New York to the main island (Providenciales or just Provo) where the international airport is located - Providenciales International Airport (code: PLS). Several airlines fly direct from the NYC area, including American Airlines, JetBlue and United. You can also connect via Charlotte on US Airways, Atlanta on Delta and Miami on American.  

Obviously, you will need a passport, so make sure your passport is current.  The main currency in Turks & Caicos is US dollars and the language is English.  It also operates on US electricity, both plugs and voltage, so it couldn't be easier.

The main beach on Provo is Grace Bay where most of the resorts are located.  It's a 2 mile long stretch of some of the most beautiful sand and ocean you can find anywhere.  Getting to Grace Bay from the airport is easy. It is a 10 min cab ride from the airport to any resort on Grace Bay. Just request a taxi when you exit the airport (it’s a small airport). They are all reputable and should cost around $15 per person.  If you are staying at Grace Bay Club or one of the higher-end resorts, they will have someone at a welcome desk that will  arrange the taxi for you (but it’s the same pool of taxis).

Places to Stay

Grace Bay Club

Grace Bay Club is the largest resort on the island.  It is also one of the oldest and top of the scale for luxury. The best part is that all the rooms are ocean-front and the resort sits on the beach horizontally, instead of going back from a narrow beachfront like an English garden. The restaurants are great and the hospitality is unrivaled. You even get a personal cell phone when you check to call your personal concierge if you have any questions or requests.

Souce: Grace Bay Club

Villa Del Mar

Villa Del Mar is immediately behind Grace Bay Club.  Although it doesn’t have direct beach views, it’s just 200 ft from the beach, and shares beach access with Grace Bay Club.

Source: Villa del Mar

Source: Villa del Mar

The Sands

This is one of the older, and most affordable, properties on Grace Bay.  It's a casual place with all the necessary beach amentities and a great casual restuarant on the water called Hemingway's.

Source: The Sands Resort

Source: The Sands Resort

Point Grace

This boutique hotel is the most romantic venue on the island.  It's only 40ish rooms with a very quiet, intimate pool setup.

Source: Point Grace Resort

Source: Point Grace Resort

Seven Stars

This massive new property has all the luxury amenities and a deck restuarant for casual dining right on the beach for an evening drink.

Here is a list of other hotels from Trip Advisor.

Source: Seven Stars Resort

Source: Seven Stars Resort

 

Places to Eat

Cocoa Bistro

Our favorite resturant on the island and a perennial favorite.  It's a small house with an outdoor seating area in the back under a palm tree grove. The speciality is lobster and has a great wine list. It is great for groups (we had our rehearsal dinner there) or just a couple.  It's always booked, so make sure you make a reservation before you leave or as soon as you arrive.  It's not in a resort or on the beach, so it's one of the few place you need to take a taxi to get to.  You can walk there from Grace Bay Club resort.

Souce: Cocoa Bistro

Souce: Cocoa Bistro

Grace Cottage

Found inside the Point Grace resort, this is the most romantic restaurant on the island.  Small tables secluded in the garden outside the residences provides a serene backdrop to some of the best food on the island. The lamb might be the one occasion not to order seafood while you are on the island.  

Source: Point Grace Resort

Source: Point Grace Resort

Hemingway's

Found at The Sands resort, this outdoor deck serves as a beachside restuarant with casual seafood fare and live music on several nights of the week.   Get the conch fingers as an appetizer.

Parallel 23

A fine dining resort inside The Regent Palms resort.  It's the most elegant place to eat on the island.  For $150 fee, you can have a private table on the beach but you only get access to the Plunge pool bar menu (which has lobster and seafood in addition to pizzas etc.)


Places to Drink

Danny Buoy's - Irish pub open to 2 am most nights.  One of the few places you can hangout with and meet locals, referred to as “Belongers.” 

Mangolia Wine Bar - Beautiful wine bar with a huge deck that has one of the best views of the sunset on the island


Things to Do

Snorkeling Trips - The full-day trips are great for adults and kids.  They include snorkeling, visiting the iguana reserve, diving for conch shells and a view of the full island. They will then drop you off at a private beach and prepare a fresh conch salad with the freshly captured conch. Organize the excursion desk at your resort or call Sail Provo.  

Fresh conch for lunch

Fresh conch for lunch

Coral Gables Reef - There is a man-made reef that is 20 feet off the beach near the Coral Gables resort.  It's amazing snorkeling in very shallow water that includes fish, sea turtles, rays and barracudas.

Sunset Sailing - Most of the operators offer a sunset cruise.  I prefer the Sail Provo trip on a giant catamaran that includes wine, cheese and some of the most amazing sunsets you can imagine.

Bone Fishing - Several fishing operators offer half or full-day boating trips for groups of people. 

Conch Farm - Hop in a taxi out to the conch farm to see how domestic conch are raised.  Learn about these strange animals and their various stages of life.


We hope you enjoy your trip to Turk & Caicos as much as we have over the years.  Please feel free to leave your comments or suggestions on how to improve this.


5 Ways to Improve @CitibikeNYC

I am now a year into my relationship with Citibike. I often list it as one of the most transformative changes I have witnessed in my 10 years in New York City (along with credit card in cabs and the High Line project).

After a pleasant ride across town on West 10th Street on a beautiful spring day, I said to myself:

“Something isn’t right”

I realized there are some obvious ways that Citibike falls short of fulfilling it’s full potential. I also recently found a number of undisclosed charges that had been charged to my credit card because of faulty docks.

In the interest of helping Citibike improve, I offer the following feature requests to make Citibike even better:

End-of-ride Notifications

Once a ride is completed, the rider should get notified by push notification for app users or SMS for non-app users.  The notification should include the following:

  •     Pick-up Dock Location
  •     Drop-off Dock Location
  •     Duration of ride
  •     Any late charges due to length of ride

f you drop off a bike and it doesn't initially register, at least you will get a notification when the ride gets closed out so you can call and deal with the situation.  This would also help the open ride situation.  If there was an end-of-ride notification, users would know that the ride never closed.  Likewise, recurring (e.g. hourly) notifications for rides that are open would be helpful.

More Accurate Dock Data in Apps

Initially, the app data was just wrong.  It wasn't just out of date, it was just wrong and the worst part of the initial roll-out of Citibike.  It is has gotten progressively better over the last 12 months. It still doesn't show completely broken docks (i.e. power or communication loss) and the bike/dock counts don't account for broken ones.  Recently, there seems to be as many broken docks as broken bikes.  It would be great if the app could report this data.

Monthly Email Statements

Each month, I should receive a summary of my activity from Citibike.  This seems obvious but it doesn't happen.  It should have the following info:

  • List of rides with location and duration
  • Number of miles covered
  • Summary of charges due to overdue bikes/open rides
  • Aggregate Stats for Citibike for the month (e.g. rides, miles traveled)
  • Benchmarks against other NYC riders (e.g. percentiles)

Charge Notifications 

Last week, I was shocked to find out I had been charged more than $90 for late rides in the last 8 months.  There were 3 separate rides that were overdue or open.  At the time, I had never questioned whether a ride had registered because I assumed I would be notified if it was too long.

As an internet user, I assume that I will get a notification if a company tries to charge my credit card on file. There needs to be some sort of receipt when a charge is made.  If the charge fails due to an expired card, I am sure Citibike will notify me.  This isn’t a one-way street.  When I signed up, I did not have the expectation Citibke would randomly charge me without notifying with justification for the charge.  Riders need the opportunity to refute charges, especially given the number of challenges that have happened in the first year.  

Better Physical Dock Notifications

Recently, I have found a number of docks that were completely down.  I assume they had lost power, didn’t have an internet connection or had water damage.  Before I tried EVERY dock to return my bike, the dock itself should have a notification (e.g. flashing light) that it is inoperable.  

Each individual dock slot should also have notifications that they are broken.  These seem to be more and more prevalent.  

A Week in Tulum, Mexico

My wife recently decided to spend a week in Tulum.  After a ton of research, we had an amazing trip and wanted to share our findings/suggestions for future travelers.

Getting There

The best way to get there is to fly Cancun and then take the 90 min trip south to Tulum.  We rented a car from Hertz but you can have your resort arrange a transfer from the airport (~$105/person).  We found the rental car to be great in terms or flexibility because we wanted to explore the various ruins, but you could easily rely on taxis or rental bicycles for the remainder of your trip.

Places to Stay

We really struggled to comb through all the TripAdvisor reviews to find a place we wanted to stay.  Honestly, any place that you stay along the beach will be nice if you are paying in the $150/night+ range.  The quality was pretty consistent and most of the places we saw seemed nice and clean (if not luxurious).  We would definitely recommend staying along the beach as opposed to the pueblo/town.  We never found a reason to head into town.

Amansala

Beachfront at Amansala

Beachfront at Amansala

Know for their bikini-bootcamp fitness program, this is where we stayed.  You don't have to participate in their fitness programs (which run Tue - Wed each week), but it is a little weird if you aren't.  They ring a gong each morning at 7 am and there is only 1 yoga class a day.  That said, we loved the property and rooms were exactly what we were looking for.  We had a 2nd-floor cabana looking to the sea which was amazing.  The breakfast is great (fresh fruit, scrambled eggs with corn tortillas) and the beach setup is top notch.  We would definitely stay here again.

Maya Tulum

Source: rrresorts.com/maya_tulum/

Source: rrresorts.com/maya_tulum/

This is a yoga-focused resort with a vegetarian restaurant on the beach.  Each room is a small bungalow with immaculate walkways connecting everything.  It is two resorts north of Amansala, so you can sign up for yoga classes here ($15/class) ahead of time to get your yoga fix if you are staying elsewhere. 

The Beach

This was another beautiful property that we walked through, but didn't check out the amenities.

The Cabanas La Luna

This is a very popular property with a fun beach-side bar (Stair to Heaven) and a restaurant (Villa Des Estralles).

Places to Eat

Here is our stack-ranked restaurants from our trip.  We thought all the online lists we found were terrible, so this is based on talking to the locals.  We never went into town to eat. 

  1. Hartwood - It's a complete pain to get in line at 5 pm (they open at 6 pm), but the food is worth it.  It's wood oven grilled food with no help of electric appliances.  You have to be in line by 5:30 to get a reservation around 9 pm.  It's on the jungle side of the road, so bring bug spray.  There is a small wine shop called "Le Tente Rose" that sells small bottles of Corona if you ask, so you can enjoy a roadie whlie you wait in line.  The cocktails are pretty amazing as well.  I recommend "The Hartwood".
  2. Gitano - Also jungle-side on the beach road.  Great food (fish and shrimp tacos) and fun atmosphere.  Great bar scene and a decent wine list (which is surprisingly hard to find)
  3. Posada Margarita - Open-air restaurant in and old house on the beach.  Run by a crazy Italian man that sits at your table and explains the menu to you (it hasn't changed in 14 years).  Very romantic and solid poached fish dishes.
  4. Mateo's - Know for the world's best fish tacos (Zamas was better), they have an express bar to grab a breakfast burrito in the morning (before 11 am).  Great food and casual atmosphere.  Amazing mango margaritas.
  5. Zamas - Our favorite lunch spot to eat fish tacos while sitting next to the beach watching the surf.
Beach in front of Zamas

Beach in front of Zamas

Places to Drink

Here are the places we enjoyed:

  1. Mateos - They do a sunset drink on the top of a wood structure facing west.  It's 5-7 pm and an interesting experience.
  2. Adelita - This is a total gem at the end of the beach. Bike down there or get a taxi and enjoy sunset drinks.  It's mostly locals and has all the fishing boats on the beach in the evening.  
  3. Retiro Bar - This is a beach side bar at the Retiro Maya resort that is open until 8 pm.  Great end of day place with swings that is always empty.
  4. Ahua Tulum - Great sexy resort with a solid hotel bar scene.  The bar, restaurant and yoga studio are all in the same space with a fun energy.
Bar Adelita

Bar Adelita

Things to Do

Here are a few ideas of things to do:

  1. Tulum Ruins - A truly beautiful place to go and explore.  Rent bikes and ride down or get a taxi.  The beach is beautiful and accessible, so bring your bathing suit.
  2. Coba Ruins - It's a 45 min drive or taxi ride from Tulum.  It's a real hike to get between the sites through the wooded paths, so rent a bike or go with a group tour.
  3. Mexidivers - This is the dive shop on the beach road in Tulum.  There is another shop in town but I thought these guys were great and I did my PADI certification here. 
  4. Akumal - It's a 30 min drive or taxi ride.  There is an amazing lagoon where you can rent snorkeling equipment and swim with sea turtles (reportedly, we didn't see any).
  5. Cenotes - There are cenotes everywhere which are basically limestone sinkholes filled with fresh water.  I really liked the Casa Cenote which has an outlet to the sea via a series of tunnels, so you get mixing of fresh and salt water.
Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins

The One Thing that the NYC Tech Community Needs Most

"What can VCs do to help the NYC tech community the most?"

This is a question I was recently asked by a New York VC.

My immediate answer:

Entrepreneur-In-Residence (EIR) Programs

We have hit critical mass for startup infrastructure in New York.  New York has plenty of VC money.  We have lots of co-working spaces.  Rents in Manhattan (Flatiron, specifically) are getting very high but there are alternatives (Financial District, DUMBO).  

Three times I have left my tech/startup position and considered starting a company.  Three times I ran out of time/money/patience before I could pull all the moving parts together.  Giving aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to pursue their startup ideas while providing some income would dramatically increase the number of experienced tech people attempting to start great companies in New York. There has been some progress in this area (Venrock, Accel) but there is a opportunity to accelerate the process.

Having additional EIR programs in NYC would help address a number of barriers to creating great companies:

The No-income Abyss - For people that have seen some success in their careers, they have been making income for while.  Regardless of your monthly expenses, it’s very difficult to come to grips with the idea that every dollar spent is lost personal worth. Financial Runway is a very real thing, but the psychological toll is just as great.  Providing some level of income to entrepreneurs helps remove this impediment.

Aligning the Planets - To start a company requires three very difficult things to happen at the same time:

1) You are at the right point in your life and career to take the risk.

2) Your co-founder is at the right point in your life and career to take the risk.

3) You must have an idea (or area of exploration) about which you are passionate. 

These things rarely happen at the same time.  EIR programs create a bigger opportunity window so that these things have more time to align.  Often, startups don’t happen because of the timing of one of these things.

Fully-baked Ideas - Allowing entrepreneurs to view LOTS of incoming deal flow allows them to refine their idea and approach. More thought-out ideas and better pitches will result, leading to more startups.  It will also help eliminate the terrible ideas, or the very common ones.  

For these reasons, I think that more VCs in NYC should consider starting EIR programs, either formally or informally.  There are clear benefits to the VC firms (domain expertise, fresh perspective, practical experience, deal flow, etc.) and I would like to believe they benefits would out-weigh the costs.  

FAQ: What is a product person?

After almost 10 years in the New York tech scene, there continues to be one question that I get asked most often: “What is a product person?”

It is a topic that has been addressed by many (including Hunter Walk, Marty Cagan and Ben Horowitz) but it's important because hiring good product people remains one of the hardest things to do in NYC.  The reasons are multi-fold, but it's important to start with a basic understanding of what a product person should be for a startup or tech company.

In my first post, I decided to answer some basic questions about product managers based on my experience in hiring and running product teams:

What is a product person?

In one sentence, it is a person with a broad understanding of business and technical problems , with the communication skills to understand all constituents, and the ability to communicate the requirements of a solution clearly and credibly to all parties (including engineers).

What is their primary function?

I often say that a product manager’s job is “to go to meetings, so that engineers don’t have to.” The product person acts as the collection point for all requirements and feedback form stakeholders. They synthesize that information, codify it, prioritize it and communicate a cogent solution to the engineers in a way that they can understand. They are also responsible for measuring the progress and post-launch success of the product/feature, so that the business can hold them accountable to the defined success metrics.

Do product people need to be technical?

As usual, the answer is it depends. The more technical the solution to the problem, the more technical the product person needs to be. If you are selling widgets online, it probably isn’t as important.  If you are building an analytics solution, you need a more technical product person.

To say it another way, the product person has to be technical enough that they can credibly communicate with engineers. If you have hard core engineers working on file systems, that is a different level of engineer than a PHP engineer building Wordpress templates. An effective product manager is different in these two situations.

Where do you find good product people?

Unfortunately, there is no training to be a product manager. The only way to learn is to do it. You have to make decisions, see the mistakes and then learn to recognize those going forward. 

It’s all pattern recognition. You have to see the patterns before you can start to recognize them. Working in a good product organization is how product people are born. Starting your own company is another path. Getting an MBA can give you a set of patterns to recognize (case studies, methodologies, etc.), but there is not real substitute to getting burned by your own decisions and learning from the pain. It is more of an apprenticeship than an area of study.

Why are there so few product people in NYC?

This could be a whole post on its own, but the brief answer is that I attribute it to a lack of what I call “Big Tech.” There is a fairly standard product development process in the big tech companies - Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Yahoo etc. To my previous point, they are the breeding grounds for great product people.

Because only Google and Yahoo have a real, sustained engineering presence in New York, there are not a lot of well-trained product people hitting the streets.  Those that exist, are extremely well paid and hard to extract.

There is also the effect of Media and Advertising industries.  Product people in these organizations are often project managers that have been rebranded, so they often don't transition well to the tech or startup companies.  They come from large, monolithic organizations that are very risk averse.  The difference between the media/advertising world and the tech/startup world is underestimated by many people. Transitioning from these organizations to the crazy tech world is very difficult.

Collecting my thoughts

After almost 10 years in the New York tech scene, I thought it was time to start putting my thoughts to paper, as opposed to spewing them at people randomly.

I will try to post periodically about topics ranging from product management, startups, angel investing and general tech topics.

Hopefully, I won't embarrass myself too much and entertain a little.