Introducing The X Factor’s Brand New Redesign *Thanks To PetoVera*

31 Mar 2011 in Passion

Do you know how much energy I have right now?

One post certainly won’t do justice to how pumped I am about the redesign Matt Ackerson, Paolo Roa and the PetoVera team did for my blog, ‘The X Factor’. I am fired up. Motivated. This is only the beginning. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Today, I will tell the story of how and why I started ‘The X Factor’.


Me? I am a people person. I love God, my friends, and my family more than anything on earth. My first love was the game of basketball, and I am as competitive and energetic as they come. Ever since playing from sun-up ’til sun-down in Bristol and Rochester’s inner city growing up, I have had a hunger to prove myself. I was driven to ‘make it’, and committed to never stop chasing new heights.

However, as I detailed in my letter to Lil Wayne, I had to say goodbye to basketball after dislocating my shoulder six times and fighting back from two surgeries. It was time to dedicate my passion and competitive fire towards a new art.


When I was little I wanted to be a lawyer. My dad (affectionately known to people close to us as “The G”) told me that the best way to execute on making my dreams a reality was to ask lawyers to lunch and learn from their success stories face-to-face. As an entrepreneur (and a personal hero of mine), my dad had customers in Rochester, NY who were lawyers.

So, when I was 15 years old and still homeschooled, my dad took me to lunch with Kent Heyman. Kent was a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, and I will never forget that lunch. My dad and I asked him tons of questions and I left feeling very, very driven. Long story short, today I am a Marketing Intern for Kent’s startup, Syncables, working on a beta product called LivePlay.


Fast forward to college. Outside of the classroom, I was obsessively researching the social web and studying different Internet startups. I had taken my dad’s advice to heart and was doing all that I could to build relationships with movers and shakers in the tech ecosystem.

In the fall of 2008, my good friend Ben Henschel introduced me to the phenomenon of unparalleled energy that is Gary Vaynerchuk. I was hooked. I watched (and re-watched) every keynote, interview, and video blog Gary had published. I read Crush It!. To me, Gary approached entrepreneurship the way Michael Jordan approached basketball. Having been blessed to meet him in person just one year later, he is one of my biggest heroes to this day.


Sometime in 2009, I discovered Andrew Warner‘s site for candid interviews with founders, Mixergy. I was learning a ton from Mixergy and suddenly I had the lightbulb moment: I have to do this. I was planning to study abroad in Singapore for the first half of 2010, and I decided to do everything I could to record interviews with the entrepreneurs and investors I was hoping to meet. That way, I could share what I was learning from these incredible one-on-one meetings with anyone in the world.

Ultimately, that semester abroad in southeast Asia changed my life. As I met inspiring people in Singapore’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, I started recording long interviews. I planned to begin publishing them on the blog I wanted to launch in the summer.

On July 23, 2010, Brian Shaffer (one of my closest comrades) finished designing my initial site and I launched ‘The X Factor’ while getting interviewed live on the Rochester web show ‘The CEO Hour‘.


Then it all started to come together. Having been accepted into the Washington Semester Program in D.C., I spent the following semester studying at American University. I met someone there who saw right through me, who not only understood my drive but recognized my passion for writing better than I even did. Because of her, I thought back to the the point that Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37 Signals made in their book, Rework: “Hire The Better Writer“.

It sunk in.

Jack Dorsey has talked a lot recently about his role in Square and Twitter as an “editor”. In the writing sense, editing is so important to communicate the story of your company so that people are able to more easily remember you, understand your utility, and connect with your mission. Editing is also crucial in developing a product. You could take 2 years and build a product with 30 features. Better move, from what I’m learning? Build a minimally viable product in 2-4 months, with only the single most important features. Edit, edit, edit.


So that’s where we are today. I’m 21 and have one more year of university left until I graduate from Clarkson. I am pretty obsessed with helping friends (if I am able to) with their startups. Helping to communicate their product’s use-case, editing the product with the philosophy of a user in mind, etc.

As I chase my dreams, I am driven to continue learning from and helping the friends I’ve been blessed to meet in the ecosystem of Internet/technology startups. When possible, I aim to interview founders and investors so that they can share their lessons with you and me.

That’s why I started ‘The X Factor’. To study the patterns of those who are successfully starting, building, and investing in startups. ‘The X Factor’ is that tough-to-describe element that sets apart the leader from the followers. The ‘distinguishing component’ might be different across every successful artist who has become a leader in her craft. With this site, I want to help you discover ‘The X Factor’ that will serve as a catalyst for your own success story.


This is what I’m doing in my journey as an aspiring entrepreneur. I hope we can hustle together. Let’s GOOOO.

Thanks for visiting my site and reading this lengthy post. If you have ideas for…
- making my videos//interviews//writing better;
- suggestions for what to write about;
or even if you just wanna share what you’re working on and hustling towards, I’d love to hear from you. Drop your knowledge in the comments below!

To everyone of you who’s helped me get to this point, THANK YOU.

  • Kevin Ko

    Man, I remember you telling me about your dad and your injury when we had our first conf call. It feels like it’s been so long. It’s hard to believe you’re only 21 too, the aggregate amount of knowledge and wisdom that you’ve absorbed has you way ahead of your age.

    What’s funny is I was writing a new blog post (releasing soon) and I even borrowed the term “The X Factor” and mentioned your blog – I don’t think I used it 100% accurately but it’s funny seeing you completely describe it right now.

    It’s crazy how any small decision we make that decides where we go/live, thereby influencing the people we meet, can change our lives completely. Whether for good or bad, it’s amazing to think in hindsight all the ingredients of a “perfect storm” of occurrences that have culminated into the experiences you’ve made up until now.

    I can’t imagine how different I might’ve been had you never took the time to push me into going to TC Disrupt last year. I still remember the conversation – you didn’t simply say something like “oh yeah, you should go man no doubt” but you literally wrote an essay on skype about your experiences and why it was such a great thing for you and therefore why I MUST go.

    What you’re doing is very admirable and altruistic, the world owes you one. I hope everything works as planned so I get to see you at NYC TC Disrupt this May, buddy.

  • Hazed

    Kudos to PetoVera team ^_^

  • Grooblin

    Fresh like an early stage funding.

  • Mary Beth Exley

    As always, well-written. So glad to have had a part in your education…love ya to bits! ~Mom

  • JohnExley

    Right on, Hazed. Right on. They absolutely dominated with this redesign. Thanks for stopping by my site, how’d you get here?

  • JohnExley


    Wilhem, you’re the Freaking man. Couldn’t have put it any better myself. Dude, whatta ya say time for a Skype sesh next week ish? We gotta chat about hustle and stuff soon.

    Thanks for everything you’ve helped me with, man…from my blog, to understanding France/Europe’s startup ecosystem, to LivePlay, and to just general encouragement and motivation. You know I appreciate it a lot bro. Here’s a toast to the hustle.

  • JohnExley

    I need to put this in perspective.

    I thought about the comments people have posted on here the past 8-9 months or so, and seriously…not one comes to mind as more meaningful, more legit, more ‘I-gotta-stand-up-in-my-seat-and-hustle-harder-than-ever’ than your comment right here.

    Thank you. I forwarded this comment specifically to my dad. He *had* to read this. One day, you gotta meet him, you gotta meet “The G”. He’s as important to me as anyone on earth…he’s a people person through-and-through as well, loves helping people, just a hilarious dude who’s tight with many of my best friends. Kevin, it’s so sick reading this story of yours here and thinking back to literally how we met from a Mark Suster tweet to you, and what’s come of it since.

    Honestly, it’s worthy of a post in and of itself.

    I have nothing left here man….. simply unparalleled stuff. I cannot wait for TechCrunch Disrupt in NYC. Really hope it all works out. We gotta hustle together. I want you to know that when I’m low or needing some motivation, etc., this comment of yours right here is gonna be one of the tricks up my sleeve that I use to regain energy and dive back into the hustle.

    Kevin, thank you bro. Thank you.

    - john X

  • JohnExley

    Hahaha, as if you only had a part in my education! You’re A LEGEND moms. Lemme email ya. I had to write an essay recently for that Marketplace ONE Institute application that asked me to name the 3 people who have had the biggest impact on my life, and why/how. I need to email this to you.

    Of course, you are one of those people.

    I gave a lot of thought to what exactly your impact has been on me. Obviously, there’s the parenting part. There’s the stuff you taught me in homeschooling….all the math and science, the spiritual stuff, etc. There’s the endless rides to the park before I could drive so that I could play basketball, the late-nights when I hustled on perfecting essays and stuff for high school where you sat right next to me and enabled me to have a supporting supporter to carry me past the finish line.

    But more than anything, your impact on me has been your patience and loving me through it all. Who else has endured my psychological roller coaster as I pushed myself to new heights, suffered from losing basketball over and over from the dislocated shoulders and surgery, etc.? That’s 110% you. You’ve been there for me through everything, patiently letting me dream big, change directions, have fun, and I guess most of all, go against the grain of what might be considered the ‘normal’ path of an aspiring young leader.

    If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have succeeded as I did in high school. Period.
    If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have gotten into Clarkson. Period.
    If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have succeeded as I have in Clarkson. Period.
    If it wasn’t for your support, I wouldn’t have been able to study abroad in Singapore. Period.
    If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have been able to study at American U for the Washington Semester Program. Period.
    If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have been on top of my financial aid at all. Period.

    As Step and my best friends have reiterated to me a trillion times over since I was little, you’re probably the most giving and understanding mother on earth. Trust me on this, I ain’t disagreeing with that one ;)


    With that, ’nuff said. Pie and I are just hustling together side-by-side at Starbucks, headphoned-in, writing. Curly-hair flowing, head-bobbing. Haha. It’d make for a high quality subling pic, that’s for sure.

    love ya,

    john arthur

  • eyesparky

    Fantastic and inspiring post. Keep doing what you do.

  • JohnExley

    Mark. I mean this – I appreciate your consistent support and stuff for this blog…thank you sir. I’m dying to get to Europe this year. Hoping to be able to afford (and justify!) going to LeWeb in Paris come December….if so and you’re able to go as well, we gotta get together.

    Continuing the hustle, we both will. Sharing a coffee in France for LeWeb, I’d love to.

  • Grooblin

    Man, don’t thank me for sharing our passion together. When we connect it’s always a win/win.
    To be honest I would be interested in officializing our collaboration at many levels, but that’s another story haha… Anyway, I’m definitely okay for a skype session.

    I’ll be in Paris from today to the 11th. Let’s plan this when I’m back and hustle-available.

  • eyesparky

    Not sure if I will be in Europe around Le Web time (might be Australia / New Zealand way) but if I am, it would be good to catch up and bounce some ideas around.

    Afford and justify are always at the core of these things and there is always an opportunity cost whichever path you take. Perhaps a quid pro quo with Geraldine and Loic to help put the event together/promote it for access could be the order of the day. Who knows, could be a step on the path towards being on stage asking the questions in the future ;) .

  • JohnExley

    Collaborating – duuude, one day. I’m dying to get to the city of Paris for LeWeb this December. Win/win for hustling if we can meet up there.

    So, plan a Skype sesh for Tues perhaps, the 12th? We can make it productive. Talk about short term hustle objectives. Have a great trip man….hope you dominate whatever you’re involved in there.

  • JohnExley

    What do you have going on in Australia/NZ, Mark? I was lucky enough to go to Sydney last year while studying abroad in Singapore….what an amazing place. In all honesty, it was my favorite trip of the entire semester abroad. I bet NZ is just as awesome.

    If you’re actually around LeWeb and I succeed in matching affordable with justifiable, we should def catch up and share some ideas.

    AND MARK THAT IS AN AWESOME IDEA RE Loic/Geraldine! Thanks a ton for that idea. That could really help with the affordable AND justifiable part of the equation for me. Talk soon sir…and thanks for your push of confidence.

    - john X

  • Kevin Ko

    I’d love to meet your pops. Very awesome how close you are with your family. No doubt they’re incredibly proud of you.

    You really flatter me but honestly it’s the least I could provide after the amount of gold you’ve given me in knowledge, advice, and conversation. Note to anyone doing a startup: You WANT to talk to John about it. He’s someone who doesn’t work in your company so he’s able to offer outsider perspective, while still knowing enough about the industry to provide GOOD perspective.

    TCD will honestly be like that saying where “things come full circle” – mind blowing.

  • JohnExley

    Sheeesh Kev you continue to outdo yourself with these ridiculously awesome comments. I’m really lucky man FOR SURE to have such a supporting family around me. It’s funny…just yesterday, I was back at Clarkson University for the first time in 2 years to take part in a ceremony put on by the Phalanx honor society I’m lucky to be a member of.

    The speaker was an ’81 alum who used to be President of Phalanx named Nancy Reyda (Managing Director of Goldman Sachs, NYC) and guess what she talked about….the role her father played in her journey through university. Dude it was a tearjerker story too, incredible speech. The last time she saw her dad was at the Phalanx ceremony her senior year, and this was her first time returning for the ceremony since.

    Insane man. I’m serious – nothing is more important to me than my family.

    And again man….your comment is just awesome. Thanks a billion bro, it’s been more than fun chatting with you about your startup and your journey. Frankly it’s been motivating. You have moved so fast man it’s insane. Less than a year ago we first met from that Suster tweet. Bro HOW CRAZY IS THAT? And already you’re starting a startup. Just awesome. Thank you a ton for the vote of confidence here man,

    I’m already blown away by what TC Disrupt is going to mean….this is all just insane. Might be a book in this story someday hahaha. Much love man, keep up the hustle and let’s have a Skype sesh soon.

    Your bro,

    john X

  • The G

    John – nicely done.  You give me too much credit, all I did was turn the key…once your engine was running, I just stand back and watch. Can’t wait for a coffee with Kevin. Have a great day.  ~The G