Recommendations for visit to Madrid, Spain

I  lived in Spain during a study abroad year in college back in early 1990s, and have returned several times since for business and pleasure.  I’ve found myself writing up some of my recommendations for “what should i do if I visit Madrid” for many friends, and after completing this recent email (below) i figured i’d throw it on my blog as I’ve noticed that my “Things to do if you visit Chile” blog post has gotten quite a few visitors in the last year and has been nominally useful to others.  So in that spirit, here are my recommendations for things not to miss in Madrid and immediate vicinity (eg: within 90 minute train ride).  Note that this was written for a friend of mine from China, so i was stressing cultural elements that she would find particularly interesting!

These are the “towns near madrid to get out of the city to see some smaller towns:

  • Toledo: small cute town with lots of nice walking things to see, museums, churches, and need small streets on a hill.  Town with lots of history.  it is 40 minute train ride SOUTH of Madrid.  Plan a day trip there and back with a nice lunch.  You may want to join a tour with a chinese speaking guide?  it is easy to just go on your own, but, you might enjoy a guide as there is a lot of history?
  • Salamanca and Segovia.  Salamanca is a bigger small city about 90 minutes North-West from Madrid which is really great and has a lot to see, it is also a nice drive to get there.  on the way there right on the freeway is Segovia, lovely small town.  Both are worth seeing, you can do them together in 1 long day eg: start early, drive in car or train, to Salamanca–walk salamanca and see the Plaza (central square), the Catedral (church), and the university campus (very old university, where Chrisopher Columbus did some planning to go to america).  Then, go back to madrid via Segovia, have a lunch in Segovia (lunch inSpain is between 2pm and 4pm, so you could have lunch at 3pm at a nice restaurant) then walk Segovia–Roman ruins from an Aqueduct that is 2000 years old, and great little small town with lovely streets).  This is a BIG day, but it can be done.  Other option is to break this up into 2 trips.  Both are worth seeing.  If you only have time to do 1 of these, Segovia is closer and thus easier so do that.  Salamanca is really neet, but maybe too far.  I did in car and really liked the drive, but you may find that stressful?  I don’t know?  Trains are very good in spain so that’s always a easier way!

In Madrid be sure to see:

  • Go to a Flamenco Show.  Usually they start at 12am or even 1am (very late).  There is a great place called Cafe Chinitas that i have always liked.  you buy tickets/reservation, then go and have drinks and watch dancing and singing.  MUST DO, super cool, very very unique/different style of music.  All of these are good places:  http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g187514-c84779/Madrid:Spain:Flamenco.Guide.Madrid.html
  • If there are any Bull Fights in season i would go, very interesting and old fashioned–sad to see bulls killed, but i recommend.  I don’t think they have them in January, however, here is the bull ring website just in case:  http://www.las-ventas.com/
  • If you can, go see a professional soccer match for Real Madrid or Atletico Madridspanish LOVE soccer, amazing experience.  You can find tickets always, might be expensive, but seeing Real Madrid play (one of best teams in the world) is a real experience!

Then there are the traditional tourist sights:

  • Plaza Mayor &  Puerta del Sol walking area (public squares)
  • Jardin del Buen Retiro (big park, go in daytime, at night not so safe, daytime no problem)
  • El Prado (huge museum full of amazing OLD art collections, get a guide of some sort or recording in chinese, without a guide it is pointless as there is too much to see!)
  • The Palace (king and queens) where there is a lot of stuff to see
  • dozens of other museums…
  • and dozens of fun neighborhoods to just walk around in and look at people and windows of stores etc.  your hotel can help you with that…

Food (lunch is 2-4pm, dinner is 10-12pm–they really really really do eat at that time, you won’t find the best restaurants open before then!  make reservations for the popular places!)

  • Must try = Botin.  A bit touristy, but really good and REALLY old, in continuous service since 1700s.  eat the suckling pig and the lamb, both are incredible!  http://www.botin.es/?q=en  It is near the Plaza Mayor so nice walking area.
  • Go to dinner one night on Calle Huertas (that means “Huertas Street”), it is a street filled with neat restaurants and bars that you can walk up and down in about 40 minutes round trip.  Lots of people out and about walking in this area at night, fun to people watch.  Plaza Santa Ana is a nice square surrounded by restaurants right by this street, so maybe walk the street, then eat at the restaurants on the Plaza.
  • Tapas” is a style of food where you stand at a bar (usually, although you can also have them at a table) and order small plates of different types that they will give you while you have a small beer.  you can go to a bar, have a small beer and a “tapas”, then go to another bar and do the same, and in this way walk between many bars/restaurants eating “tapas” along the way.  it is a style of “moving restaurant experience”.  very fun.  You can go to many neighborhoods where there are lots of “tapas” bars near each other.  There are also some new “markets” that have nice organic produce and lots of little stands for tapas”–one such market is this one: Mercado de San Miguel Pza. San Miguel, S/N 28013 Madrid, Spain Be sure to try: Tortilla Espanola (eggs and potato pie), Jamon Serrano (spanish cured ham), Queso Manchego (spanish cheese that is amazing), Gambas al Ajilo (shrimp in garlic), and anything else you see that looks tasty!
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Trotamundo wins Perk of the Year 2014

I’m incredibly proud and happy to have won the Geekwire Awards Perk of the Year 2014 for buuteeq’s employee travel stipend program, “Trotamundo”.  I started buuteeq because of my deep passion for travel and seeing the world.  We created the Trotamundo program because we wanted our company culture to embrace and amplify the experience of travel.  Travel exposes us to diversity of human experience, inspires us, and ultimately transforms our world view in a way that also makes our company stronger and more nimble in our quest to revolutionize the hotel industry.

Here’s the award ceremony on youtube:

And some photos:

Geekwire Awards 2014 4 Perk of the Year Geekwire Forest Geekwire Wide Shot 2 Geekwire Wide Shot

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Small Talks event in Seattle re: Millennials in the Workplace

I spoke at a Small Talks event last week on the subject of Millennials in the Workplace (millennial are the generation born in the 80s and early 90s, that came after my generation “gen x”).  buuteeq has a lot of team members from this age group/generation.   A few multimedia and related pieces from the event:

Video of the event:

Thanks to Turnstone for putting together the event and providing snacky snacks!

A cool infographic that someone made that listened/watched the event over the web, love how they captured so much of the content in this graphical/summary form:

SmallTalk 10_30_13 2K rev1

And, when i got home that evening and was doing some googling on the subject, I came across this hillarious (if snarky/harsh) summary that makes for a great comedy piece and interesting adjunct (i do not endorse or subscribe, necessarily, to the position it takes–but it did make me laugh!).  Why Generation Why Yuppies are Unhappy

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Virtuous Employee Feedback Loop

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My company buuteeq has grown to over 110 employees in 5 offices around the world, so a huge component of my time/role as ceo has been focused on “culture”–how do we create a consistent best-practice culture in multiple offices (while growing rapidly), how do we gather feedback and input from everyone on the team, and how do we communicate and implement changes based on the feedback we receive…

We’ve been using an amazing tool called TinyPulse for over a year now, and while it is not the only mechanism to manage the “pulse” of our culture (a lot of 1:1 coffees at TopPot Donuts down the street is part of my weekly routine to spend quality time focused on listening and responding to team member questions in person), TinyPulse is the systematic breadth process by which we receive regular employee feedback and drive a “virtuous cycle” that repeats itself regularly.  TinyPulse asks a weekly question by email (automatically), gathers the feedback anonymously (usually between 50-80% of employees respond on any given week), and presents dashboards that I and our VP of Talent review periodically throughout the week as data is being gathered.

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Each week’s question generates a summary of yes/no, 1-10 scale, or open response questions, AND a subjective detail commentary (if respondent provides) which I can then respond to via a private message while maintaining anonymity.  This leads to very different feedback loops than what we hear in person or over email.

I thought it would be valuable, and transparent (one on my most cherished values!), to share some of the data we’ve gathered in the last 6 months.  This data represents “feedback”, not judgement, so there is absolutely no shame in sharing what at times looks like mediocre scores/responses.  I’ve written a brief summary of “what we took from the feedback” and “what we did to respond” to illustrate how the data drove our management team behavior.

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Takeaway: we can do better!  Some of the atomic comments suggested some of the managers were sensitive to receiving constructive feedback; we had a discussion with all managers about best practices and how to engage in discussions that would surface constructive feedback from their team.

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Takeaway: Totally unacceptably low!  Even though the “benchmark” (53%) (what other companies that use TinyPulse received on average response) was even farther below our score (71%), we aspire to more transparency in this (and most) areas.  As we dug through the data we realized we hadn’t developed “career stage models” and communicated those to team members.  As a young company we had done a good job recruiting people to join the team but hadn’t yet matured into providing a roadmap for careers.  This was really great feedback it led to a kick-off of many projects which we are now rolling out (took about 3 months to put in place).

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Takeaway: The comments were valuable as they pointed to specific growth opportunities that were being recognized, and others that were being asked to be opportunities.

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Takeaway: This question felt like a reflection on how well we were sharing the TinyPulse data itself!  When we first started using TinyPulse we would share the feedback each week and discuss comments and then open for public discussion during our weekly friday wrap meeting (held 4-5pm to end the week).  This made the visibility of the feedback 100% transparent.  We gradually started to do the open discussions less frequently and moved the sharing of the data to our Google+ community and email threads, which i sense was less visible.  There are 2 key elements to the feedback loop, (1) to share what is being said so everyone has visibility into how their feedback compares to that of the broader team, and (2) for everyone to see what is done in response to the feedback.  This creates a “feedback tax” that I think would scare off a lot of management teams, but i really want to rise to the challenge, even as the data grows in volume and complexity.  Blogging about the data here is in part motivated by this very feedback–trying to find multiple ways to drive the transparency!

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Takeaway:  We’re doing pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement.  We used the opportunity to revisit all of our benefits and our VP of HR gave examples of comparable benefits of companies in our industry/size/market, so really we “re-pitched” ourselves in hopes of getting more visibility to just how good our benefits actually are!

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Takeaway:  This is a perpetual rich channel of feedback, eg: the TinyPulse gathers lots of insights from the teams about office furniture, seating configurations, meals that we bring in for catered lunches, the kitchen/snacks, morale events, etc. etc.  So rather than look at the score here, the really interesting takeaways are the comments that highlight what is top of mind “next on the list” of things to work on to make the office environment better.Image

Takeaway:  Sometimes you just have to declare victory.  This is one of those.  It turns out that on just about any “scale of 1-10″ survey, the results tend to come in at an average of about 8.x.  We talked with the team about the different perspectives of “what does a 8 mean”, and in many cases 8 is “excellent” and in others “10” is the equivalent.  So when the team as a whole is coming in at 8.5, we felt that this is an area we were performing ahead of the curve.  Again, not declaring victory outright, but since we are getting this type of feedback WEEKLY, sometimes the pulse feedback insights less urgency/reaction from the management team.

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Takeaway:  Great reflection of our core value of “never stop growing”, always want to see team members thinking of ways they can do better, and the comments overwhelming reflected specific areas for personal growth.

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Takeaway:  Similar to the feedback about work environment, this question had very specific recommendations for different processes, training, tools, etc.–super actionable.

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Takeaway:  Probably the most important feedback of all–this is exactly the entire point of using TinyPulse, to drive transparency, virtuous feedback loop, and to establish a really great culture in close collaboration across the team.  Thankfully, this score (8.7) is the highest score we’ve ever received in the tool.  Lots more work to do on all these subjects every day of the week for years to come…  Several more examples below, i’m out of gas to comment on them atomically, but the graphics speak for themselves and i’m happy to answer any questions in the comments or at my email, twitter, facebook, linkedin, or google + pages!

Team 29agosto13

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Team ROWise Guys

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Recommendations for Travel in Chile

I get a lot of requests from friends about travel to Chile (for leisure/vacation, usually with family including kids), so i figured it was time to put my thoughts into a blog entry that I can repurpose, so here you go.

First some context: I lived in Chile from the age of 6-11 in the lovely Pinochet military dictatorship era (late 70s-early 80s, several years in Zapallar on the coast, and the others in Santiago the capital), the again after college for a year in 1994 (in Santiago, working as a film editor for commercial television), and most recently in 2010 for a year while i was planning my new business and my family and I divided time between the “small-north” region near La Serena, and yet more time in the smoggy confines of the capital.  In addition to these stints homesteading, i’ve also backpacked and otherwise visited the country another half-dozen times… so from a toursim and/or expat perspective, i feel like i have the place dialed in and can make some strong recommendations.

So, with a focus on tourism (not expat relocation, which will be another blog post if I have enough people asking me about living in chile, schools, immigration process, taxes, banking, etc.), here’s my top 3 guidelines:

  1. Skip Santiago.  My friends in Santiago will be upset with me for saying this, but i’m sorry–the truth is that Santiago has *absolutely* nothing going on from a tourism perspective.  You’ll be flying in and out of Santiago for your international flights, but otherwise SKIP IT.  The city is not distinct enough in any way that would warrant precious days that you could spend in the much more interesting other parts of the country.  Someone will tell you “oh, it is worth at least x days”, where x is exactly x days too many.  Seriously–SKIP IT.
  2. Plan 2-3 “segments” connected by flights.  The country is MASSIVELY long and the north/south orientation means that the areas to visit are hugely distinct from a natural flor and fauna perspective, so avoid your intention to “rent a car and drive” as the north-south drive would eat up 4 days of your trip!  There are 5 distinct areas of tourism attraction (see below)–pick 2-3 and spend quality time in these with regional driving in each, but don’t try to connect the dots by land.  If you buy your domestic segments along with your international ticket, on LAN (soon to be renamed LATAM) airlines (the Chilean carrier) the cost of the segments is very reasonable.
  3. Focus your goals around “natural wonders” as opposed to “culture and civic/city life”–Chile kicks ass as a low population density, magical geography that is accessible, safe, and fun.  It underperforms tragically vrs. its peer group of Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil in terms of local food, indigenous culture, indigenous architecture, food, music, and “exoticism” for a typical well traveled american or european visitor.  And Argentina is a much better exemplar of “europe in southern hemisphere”.  My friends from Asia will find it fascinating, as it is very “european” and that will seem fresh and interesting.  But it will absolutely disappoint any “westerner” looking for something exciting “south of the border”… for that, go to Peru (my favorite country in South America, with the best food, home to the Inca civilization and its myriad of incredible ruins/art/etc., magical music, and incredibly colonial area cities, not to mention glorious mountains, coastline, and the birthplace of the Amazon.  Not to mention Brazil, which is marvelous for entirely different reasons.

Ok.  So now let me characterize the “regions” to choose from, i’ll outline them from North to South:

  1. The Atacama desert and Altiplano (high altitude plain).  This area can refer to a massive 1k+ mile region north of La Serena reaching to Peru border, but from a tourism development perspective, it really means flying into the city of Calama and then planting yourself in the area around San Pedro de Atacama as a home base and exploring the high plain.  Volcanoes dot the landscape, you are at 8-14k feet above sea-level the entire time, the star-gazing in the evenings are best in the world (no precipitation, low light contamination from urban areas, no smog, etc.).  I visited this area on the Bolivian side of the border on a $10 a day budget in 1993, today San Pedro is bustling (i’m told, have never been) and hotels can run up to $1k per night for a room at a luxury resort that includes meals and tours, but a wide gamut of options are available.  buuteeq’s first customer in the town is considered among the best in the country, lovely luxury resort Tierra Atacama.   The city of Calama also has tours of the Chuquicamata mine, the largest open pit on the planet, worth checking out on day in/out of Calama, but otherwise spend the time up in San Pedro.  This is what any guidebook would tell you to do, so to qualify this and make it a bit more local–let me add that ANY of the cities in the northern part of Chile will give you a feel for this desert vibe–super low population density (there are hours upon hours of driving where you won’t see anyone!).  I lived in the Pisco Elqui region near La Serena, much less developed for international premium tourists, and plenty exciting and interesting including the added benefit of having some wineries and distilleries for Pisco (a brandy, national drink).  If you want to fly in/out of La Serena and do a few days in La Serena (beach town, lovely coast) there is a hub of neat activities including a marine sanctuary where you can see all kinds of awesome penguins, sea-lions, dolphins, etc. about 90 minutes north of La Serena, observatories for sky-gazing, and the cool-as-shit little down of Pisco Elqui as a home base with funky/hippy vibe.  We lived here for 4 months at this little hotel, El Elquimista.  La Serena can be reached in 5-6 hours by great 4 lane highway, so this is also a doable road trip from Santiago, if going all the way to the true North is too much, but I don’t think anyone would argue that La Serena is a full replacement for the San Pedro de Atacama gig.
  2. The Central Coast area around Santiago.  This is where you go in a rental car from the capital.  Roads are totally safe, well signaled in Spanish (easy to follow along with a GPS phone or ipad), and distances reasonable (eg: 2-3 hours max between points).  Just south of Santiago are various wineries that offer tours and some homesteading (eg: have cabins or other guest quarters).  The city of Valparaiso is a UNESCO world-heritage city for good reason, reminiscent of San Francisco but way dingier/run down yet totally captivating (in a raw way).  One night in town at this affordable and family friendly designer hotel (owner is a accomplished painter and mixed media artist) which is in the best neighborhood for exploring by foot, is all that is needed to get the vibe and traverse the hills on foot.  Lots of great restaurants.  Anthony Bourdain loved this place and wrote up several restaurants and bars on his TV show (google it!).  Vina del Mar is 15 minutes north of Valparaiso and is a altogether ritzier and cleaner/safer place, overrun with tourists in January and February but still fun, and a joy in December before the 25th when the locals from Santiago and the Argentines start showing up in droves.  Good beach hotel options and beaches.  Note that the water is FRICKING cold in chile, don’t expect Mexcian riviera type beach experience–the sand is lovely, but the waters are freeze-your-balls cold and thus it is much more about eating a fresh seafood meal on the beach and sun-bathing than “swimming”.  The town I grew up in is 60 minutes north of Vina, called Zapallar.  I highly recommend renting a house or staying at one of the (few) hotels in the area near Zapallar and doing 2-3 nights of walking the beaches and coastlines and visiting the neighboring town of Cachagua and Papudo, maybe even hit La Ligua for the local market (daily) to buy some fresh produce, and the fisherman’s market in Maitencillo.  I have a bunch of family and friends in Chile, so if you do make this particular trip, talk to me and I’ll see about helping find you a local friend to show you around, host you for a meal, and maybe provide a tip on a rental for your stay in town.  Zapallar has a lovely small boutique hotel which does NOT have ocean views but otherwise is a great base and good value.  My recommendation in general for this region is to get a house in Zapallar for 3-5 nights, and make Zapallar the base from which to travel to Valparaiso, Vina, La Ligua, etc. as day trips in your rental car.  Zapallar is 2hrs from the capital, you can arrive at airport and drive STRAIGHT to zapallar for your first day in the country.  You’ll thank me for it!  The walking paths along the coast, beaches, and understated tourism sector (few hotels, mostly locals) will give you a great “local” experience for this region of the country.  I also have relatives that rent their houses depending on the season…
  3. The Pre-Patagonia area around Puerto Montt (the small south).  This is some combination of Pucon on lake Villarica and volcanoe region surrounding, the adorable city of Frutillar, the coastal city of Valdivia, Puerto Montt, and the island of Chiloe.  These are all reachable via car by using Pueto Montt or Valdivia as central arrival/departure ports.  Lots of great german influenced towns, lakes abound, cute fishing villages… great to walk and drive around.  If you aren’t into driving aimlessly around the region there are organized tours, but it is a very accessible region and well touristed in the December-Feb corridor (when the weather is great), not so much fun any other time of year (rains perpetually, like Seattle where I live now).  This is relatively populated part of “patagonia”, not to be confused with the insanely not-populated true “south” which starts after Puerto Montt and extends through fjords and icebergs and wild forests all the way down to Tierra del Fuego and the southern tip of the continent.
  4. Patagonia region(s).  There are two hubs here that are too far away to be linked.  One is the area from Puerto Montt to the town of Chile Chico, which has a road that connects the region (only passable in summer) called the Carretera Austral.  Renting a good 4×4 and driving parts of this itinerary is probably akin to northern British Colombia or parts of Alaska.  Lots of undeveloped forest, great lake fly-fishing and hiking, but not robust tourism infrastructure except for in pockets, mostly along the coast.  Likely best to look for a tour of this region than to wing it.  Town of Coyhaique is surprisingly bustling, flying in-0ut of hear and arranging tours might be good option (when I did it i was on $10 a day budget in 1994, so likely has changed quite a bit except for the remaining amazing natural wonders which can’t have been spoiled quite yet).  Much much farther south, only accessible by road if you drive into Argentina and then come back into Chile down at the tip, is the popular and “must see” area around the national park called Torres del Paine.  This is the classic photo of towering awesome mountains near a glacier emptying into a virgin lake, etc.  I’ve never been.  Everyone that goes raves about it.  Basically a “bucket list” kind of destination.  I think the itinerary is to fly in to the region for 4-5 days including time in the national park.  If money is no object, stay at this place in the park itself, luxury beyond compare.  And fly in and out of Natales, this  place is supposedly fantastico for accommodations.
  5. And then there is Easter Island, which might as well NOT be Chile because it is basically a Polynesian island WAY the frick out in the pacific.  Never been, can’t say one way or the other, but it is one of the top 3 draws to Chile for tourism so I would look like a fool for not at least mentioning it here.  Other than big stone statues staring out into the pacific, i’m not sure why anyone would go all the way out here.  If you want to visit islands in the pacific, there are better ones… i would skip as it is FAR to fly for small payoff, and you’ll get more for your “chile” vacation from the main north-south attractions i’ve covered above.

Ok, i’ve probably been too simplistic in this summary, but that’s my quick top 3 don’ts, and my top 4 (skip Easter Island) regions for “dos”.

Overall, as of June of 2013 when I’m first writing this, Chile is very accessible by rental car (by segment) so I recommend that strongly–don’t be beholden to public transport or a car and driver.  Roads are very safe.  Don’t leave valuables in-sight at tourist parking lots, just like anywhere in the world.  There is very little violent crime outside of the capital, expect pick-pockets to be the worst thing you’ll find in the country.  Not a lot of scams/hustling going on either, really a lovely place to visit and extremely friendly for kids.  Focus on the NATURAL wonders, food will be fine but nothing amazing, wine is good and cheap, and the people will be friendly and not speak english (so brush up on your basics in spanish).

I’ll add more comments to this post as I get a sense of the follow on questions from the folks that have asked me to write this up (you know who you are if you are reading this).

I’ll someday write up the equivalent for Peru and Brazil, which I would favor for more ambitious/exciting tourism… but Chile is a great, safe, lovely place to visit with family and I hope you enjoy your trip!

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TiynyPulse rocks!

I’m unabashedly in love with the HR employee feedback tool http://www.tinypulse.com, and sat down with our VP of Talent to discuss a bit re: how we use the tool and some of the company culture at buuteeq.

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Ping Pong madness with the kids

Caetano has been making a lot of videos for his youtube channel and wanted to create something with his brother that would stand-out from the relatively mediocre stuff that his comparative peers have been producing.  So we got out the big guns (a GoPro camera for slow-mo footage, and my Canon 5d Mark III for the main action) and did a full shoot, edit, post-production+viz-effects, in a 4hr intensive session at buuteeq’s office.  The kids wrote the script and storyboarded the action using post-it notes.  I shot and did the editing + effects, but i had them watch closely so that I could begin the transfer of knowledge to turn them into Adobe Creative Suite master-users.  This summer we are planning to do a digital film boot-camp with a few other parents helping out with the curriculum.  We’ll cover storyboarding, editing, 2d compositing, and some basic web development for posting.

Here’s the results, of what will surely become a series of videos:

Oh, and while i’m at it, here’s the first video we made way back in 2008, when mom was in the USA for thanksgiving and we boys did a little film shooting at Lane Bridge on our way to school one morning.  Kids were so cute… funny to see the two videos together and how some of their core acting/persona is the same 6 years later!

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