Steve Glauberman

Steve Glauberman
Founder and CEO, Enlighten

Tottered on: 16 December 2005
Temperature: 26 F
Ceiling: flurries
Ground: snowy
Wind: SSW at 8 mph


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TT with HD: Steve Glauberman


HD: Totter end? Totter end choice goes to the guest.

SG: I think I want this one.

HD: [unwrapping of tarps reveals icy condensation on HD's end] That was a wise choice, I had no idea frost had accumulated on the board. I'm gonna freeze ... no matter.

SG: That's the problem with being the host.



HD: This is working. I mean we don't have to do extreme teeter tottering. Just a nice easy motion. This'll work okay. So my understanding is that you're going to the Enlighten Holiday Party immediately after dismounting from the totter. If you were trying to convince one of the 70-80 people who work at Enlighten that they really ought to go to the party, how would you sell it?

SG: Boy. Well I wouldn't. Because I'm sort of an anti-social person at some level and I'd say: if you want to come, come, if you don't, don't. But I would say that there'd be absolutely no company speeches, no rah rahs, there's going to be a cool salsa band, and you can stay for as long as you want and then split. That's my big selling pitch. You know if I really wanted them to come, you know just to make certain we had tons of people, I'd probably just look at them right in their eyes and go, "You know, it'd be really great if you could come," but I don't do that. But I think there's like a hundred and thirty people coming plus thirty or forty kids. And I didn't talk to a single soul.

HD: So it's a family event?

SG: Oh yeah. Yep. We have seven child-care people ... I think the ratio is five kids to one ... and we have activities for all the kids.

HD: So there's food, a full meal or ...?

SG: Full sit-down meal, hor'doerves, drinks, ...

HD: What's on the menu?

SG: There's a fish dish, a totally vegetarian vegan dish, and probably a meat, but I don't recall.

HD: It sounds like an event that's pretty easy to sell, or maybe that doesn't need to be sold?

SG: Yeah, except maybe if you live in Detroit, and we have a fair number of people who live in Detroit, and who maybe on a Friday night just feel like heading home early.

HD: So do you have any kind of hosting duties?

SG: No. None whatsoever. Like I said, I refuse to really give any speech. It's just totally informal, fun. Somebody today right before I left was giving salsa lessons in our play room so that people could salsa tonight.

HD: But there's other things you might do as host besides giving a speech ... standing at a prominent location, welcoming people as they come through the door, making sure everybody feels like, ...



SG: You know, I probably want to make certain that I talk to most people, just because I like them, but I'm not sitting at the door greeting them. I'm not doing any obligatory walk-around. I like the people who work at Enlighten, and I don't get that much time to talk to them so I'll definitely make the rounds in terms of that.



HD: Okay, so the red shoe laces that you've got on are not a function of your being the host of the event?

SG: Nope. I'm actually getting almost too famous or kitchy for these red shoe laces, because I wear them all the time ... and sometimes with red socks ...

HD: ... sometimes with red socks?! Well, actually you know, I heard that it was the red socks that was the thing ...

SG: Yeah? Oh no, I think I probably had red socks before I had shoe laces BUT I always wear red shoe laces and I don't always wear red socks. I was on this big panel speaking for the internet and the automotive space with all these CEO's of these really large publicly traded companies like Enlighten. I was sitting up there with my legs crossed and I had my red socks on and afterwards all these people, even the panelists, said, how could you ever dare wear red socks?

HD: So was there a phase where you really had nothing but red socks and you decided to sort of tone down the red?



SG: Well the deal was I've always liked colored socks and I've always worn these Wigwam Alpine socks and they used to make them in great colors ... purple, which was really one of my favorites, red ... I used to just get them all. And then I guess there were very few people who really liked these colored socks and they actually stopped making colored socks. At least no retail store would sell them. And then about five, six years ago, I decided I betcha I could find red socks online. So I found these stores that sell them discounted, but that was five years ago and they still seem to have them. I buy about 10 pair about every year, so probably 70% of my socks are red.

HD: Okay, I gotta interrupt you because I hear my neighbor, is that you Diane?

SG: She's on the phone!

HD: She's on the phone. Well, anyway, that's Diane. She's our next-door neighbor. If she gets off the phone before we're finished I'll introduce you. I alerted her to the fact that you'd be over here today tottering.

SG: Okay.



HD: So back to the 70% red socks. When you have a bunch of socks that are exactly the same kind of socks ... I have some experience with this as a runner ... you've got a bunch of socks, they're all the same kind ... sorting them, you might think, would be easy, but it's actually not, because you really have to keep track of which ones go with each other ...

SG: OH YEAH!

HD: ... so that the wear is approximately similar ... so what's your solution to that problem?

SG: My solution is: you lay the socks out, like on a bed, and you do this just visual match. You know I'm working on a computer program that maybe could do it automatically, but right now I'm just using my eye. It's really easy: it's first, color ...

HD: Are you really working on a computer program or are you just making that up?



SG: I'm just making that up. But I just heard of somebody who's writing a program where you hum into the microphone and it will look up and tell you what song you're humming. It's in theory for people who are saying, "God I have this song in my head and I don't know what it is!" But they've only done it for the Beatles collection so far. What's really interesting is that, because most people can't sing very well, it'll basically have you hum Mary-had-a-little-lamb and maybe two or three more songs to figure out how wrong you are singing ... it calibrates you. Then you start humming a Beattle's song and it goes STRAWBERRY FIELDS!

HD: How much money would you personally be willing to pay if you had a song in your head that you couldn't quite figure out what it was ... for one song, how much would you pay?

SG: Oh, ... like 18 cents.

HD: So on the gee-whiz scale this scores really high but on the business venture scale it's like a zero.

SG: I think the guys went and talked to Google about it. Google might be interested.



HD: Speaking of gee-whiz, I sort of figured that the Enlighten holiday party must be some kind of a bust, because on the website you've got this Holiday Party Excuse Generator(TM), and I'm calling it H-PEG by the way, is that what you guys call it?

SG: We do NOW ...

HD: ... and I figured that the origin of H-PEG was bound to be a bunch of guys who had some spare time and really didn't want to go the company holiday party and so they created this thing ...

SG: Huh. You know, I never really thought about it that way. Maybe they were trying to be reasonably subtle in thinking I would maybe cancel the holiday party. Yet I vehemently APPROVED the concept and so it probably really backfired on all those guys. I should really check and see if they're showing up at the party tonight or not. I did actually get what I believe was a party rejection from somebody at Enlighten using the Holiday Party Excuse Generator.

HD: Well that was going to be my next question ... do you have any actual documented cases of uses of H-PEG in the wild, where it was actually used simply to decline an invitation?

SG: Well, what I can tell you, Dave, is that we know that there have been excuses generated, emailed to somebody and that the recipient opened it. But I can't tell you whether it was a pure joke, whether it was intended to make an excuse. My guess would be a really small percentage of people would ever send an excuse for real using the excuse generator.

HD: You mentioned, jokingly, that you were going to check to see whether the guys who put that together are going to be at the party. How many people does it take to put something like that together?



SG: It all depends on how you approach it. In this case we had lots of people working on it because it's an internal Enlighten project. So it tends to get lots of interest and lots of people want to participate, which actually slows down the process but in the end, you know, three people really went at it. Basically there was probably a team of seven or eight who were officially on the team ... people doing interface design, writers, a project manager to make certain it's moving ahead. I mean the thing actually goes through a QA lab at Enlighten and gets tested, so there had to be somebody from QA on the team. But in terms of idea, putting it together: three people ... a writer, an artist, and a programmer.

HD: It is pretty cool, I mean there's no doubt about that. I'm not trying to suck up to you, it's just that ...

SG: ... because I could just jump off the teeter totter at any point? That wouldn't be a reason to suck up ...

HD: Well, it is a cool thing, but besides the extraordinary teeter totter animation on this website, what's the coolest thing you've seen out there on the web, say in the last while?



SG: Actually you know the coolest thing I saw recently, and I hate to even promote this company, but Comcast has a site called comastic-dot-com [www.comcastic.com]. The advertising agency who runs Comcast's advertising, which is I think Goodby Silverstein, worked with a smaller interactive firm, which worked with ANOTHER interactive firm, which worked with this INDIVIDUAL who made these 3-D puppets. I think the connection is: here's an entertaining thing you can do ... and Comcast provides you with entertainment. But you pick a puppet. And it's all 3-D rendered and it's all on strings. And then you can just move it around. It has this incredible motion. You can record a dance of the puppet, but you can also then talk and record, but the actual coolest thing is: you know it says 'if you have a microphone ...' but also 'if you don't have a microphone, call this phone number and enter this code' And so you call this phone number and the phone voice says "Welcome, Puppetmaster. Enter the code you see on the screen." And you enter the code on your phone and the phone immediately communicates to the server, changes your screen and says, "Code Accepted. Now begin to speak." So you can go, "Ow! Oh! Don't do that to me! Oh! Put my arm down", and then hit 'Stop' and the computer says 'Recorded' and it's done. It's right on your screen now. You can then hit 'Let me animate to my voice,' then record as you're moving this puppet thing around send it to a friend. It's artistically really beautiful.



HD: So you know it's snowy out here it's hard to avoid talking about the snow and I like talking about snow ... what did you drive here?

SG: A Passat.

HD: Passat. Good in the snow?

SG: Ah ... not really.



HD: Well, here's another wheeled vehicle that's not good in the snow. You know those blue bins the City issued for the trash? They're not great in the snow. You basically have to clear the walkway before rolling them, because if there's too much snow then, I mean they roll fine then, but it's just that there's not any clearance.

SG: You think it isn't that their wheels are this really cheap-ass plastic?

HD: No, you know I think they're pretty sturdy. The problem is just the depth of the snow. They're not all-terrain blue bins. So I was wondering: how did the rollout of the blue bin program go in your neighborhood?

SG: It went pretty well, I guess. I had some trouble deciding ... we're not like a bring- the-trash-out-every-week kind of family so ...

HD: ... did you opt for the smaller size?

SG: We did. But I was thinking, "Man, I maybe should get the big one. This way you could only bring it out maybe three times a year."

HD: This time of year, the big one would really pay because it's cold and it doesn't smell and you don't have to drag it through the snow very often.

SG: Exactly. But I opted for the smaller one. It doesn't seem to be that sturdy when I wheel it up my driveway. There should be a market for replacement wheels. Nice axels, rubber wheels, what do you think?

HD: What? What's the question?

SG: A whole replacement program for those carts. You could sell it on the side to make it easier for people to push the carts up.

HD: So upgrades?

SG: Yeah.

HD: I don't know. I've never thought about that. I've thought about other aspects, but not about that.

SG: I'm not impressed with the wheeling action. I think it's tippy.

HD: Well maybe that's just because you got the smaller kind instead of the normal kind, or I should say 'standard' kind.

SG: So wait. How many sizes were there?

HD: There was the smaller version, there was the standard version, and there was the oversize version.

SG: Well I got the standard one I think.



HD: The advantage of just getting the standard size, and I'd argue that everyone should get the standard size even if they don't need the space, because maybe the neighborhood needs the space ... Have you ever found yourself with too much garbage to fit in the blue bin and you think, "Well, there's a blue bin that somebody has already put out. Maybe I'll just sneak some of mine into theirs?"

SG: Well, what do you think about that ... I mean if someone were to put garbage in your bin and there was room ... would you have a issue with it?

HD: I not only don't have an issue with it, I have also told my neighbors explicitly that they are welcome to put their garbage in my bin and I've asked them if it's okay if I put my garbage in their bin, if it's needed. And, in fact, what I've done a couple of times is: when I don't have very much garbage I'll take my blue bin out and distribute the contents to other blue bins and it saves one stop for the garbage truck.

SG: Hmm, that's pretty good. Now see, I, if it won't fit any more, usually will throw it in the trunk of my car and when I go into work throw it in the dumpster. It's actually an easier system, because you don't have to drag the thing out to the curb. It's just by the garbage, right by my car anyway.

HD: What if everybody did that, Steve?

SG: Yeah, uh hmm. Well, we wouldn't need those containers, then, would we?

HD: I think we'd wind up missing them. They stand at the side of the road at attention like perfect blue soldiers.

SG: Maybe, but do you think it actually saves the City time? Have you seen them have to line that thing up?

HD: I have. Actually, I waited expectantly the first week that the automated system was implemented on our street and I watched. And it was quite a thrill, actually. The first time they picked it up, they had a retrofitted standard trash truck where the guy had to get out of the truck and affix the bar to the device on the truck. I thought to myself , "That's not gonna save labor," but then the second week I saw the giant arm that's joy-stick controlled and that impressed the socks off me.

SG: Hmm.



HD: So you didn't accept my offer of coffee or any other hot drink. I'm puzzled by that because I did my due diligence and on your website, "... People are drawn here because of that. Also, because of the coffee. The delicious, strong-when-you-need-it-to-be, brewed-all-day- long coffee. If you possess talent, passion, and a keen appreciation for Starbucks' House Blend, we'd like to hear from you." And then you said you don't even drink coffee.

SG: Yeah, I know. I had nothing to do with that.

HD: It conjures up an image for me of a bunch of cubicles filled with Flash programmers mainlining coffee.

SG: Not accurate. I don't even know how to make the coffee so ...

HD: How do other people make it? Do they use a French press?

SG: No, I think we have these 'pot' things that ... it has four flavors and if you stick it in something ... you know, I don't know. I always dread having an early meeting at the office when I'm the only one there ...

HD: ... and you're expected to make coffee ...

SG: ... or offer this person, "Would you like some some coffee," or ... what I usually say is, "I'd offer you some coffee if I knew how to make it, so would you like some hot water?"



HD: So entertaining guests, clients or what have you, is that easier at the new location than at the old downtown Enlighten location?

SG: It has a completely different image than our downtown location and I think for the most part it actually works pretty well in terms of creating an essence of what Englighten's about and our approach. Not the actual office but, once you walk inside, it does. I think it reflects our approach, our attitude. So I think it actually helps, although I really miss being downtown.

HD: Do you in fact miss being downtown?



SG: Oh yes. I TOTALLY miss being downtown. Enlighten started in 1983 near the corner of 4th Avenue and Washington. Then we were on Main Street for maybe 15 years.

HD: What business is in the original space now?

SG: I don't know, it's in the Northwest Mutual Insurance building. I don't know what's up there. It's the big bay window. And when I was there it was kind of the Ann Arbor red light district. There was something like a brothel across the street.

HD: You're not saying that that's what you missed ...

SG: It wasn't, no! I don't really miss that. That was not the good downtown location. There were two Main Street locations. There was one next to the main party store, which is on Ann and Main Street. It used to be across the street from the Salvation Army. We were there for a while upstairs of a futon shop and a drum shop, but I don't think it was a drum shop while we were there. And then we moved down to above Afterwords Books near Main and Liberty. And we were there for a really long time. That was a great place in terms of being able to go outside at lunch or anytime and just have the whole town down there.

HD: So when you say outside, where specifically?

SG: On Main Street, Liberty, Washington, ... there were all the restaurants to go to. Where we are on Miller, you're in the car unless you brought some food. You can't just walk out and get something to eat.

HD: So what was your favorite place to take somebody downtown for a business lunch if you had to entertain?

SG: It really depended on the person. I like Amadeus Café. For a while during the late, mid 90's you'd go to Grizzly Peak because it was where every investor and dot-com person used to have meetings ...

HD: ... so is there some alternate location now?

SG: There's not.

HD: Because nobody's doing dot-com investment anymore?

SG: Pretty much.



HD: So back to snow. How do you get rid of all your snow?

SG: Well, there used to be this Boo Radley figure who just would mysteriously show up at my house every time it snowed. I would never see him any time else the rest of the whole year. He'd kind of have his shovel out, you'd say, "Yes," and then he'd go shovel and you'd give him money. That worked really well for about four years. But Boo Radley didn't show up last year. So I usually shovel it a little bit. But I'm of the mindset: cars can basically make their own tracks. The only real obligation I feel is the sidewalk, because it's 'legal', ..., maybe a path to my mailbox, because I feel kinda sorry for the mail person, but you know 'Sleet, Snow, through rain ...', so I figure ...

HD: ... well, that's their motto

SG: ... that's their motto so ..., then even the stairs to our front door, that's an iffy proposition. My wife subscribes to the theory that it's actually safer with all the snow, because if you can't totally clear it, it gets all this ice. While it doesn't look as good, we're doing it for safety. And it usually works so for me as a rationale.

HD: You mentioned the sidewalk. Do you ever shovel more than your required section of the sidewalk for the neighbors' benefit?

SG: Actually no. I bought my next-door neighbor a snowblower for Christmas so he'd just do mine all the time

HD: Really?

SG: No, no, I'm just kidding, but I think that might be a good idea! It turns out that I do have a neighbor two doors up that does have a snowblower. And I think the last three times, I drive home and my sidewalk's totally clean, and I think "That must be him and his snowblower!" There's a house in between mine and his and he usually does that, too.

HD: So you feel like he's doing the house in between just because he's hell-bent on doing yours?

SG: I wouldn't go as far as that. I think he's just being nice. I think if you have a snow blower, it doesn't seem that fun just doing your 20-foot sidewalk. You haven't exercised the equipment. So probably it's a generous offer in disguise. Really it's more to play with his snowblower.

HD: So you don't really feel like you need to reciprocate, is that what you're saying?

SG: I might invite him over to dinner every once in a while, I think, but I don't have to for that ...

HD: Well, maybe, just mention to him that if he ever has any extra garbage, he's welcome to put it in your blue bin ...

SG: ... or the trunk of my car! That'd actually be faster. You know I could offer to maybe pull up in their driveway ... almost like a garbage service. I've heard of that before.

HD: Wow! The snow is blowing off the trees! Are you getting any?

SG: Yeah!

HD: We'll be done soon.



SG: No problem. We have to stand on this because actually that's really, to me, the real fun of teeter tottering: to stand and not sit.

HD: How do you mean, 'stand'?

SG: You totally stand on it. It takes a second to get the balance ...

HD: ... are you talking about a solo enterprise here?

SG: No, no. You have to have two people. You stand on your end. I stand on my end. We sort of bend our knees to get it to go up and down ...

HD: Tell you what. There is snow on the teeter totter despite the fact that it was wrapped up in tarps and I fear for my safety ... but I'll invite you back during the summer, how does that sound? When everything is nice and dry and we'll give that a go.

SG: A little bit of a wimpy response from a guy with a teeter totter in his back yard. I mean ...

HD: Well, there's ice on my end ...

SG: Yeah, you don't shovel your teeter totter ...?

HD: I'll accept your assessment of me as a wimp. So do you think Randall should have won?

SG: Randall ... won ...? I have no idea ...

HD: Okay.

SG: But now you have to tell me who it is!

HD: Well sure. He's the guy who won The Apprentice last night.

SG: Oh, I don't watch that. I don't watch any TV generally until about 1 o'clock in the morning and then I'll scan around for an hour ... I will watch a re-run of the Daily Show at 1 o'clock. Generally I just surf around for about a half hour. I don't watch any TV basically. Unless it's maybe a sporting event that I'm interested in.

HD: So CTN is also something you don't really watch?

SG: Nope.

HD: How do you keep up on city politics, school stuff, ...

SG: I don't. I get the Ann Arbor News and if I happen to read some headline or story I might ...

HD: So the new high school that they're building, is that going to have any impact on your family?

SG: Not that I know of.

HD: Well, you're in the Pioneer district now, right?

SG: I am.

HD: What if they changed your location to the new high school district?

SG: I wouldn't really have a problem with that. When we first moved in there [my daughter] went to, I think it was Bach, no Haisley, before Haisley and Bach were switched. There were all these switches. She switched schools already once between first grade and second grade. I don't think my wife and I really care that much to make a big stink. There's probably more important things to spend your energy on you know ...

HD: Can you think of any right now?



SG: Teeter tottering ... You know as opposed to 'all politics are local' I'm probably more 'all politics are boring'.

HD: Well, let's go back to the downtown issue. Because right now, and if you haven't been following this I'll just bring you up to date real quick, it seems like there's some momentum building for putting a plan in place to shepherd downtown development into a period of activity.

SG: Right.

HD: Do you have any thoughts about what you'd like to see done or something you'd like to see not done?

SG: I don't know. I think that in some ways, I think this is a weird thing, I feel like in some ways we're powerless to just, in general, change: I don't think Ann Arbor is going to have the power to make something that different than what trends across. I mean I don't like how downtown is sort of 'restaurants and gift shops', and that's not going to change. You know people can talk all they want about trying to make a downtown with other things. But I don't think that will actually change. But if it would and it could, I'd be for that. I think that as far as having more of a 'living' downtown, I don't think Ann Arbor is set up for that. BUT if it could, I'd be for that. Density: I'd put density really close to town. I think the geography of downtown, how it falls off west and north, and even south, really puts this barrier to extending downtown in a greater way than already exists. I think that it's geographic boundaries that stops people from going to those blocks. But I love Ann Arbor. I do wish it would have more more city-kind of features: more markets, more things to be like a downtown as opposed to what it is now ... it's a great place to walk, look at people.

HD: Do you do a lot of walking?

SG: I do. So since I live downtown, I have a short downtown walk, which is basically: you go all the way around the four or five blocks and you sort of look at the people and head back home. Then I have longer walks outside of downtown, but to me, when you go downtown, you go to EAT ...

HD: ... or to laugh ... there's some comedy clubs down there ..

SG: .... or to listen to music ...

HD: ... buy knick knacks ... Okay, let's see, is there an obvious question that I've forgotten do you think?

SG: I don't think there's any obvious question because I'm not certain what you're going for ...

HD: I think the only thing left is for me to thank you.