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Showing posts from November, 2011

Great Post: Startups Are Still Hard

I really didn't plan on punting two days in a row, but when you come across a post like this, you simply have to pass it along:
The past 2 months have been pretty difficult for me. We were close to raising $1M twice but couldn’t quite cross the finish line. We decided to put off fundraising until after our product launches. The product has taken longer than expected and feel helpless, watching my cofounders kick-ass, and wishing I had learned to code (we are launching the private beta sometime this week!).


My relationship is on the rocks. She’s in Boston and I’m in SF, and we’ve been doing long distance for as long as we’ve been dating in person. I didn’t mail her anything for her birthday and she’s pissed. We both want her to move here but she won’t move here without a ring. I can’t blame her. Her entire life is there and moving for someone is risky.


The problem is I can’t afford a ring, and I wonder if I’m mature enough to take care of someone else. I can barely take care of myself…

The MInt.com Model

I'm headed to the airport so today's post is a punt to Aaron Patzer, founder and CEO of Mint.com, which was acquired for $170 million by Intuit. And I believe they cleared out the Quicken management immediately thereafter and put Aaron in charge.

This is a very clear description of Mint's business model. It's worth watching for a number of reasons, but particularly if you're thinking of models.

Don't Be Zynga

Zynga's getting a lot of attention from the media these days as it prepares for its IPO (good for them). 
I don't know its founder/CEO Marc Pincus, and only know one employee. So my observations are simply as an outside observer relying on the questionable accuracy of tech news media. 
Read that article--it's a bit disconcerting. Measuring everything you can that's meaningful makes a lot of sense. Pushing teams to aspire to great things can create a great achievement-based culture. Analyzing everything can give you great insights. But it seems it's over the top at Zynga. And taking options from employees...that's simply wrong. 
While they likely would never offer, I wouldn't want to work there. It sounds like a pressure cooker, like they've taken metrics and management too far, without considering the human cost of constantly driving people, shifting expectations, and what seems like the worst of it--changing compensation expectations. 
It's not a nurtu…

Gut: Informed Intuition

Every day as a business leader, regardless of the size of your business, you make gut decisions. I remember once in a management meeting at Chili!Soft I pushed the idea of licensing the software through ISPs. Somebody said something like “Yeah, but that’s just your gut." 
Right. 
When I’m in the game, I read constantly. I read trade magazines, business magazines, tons of blogs and websites, books, and just about any other material. I participate in trade show; I don’t just attend, I’m the guy talking to every company exhibiting, grilling them on what they do and how they do it, and then I’m the guy that grabs the microphone and peppers the panel with tough questions. I’m obsessed with knowing as much as I can. 
So when someone says “Yeah, but that’s just your gut,” I say “gut is informed intuition”. You gather as much information as you can. If you’re smart, you’re organized about it and store the information so it’s easy to retrieve and reference and easy to share with your team.
Th…

The Human Need for Connection

This is the first in what I hope is a series of posts on connection. I'm more interested in what you have to say than diving in deep in the post, so I'll keep it relatively brief. 
We need each other. It's built into us. I don't really understand why; I've been very much a loner at different times in my life, an independent completely comfortable eating dinner alone, traveling alone, and living alone. 
Or is that really the case? 
I've been researching online & offline communities, the power of connections between the members, what leads someone to join an online community in the first place, and the dynamics within them. 
It's fascinating.
I've been participating in online communities since the late 80's, when my Dad had Prodigy. Since then, I've always been the first among my friends to try new online communities, including the relatively stodgy LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Geocities, Yahoo Groups, Excite Communities, etc. 
At Mission Re…

Thrashing

Black Friday has never held any significance to me.

I hate holiday shopping out in the chain stores (I hate shopping in chain stores altogether, except maybe Barnes & Noble when my local store doesn't have something and I'm buying for someone else; otherwise I use Amazon).

It feels like thrashing. I know it must make money for the retailers or they wouldn't do it. They throw up a few loss leaders, and maybe add some discounting off inflated MSRPs, and people buy the TV at a loss for the store, which makes it up with overpriced cables and other accessories.

It feels like thrashing. Reminds me of Ghostbusters (hint: everything reminds me of Ghostbusters).

"Get her, that was your whole plan, huh?"

Things get slow. Customers don't buy when you want them to. Or expect them to. Or they simply don't buy.

So you feel like you're fumbling around in the dark, and you are. You don't know how to get from here to there, and can't understand why, why ar…

JetBlue Customer Service

We hear about a few nightmare customer experiences on JetBlue on occasion; passengers stranded on the tarmac for hours, etc.

But JetBlue has always been a great experience for me. Tuesday was no different.

I left my third Kindle on the plane, just like the first one. Number two broke somehow (that version was particularly fragile) and Amazon replaced it immediately.

I left number three in the seat pocket at 6c.

The plane was still there, but my connecting flight was about to push off when I realized I had lost it.

I told the flight attendant, who immediately called the attendant up front, and he called me up front to talk with the gate guy who had taken our tickets.

He was awesome.

Said he had to get the plane going, but to give him permission to look at my records and get my info to send me info if they find it. He wrote down his direct number for me to check, and made it clear not the call the 800 number, that he was serious about getting it done.

I believed it.

The flight attendant…

BURNOUT

Founders typically don't talk about their burnout, usually out of fear of the judgments of others (employes, investors, potential investors, etc). And maybe that's the way it should be; the wrong perception can kill a business. 
Jerry Colonna talks about it in this article from earlier this week. 
I'll take a bit of a risk here, though, in the hopes that founders reading this might learn from it: I'm suffering some minor burnout, but it's mostly physical this time. Mentally, I'm in decent shape, feeling more focused, and looking forward to coding without distraction for a few weeks. 
PHYSICAL BURNOUT Physically, though, I haven't adopted good habits. I don't exercise consistently (or much), I ingest more than I need, and my taste for beer has broadened to high calorie varieties. I'm overweight, and I feel it every day.  
So over the next 2 months, I'm focusing on my health with a weight-loss target of 40 lbs, which sounds like a lot, but it's rea…

Quick Post: Go Do.

It's Monday and I'm still packing. The movers get here in an hour or so, and the list of things I need to do is longer than time can accommodate.

Take a minute, make your list, prioritize simply

must do todayget it done this weeksometimeOn your must-do-today list, add this: make 10 calls to potential or existing customersprospectsreportersinvestorspartnersemployeesGetting Things Done is a great book and system for organizing your days. But it takes execution to get things done, which takes a bit of discipline. And discipline comes down to this: doing something. 
Go do.

Things

I'm packing my office/studio today. Most of the work is done, but I have a lot of little things that I'd like to organize.

I have the original Diamond Rio mp3 player. Do I keep it? I'm pretty sure I have some old recordings of mine still on it, so yes. Plus it was released 7 years before the iPod, and was a pretty great early product.



The Handspring PDA with cellular module is an interesting one too. Museum?

I still have my Dell dual XEON processor workstation from 2001; it can record 32 channels of digital music simultaneously, though applying audio effects makes it skip if there are toon many applied.

So a few years ago I got a basic HP media computer, and it doesn't skip at all. Definitely a keeper, and I'll donate the Dell.

So how much is enough?  If you've been in love with recording all your life, you feel the need to have as many tools available as possible. Especially if you remember the pain of paying your hard-earned cash to a studio to get a record d…

Weekend Project: Plugins

I've been developing the Jawaya plugin for almost a year. Deisng, implement, test, redesign, test, redesign, trash it, rebuild, rip and replace...all kinds of figuring out what feels right.

Plugins are a pain to develop and I'd avoid it if possible. Here's why:

Everybody uses browsers. Not everyone extends their browsers with plugins. Some simply don't feel comfortable with giving permissions to another party, een though the browser makers have all of the same permissions already. Each browser has a different plug-in interface. So you either have to code to 3 or 4 different interfaces--which is painful--or use a common API layer like WebMynd. Debugging is very painful. Especially if you are hitting server APIs and have multiple callbacks. But at this point, I'd have to say I'm a plugin expert (on Chrome anyway); I say that knowing that I'm not a superstar programmer, but I've been to war with plugins, and it's what I know best at this point.

The arg…

Showing Up

It's a beautiful day in Lancaster County. I'm on the train, rolling by Amish farms under a cloudless sky.

It's home.

But I'm ambitious, and while I've got a ton of work to do to close up the house before Monday, I also have a few great meetings in NY. One with a venture capitalist friend; I'm running some recent ideas past him because I'm not confident with the model (I love the idea).

I love meetings like these; it will be relatively brief, and I'll get a lot of great feedback and likely some new ideas (not that I have a dearth of ideas; it's execution that matters). And I'm not raising capital (well, I might be raising capital) yet, so there's not awkward expectation there.

How does this advance the business? Well, ideas are helpful. Models that work are particularly helpful, and if I'm going to raise capital for this (I am), I really need to believe in the business model. It's always easier for me if the model involves selling som…

A Deal's... well.

Negotiation sucks. The buyers went half way, the realtor kicked in, and we sucked in up because it's time to move on.

This isn't win-win. But it's done, and now I'm packing up and prepping to take a few months on the road, with lots of coding and some Skype consulting :)

Collecting Logos vs Productive Partnerships

[No update on yesterday's post]
The early days of ChiliSoft were the early days of they dynamic web, and the very, very early days of corporate adoption of web technologies. 
We had little credibility, which made it difficult to sell our first product, ChiliReports, which was the first web component to write data from a database to an excel spreadsheet in real time, pre-formatted to your liking. 
Geoffrey Moore was right in "Crossing the Chasm"; the mainstream buyers need to see other mainstream buyers endorsing and buying your product before they will, which raises the question: how do you get your first "mainstream" buyers?
At the time, it was impressive to people if you had a partnership with a major tech company.  The major tech companies had either no, few, or incomplete internet technology stories, so we were able to garner early press and get some attention from the majors at the time like IBM, Microsoft, and DEC. 
I did a lot of logo collecting, trying to es…

A Deal's a Deal

I'm surrounded by boxes and packing material. And I just got off the phone with the movers; I cancelled.

The realtor called at 8:30 this morning--the day of our move--to say there had been a snag. Really? Huh. I thought you said the last time we spoke the deal was done and there was no further risk.

We planned on that basis. Packed, hired movers, made minor improvements, booked tickets, cancelled accounts, etc. Lots of moving parts, all converging on today.

Our house is in what's arguably the nicest part of town, surrounded by grand homes, including one across the street that someone put $3 million into. Our is pretty nice too, though we've put in quite a bit less than that.

This area has seen very little impact of the housing recession, so some houses are getting full-price offers. A friend just had a bidding war on his.

The deal was this: we listed at $XXXk.  They agreed to that price, with a twist called "seller's assist", which is where they pay the full…

The Lifestyle Company

A business friend of mine came to visit yesterday and course we talked about business. He was wearing shorts, which is the linqua franca in his office. Even his customers know about his fashionable look.

Years ago he and his partners had raised venture capital from a few small funds in this region. Things didn't go the way they expected, and ultimately--after a lot of struggle with th e investors--they bought the investors out.

Today the company's pulling in several million a year, and is growing strongly. Half of it is net profit. The bonuses are not small. They pay 100% of health coverage. And they could probably sell it for $20 million just on a linear sale basis (EBITDA * P/E of acquiring company), nothing strategic considered.

Today, it's relatively cheap and easy to raise angel rounds. But most companies will not need a VC round. Once the VC is in, the expected path is a liquidity event within 3 to 5 years (they say 7 to 10 years but that's not what they really w…

When Things Slow Down

Over the past few weeks my focus has been highly fragmented by weekly trips to New York, staying at AirBnb places, planning a big move after the sale of the house, and planning my next steps. 
It's a lot. 
In the meantime, it's taken a while to work out some bugs, partly because I didn't test thoroughly enough. Bugs on my side appeared to be server bugs, and Ryan has had little time to jump in and fix them. They turned out to be my bugs, manifesting as errors that pointed to his stuff. Crap. 
So things have slowed down. 
In between, though, I've taken the chance to design some things I've been thinking about that are complementary extensions of Jawaya. And I think I've gotten to a level of belief in the broad ideas that I might, just might decide to raise angel capital. 
I'm up and down on raising funds; if I don't feel there's a clear path to success, I'm less likely to take money from investors because I need to be confident I can deliver. 
At the s…

Hammer Out a Quick Slideshow

I just hammered out a quick slideshow to explain a possible new business model around the "interest graph".

I'll just say this: there's no such thing as hammering out a quick slideshow, for me anyway. It took a couple of hours, and I'm still tweaking it. Needs work.

Fred Wilson puts together pretty good graphic slides--it makes a lot of sense if you're speaking and use the slides as launch points.

But this requires more detail--it's explaining a complex idea.

The thing that takes time is taking a clear crisp idea and NOT over-explaining it. I over-explain, but also miss key parts.

So then I iterate, and then I start to care about the visuals, which end up sucking anyway.

So note to self: this isn't easy to just hammer our because you have to figure out exactly what needs to be expressed given the audience.

So who's the audience?

Hell I dunno. Just a couple of people I'm talking to about this. An investor, a developer, a marketing guy. Three d…

Weekend: Mongoose

It's a beautiful day in sunny downtown Lancaster. I just got back from a meeting about some school issues, after which I picked up my car from the station and headed to market (left my keys in NY).

Today it's a tough call: head out for a long hike with the dogs, start packing the house (we sold it), or dig into some code.

This weekend I'm digging more into Node.js, and especially Mongoose, an ORM for Mongodb. I've been using it, but as usual there's so much more to learn. And with stuff like this, I learn more by doing more.

So today I plan a few hours on building out the models for a side project, but looking at the sky and temp, I think I'll wait until later this afternoon.

Enjoy your day :)

Witness: The Power of an Empowered You

Last night I was at an amazing fundraiser for a cause I've supported since 2000. Witness.org was founded by Peter Gabriel and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. Gillian Caldwell was its Executive Director at the time, and I helped her as a volunteer (along with many others) as she turned it into a standalone org.

Mission Research was created out of that experience.

Witness was started by Gabriel after the live broadcast of the police beating of Rodney King back in, well, along time ago. 93?


The footage was shocking and the uproar that followed was scarring, but also transformative  (short on time so skipping ahead).

Witness gives human rights activists around the world training and technology to effectively document and expose human rights abuses, from Burma to China to the United States, Israel, and Honduras.

The world of video has completely changed since 1993; it is now ubiquitous, and has served activists well. One of the leaders of the Egypt Spring revolution spoke; it w…

AirBnB Stories

I booked my AirBnb room late this time. A woman has an unused 1BR apt in Battery Park, normally listing for $250/night, but she offered it for $100. With rates starting at $150 for a lousy hotel on the edge of midtown, it would be a bargain.

I really don't like Battery Park. It's apparently designed to keep New York out, plain and simple--it's a gated community. The views are incredible, but it's from this incredibly sterile place, inhabited by, I'll assume, people who choose not to live in New York. Instead they live in Battery Park, which is basically a block away.
I get to the place and the doorman tells me to head up to that floor. He seems to know my host. She greets me, we chat a bit and I learn she's from the Ukraine. She shows me the room, and explains she'll be back very late and will sleep in the living room, that something had happened, and it's a long story. 
And then she leaves.
I look out the window--it's the 33rd floor--and watch the ferr…

Getting Your First Paying Customers

The other night one of our founders talked about his revenue goal: a million a year. It could be less, it could be a lot more, but it's a good milestone to focus on.

Getting there is the trick. Let's assume that the monthly target is about $80,000 and that's constant--it's the target monthly revenue.

BREAKING IT DOWN
There are 20 to 22 work days in each month. For my math sanity, let's use 20, and break that monthly number down to a daily number: $80,000/20 = $4000.

So you need $4000/day for 250 days to hit a million/year.

So how do we get there?

It's a subscription model, so you don't have to sell $4,000 every day, but it's kind of like that: you need to get to enough monthly customers so it averages out to that. You'll build to that level, but you'll have to methodically bring on more and more customers over time.

Let's say the average monthly charge is $25 (arbitrarily), so we need to get to 3200 customers. Math check: 3200 customers * 1…

Disqus/Blogger Issue

For some reason this blog loses its Disqus comment widget but I can never tell at the time what triggers it. The widget is replaced by the existing Blogger comment system, and when I get Disqus going again, well, your comments in the Blogger system are effectively lost.

I hope to figure it out. Disqus is back on...and no, that's not today's post :) will be up by 11 or so (if I make it to the train on time)

Pain & Price

Last night 13 area tech founders met to talk about our businesses. This time we focused on two things you need to address in your startup: what pain are you easing, and the business model you think will fit with that.

The first part--easing pain--was the topic of a SkillShare event I attended last week, and it's a good one. But it's not a question the founders of Twitter could answer in its early, or Facebook.

Fortunately our crew solve some specific pains. Dave Weaver's startup Loggr makes application analytics in realtime very simple yet comprehensive. What's the pain? It's time-consuming to build your own application analytics.

Loggr's model is freemium: free to developers up to 100 events per day, with 7 days of storage. After that plans start at $15/month.

Clint LeRoy has a tough problem because his solution eases a number of pains, and focusing on the one that will float the business is tough. He's working on a compelling algae output thing that I won…

Startup Lancaster

In May a number of us in the Lancaster tech community organized a monthly meeting of tech founders to see what else is out there; a list of disconnected people does not an ecosystem make. 
Tonight we're holding the 5th of these. The pattern that's evolved is that we "network" (I really don't like that word--better one?), then go around the table and check in with our progress since the last meeting, then the challenges we're facing. 
The discussion of current challenges is the most interesting, with founders helping founders with questions that make us think (or squirm), and with some specific advice coming from the more experienced. 
Tonight we're going to do it a bit differently and split into groups of two for 10 minutes, then talk as a group about what we've learned/discussed, and then do it again.

It's a great way to get to know someone, and a chance to really open up about challenges. If you're a founder, you know there are plenty that wei…

Discovery

I'm fortunate to have a number of great friends--some of whom I'm very close with. This past week I had the chance to spend some good time with close friends in New York, catch up on what they're up to (typically amazing stuff), etc.

I also had the chance to meet a new friend, introduced to me by another friend moving back to NY from LA. We had a wild discussion about what seemed like abstract math in 3 dimensions over time; super-calculus stuff.

He's an artist. Sees things differently from me. Most of us, probably. I understand what he's talking about, and see the potential for a new applied science, perhaps.

As I was leaving, we were talking about how to fund the R&D & productization, how to frame it. So I dropped my favorite line, "Discovery. It's about discovery." (West Wing, Season 3).

He wrote it down.

So this stuff is really kicking my ass, making me think through computational models (I'm not a computer scientist but I get it, if n…

What's Your Name?

I'm just finishing breakfast at an organic restaurant on 6th between 13th and 14th. I know it's organic because it's part of the name.

But when any restaurant claims to be 100% organic, I ask for its "source book"--a list of the farms and suppliers it works with. Frankly it's just for fun--I like to see what's going on in the local food ecosystem.

The food is pretty good, and it's priced like any restaurant in the area; the more affordable options are the delis and grocery stores, but today I really wanted to sit and code a bit. So I  sat down in this organic restaurant.

I asked for the source book. They sent someone over who explained that most of the stuff comes from two distributors who only buy from the tri-state area. So good! Local organic. He couldn't define what local means--30, 50, 100 miles?
(In California I think it's 250 miles. Pretty generous).


So I want to share this place with you. And sitting here, with no menu in front of me,…

Hiring True Believers vs. Outsourcing, Part II

Last night I went to a Node.js meetup in at Pivotal Labs in New York. About 10 people showed up, which was perfect.

We talked in depth about the reasons for choosing Node as a tool or not, the attraction of full-stack JS, why Rails is a fine choice in NY (available developers, as opposed to say, Central PA), etc.

Really, really smart guys, talking about threading, concurrency issues, forking computation-intensive routines, the lack of enough contributors to the libraries, etc. Fun to listen to.

What struck me was that none of these guys were consultants. They all worked at startups of one stage or another.

In glass-walled room nearby, another SkillShare event was underway, with twice the people crammed in to learn about product management skills.

At some point a few Pivotal devs started playing ping pong. That was at around 8 pm, when we decided to end the meeting.

At which point some of us stood around and talked about the merits/and not of the Occupy movement until about 9, while ot…

SkillShare

David Fraille of Lancaster has been hosting occasional "skillshares" in town. If you have a skill, and you think you can teach it, you can offer it up to people through David's event. All day long attendees can learn something new from generous, naturally helpful people.

I love it.

Why would I want to learn to sew? Well, because it's expensive to get new clothes, and taking them to a tailor ain't cheap either. Cost isn't bad at the dry cleaners for mending, but still, it's a great skill to have.

Learn it at a skillshare event.

Last night, on my first day of co-location in New York, I participated in a skillshare class, led by the founder of the CollaborativeFund, which invests in, of course, businesses that enable collaboration toward positive outcomes.

I almost didn't go. I was on my way, running late, cabs unavailable and my substantial belly crying out to me burger! sushi! Thai! as I walked down 6th Ave.

I got lucky around 9th street and hopped in …

Start Anywhere

Yesterday I wrote a surprisingly long post about creating a viable ecosystem. My intention was to push out something pretty quick and short, but there you have it. I'm passionate about  the issue for some reason.

But you can start anywhere. You can raise money from anywhere, though the likelihood of geting significant funding drops a bit.

As a startup your role is not to build an ecosystem of startups, it's to build your own startup's ecosystem, and while that can be challenging in areas outside of thriving ecosystems, it's not impossible by any means.

It's just different.

Your employees might not be as risk-tolerant, but they might be more loyal depending on how you treat them. You'll likely have unsophisticated investors, meaning they haven't invested in startups before and will need some handholdingYou'll miss some of the random connections that other startups are able to make just by being in the stream of a great scene like NY or Mountain View. But …