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Showing posts from January, 2012

Punt: JLM's Post

I don't have a lot of time this morning as I crank to finish some work before heading off to help another startup for a while. Which of course means I have to move my own work to nights and weekends, but that won't be much of a change :) Perhaps it will actually help to think about something else for a bit.

AVC Regular JLM has some very simple, practical advice for growing companies today in a guest post over there. It demystifies some of the fog (ooohhh...supremely mixed metaphors) around what to do next as you're learning how to sell product and grow the company.

It's another set of JLM Gems--enjoy.

Weekend Project: Contracts

I didn't work yesterday (much), aside from reviewing some contracts I'll need to sign prior to a gig I'm taking this week to help a friend. 
Contracts supplied by startups are typically onerous. Their lawyer may or may not be startup oriented, and will usually send some boilerplate of each category of contract, and leave it to the signatories to raise issues. 
I read every line and decide whether I can live with it or not; I can't afford to be prevented from making a living because of some overly paranoid boilerplate. At the same time, it's the startup's job to ensure they aren't hiring a trojan horse. 
Current and future investors depend on the startup's ability to compete, for instance, which is tougher when someone close to the company's secret sauce heads to a direct competitor.
So defining what constitutes a competitor is really important. Usually competition is defined very broadly--like high-level categories. An example: "...any company …

Feeling Sheepish?

I've been helping a few other startups think through some stuff this week, so it's really taken a lot of my time and headspace. I'll keep blogging, but perhaps less frequently. Things are about to really tighten up for me.

Today I met with someone who wants to start something around a pretty solid idea, and he brings a bunch of experience to the table. He's passionate, and driven by a personal mission to right what he sees as a major wrong in the world.

I like that.

But he felt sheepish about asking investors for a salary. He doesn't think highly of himself as a business leader, because he's not one yet. When I asked how much he needed, he again was sheepish about paying himself, and was considering having someone else run it.

Wrong.

You are the keeper of the flame. Most of us have little or no experience when we first start.  We make it up as we go. We learn. We screw up. We fix it and move on. We grow into the role. We're imperfect. But we make it happen.

Try. Break. Refine. Try Again.

First, you're going to get back to your list/calls/code in about two minutes. 
Today I'm once again learning something new. Learn, implement, refine, move forward. I'm breaking my coding into 30 minute blocks--more or less the Pomodoro approach. A call comes in, I take it, pace while I'm talking to get a bit of exercise. The knee's a lot better--radically--so it's time to get back to exercise. 
Hit a stopping point--weird behaviors in my routing. By habit I hit the web to look for the answer. 
Wrong. It's almost never the right approach--it should be a last resort. 
Test. Doesn't work. Try something else. Doesn't work. Try again. Keep track of what you're trying, keep refining it, track everything. That's better...ok...picked up the trail, and ...ok, nailed it.
Break's over. What's next?

Star Wars, Crowd-Sourced over the SOPA-Free Interwebs

I came across this on the Facebook or the interwebs somewhere. It's Star Wars--the entire movie (first one)--remade by, well, the crowd.

At first it seemed gimmicky. But I couldn't turn it off. At 12 minutes in, I realized I had to take it seriously and watch it on my 42" TV.

And pull my studio speakers and mixer into the living room to get the full effect.

It's truly an amazing work. Each participant contributed 15 seconds. The producer edited each 15-second segment together, perfectly.

Some of the scenes are hilarious; if a scene is 2 minutes long, that's 4 different approaches tied together. I'm still shaking my head at some of them, including one scene with the Dude and Donny at the bowling alley talking about the death star.

Some are artistic, some are silly, some are cartoons. One is done in the style of Casablanca, another, the Simpsons. There's a lot of stop-gap animation.

And of course, the most fun are the ones with kids, or kids and their paren…

SOPA & The Third Stage of Grief

Fred posted on the SOPA defeat; this post is an edited version of my comment there.


I've been thinking about the transformation of the creative industry since I walked from my record deal in 1994 to start a computer company.


Things have changed dramatically since then. I remember bitterly saying to them "you're not getting another record out of me", then sat out the rest of my contract, which had 3 years remaining on it.


So here's where I am with the SOPA b.s. and the plaintive music and film industries: The content industry needs to ditch its scarcity mentality and move to an abundance mentality; if it doesn't it will continue to die it's slow, grueling death. 


And I bet because they've pissed us off so much, someone will figure out a way to accelerate that.


Part of the problem is that the music and film giants are, well,  a big part of the problem: the old school, top-down control model with many middlemen, concentration of capital and resources at the t…

Unwanted Downtime

Yesterday I was really cranking.

The day started slowly; I was distracted by the SOPA stuff and couldn't seem to get into a groove.

And then things started popping for a few hours--finished authentication and sessions and started testing to see where things stood.

There was a bug. One of the modules has a number of dependencies, and something had destabilized it. So I started chasing it down.

(For you hackers out there, the evil module is JSDOM, which has dependencies on HTMLParser and Contextify)
.
I made a mistake, as I occasionally do: I see something over at Stack about upgrading, so I upgraded to the latest stable version of Node and NPM.

And that's when it started.

4 hours later, I got everything working again--except for JSDOM. I'm no closer than I was do fixing the issue, and wasted 4 hours I'll never get back.

I try to avoid unnecessary downtime. Configuration issues take a lot of time and energy and can suck the life out of you.

What causes your downtime? How…

Sources of Capital: Part 1

Shooting for brevity today. This is Part 1 because it's a long topic, only because people tend not to believe that they really shouldn't be trying to raise capital.

Few startups I coach or come across are ready for institutional capital. Getting seed capital from active tech angels or seed funds ain't easy either.

I'm telling you this because I want to save you some time and wandering alone in the desert. Most of us don't need to raise capital.

Yet.

Here's the criteria for me referring a startup to an investor, or vice versa. The startup has:
more than one personrevenue greater than the combined salariesnot necessarily profitable, but the path to profitability is obviousa quantifiable, sizable marketa way of addressing that market from the bottom up. Never say "the market size is $10 billion, and we plan on capturing 1%". What investors care about is how you're going to capture 1% (business model) and when (trajectory). product that makes sense, lo…

Building the Business

Today's post is from my comment to Fred's post on management stages. Reblogged for your viewing pleasure (or displeasure):

-If you begin committed to a framework of principles/values to inform your visioning, hiring, decision-making, and execution, you'll end up with a company that mostly reflects those values. 

--Building the business is still an iterative period; you need to test to find what works and what doesn't, especially in marketing and sales, and even more so if you're in a constantly evolving competitive market. 

--Focus is tough. Be careful not to chase too many 'opportunities', spreading yourself thin. By now you should have an idea of what sectors overperform for you; focus on those until it's clear you have  a new sector opportunity. 

--"Partnerships" != Business Development. Don't chase logos and press releases with established companies just for the credibility. If there isn't a clear path to revenue, it's not business…

Learn About SOPA

Intellectual property rights should be protected--I agree with that. The methods, however, are critical. SOPA dramatically overreaches--to the point that it's a threat to free speech and the future of the Intergalactic-Wide Web (predicting expansion to other galaxies).

Learn about SOPA, and take a stand. If you oppose it (I hope you do), make some noise with your representatives.

Weekend Project

I wish I had a goodie here but I don't.

This weekend--like most--I'll be working on Jawaya, taking an occasional break to go to market or on a (gasp!) walk, and testing a side project around community.

I've rebuilt Jawaya from the ground up, switching from Rails to Node. It's going very well, very fast. I've run into a few minor issues because Express isn't well documented (damn you TJ!), but the Node community has been a great help.

I could cut down a lot of work if I chose to use the original UI. For now, though, I figured a completely clean pass would be best, and I can always hook the prior one up.

The plugin is the same, but I'm adding an iFrame and a bookmark as options for those wary of browser extensions.

I'm going to be very conservative and say it will be ready in two weeks, but I'm already wrapping up the server APIs and have just some cleanup and testing to do.

So that's my weekend. Blue skies, though, so definitely heading to market…

The Disqussion

Yesterday Fred blogged about Disqus's report on its user base, with the title "Pseudonyms Drive Community". Part of the definition of "quality" were number of replies and number of likes.

Now, Likes are variable but don't reflect that; intent differs from person to person. I like a lot of things, but I like some things much more than others. Disqus gives us no way to differentiate that.

An example is that I tend to like @awaldstein 's first comments; I appreciate them, I learn from them, and I want to point that out to others.

In later comments down the thread, I might like a joke he makes. I appreciate them less, I don't really learn from them, and when I Like them it's just to pat him on the back.

So how can such a variable signal be given such weight in their analysis?

And quantity as an indicator of quality, well, that really bugs me. Some of the best comments require no response. They're great on their own.

Some very long threads have t…

You Are Not Alone

I had the privilege of a great talk with the famous Tisch the other day, and he asked me what I was passionate about (wrt the next startup).

For me it's strengthening communities, both online and offline, through both online and offline interactions.

A lot of smart people have written about this. Some have built great businesses around it, like Meetup and Skillshare. I'm a user of those tools, along with Eventbrite, which is great for handling an event but not great at supporting the community that develops out of the event.

My thesis is somewhat obvious:
communities strengthen with the number and quality of connections between their members.And that's what I've become very passionate about, both in my online and offline life. With the offline life, it's about my hometown--friends, family, colleagues in the startup world, and especially the broader school community of 74,000 people, 11,000 students, and 1600 employees.

Stronger communities make everyone's lives …

Html2Jade & Perfect 3-Column Layout

While I know CSS, I'm not a designer and don't love to move pixels around the screen without guidance.

So I found a good HTML/CSS template combo from this guy, and decided to give it a try. So I started converting it by hand to Jade, and then thought, "gee, someone should write something like HTML2JADE."

Right. Googled it. There it is--thanks buddy. I love the interwebs.

HTML2JADE is a simple node module that converts your html to jade format. You can install it (on Mac) with npm install html2jade, and then use command line to convert:
html2jadeyourfile.html.If you don't have a lot of files to convert, then shoot on over to another hero's site and just paste your HTML in, click the button and bang--you've got jade :)

Gotta love the interwebs.

UPDATE: TJ also included a way to convert your CSS to Stylus in the Stylus executable. So if you're using a css template (assuming you have installed Stylus globally), just use
stylus -C --css ~yourpath/here.cssand…

Update

So, that was a brutal day in NY. The meetings were great. But let me tell you, don't do what I did. I needed a wheelchair at the Amtrak station in Lancaster to get to the car, at which point I drove to the school board meeting, mini-stepped my way to the table, and sat for 3 hours. I see the doc in an hour.

But the hotel and on the train I was able to focus and get a bunch of APIs stubbed out and some of them built. For some reason I just really flow with Node, Express, Mongoose, and Jade.

Yesterday I added Stylus, which is the CSS renderer for Jade. TJ apparently doesn't like extra characters like colons and brackets, so he's removed them. The CSS is basically the same, just with fewer characters.

Over the next day or so I'll tighten up the user and session management, then turn to filling out the APIs; the core ones are done. The search stuff I'm not certain about; we've used Solr for Jawaya, and I'd love to leverage Solr or Lucene (which Solr sits on top…

Immobility (or "Pop Goes the Knee")

"but there are things that'll knock you down you don't even see coming
and send you crawling like a baby back home"--Bruce, "When You're Alone"

On Friday I did a relatively light workout--20 minutes on the treadmill at a fast walk and low-weight, high-rep lifting to strengthen the quads.

A half hour after I walked home, I joined a friend for a 2-mile hike. That night, I walked downtown for First Friday and met a friend for a beer, then walked home.

The next day my left knee was sore--just sore. I didn't feel up to the gym so I didn't do much aside from cleaning and coding.

Then Sunday it hit me. I could walk but it was painful--something was wrong. And when I got up Monday, well, I couldn't put much weight on my left leg at all. The pain was incredible.

But I had a startup class (soldout!) in NY to lead, and venture meetings Tuesday. In December I had scheduled meetings with the same people, but the train was sold out (unbelievable) and I mis…

Don't Be a Feature Pig

I had conversations with 3 separate founders over the past 4 days, all of whom are brilliant and accomplished, and all of whom have more vision than capacity to serve it. I'm very familiar with this, because I am absolutely the same way: I want it all, I want it fast, I want it now, so let's get it done.

And that's not a great approach.

You're smart. Brilliant. Your mind races through the possibilities, almost constantly. Because these days the possibilities seem endless; I believe they are.

Everything is programmatically possible. And that's the problem.

As founders we bring a lot to the table--vision, energy, capabilities, desire to serve, desire to win, etc. Balancing that so you move forward is sometimes tough.

I'm a Feature Pig. Anyone who's worked with me knows I see the possibilities and want them all, if only to see how they work in real life; there's a big difference between a feature on paper and in practice.

But it's not the best approach…

AirBnb Vs. Hotel

I'm a fan of AirBnb and have used it about a dozen times in at least 3 cities.

Today I'm booking a room in NY for tomorrow night. I'm heading up to lead a class, meet some startups, talk with investors, and experience NYC winter winds.

I booked my room on Hotwire.com this time.

As much as I like AirBnb, and as much as I like meeting new people, I feel the need for certainty in travel as a businessperson. While some AirBnb rooms/places have adequate wifi, most don't have an adequate workspace. My sole interest in NY is having great meetings, which to me means prepping for the meetings. And I always have coding to do. I can't tell you how annoying it is to code without an adequate desk and my own environment (sound, distraction control, etc).

The other factor is price. If NY hotels feel expensive, I'll try to do a day trip or AirBnb. But this week they're relatively cheap, with a number of options for 3-star hotels (lower chance of bedbugs) under $90.

So for …

Weekend Project: Sun :)

It's currently over 50 degrees in beautiful downtown Lancaster, not a cloud in the sky. In the sun it feels like the 60s, which at this time of year feels like the 70s. :)

I just got back from Central Market where I picked up a whole, local, free-range, left-wing chicken, and a pound and a half of local grass-fed, righteous sirloin and some veggies shipped in from Florida.

At 1 I'm attending my mother's retirement dinner; she headed the Nazareth Project for 17 years, taking over after my dad passed away. She's raised millions for the hospital and will be missed, certainly. But it's time.

Later I'll take a walk in the park and hit the Y again. Speaking of which, I walked to the Y yesterday, hit the weights plus cardio, then went on a hike with a friend. And I'm feeeeling it today :) So it's a good start to a new routine.

Anyway, get out there!

Craig Lauer: Content, Editing, UX expert

I've known Craig most of my life. From 2003 through 2008, he helped Mission Research shape GiftWorks, edit marketing materials, etc.

He's not a designer but he helps shape the design through his use of language and advocacy for simplicity. The principle was that if you had to write help to explain it, it's probably poorly designed. Your users should be able to learn the software simply by using it. It should be obvious, simple, and fulfilling.

He did great work for us then, and continues to do great work (writing blog posts, marketing material, UX input, project management, editing, etc). He's helped me with Jawaya and some other stuff I was working on and I'll hire him again.

He's worked with the top design firms in NY, and a large number of clients ranging from startups to American Express, and has an impeccable reputation.

My point is this: if you need someone to make your software/product/messaging/writing etc better, hire Craig. Contact me for his info.

Health

Ignoring your own life is never justified by your work; it's not noble, it's not at all smart, and it has obvious and avoidable results.

Last year I posted on End of Bullshit, which apparently had no effect on me.

My own bullshit--well that's a long post. Fat, unhealthy, lying to myself about committing to good habits. Yesterday I finally bought the running shoes. If I had cut out the bullshit, I would have gone on the run. I didn't. Or today. Snow, right? Bullshit. Something that fundamental--living well--isn't elusive. You have to actually push it away.
A friend of mine was the CEO of the Vermont Bread Company and had left the year before. We were talking at the end of a conference of socially responsible businesses in Maine 5 years ago; I think I had mentioned my stress, over-working, weight, etc.

She said, exasperated, "we have to stop killing ourselves". The obvious wisdom stuck with me; I collected it among a number of other phrases that I keep but d…

Startup Lancaster This Coming Monday

The daily post is going to be tough to continue; my head's been elsewhere--btw code, school board, and life I'm finding it tough to keep up. But I think I'll keep the punts going. 
Today's is over to Startup Lancaster, which we started last May. It meets again this Monday evening at Isaac's near the square in downtown Lancaster.

I'll be in NY leading a class for startup founders, so I'll miss it this time, but it's a great group of startup leaders working on their visions.

If you're a founder of a tech products startup then please swing by on Monday to meet other founders, talk about challenges, and get feedback. 
Have a great day.

Today's Punt: Elliot Ng

Elliot was the co-founder of a fellow DFJ company back in the day. I can't quite remember which one it was, and I'm too lazy/tired/busy to look it up. Something about doing things on the interwebs. [UPDATE-NetCentives. couldn't help it]

He has a thought-provoking and well-researched post today. Worth the read.

See you tomorrow.

Grimmy on CNN.com

The Grimster has another guest post, this time at CNN. It's got a pretty good set of advice for startups.

This is my favorite, and kicked my ass this morning:

EVERYTHING NOT MAKE LONG TERM WIN IS FAIL PAINT. WORLD OF WARCRAFT. FACEBOOK. HANG OUT WITH LOSERS. EAT ANOTHER BIG MAC. EACH TRIP THROUGH DRIVETHROUGH OF FAIL TURN YOUR TIME AND MONEY INTO MORE NOTHING. YOU WANT HAVE SOMETHING? FIND MCDONALDS OF YOUR SOUL.BURN IT TO THE GROUND.Emphasis is mine.

That's something I've been thinking about a lot recently as my life has, well, changed a lot in the past few months. And after a lot of introspection, weeping and gnashing of teeth, I've come out the other end with some sobering conclusions, which I'll get into someday.

Today, though, is sunny and beautiful, and I'm coding up a storm, making calls, hitting the gym, and writing. I can see the sun now because I torched that McD's of my soul.

It's easy to give into the lame, especially when things aren't g…

Predictions for 2012

Hey, everybody's doing it, why not me? What follows is absolutely armchair conjecture.
Android 4.0 will roll out more slowly than expected, and only the wealthy and technorati will be able to enjoy it. The Nexus is $299 with a contract, only on Verizon. Sprint will continue its unlimited data plan for 4G users and its network won't break a sweat--this year.Verizon will continue to have issues with data until sometime mid-year. School districts will buy Makerbots.More schools will drop Microsoft Office in favor of free Google Docs, OpenOffice, or StarOffice. Adoption of Node.js will accelerate greatly, resulting in high-paying in-demand jobs for Nodesters. Node will be ported to Android, Arduino, and other devices and enable a new generation of apps based on the possibility of servers on phones, mesh networks, and SETI-like distribution of computing to mobile. Those possibilities will be explored but won't become significant for a few years. iPhone 5 will change everything a…