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Showing posts from March, 2012

Poll: What should I write about next?

I'm back to the almost-daily post, and I'm wondering what you--my two-and-a-half readers--would like me to post about over the coming weeks.

I stopped writing political posts last Fall and switched to this as my main, and really only blog, focusing on startup life and founders.

Yesterday I broke that streak to weigh in on the healthcare issue, which is something I'd been involved with deeply since 2003 when I briefly delved into politics.

But I think that will continue to be a rare occurrence.

I don't want to distract from the focus on helping startups and founders, and there's little more divisive and distracting than a complex political issue.

Today I'd love to hear from you about this blog--what should I write more about? Less? We'll call this a poll--without the constraints.

See in you the comments.


Healthcare

The Supreme Court deliberations over the past few days were interesting. Unfortunately, they discussions were largely not about the need for healthcare coverage, or the injustices in the system, or the economic drag that the current system offers.

Today I'm talking with the press about Obamacare (The Affordable Care Act). The likelihood is that part or all of the Act will be struck down. I don't agree with the reasons, but then again I'm not a legal expert. 
I'll say this though: it's time that businesses get out of the business of healthcare. There's no reason we should spend any of our business dollars or time on healthcare. None. 
And the best thing for our businesses and the economy is to cover everyone--everybody in, nobody out, no blaming, no means testing, etc. 
The Obama bill was ok--baby steps, really. It was great for insurers--expands their markets by 25%. The benefits to small business are small but not unwanted--tax credits. 
Instead of paying 30% …

Ideas vs Execution

I'm in the middle of a big product push at the startup where I'm CTO. We're pushing out a bunch of widgets and a mobile app, along with new site features and a design refresh, and APIs to support all of it.

It's a lot.

We have a lot of ideas, and write most of them down. I have a ton of ideas, and push some into the process.

Ideas are plentiful and cheap (until the patent trolls show up), but execution is everything.

And that's why

I'm ending

this

post

right

       now.

Selling the Car

Over the next week or so I hope to sell the car. It's a 2001 Subaru Sedan with maybe 78k miles.

Why?

I live in downtown Lancaster, a block from the 300 block of N Queen. I walk to Central Market or Lemon Street Market. I ride my bike to County Park and walk to School Board meetings.

I walk to the train station to go to New York, or take the bus. I can take the train to Philly airport, Newark, or even BWI if I need to.

If I need to rent a car to do a road trip, I can join Zipcar in Philly and train in to pick it up, or I can rent a car locally.

The car costs about $200/month to own and operate; more if I get tickets, and I do get tickets.

This isn't my last car. I'm waiting for a great electric car or plugin-hybrid. Likely a minivan or pickup truck. Or given my new singledom and my need to live up to cliches, maybe I'll get a Model X from Tesla.

My point? We don't need to own cars. I'm looking forward to a well-executed AirBnB for monetizing the excess capacity …

What's Your Niche?

When we started Mission Research waaayyyy back in 2002 (though I had been working on it prior to that), we thought we had focus--the nonprofit sector.

1.5 million nonprofits, totally unserved by easy to use, affordable software. And we were going to get them all :)

It turns out that the viable market--active nonprofits that raise money from donors--is much smaller. It's a good market, but it's not 1.5 million strong.

Within that sector, there are several niches that perform very well for the company (which I won't mention here). It makes sense to target those niches--invest research and marketing activities to help accelerate and expand our presence there.

When you're starting out, it's tough to focus on a niche or two, because 1) you don't know which niche will perform really well for you and 2) you're naturally greedy--you want to serve everyone.


Let me reframe that positively (in deference to yesterday's post): you're naturally helpful and want t…

Reframing The Optimism of Dissent

It's overcast and cool today--perfect for a visit to the cafe to read the Sunday papers. It was an interesting weekend--I saw 5 really good bands, got some work done, and got divorced.

The letter came yesterday, and it made me sad and introspective, so I've been spending some of today thinking through my flaws (or, charitably, challenges), and strengths and opportunities (dear God I'm doing a SWOT analysis on myself! now I feel nauseous :)  ).

I'm really thinking a lot about conflict, and what drives me to be a vocal critic.

Van Jones said in a brilliant speech that followed mine (less brilliant or interesting) "Martin Luther King never said, not once, I have a complaint!".
And that's instructive.

The critic focuses on the problem. The optimist, the visionary focuses on the desired outcome or state of things.

The criticism is not blame, it's really identifying a desire to see things improve, or change; it's actually positive.

I call it the "o…

I Know--Let's Put on a Show!

I remember watching what had to be movies from the 40's and 50's, where everyone was looking sad and glum, when suddenly somebody jumps up with a huge smile and says "I know--let's put on a show!" and then convinces everyone to make it happen, thus saving the orphanage or town. 




In Lancaster, PA (the center of culture and technology), Steve Carlson is that guy


He's organized three place-based plays, which basically means that he got three playwrights to write 15-minute plays for 3 different locations in Lancaster, within short walking distance of one another. 


Great idea, and happens on Art Walk Weekend in early May. 


So I'm asking for you to be that person to and put on a show.Check it out, and kick in--we've got a show to put on!

Stick With It

When you're weary...feeling small.

Stick with it.

Building a startup is hard. Building software people want to use if they know about it is very hard. Getting people to know about your software is the hardest thing of all.

Remember why you started. Remember the injustice you're correcting. The darkness you want to bring light to. The pain you want to ease.

And then get back to it.


(and for Elvis fans, this one below)

Seek Problems, Dream Later

It came to me in a dream. I dreamt I was a bird, soaring above the trees, surfing the wind currents, gliding in for a landing. 


And I realized at that moment that I just had to build a flying machine, and that humans would never naturally fly like a bird because we simply don't have the chest muscles, so we must have something like Wii-controlled, lightweight motorized wing pumps with just enough torque.


Well, none of that's true--for me anyway.

Maybe ideas come from dreams. But most innovation starts at the point of the problem. The concept stage is great because it's like flying in the dream--there's no gravity, no friction, few obstacles.

The real innovation happens when your customers or users try to use what you built on the basis of that concept. You start to learn about friction and gravity, but more importantly, you learn what they really need.

A friend of mine called yesterday to ask if I had ever seen a certain something for websites for small businesses, and …

The End of Big Ideas?

Gates said in the early 90's there would be a computer in every home, connected to the internet (others said that too). The mainstream didn't believe it, and the press was skeptical, but it was easy to see that costs would come down, experiences would improve, and there would be more software to serve needs.

The web enabled anything to be connected to anything or anyone. Open APIs enabled developers to build anything that talking to anything else. Node.js (or any other web/application server) could be ported to devices, or embedded, so now any device can host applications.

Handheld computers were envisioned in the 50's (or before), and showed up in Star Trek. In 2001, I got the first Handspring--a derivative of the Palm Pilot, but better. Soon after they came out with a "cell phone module" that enabled connectivity to the web, phone calls, etc, at gawdawfully slow speeds. But it took the vision of simplicity and elegance before everyone simply had to have one, in…

Another Punt: Boards (AVC.COM)

Fred has another good boards post.


My comment:

Good post; I have less experience (maybe 6 or 7 boards) but I'll slightly disagree about scope of the role.  Sometimes the Chair can get too involved and sway the direction of the company, without the rest of the board having much say in the matter. I'm guessing a number of us in the AVC community have witnessed this (or participated). Distinguishing between the will of the Board and the will of the Chair becomes difficult for the CEO if the Chair goes  beyond that.   The primary role of Chair is to open, moderate, and close the meetings, set dates for next meetings, and then anything conferred to her by the will of the board (note I said her--however completely unlikely that is given our still rather biased board-selection tendencies that lead to male-heavy boards ..cough cough, Facebook). Anything beyond that is outside the Chair's authority.  Power, however, is what you get people to do because of your authority, which a lot of bo…

Punt to AVC: The Startup Curve

Fred has a good post for discussion today here, and there are some comments worth reading. My contribution follows...
_____________________________


We held our 8th Startup Lancaster on Monday--20 founders this time, most of them new to the group. We've had a good group since last May, but one of the things I keep seeing is 1) indecisiveness and 2) lack of a business model or confidence in one.

So we focused on 2 things: what is the pain you're alleviating, and what's the model. What do you sell, who is buying it, how often, and how do you deliver it.

You can overcome a lot of the "wiggles of false hope" if you talk daily with prospects and customers and develop the path to sustainable revenue.

"Researching" on the web, talking to friends, attending conferences etc might make you feel like you're doing something, but until somebody makes a sale, you're going to be speculating until you get tired of it and shut down.

Last point--we didn't talk…

Max Gail: Online Community Pioneer

My dad died on November 2nd 1996. On his birthday on November 16th, I was in Vegas on Microsoft's dime to show ChiliReports. And I think that year (it might have been the next) we sponsored the Chili for Children Cookoff. 
We didn't know what we were doing. Hai was there, Chris was there. We were in an arena where the cookoff was going on, and at some point our company name hit the screen. Felt great, even though we paid for it (silly spend). 
But there was a party--a backstage-if-you're-a-sponsor party. They had hired a bunch of has-been actors (better has-been than never-was) and we chatted with a few of them, including the weird guy from Mork and Mindy. 
And then I saw Wojo. Wojo wasn't paid to be there. He was there to tell everybody he could talk to about his vision for online and offline communities. He talked my ear off. And he was right. 
But he was too early. 
Max Gail--Wojciehowicz from Barney Miller--is a visionary. Or was. I have no idea what happened with …

Startup [YourTownHere]

Last year I read in the local rag that Sam Abadir had raised $6 million for appMobi, and it was at 35 East Orange St in downtown Lancaster.

Sam who?
This town is entirely too small to learn something like that through the paper. Something felt wrong; there are clearly tech companies here, but they didn't seem to be connected. 
So I asked Ross Kramer of Listrak, Kirk Barrett of Cimbrian, Dave Weaver of Loggr.net to  help gather startups and see what's out there. 
The first Startup Lancasterevent drew 20 people or so from about 15 startups. It was thrilling to see the level of interest. 
Since then, we've had about 8 meetings, and a bunch of the companies have made substantial progress. Others have stalled, and some have taken on completely new models. One changed their plan from outsourcing to hiring locally, and will launch shortly. Some have raised capital. 
Recently Kyle Sollenberger (departed co-founder of CoTweet) joined us and has been doling out advice to other passi…

Boards, Investors: Don't Send Your Startups Email--Ever

Not one, not two, not even three but FOUR founders have asked me in the past two weeks what to do about the massive amount of email they get from their investors and boards.

It's the avian flu of startup life...slows you down, makes you feel bad, and somehow is spreading form one startup to the next ;)

This post is for board members, who are very smart and wise and can give great advice, of course, but who should be judicious in how and when they give it.

And if you have a board, it's for you to convey this edict to your board and investors:
don't send your startups email. Ever.  Ok, not ever, but not so much. Please.

You want to help, you see what you think is a compelling article, so you send it. Sometimes without any context, and always without the salient point copied into the email.

And you just took 15 minutes of your valued startup employees' time. Now repeat that a few times a day, every day. 5 hours a week. 20 hours a month.

It's interruptive. It's dis…

Phyllis Reuther

There are a lot of smart, committed people in the world, but only a few brilliant ones. Phyllis Reuther was one of them.

I just got the sad news from her former colleague and friend Charles Wilson that Phyllis died last week after a battle with cancer. At 58 she was simply too young.

Charles introduced me to Phyllis last year and suggested I ask her to serve as an advisor to Jawaya because of her search expertise. We met for lunch south of the San Francisco airport and hit it off right away.

Phyllis had just taken the role of Director of Research for Sprint, and gave me a tour of the largely empty building, explaining her vision for the labs.

The next time we met, that space was filled with people digging into the possibilities. Her expertise was search, and in particular, mobile search.

She helped me think through a range of issues; one would assume we talked about search or big data or algorithms, but she focused on people and their motivations, really challenging me to think thro…