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Showing posts from October, 2012

Storms

I owned an oceanfront house in Beach Haven, NJ from 2000 to 2004--back in the good old days. We used to ride out the storms--hurricane, Nor'easters, sideways rain and sleet, snow, etc, and then wait for the following day offshore wind for the double overhead waves--tubes like you might see on the West Coast or Hawaii, but in 50-degree water.

LBI got hit very, very hard. Fortunately my neighbor evacuated. But the ocean surge at high tide and a full moon overwhelmed the dunes, and the ocean met the bay.  There's been a ton of damage.

I got married at the 4th St Pavilion. I saw a picture of the Pearl St Pavilion; it's totally demolished, so I imagine 4th street--just blocks away--suffered a similar fate.


But the damage to NYC and other areas is really hard to imagine. Salt water is so corrosive (tip: never by a car from someone living in a beach town); it's likely a lot of the NYC lower Manhattan subway electrical system will have to be replaced at some point. The sooner …

Hunkering Down

Here we are again, talking about the weather.

Two days ago I sprained my wrist after tripping in a parking lot. I had plans to plant garlic at the gardens, but called it off because of my wrist and moved it to Monday. And then saw the weather and called it back on again.

So a few of us planted garlic, and I just suffered through it, oh poor me, who faceplanted while checking email.

I like big storms. I don't like death and destruction, flooded homes and ruined farmland, but I like the storms themselves. It's one of the few times the Earth reminds you of its own power, plus the post-storm waves are usually double overhead on the East Coast with an offshore wind--perfect barrels. I'm a watcher on those days, not a surfer.

On Thursday I start working on the book again. I have maybe a few hundred pages, and I'm organizing and narrowing down. It's not easy, and I've thought about starting over. I might be trying to do too much, and will likely break it into two book…

The Book

Over the past 3 and a half years I've threatened to finish a book on building startups. I'm at it again, trying to organize a few hundred pages, blog posts, notes, and emails into a cohesive book.

I'll self-publish; I'm not interested in trying to get a book deal or seeing the book in print. But maybe the digital versions (Kindle, ePub, PDF) will be helpful to somebody, and if it does well maybe I'll buy the Mavericks.

Let me know if there's a topic you'd like to see, besides why it took me three years to wrap this up :)

Helping Founders: The Good and Bad

I just had a disappointing experience where I wasted hours of my time with a founder of a tech startup who asked for help, offered the leadership position, needs serious funding including handling significant personal debt, but who has compelling technology that could really help a lot of people.

We've never communicated perfectly in the past, and that was repeated this time.

Startup Lancaster has 46 members--all founders of startup tech companies. They're all special, and they're all not special. The world has become flooded with founders of startup tech companies. But I try to help each of them as needed.

Before that, I coached about three dozen other startups and businesses, served on non-profit and for profit boards, and I've always tried to help, and give them the benefit of the doubt. I've backed three films, floated a few nonprofits that were in desperate need, and worked a skidloader just to get the job done.

I show up. I show up when people ask me to show …

You're Not So Special. Are you?

In 1997 I started shopping ChiliSoft's idea of ASP anywhere. Dave had developed SlipScript at PSU, and joined us in December 1996.

Microsoft's ASP was uncannily similar--and later than--SlipScript, but the opportunity was clear: you could build VBScript/Javascript server applications on any server with SlipScript if Dave made a few modifications.

But selling against an existing market is hard.

It was a nascent market; Netscape had its very unreliable LiveWire, but Microsoft came out with ASP in Fall of 96, and there were others like NetDynamics, Allaire, etc that were all evolving toward different ends of the market. And we were just three guys with no money (aside from the credit card).

So how were we different? What was the special sauce? Why did we think we could beat Microsoft? Or Netscape? Or any of the server software vendors competing for the same space?

Ultimately I was able to convince enough people that this was the game changer. At the time, there were relatively fe…

Arlen Specter

I ran for US Senate against Arlen Specter here in PA back in 2003/2004. It was a poorly managed campaign, and I ended up dropping out before the Democratic primary.

Specter voted for the Patriot Act, which limited our civil liberties and granted the government crazy powers over the populace, including substantial dismantling of the search and seizure protections in the Bill of Rights.

He voted to go to war against Iraq, which had not attacked 9/11, but which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the other neo-cons had decided prior to 9/11 was in the strategic business interests of the country to engage in.

He treated Anita Hill harshly; he demeaned this highly educated, accomplished professional during the Clarence Thomas hearings.

There's a long list of things he did that compelled me to jump into politics without a clue of how things really worked.

But he was a moderate and a compromiser, and he advanced a lot of policies that made a difference, including the TARP and stimulus initiatives…

The Hardest Part of Startups: Getting Past Zero

Josh Koppelman rightly pointed out a few years ago in "The Penny Gap" that the distance between 0 cents and 1 cent is greater than the distance between 1 and 2 cents.

Cars use more energy to start moving than to continue moving; overcoming that initial opposing force takes energy. That's why the Prius uses electricity to start instead of gas; the electricity is free, generated by braking.

The same principle applies to going from concept to beta in use, and from beta to an early base of customers (pricing aside).

Once you've landed a few early customers, the next few are a bit easier to land, and at some point--if you're diligent about quality, price and product-market fit, customer service, and brand development--you'll no longer have to provide nearly the amount of energy to keep rolling: your customers supply most of that energy.

It's as though you've gone from 0 to 60 (which might take years), and at 60 the friction disappears and the wind swings b…

Optimism

I was reckless and irresponsible by any measure at the time. We had software that didn't work, minor interest, and I was stacking up personal debt at an amazing level, largely on the good credit of my family.

But I had hope. I was optimistic. And that optimism combined with obligation to my family created a tenacity in me that made me a relentless, passionate evangelist for our software. 
And man, it was hard. Like driven to tears hard. Sleeping on the floor of a friend's when I traveled because I had no money for a room hard. Rejected-60-times-by-investors hard. 
But I believed in the vision of both products, which were both the first of their kind. That was 1996 and 1997. It took a full year of going all in to raise the first round of capital. 
Every month, tech product startup founders meet as part of Startup Lancaster. And each of these founders bring an optimism with them that's inspiring. They see a problem and want to fix it. Or an opportunity and want to develop it…

Customer Service: Courtesy

I have a few beefs that have culminated in a bit of a frustrating morning.

I rented an apartment after selling the house last year. Withint a week the 50-year old oil furnace burned out, so the landlord had to replace it. That was in December. It took something like 6 weeks to get it done--I really can't remember though. It was a long, cold time.

Oil at the time was near 4 bucks a gallon, and the apartment has 4 outside doors without insulation. Heating it is an expensive prospect. Luckily there's natural gas in the building and one of the units uses it.

So when the landlord chose to replace the old oil furnace with another oil furnace because the furnace was cheaper for him, and without talking to me about it first, that bugged me. Given the price of heating oil vs natural gas, as well as the relatively minor increase in furnace cost, I would have been happy to have made up the difference to avoid excessive heating costs if stuck with oil.

I'm stuck with oil--or electrici…

Wonder

Wonder.

Sometimes I have to remind myself what a miracle every day is. The trees changing into their Fall clothes. The morning fog on a warm morning wrapping the carriage house. The promise of romaine from the community gardens in time for the Harvest Dinner.

And then there's technology. Wonder again.

Coding used to be much harder. You had to worry about a lot of stuff in the OS. Some people still worry about that but most of us can just code and deploy to somewhere out there, no specific server needed.

Today I'm wrapping up a little utility that will make my life a bit easier, and after hitting a few roadblocks, and getting past all of them with a little help from my friends out there on the ether somewhere (StackOverflow.com), I'm testing and refining.

This is a feature, and an obvious one that should be universal but isn't. If it works for me over the next week or so, I'll release it into the wild, where it might help other people who've had the same frustra…

Speaking

This morning I met with a friend, Tony Crocamo to talk about my plans to finally finish a book and maybe give some seminars. Getting the book done is important for a number of reasons; the first is that I want to help startups, and the second is that completion matters to me. 
Seminars I'm less interested in, except that they might help some struggling startups living outside of the major tech centers. 
I'm an ok speaker. I've given some very good speeches, but have had more bad ones. Speaking is a skill that most of us have to practice. I'm much better when I know the group and they work for me :).
I get asked to speak from time to time to different groups--civic, startup, business--and for each I find it much more interesting to treat it as an interactive seminar than a speech. 
This accomplishes a few things. First, it takes the pressure off me to fill a half hour or hour with stuff to talk about. I can do that, but it's hard and I'm the kind of guy who get…

Are You Building A Feature or a Company?

A couple of things are bouncing around in my head today.

FEATURE OR A COMPANY?
First, I'm working on another tool because I've experienced significant pain over the past year and have heard from others that they too have this problem. I'm pretty sure it's a feature and not a business, but it's a feature I need so I'm building it in my own slow, error-prone way.

Which leads me to this question: are you building a feature or a company? A company is comprised of one or more people (unless it's a Romney shell company) organized around products or services, with the intention of generating revenue--hopefully enough to keep the company alive. (See Fred's post today on sustainable companies).

A feature could be one or more features that you build and release into the ether for the benefit of anywhere from zero to countless people, but with no sustainable revenue or people organized around it.

I think I'm building a feature in this case.

INVESTOR DAY at STA…