Monday, January 30, 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.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

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 addressing the internet search market."  Huh. Does that mean Google? Kayak.com? Foursquare? It's so broad that I wouldn't sign something like that. 

You end up making reasonable suggestions to narrow the scope, hopefully without being too big a pain in the ass for the startup. The point is, it's not about you, it's about them, and they're right to be paranoid and protective of their work--to a degree.

At the same time, you sign a couple of these with a few different startups and end up with no place to work because of the overly broad non-compete statements. Contracts tend to be 99% over-protection and 1% about the actual business. Ugh!

Here are a few suggestions for startups hiring outside help:
  • Keep your contracts concise and short. The longer they are, the more time everyone has to spend on them, and that's time spent away from your highest purpose. 
  • Be specific and narrow about your protections; the broader the claims and protections, the more likelihood you'll have a protracted period of refining.
  • The four contracts are typically NDA, Non-Compete, Inventions, and the Consulting Agreement. There should be no overlap between these, but for some reason every startup I work with sends these with all kinds of overlaps--sometimes contradictory overlaps. Or better--consolidate them.
  • Don't obsess about locking everyone down with every last possible restriction. You need to get to work, you need the help, and you don't want to scare people away. It's highly unlikely someone's going to screw you, or be able to screw you. Your success comes down to your and your team's own execution. 
This is just off-the-cuff. Please chime in with your own rules of the road for contracts--I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

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.

Some of you will roll your eyes when I say this (again), but I'll say it again: there's a lot of darkness in building a startup; your job is to bring light to the darkness. You'll figure it out.

What the company needs at the startup stage more than an experienced leader is passion for a mission and the commitment and tenacity to get there.

That's what investors care about. They know they'll never get a return on their investment if you aren't driven by a mission and passionate about getting there. They know you'll figure it out.

I almost signed up for it--that's how much passion for the cause he has.

So no, don't feel sheepish. You're giving investors a chance to benefit from your passion, your sense of justice, your hard work during the day and endless thinking about it nights and weekends. That's a privilege, and nothing to be sheepish about.

Now get out of here and go be your badass self like you know you are.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Today's Punt: Steve Blank on Sopa

Some really great points about Hollywood's misstepts. 
"(Imagine if the $110 million/year spent on lobbying went to disruptive innovation.)"
http://steveblank.com/

Monday, January 23, 2012

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?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

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 parents, typically with a kid as Darth Vader, with the original James Earl Jones voiceover.

My favorite kid scene is where a captured Leia first meets Vader, with Vader played by the dad, and leia played by a 3 or 4-year-old, held by dad as they deliver the lines perfectly.

After yesterday's brawl over SOPA over at AVC, this was a refreshing piece that never would could have been made had SOPA passed.

Even as it is, it's possible it could get pulled given George Lucas's notoriously tight hold over the Star Wars franchise, but I'm guessing he'll be won over right about the time he sees Indiana Jones flying the Millenium Falcon.


Watch it--HDMI out of your computer to your TV. Pump up the volume.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

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 top, trying to hold onto every.last.dime. 

For years they squeezed the life out of most of their creators, taking the bulk of the profits, and now they're unhappy they've been disrupted? 

This isn't about piracy--that's a red herring.  It's about the direct model. They've been cut out of the relationship between the artist and the fan, and you know what? Good riddance.


10 points on an album I took 6 months to write and 4 weeks to record? For what? If I'm lucky they might throw a release party, but the reality is unless I win special favor with the execs, or my rep does, nothing's happening because the company did something. 


It's up to me anyway. So why work for them anymore? We don't need them anymore. 


Most people don't steal; most people who used to grab stuff off LimeWire moved to iTunes because 1) it just worked and 2) the price was right. 

Creators can create without them now. They can sell direct. 10,000 great fans can easily float a songwriter at $5/album. Make the album at home. The tools are amazing now. 

A friend in NY is working on his first film. Skipping most distribution, going direct and through iTunes, Video on Demand, Netflix. Screw retail distribution. We don't need atoms to move these bits. 

They're in the 3 stage of grief: bargaining. Good luck with that.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

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 do you avoid it? I keep touching that hot stove...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA Overreaches

There are two bills in Congress purporting to be about internet privacy: PIPA and SOPA--one for the House, one for the Senate. I'm not sure which because my traditional starting points are protesting and not available.

The legislation gives the government the ability, rather arbitrarily, shut down or block sites that

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

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 person
  • revenue greater than the combined salaries
  • not necessarily profitable, but the path to profitability is obvious
  • a quantifiable, sizable market
  • a 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, looks good, works well
  • customer profile that aligns with the business model and projections. 
  • clear path to scaling.
  • existing investment from either trusted sources, personal debt, or personal stash. Skin in the game matters.  
  • passion
  • ethics. It's surprisingly easy to learn about someone's ethical stance (if they have one at all)
I rarely do any matchmaking--it's just not worth the risk on both sides of the equation. As I said, most startups don't have a robust enough combination of the listed stuff (I'm likely leaving stuff out) to warrant raising money. 

So if that's the profile, and you don't match it, what do you do to raise capital? 
bad stock photo illustrating someone else's point

  • Raise from customers. Don't have a product? Sell it anyway as a service job where you retain the rights to the code. Read this article on Bootstrapping by Greg Gianforte, then stop reading anything on the black hole of the interwebs and get to work. 
  • Play credit-card roulette. Amass a good number of credit cards and an American Express. Move balances around to avoid interest. Make the minimum payments.

    This is a risky move, but a lot of founders have worked it well. And accrued a lot of air miles, which is useful for your hopeful but largely unnecessary travel. 
  • now that's commitment...
  • Ask mom. Dad. The rest of your family. If you can convince your family to invest something that won't ruin your relationship if you blow it, it will help convince others to join in.

    Don't do it if you don't have a clear path forward, though. R&D is for nights and weekends. 
  • Day job. Nothing like someone subsidizing your R&D by having you do something of value to them and paying your for it. You still have nights and weekends, which by my simplistic math leaves you with at least another 50 hours/week, if you're slacking :)
  • State-backed investment vehicles like Ben Franklin Technology Partners. Well, scratch that. I think it takes way too long for too little money with a huge amount of ongoing documentation. I love the people at BFTP, but the program itself is a bureaucratic mess. 
  • Sell stuff. You really need all that crap you've collected? 
  • Raise from prospects/customers. Yes, I said it again, because that's really where you should spend your time. Sell something. "Nothing happens until someone sells something".

    If you're a consumer web startup and plan to make money on lead-gen or advertising, well, God help ya. That is a long, tough path and you typically need some good backing to get to sustainability. You might be able to pull it off with lead-gen if your target sectors generate high payoffs like financial services, mortgages, etc. But the most you'll likely get per user is $30/year, but it's much more likely to be between $5-$10/user/year. 
So get off the web and go sell something. This isn't a mystery, folks--the answer ain't out there waiting for you to find it. Get on the phone. Go visit prospects. 

Do what you have to do to pull in some sales, learn more about it, refine it, rinse and repeat. You'll get there :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

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 development, it's a distraction. 

--Hiring is always tough. Avoid "I know a guy" approaches to hiring. Define the roles very clearly, and screen for initiative and ethics along with capabilities. There's nothing worse than a skillful person with marginal ethics and no interest in taking initiative. 

--Don't spend a lot of time reading blogs. Or TC. Or whatever. Or rather--know when to stop. In one of my ventures I read way more than talking to customers, obsessed with figuring it out or finding the magic bullet, some pearl of wisdom that someone blogged about that answered everything I needed. Wrong. Talk to prospects, customers, lost customers, lost prospects. At every stage. Make it the core discipline of your company and you'll always have a handle on what to do next. 

There's plenty of darkness around the startup, even as you're growing and nailing revenue. Your job is to bring light to that darkness (like WoW) and the clearest way is through direct contact with customers and everything you learn from them.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

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.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

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 (by car), Mandros (greek food market/deli), and perhaps out for a very limited stroll. The knee is recovering very well, but it's too early to really push it. Hoping to get some sort of workout in--but nothing involving the legs :)

Have a great day

Friday, January 13, 2012

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 tons of replies that are completely meaningless to the original point; some original points are weak on content but strong on provocation.

I dropped in late to the party--4 hours after the original post, and posted this.
Number of times a comment is replied to? Really? That's a signal of quality? 


Seems to me it's a signal of engagement. 
Or in some cases, enragement. 
Not simply what the sage meant. (drop me a beat...)


The totality of the statement is a bit over the top. Some, not all good comments are from pseudonyms, just like within that group some, not all comments are useful, reliable, or experience-based. 


Quantity is not a signal for quality. As much as I like Disqus, this 'research' doesn't reflect the quality of the service.
My comment was voted up pretty quickly, became the top comment and stayed there (yay me!).

Should velocity be a signal? Maybe. But velocity doesn't speak to the quality of the content (though by default everything I say is amazing high-quality content, of course;) )

Likes and number of replies don't do the job; they're inadequate signals. A better approach would be to have yet another button (or slider, or stars) that lets you vote on quality.

On StackOverflow, the best answers are voted up. Wait! Are they really the best? With programming there are tons of opinions on the best methodology, but fundamentally the suggested approach has to work, and if 50 people vote for something, it's likely the approach works.

But I think that's weak as well, though it's stronger than what D presented. I can find good solutions through that, though sometimes the better responses have far fewer votes than the most popular ones.

As @messsel pointed out later in @fredwilson 's post, sentiment, quality, etc are tough nuts to crack.

Which is why, I think, people reacted so badly to the claims in @danielha's original post: people care about quality, and we see Disqus as a thought leader (with about a million blogs using Disqus it's clearly a force), and they've based quality on weak signals.

Disqus is one of my favorite companies. We complain because we like what they are doing, but want them to be ideal. And my guess is that many of us differ on what an ideal Disqus should be. As it should be, of course.

I'd like to challenge Disqus to a live video chat among people who care about this. What a great discussion it could be. In fact, it would have been great to have a live video chat sometime yesterday when the topic was hot...when's that feature coming, Daniel?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

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 better.

I talk with a lot of founders--a ton, really. While I've thought about charging for services--and I have--the ones who really need the help can't afford to pay me, which makes it hard for me to spend the time.

So part of my mission these days is to connect founders with founders, and help them develop relationships so they don't have to go it alone. I want to help to create communities of founders (though that's not my core mission).

Building a startup can be a very isolating experience, especially as it scales. Sharing the challenges helps us think through them, but it also opens the opportunity for others to help, and to recognize their own challenges.

So we learn.

Startups have a ton of resources I never had in the 90's, and tons of great advice. James Altucher, Eric Ries, Brad Feld, Steve Blank, Fred Wilson, etc, etc.

But it's only advice. And it's generally not interactive advice. There's something about sitting down with other founders and talking about issues that addresses more of where we are emotionally--our frustations, misgivings, bewilderment, passion--that written advice simply doesn't address.

One of the best things that comes out of those sessions is positive feedback, support, connection, and affirmation.
That's a great idea. 
I feel for you--I went through that last year. 
It gets better, you just have to hang in there. 
I know a few people who might be able to help. 
It's simple, but it makes a difference. Just a little genuine encouragement can lift us up.

Sometimes we leave energized. Sometimes it's exhausting. And sometimes we leave with more questions than we came in with.

You can start your own thing where you are. Use Skillshare, or Meetup (fee), or whatever, and choose a night, then promote it to the local tech community (exclude non-founders).

Create a safe event where people can air their issues openly. What happens at Founders Night or Startup Night or Commiseration Night stays there. Like Fight Club.

In Pittsburgh?  Call it Startup Pittsburgh. Whatever. Just get it done. Buffalo? Easy one. Startup Buffalo. See? Shamokin? Startup Shamokin works just fine.

You might only find two other founders in your area. Or two hundred. Regardless, get together every month and talk about your challenges. Limit it to two or three challenges per person.

Don't expect to get answers--that's not what this is about. Ultimately you have to discover and choose your own answers.

If you want to attend one of mine, follow me on SkillShare.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

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:
html2jade yourfile.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.css
and the magic will happen.

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 of) but haven't researched it beyond knowing that there's no Mongo integration yet. I think.

The best thing about the new platform is that I'm not waiting on someone else to fix bugs. I never really liked Rails, and didn't want to invest the time to become proficient. With Node, I was productive after the first hour. Feels great.

Time to head to the doc. I'm really hoping it's not as bad as it seems, and that a few days of rest will be enough. :)

Have a great day, and remember to get outside and enjoy the sky for a few moments before hustling to the next thing or looking at your phone.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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 missed them. There was no way I was going to flake out again.

So I got on the train (a bit late--missed a meeting with a great dev as a result). I walked very slowly to the hotel a block and a half up, afraid of getting bumped on the crowded sidewalks. The hotel clerk offered me a wheelchair, which I considered, but pass on and made it to the room.

Later that day I made it to coffee with Arnold at 5, and was limping along. I had bought a brace right after getting off the train so the knee was a bit more stable, and if I stepped forward just with the right leg, I could manage.

The class went great; only 6 people of 15 showed, but we had a really good conversation about their current challenges. They accommodated me--I plopped down on the couch and put my leg up to relieve the pressure.

And then I had to get back to the hotel. Well. Getting in a cab isn't easy with a leg you're afraid to straighten. But I got in--it took about a minute. The driver was aggressive, with a lot of hard braking. It sucked.

Falling asleep was hard because of the pain; I took some advil but that only goes so far.

Waking up was, of course, worse. My knee had stiffened over night. I'm sitting here in the hotel room with 3 meetings scheduled, and I'm going to ask the hotel to bring a wheelchair.

I'm not equipped to deal with this. See the doc on Wednesday back home, and I'll just have to manage until then. Cabs to the meetings, slow ministeps. Should get a cane. Be like House. Without the oxy.

I've done some research: it's likely a tear of the patellar tendon, which connects the thigh with the top of the bottom of your leg. The tear--I'm hoping it's not a tear, but all signs point to that--is at that connection.
don't hurt this

The recovery period is 6 months; 6 weeks in a cast/immobilizer, and the rest slow recovery with PT. I'm already trying to figure out an exercise routine to keep the progress going--my knees going to need less of me to recover well.

If I have to get surgery, it's open-knee not arthro for this, and a 6-month recovery period.

Needless to say, my NBA career is over. But I can still code. I can still pick up a phone. I can blog at an angle.

Moral of the story? No idea. But nobody can say I didn't show up. (or have the sense to stay home. the investor in my first meeting sprained his ankle last night and cancelled, responsibly.)

Monday, January 9, 2012

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, and can really interfere with a project.

The balancing act is this: you need enough features to round out the product--like Ries' Minimum Viable Product--but not so much that you 1)overwhelm the customer and 2) delay your project.

The brain interprets everything it sees and hears. Everything on a page is information--every line, every word, every space, color, images, shapes, etc.

And all of that goes into the user's understanding of the app and experience with it. The more features, the greater the learning curve. The more features, the more noise on the page, the more interpretation and the greater chances of problems along the way.

It's frustrating--I know this very well--it's frustrating to have a vision that will accelerate the product adoption and not be able to get that in, because your team is focused on the "core stuff". And sometimes you can redefine what's core.

But when you have ideas coming all the time, in real time, and you run them by everyone, all the time, in real time, it starts to wear on them.

Your team needs successes, concrete wins, and a sane working environment. If you're constantly innovating and expecting them to respond, you'll weaken their efforts and be perceived as, well, as Random Idea Guy. RIG. RIG the Features Pig. Nice.

So how do you handle that brain on fire?

Write it down. Run it by people when they aren't focused on production--like after work at dinner, or during lunch. If you have a technical hurdle to understand, you might pull someone in, but again, write it down. Then schedule it, realistically. Take time to socialize the idea with your team.

I write down everything these days using Evernote or on paper. Very simply--I mostly use bullet points. If I need to sketch something out, I use a simple image program and create quick mockups. If it makes sense to move forward with it, I wireframe it with light BDD specs.

Developing the discipline of knowing what features should go in, how they are represented visually, how it works, and when to let your team know is critical to your success.

Develop that balance and you'll be able to push your team faster, and you'll get your features (which you should definitely test with users before deploying fully).

Don't develop that balance and discipline, and you'll slow things down--it's self-defeating. Now go cut some features :)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

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 me the choices are certainty and cost, and this time around, Hotwire wins out. Now, perhaps I should have shopped a bit, because the location of the hotel isn't great for my meetings, and Hotwire doesn't give specifics until you book.

But it's good enough :)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

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!

Friday, January 6, 2012

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 don't often heed.

Every few months I recommit to my health, only to quickly forget about it and stay in the same patterns; there was no integrity to those commitments. I don't know why. At the time I had just met my wife, and I was really happy about making health part of the commitment. And almost 5 years later, I'm in the same shape and my marriage is over, with health and the components around it contributing factors(there's never just one thing of course); and I'll say choices around health, to take ownership of it. So I'm very sad, humbled, and a bit angry with myself, but life moves on and it's time to pay attention.

On Monday the Fitbit arrived, and it's been helpful already. It tracks part of your daily activity--walking--and allows you to add activities on the site, which adds and totals the calories burned. And it helps you track your meals and calories. It's pretty simple.

What's notable though is that it's made me much more conscious of how I spend my day--what I eat, how and whether I move, etc. And it's helped motivate me to exercise more consistently.

Fitbit lets you set goals, and maps out a path for you including daily calorie limit and target number of steps to walk/calories to burn. I set mine for 80 lbs over 10 months, which is surprisingly easy to hit if you simply stay consistent and mindful of what you eat and how often you move.

Most of my life over the past three years has been a life of the mind--designing, coding, reading, writing, thinking. No movement involved. And that hasn't really worked out that well. I've been out of balance. You can ask "why don't you just do it, why do you need help" and I can't answer that. Some people just do it.

But the simple act of tracking the things that contribute to the state of my health and wellness has motivated me to do better.

It's working. My state of mind is generally better. I've lost a bit of weight in the past week (5 lbs, but the early weight is always the easiest). I feel better.

And I can see a better path forward. I don't know how to stop feeling very sad, but in the meantime, this is one thing I'm committing to with integrity. I'm considering making my path public, because a little shame and support can help with motivation too. Two friends --Michael Whalen and Brad Feld--have been doing this and it really helped them.

The sun is shining, so I'm going to wrap up a bit of coding and head to the park for a hike with a friend. But first I'm heading over to the Y. If I make that a daily habit--just getting there--it will be a great, welcome change.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

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.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

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.

Monday, January 2, 2012

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 going well.

Don't. Keep focused. Don't look at the tree--you'll ride right into it. Focus on where you want to go--it's the only way you'll get there.

I suspect there's a lot of personal fast-food arson about to happen among startup founders this morning. Thanks Grim.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

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 again. I really hate to leave iPhone, but I'm looking forward to checking out the Android universe. The iPhone 5 will likely suck me back over to the dark side (walled gardens are dark to me). 
  • The angel funding boom will subside as investors start to experience what happens when seed-stage funding runs out and founding teams scramble for bridges to nowhere. 
  • This will create opportunities for early-stage venture funds, which will have had a lot of their homework done for them in the seed rounds and inevitable thinning of the herds. 
  • There will continue to be more venture capital placed than makes sense because of the perverse incentives created by the 2/20 model. 
  • Liquidation preferences will swing back toward investors a bit, from 1x non-participating to 1x participating, as last year's crop of seeds compete for the next round. 
  • We'll start to find out how well 500 Startups picks startups. My guess is it will outperform the general seed stage market, but its success rate will trail Y-Combinator and Tech Stars simply because of the number of startups it funds . This year, anyway. (Performance means follow-on round of funding without cramming down founders :)
  • I'll finally ship Jawaya, rename it, and get some decent traction, and I will close a seed round by May. 
  • I'll also ship one of my side projects in Q1.
  • I might even finish the damn book. 
  • I'll blog less, and comment less at other blogs. 
  • Fake Grimlock will be Fred Wilson's first guest poster for MBA Mondays, which starts tomorrow. Cat's out of the bag, Grimmy. 
  • Microsoft will move Steve Ballmer to Chairman and make a products VP the new CEO--likely someone from the Enterprise side. 
  • Microsoft will deeply subsidize Windows Phone carrier deals to boost share. 
  • The US will see its first sub-$50 tablet
  • Facebook will continue to grow, but more and more people will use it less and join other social networks like Path that enable private social networking. 
  • Chime-in will not become a major player in the social space; it will likely be acquired by an AOL, Microsoft, or Google and not Facebook or Twitter. 
  • Google might acquire Clear. Here's hoping. 
  • The term "Hyperweb" will not catch on, largely because it's an unnecessary fabrication of a couple of venture capitalists looking to position themselves as visionary leaders. Internet-enabled devices will become more ubiquitous, but won't require a new category. 
  • The overall economy will continue its upward trajectory, but without manufacturing jobs the middle class will continue to struggle with its debt overhang. 
  • Unemployment will be under 7.5% by the election next year, which Obama will win.
  • The Republican nominee will be Mitt Romney, who has likely already cut deals to get there.
  • Christie will not be his running mate; it's likely he'll choose a social conservative to keep the dollars flowing from the right, possibly the governor of South Carolina. 
  • Education funding in PA will be cut again, resulting in larger class sizes, fewer electives, and reduced after-school support for urban students. 
  • The state will do nothing about the pension crisis, leading to massive layoffs of teachers within 3 years.
  • Arnold Waldstein will launch a startup that mixes community and wine.
What are your predictions?