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Showing posts from December, 2011

Weekend Project: Mongoose

I've been playing around with Node, Mongo, and Express--all parts of a full-stack Javascript (JS) framework. I'm truly enjoying it, though I do have to say sometimes the guys building this stuff are just way over the top in terms of abstractions and complexity. Keep it simple, guys :) JS is known as the language for web pages. But that wasn't always the case; ChiliSoft and Microsoft used Javascript in ASP, and Netscape had a crappy implementation in Livewire. But now it's back and much better. The reason I'm interested is that I know Javascript pretty well--I'd say I'm proficient. It gives me the ability to code the web application from the server to the database to the browser or mobile device in a single language. And that "full-stack", single-language programming means I don't have to learn new syntax, and switch from one to another, which is tough for old guys like me. Mongoose is an ORM for Mongodb. If you're not a programmer

Perfect Punt: Altucher

Punting a lot lately because, well, folks I got me some work to finish :) I really didn't like this guy the first time I read his stuff. Then I read more. And more. And I'm likely going to buy one of his books. Some really good stuff in here, and I enjoy his voice. Makes me rethink my book--even whether I should finish it :) Enjoy

Unintended Effects

Brief one today. Be careful about how you structure your company. Be careful about deal terms if you take investment. Be careful about sales commissions, incentive pay, and pricing gimmicks.  One thing is clear about human behavior: people respond to what they perceive is in their best interest. They'll go to great lengths to avoid taxes, to collect income for less work, call more if commissions are tied to volume, close more faster if there's a large bonus for clearing the pipeline, buy sooner if you drop the price or throw in lots of extras.  They'll also operate around the constraints to effectively get what they think they deserve. Entitlement doesn't always make people lazy--sometimes it's a motivator. Sometimes toward good behavior, but sometimes toward bad. There's middle behavior though--the gray area, or white; it's without any morality applied to it, it just is.  Consider the downstream consequences. What behaviors can you anticipate? What beh

Today's Punt: Steve Blank interview

Today's punt is over to Steve Blank, the Customer Development evangelist, professor, guru, and all around great American. He gets it. "Get out of the building". Talk to customers. Talk to prospects. Talk to lost prospects. Learn your market firsthand. Yesterday he posted this interview --worth the listen. Have a great day!

Tuesday's list

Three Tuesdays out of every month I have School Board meetings--sometimes twice during the same day. I tend to schedule calls and meetings during those days and code very little.  The last Tuesday (and if I'm lucky there are five Tuesdays so I get time off two weeks in a row) is free. I hardly know what to do with myself.  So I make the list.  Today the list is mostly bugs, testing, and aesthetics. But in advance of the New Year, I've added 'YMCA', 'Market', and 'cleaning'. I'm not a habitually neat person, but I've been spending 30-60 minutes a day recently just cleaning or straightening stuff out. It makes a huge difference in quality of life.  Market is Central Market--the country's oldest operating market. THere are only a few organic stands there; I get my local grass-fed, free-range, liberal thinking meat and eggs there, and in the winter the organics come from greenhouses and trucks from warmer climes. The YMCA is the tough one. I

End of Year Sales

I had a nice time with the family over the weekend. By last night at 7:30, I was saturated with family time and headed home. It's good to be back at work :) Don't discount this week as lost. While many people take the week between Christmas and New Year's off, many others don't, and some of them have surplus budget they still can spend. Others are developing their budgets for the coming year. I'm guessing you want to be a part of that. So make your calls, send your emails, pull those triggers and see what you can do to pull in new leads and some end-of-year revenue. Depending on your target market, you likely won't regret it.

Merry Christmas

Today I'll spend late morning at my brother's and the evening at Mom's. We have a fairly traditional Christmas, with gifts in the morning, and a roast with friends in the evening. And every year, Mom makes Yorkshire pudding, which will help you put on an additional 5 lbs of winter insulation if you're not careful. Sisters will be calling in; 1 from the Philippines, the other from New Mexico. This year family and friends have been, as usual, wonderful, and it's a pleasure to spend the day with them. Have a great day.

Recommend a Phone?

I drop things. A few weeks after I got the original iPhone, I dropped it and the screen cracked. I was fortunate that they replaced it, but I dropped it another 100 times. You'd think I'd get a case. But the cases make the iPhone feel terrible. I skipped the second version because of my contract with the lousy AT&T, and then got the iPhone 3Gs. Two days later I dropped it and the screen shattered. You'd think I'd learn. But the cases hadn't improved enough and I took my chances. 100 drops later, bits of glass were flaking off the phone, so I decided to replace the screen. I ordered the cheap repair kit off Amazon instead of taking it to Apple or some other shop that charges $99 for a repair. Well, that didn't work so well. The phone works, and I can see a thin line of text at the top of the barely functioning digitizer. I need a new phone. Or old one. My ATT contract is up in about a month. I really hate cell phones; you might have heard me

Bottom Up

In a board meeting the other day, one of the board members gave an hour presentation about the company's prospects. I have four problems with the presentation: the member has no operating experience of any kind (MBA--all hat and no cowboy) it's an hour of my life I won't get back it's the CEO's role; it's good when board members contribute but this was over the top and very little of it was relevant the projections were based on top-down analysis. A top-down analysis is tempting. You identify a market size. You then stake a claim on part of that market, oh, let's say 1%.  Really. I was waiting for the punch line, but none came. From there you rationalize that with some simple division based on a hypothetical average selling price to get your target. "If we only add 1000 customers at $1,000 each, we'll have a million more of revenue".  Priceless.  So what's wrong with 1%?  1% tells you nothing about customers. Nothing about produc

Identity & Profile

I'm going to have a lot to say about online identity in the coming year, but for today I'll point you to the discussion at AVC today . Fred's post is ok, but the comments are where the action is. Some really great insights. (and he punts!)

Taking Things as Granted

I woke up at 4:30 am after waking up at 1:30, 2:30, and 3 am--for the 5:35 train to NYC for a few meetings. Let's just say I was pretty tired when I went into the cold bathroom to shave and shower. Hopped in the car, drove to the station (which is walking distance but I'm simply not ready for 22 degrees yet!) and parked. Up the stairs, hit the ticket machine, and hey--it's sold out. Really. In fact all morning trains to NY were sold out. I had the chance to prepay online, but I simply didn't want to fill out the form, and had never been blocked from a train before. Back in the 90's we were able to catch a flight easily--just walk straight to the gate after the relatively light security, buy a ticket and hop on board.  Seats were generally available, and flights on the West Coast were relatively affordable. I take certain things as granted. Bridges won't collapse. Trains run on time and seats are always available. Cheap long-term airport parking is avai

Weekend Project: Testing

It's been tough to wrap up the beta because of a bit of distraction recently, not the least of which has been living in limbo and then moving.  Yesterday I unpacked the studio/office and reconstructed my desk, which is the perfect studio/mixing desk with rack space for outboard gear and a raise tier for speakers, extra monitors, etc. I love me a big desk :) When I'm coding I usually use one monitor for code, another for documentation, another for testing. And sometimes one for mixing a recording just to keep the brain fresh.  With the office mostly set up, I'm ready to dig in and wrap the latest. I'll be in NY for investor meetings on Monday, so I'm looking forward to getting a few things cleaned up in the code and get a bit of feedback, then use train time to review the pitch.  I don't use automated test suites--I'm hoping to start sometime and learn some testing methodologies. If you have any testing tips--especially for JS in the browser and browser e

Organizing Life

Today I'm working just a bit. On Wednesday I moved into a new apartment; well, actually it's an old apartment, and I've lived there before. It's a great place downtown--high ceilings, hardwood floors, affordable. And it's just like home, because, well, it was home for 7 years. It's pretty beaten up though after years of renters with varying levels of care about the woodwork, paint, etc. So I'm doing some painting (well, a friend is, subsidized by free rent til February). But I've got boxes and furniture all over the place, and quite a bit of unpacking to do. Packing is a good time to weed out the crap in life, but at some point you start running out of time and you just throw what's left into boxes and deal with it later. That was about 30% of the stuff this time. So unpacking is a chance to do some weeding, and re-order life a bit. So I'm organizing and unpacking all day, resetting, reducing the clutter and stuff, and setting up what I h

Arnold Waldstein

Arnold has no idea I'm posting this. We're not close friends, I don't know him that well, we have no business interests together, and he has never threatened me with a bottle opener. Not yet, anyway. I met Arnold through , which is truly a blog community, where people have gotten to know each other and connected outside of the blog comments. It's weird and wonderful to be a part of. I started commenting there on the first day back in 2004 or so, and it's been a great part of my intellectual life. I read lots of other blogs but only comment at a few. So this guy shows up to AVC a few years ago and he's really smart and insightful. He's posting meaningful stuff, and other commenters pick up on it, and conversations ensue. So I got to know Arnold a bit through what he was saying and the conversations he chose to participate and develop. And then he starts blogging. He's a really good writer; he was a way of describing things in a non-linea

Accounting, Part 1

So you've started a business. Great! The fun part is accounting. Well, ok, it's not really fun. But it can be painful or not painful depending on the habits you develop and some choices you make early on. DO IT YOURSELF OR OUTSOURCE? It depends. You'll hear me say this occasionally if we ever work together: there are high-value applications of your time and low-value applications of your time. If building product is the best application of your time, you should focus on that. If selling product is, do that as much as you can. If rallying team members is, then that's your gig. DO IT YOURSELF Here's my loose rule, after 20 years of building businesses (including my band): start by doing your own accounting. Set up your own chart of accounts, do your own data entry, write your own checks (or print), send out invoices, collect receivables--do the work. You'll know your business a lot better, you'll understand your cash flow, you'll understand you

Get it Done

I don't have a lot of time today so I'll keep this brief: get it done. make your list check it twice get it done something that rhymes with twice make your calls fix those bugs stop reading blogs shut down the twitters simplify and focus. Go be yer awesome self all day. See you tomorrow. 

Working Remotely

I hate it. It's an amazing resource, this internet thing, with Skype and Hangouts and email and online apps and GitHub and Stack. But I hate collaborating online, when compared to working in an office with people. Phil Sugar just commented on this in response to my comment on AVC: " One way or another you have to be able to assemble a small team and crank the vision, otherwise its a hobby.  I'm old school, but I also like an office, where you come in and work together. " So much more is communicated in person than over a video chat. Or chat. Or phone. I've been working for 3 years out my my home on a few different projects. I'm done with that. My goal is to raise a small round, get a team together, and crank in the same room together and release a great, focused first product. The last year has been a hellhole of hodge-podge passes at the product. It's not the quality of the people helping me, it's our lack of focused, contiguous time togeth

The Future of The Internet

Fred's post today features a speaker from Forrester speaking at Le Web on the future of the web. It's not visionary, it's predictive of existing trends. The future of the internet will be defined by a number of things: new and extended capabilities (better geo, lightweight, disconnected interfaces, storage, processing power),  cheap mobile devices running full stack web services along with apps (serving as both servers and clients),  cheap and almost unlimited power through a combination of new types of batteries, motion-generated power, and solar improved packet handling/transport/routing/ across the internet wicked fast & deep wireless differences in political impacts on deployment and management of the capabilities across different countries with different value systems  Today you can run a web server/application server on your iPhone through a port of Node.js by @TooTallNate. The question is why? One reason would be to distribute applications and data acro


I used to work every day. Ok, I still work every day.  I'm sitting in my family's summer house on a lake in Northern PA. It's snowing a bit, there's about 5 inches on the ground from Wednesday night, my best friends Millie and Lupine are with me, and I'm eating bacon and eggs. Life is good this morning.  But I'm wrapping up the big project, which still needs a lot of work, not to mention the stuff we had to leave out just to make progress.  So I'm working. If you can't take a break on a Saturday, at least change up your routine. Go to market for an hour. Exercise for 2 hours instead of 1. Take a long hike. Visit friends.  But don't work all day. Now, if you're smart, you're focused all week, and pace yourself so you have your Saturdays free. Maybe even your Sundays.  Is that you? Should it be? Are you fresh?  If you're not fresh, take a break. When you get back to work you'll be sharper. Listen to some music--that helps me a


On Wednesday, the leadership team from Mission Research (makers of GiftWorks fundraising software, which I started with Dave Weaver ) took me out to lunch (ABG, which has dramatically improved over the years). It was great to hear how things were going. But what really struck me was how sincere each of them was. I can spot bullshit, especially when it's about a company I started and led, and there wasn't an ounce of it.  There's a new level of trust among people there. There's a viable vision, but the impressive thing is the execution. As Steve said, it's all about the results and holding everyone accountable to the results--and to each other.  I never quite got that part right, and I know my successor didn't. It's hard stuff. But this team had been through the ringer, and when reinventing the company they focused on what truly mattered: good people focused on and delivering measurable, positive results. The results? A highly profitable company. A merito


Yesterday I met with two different startups. One was Mission Research , which gave me a really sweet Christmas present and thank you note, which I'll likely frame. It was great to see the amazing progress and health of the company since last year. The other was appMobi , which now has a few dozen employees and is based in you guessed it, downtown Lancaster. It's raised many millions from local investors, which puts me to shame :). You remember my complaints about money flowing like molasses? Well, Sam must be pretty sweet at turning molasses into water, because it seems like it's flowing pretty well for him. And for good reason: appMobi aims to be the leading platform provider for HTML5, which is the future of the web and mobile web. And I believe it can do it. Check it out; if you're a developer, give it a shot and let me know what you think. I'm so pleased they are here, growing well, raising capital, and trying to be the leader in a web platform. I love,

Good Enough?

The Penn Manor School District was featured in the local paper today for its decision to switch from Apple to Lenovo, saving it a few hundred thousand dollars. The notebooks use the Ubuntu Linux operating system, Google Docs, etc. And they're likely to choose an Android tablet over the iPad. Today, Fred blogged about the new line of Samsung phones, which are pretty sweet (though I still think too pricey). And I thought, well, my iPhone 3Gs is good enough for what I need. We've gotten to a point in the tech world where you can get decent design, great performance, and good enough for a pretty cheap price. I'm considering a free Android phone to replace my broken iPhone. But I'm also thinking about simply fixing it. The fact is that hardware and software have finally reached a point where the incremental increases in performance and usability no longer have a dramatic impact. The speed increases are no longer perceptible to humans in most cases. We've reache

You Never Know Who Knows Whom

Last night I attended the Central PA Tech Meetup hosted at Mapquest in Lancaster. Yes, Mapquest has a pretty good-sized team and sweet new office space here in the center of all culture and technology. We saw a few demos; one from the Millersville Software Productization project (I was on its board until last Spring), another from a company selling application performance analytics, and I forget the last one. The application performance analytics guys had a free client-side product that identifies client-side latency down to a pretty granular level. They then sell a server companion piece, which provides the full picture. Not a bad freemium model, kind of. "So what's your business model?", I asked. The biz dev guy, slouched back in his chair like any good techie, said it's free, it's just part of the wonderful world they live in and want to make it free to everybody. "No, the server piece, what's the pricing". And here's where it got

Burn Rate

Fred posted on Burn Rate today. It's a good read--definitely go read it after this post. But Fred's example is based on a funded company, where the amount of investment is known and up front. For most startups, that stage is a goal we aspire to, but isn't the norm at the beginning. Instead, we raise cash here and there, hoping to get enough to run things smoothly, and maybe combine it with revenue. With both ChiliSoft and Mission Research, I remember telling the guys "I can pay you this week, but I'm not sure about two weeks from now". It was a tough spot to be in, but the team was loyal and knew I could usually make something happen. And I usually did. Managing cash flow is an important practice to get to know early. It's pretty simple: you have your known ongoing expenses, known revenue (or not), and known investment (or not). You have to manage your cash--the combination of investment and revenue--to cover the expenses on an ongoing basis.

Weekend Project: Rails on OSX Lion

I've been running Rails on Ubuntu on Oracle's Virtual Box, and boy are my arms tired. It's slow. Very, very slow. It seems to be a progressive thing; initially it's moderately slow--slow boot, slow responses--but it crawls to a halt soon enough that coding is no longer really possible. If you have any insights, please let me know. What's nice about virtual box is that if everyone on the team is running it, you have a consistent environment and the config issues drop to about zero. Instead I'm going to install Rails natively on Mac OSX Lion, which has its own issues as a Rails host, apparently. I've found installation guides here and here , but neither has been a direct path to Rails heaven. I'm not a Rails expert, plus I'm new to Mac. Oh snap... So now I'm faced with a choice: potentially waste hours in config time, or simply work on another weekend project, like Node :)

Daily Post?

I've been posting daily for the past two months. I don't plan the posts or write them in advance. Every morning I read a bit of tech news, check out a few startup blogs, and then write something. It's not easy. And sometimes it's time-consuming. I'm likely to continue the daily post, but in some cases I'll simply pass on a few things I find interesting--the "punt"--as I did earlier this week. And maybe it will be easier if I have a few themed days, like Fred Wilson does with MBA Mondays and Feature Fridays. The question I have is this: what do you want me to post about?

Blocking Issues

We built Jawaya on Rails. At the time it kind of made sense; Rails is hot, there's a large library of gems to pull from, and Ruby is a relatively easy and forgiving language to learn. I'm able to pick up just about anything, though I wouldn't call myself a stellar developer by any means. With this I focused on the front-end, and had some local help build out the back end.  But my help has been part-time, so when I hit a blocking issue, I have to work on something else until that issue gets resolved. More often than not, I set the project aside and work on something else until stuff is resolved.  Currently I have a problem where the performance is so bad for some reason that it simply isn't worth my time to code against it.  Now, I could try to become a Rails expert, but there's something about the shorthand that turns me off for some reason. Digging into someone else's code isn't fun either, especially the next time they get into it and see the mess you&