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Showing posts from February, 2012

Business Plans

I got a business plan by email last week. Yesterday I took a half hour to go through it and make suggestions, but after sending them and hearing back from them it was clear they weren't really interested in my input. They want connections. I like what they're doing so I'll send it around, but it's a flawed but good-looking document. That's not what I want to write about. But it sparked a few thoughts. If you want people to invest in you, you'll likely need the plan. I can't stand writing them, but there are two reasons I still tell founders to do the work: some investors still expect it, and it really does make you think through the business you're shopping. The business model is where the rubber meets the road, though. Show your monthly projections, identify your assumptions, allow variable growth rates. You'll learn a lot more about where the pressure points are by messing with the numbers instead of rewriting paragraphs about market p

Follow the Money

Over the past few weeks I've advised a half dozen entrepreneurs at various stages of startupdom. I have a lot less time to chat or review things because I'm working full time, serving on the school board, and developing my own stuff nights and weekends. So I cut to the chase. "What are you selling, who's buying it, what are they paying for it, and how often?", and change the verb tense depending on their stage. It really focuses the conversation on what the business is. Ideas are great. I love to hear ideas and shoot the shit about them. But business is primarily about income and expense, and if you have none for the former then the latter is going to stop you in you tracks eventually. Follow the money. Stop guessing about where it will come from. Figure it out. So how? Call potential customers. Talk about the benefit of your offering, and ask them if they'd be interested, and if so, what they think it would cost. Let them know you're a startup


I wish I had more time and inclination to blog, but I've been sick for a few days and not terribly productive. Today I'm turning it back on, but it's tough sometimes to soldier through. On top of that I have a school board meeting tonight starting at 6. The world doesn't wait. Apps don't build themselves. I still make the list, focus on the detail, get the work done, iterate--in between naps. How do you get through?

Crunch Time

It's been a while since I've had dependencies on my own output. That's changed :) It's crunch time, with fast iterations, better but imperfect output, and a lot of second guessing. Fun, but at some point you get too close to it and need to step back. Stepping back will happen Friday night, at which point I think I'm going to have a nice home-cooked meal, take the dogs on a long walk, and do a bit of Noding over the weekend. Good stuff.

Punt: Steve Blank

There are only a few sites I refer founders to these days. The first one is usually Steve Blank's. The primary problem I see with founders--dozens of them--is they don't know their model. Steve focuses you on some key questions that seem so obvious, yet so many people miss them because of an obsession with vision, or product, or raising capital. You have to start with the customer. Who do you serve? Who pays you? What do you they pay for? How often will they pay you? And how, exactly, do you know this? Steve has a new book. Go check it out. 

Startup Lancaster is Thriving

Yesterday evening I joined a group of 16 startup founders from the Lancaster area. Only two of them were there for the first time. Since we started in May last year, we've seen some great progress. Clint has landed help from a local college for his algae production thing (too much to explain). Damon and team have chosen not to pivot, but to start something entirely new--a very tough choice given the amount of time they've put into a veyr good idea. Kyle, Kyle's not talking. He's there to help others. New guy Mark is an attorney with a great drive and narrow focus on a niche that looks like it wil be a cash cow. Unlike a lot of non-techies who have an idea, he's got a spec and a business model. Dave is moving along with customer testing. Mike and John are nearing beta. If you remember they chose not to outsource and instead added a technical co-founder back in November--someone they met at an earlier Startup Lancaster event. And they're getting a deep

Hiring: Narrowing Your Options Isn't Always Good

Some days I have no idea what I'm going to post. And then someone like Steve sends me an email and there you go--instant blog post. Thanks, Steve.  This morning Steve (local tech guy with cool startup) sent me a job description for a CTO role. Looks like a great opportunity for the right person.  This post is my response, edited for context. It's not something up my alley, and I'm enjoying my current gig. They plan to grow from six engineers to eighteen, and are looking for the right leader.  But in the skills section, they say they need a Linux/Unix expert highly proficient in Python.  Well. That narrows the field substantially.  So in my nosey way I sent an email. They really aren't looking for a coder with Unix expertise. They need a leader.  They're really looking for a leader-manager with a bit of vision and the ability to grok a wide range of technologies--enough to see convergence, new paths and opportunities, etc, who can build a te

The Day the Music Died

Uh oh. is down. And thousands of hackers catching up on their own fun weekend projects will now have to...well...clean the house while they wait. evansims +1 RT @brianherbert These DDoS attacks on @github are getting really annoying. Whoever the tard is behind it needs to stop already. 2/11/12 8:52 AM

The Dog Ate My Paper

I think I just made a "dog ate my paper" case for something. You know what? Don't do that. How you get somewhere isn't important anymore, because there are so many other things that have gotten there before you without any inappropriate dogs meals (try Evermore Pet Food for the real deal). Just get it done. I'll say this about Node: as much as I love it, deploying can be a real pain. I have been in the habit of using the most recent stable release, but my hosting provider and a bunch of others settled in on v0.4.7. That's sooo Sept 20011. I've been developing on my Mac, waiting until I was near launch to push it to the server, and using Github basically as a backup. But Heroku needs the older version. So I revert, but then npm (node package manager, like Rails bundle) doesn't work, so I have to revert that too, which means finding the build that works, somewhere out there on the Github part of the interwebs. All from the joy of command  line

Sighs of Relief

In a blog with active commenters, the best stuff is usually in the comments. Yesterday was one of those days, in talking about managing development teams toward goals. Adrian said,  "First and foremost, the people on the ground have to be rewarded by the work itself.  Dates represent angst and fear.  Release notes are small sighs of relief - and most importantly - progress." I asked " really great points--especially about dates. But if there are business dependencies with dates--like specific events, launch timeline, etc, how do you handle that?" His response was really worth pointing out . Enjoy the read, and feel free to jump in. 

Opinions vs Action

I tell ya, it's a lot easier working on my own stuff than someone else's. They expect results! It's also a lot easier giving opinions about startups than building them. It's not nearly as rewarding though. I'm relearning that communication matters. So do lists with dates, not just lists. I'm mindful that I'm not organized the same as the anal retentive, and have to work a bit harder on that to be effective. But not too organized. Sometimes you actually have to do something, not just organize everything. For train time today, I'm taking a step back and deciding what will create the right work balance for the work and management I have to do. I've decided on daily progress updates to the CEO and product team, simply because it keeps me in the discipline of communicating where we are. They'll be brief--nobody wants to slog through a lot of prose every day. Weekly I'll summarize where we've been and where we need to go, and m


I've had a few conversations over the past week with a number of founders about decisions they're struggling with. I have some simple, but also simplistic answers and questions that surface or almost force a decision (ambiguously referenced here as "it"): It either works for you or it doesn't. If you can't tell, it's probably not working unless you haven't given it enough time.  Focus everything around your basic, fundamental, mission-driven goals: does it directly support reaching them? Is it fundamental to your core revenue model? Can you draw a direct line from it to a transaction? Does it directly support your customers or customer growth? This next one I'm cribbing from our friend Phil Sugar: think of any expense in terms of cash. If you're not sure about an employee, think of whether it's worth handing a crisp $100 bill to them every 2 hours (or whatever their pay + taxes + bennies adds up to). Cash is real; line-items on P&

Weekend Project: Lists

I'm making my list, checking it twice. I've neglected a few things this week, like certain coding, cleaning, organizing, bill paying. I started working at interim CTO at a consumer web startup (stealthishly), which means weekly travel to NY and less time to take care of the things at home. Further, I'm wrapping up some of my own stuff over nights and weekends. Sleep hasn't been great because I have the dogs this week and they've been sick. So, make the list. And then blast through it. Once that's done, I can focus on getting a few key tests done, moving the app to a Node host, and inviting a few folks in. One thing I realized this week--my coding skills have really hit a nice, stable, fluid period. My guitar playing is like that sometimes; you know your vocabulary, know your tools, and fluently lay into a groove with ease. It's a nice place to be. So I need to go make the list and get some stuff done for me. Then a hike in the park, and likely a Sa

News Notification by Email Services

I have a Yahoo email account that I've never quite been able to get rid of for some reason. I use it to sign up for whatever service when I'm not really ready to commit, because I don't want my primary email spammed and interrupted by promotional crap (which it is anyway). This morning I got an email from my friends at LinkedIn. I don't know anyone there but I was user number 3001 or something, so it feels like we've been through a lot together over the past 7 or 8 years. But I'm skeptical. The subject is " The 7 things you need to know in the news this week ". So ok, I'll bite. I open it up, skeptically thinking they couldn't possibly know what I care about or what interets me. And I'm wrong. Six of seven catch my attention and they are now open in my browser, including yet another article on the amazing growth of Pinterest, P&G laying off people after spending a huge amount on advertising, and something on company culture. S

Eat Your Own Dog Food

The only way you can truly understand and stand behind your product is to use it. The cliche forever has been "eat your own dog food". One of my new friends from the startup class does exactly that. Literally. Enjoy :)