Over the last week or so I listened to two more books via Audible that I feel compelled to recommend:
1. Breakpoint by Jeff Stibel - The title of this book talks about why the web will implode and search will be obsolete, but it really has very little to do with any of that. Instead, it dives into some pretty interesting research about networks and how/why they work and when/why they collapse.
There are up and down parts to the whole book, but there are enough really great nuggets throughout the book that it’s worth putting in the time and getting through the down points.
2. Talk like TED by Carmine Gallo - I have had this book in my wishlist for a few months now as I anxiously waited for it to be released. It finally was on Tuesday and I’ve already listened to the whole thing.
Overall, if you’ve watched a lot of TED talks (like I have), you probably won’t be that surprised by the advice and details that are shared throughout this book…but still it did a really good job at driving home some basic points about how to better communicate as a whole.
In hindsight, I probably had too high expectations going into this one - but it’s short read and still well worth the time…especially if you continue to work on your communication skills (it’s been a personal focus point for me over the past few months).
I had breakfast with a tech friend of mine a couple of weeks ago…as usual we spent a good amount of the time talking about various technologies and tech. challenges that we’ve been digging into since we last connected.
One of the interesting things he asked me during the course of the breakfast though was “how do you stay so positive?”. He was specifically talking about how draining and painful it can be to hit so many tiny little hiccups in tech…and how long it can take to track down and fix a given bug (often full days lost).
My answer was that, honestly, I don’t.
In fact, I’m often in a really frustrated and bad mood…and not only because of programming challenges (though they do fill a certain amount of my bad mood time). Starting a business, especially in the *very* early days, is probably about 98% frustrating…and though I love it as well, parenting, is also filled with frustrating/angry moments.
However, I try really hard to acknowledge when I’m in a bad mood or frustrated about something…and I do my very best to keep that negativity completely focused on just the specific thing that is bothering me (this is a skill that has taken A LOT of practice over my life).
When something is really eating at me I try to step away for a bit…focus on something else. Find an easy win. Breathe. And then refocus.
The other thing I generally do, as much as possible, is keep the negative mood to myself. I’ve found dwelling on it and sharing it with others tends to only amplify it…and so I can see why the outside world could think I’m always positive.
I’m not…but I really like that people think I am! ;-)
"I’m not a baller or a shot caller I don’t do drugs or hangout with thugs But I still pay the bills and get my thrills Cause I dream in code and prototype with Node” - Falicon
Ben Horowitz has a great post up today about The Legend of The Blind MC and his personal love affair with Hip Hop. At the end of it he even links over to a post on Rap Genius where you can actually listen to four songs from his Blind Def Crew days (of the four, Bedrock actually isn’t half bad; with a little production love I think it might have been a one-hit wonder)
Anyone who has known me for any length of time probably knows that I’m also a pretty big Hip Hop fan and have been since the early 80’s as well — mostly thanks to my childhood friend Steve bringing me back mix tapes from Detroit radio.
Growing up in the rural area of Erie, PA most of the radio stations were of course country, pop, or classic rock and being the 80s the bigger trend with the kids in my area was really Heavy Metal. But I was never really into Metal — that was my sister’s thing.
Like Ben mentioned, there was something really raw and interesting that connected with me in the early Hip Hop days. And it wasn’t just the raw topics they were rapping about, it was the fast thinking, the pacing…the pure energy that went into everything they seemed to do.
And of course the stories — even the worst of songs told some type of story, usually rooted in some type of real-life event.
Honestly, I didn’t understand it all (I probably still don’t)…but I was hooked from the first time I heard RUN DMC, Dana Dane, and the Beastie Boys.
The initial problem was pointed out to me by one of our iPad users and initially I couldn’t find it (I use a different web browser on my iPad than the default Safari one)…but once I took a look using the default browser I could in fact repeat the issue.
This was actually a good thing though as it meant that it was def. something to do with the browser more so than just a general programming error.
But of course the next thing to figure out was, just what specifically was the Safari browser doing different than all the others?
Though not my specific issue I noticed that a lot of the Stack Overflow issues related to my searches had to do with date formatting…so I thought it couldn’t hurt to play with that in my own code a bit as well…and believe it or not, that *did* fix the issue (I had to replace dashes with slashes in my dates — though I’m still really not sure just why that is).
So now the feature works properly across all the browsers (that I’ve tested)…and overall it was only a couple of hours of digging to get it fixed…but these are just the sort of rabbit holes (with potential land mines scattered throughout) that fill a programmers day (and cut into our overall productivity).
I ran across the Quintus project the other day. From the homepage it claims to be:
I poked around the docs a little bit and it seemed pretty solid and simple…I don’t have any free bandwidth right now to mess with it, but I’m definitely going to keep it in mind for the next time I’m looking to dabble with building a game.
Later this morning I am participating in a panel called “Angel Investing in Action” at the 2014 Pipeline Fellowship Conference here in NY. The goal of the Pipeline Fellowship is to have more women angel investors (currently only about 1 in 5 in the US). This is a terrific endeavor as it will…
This is a great list of core ‘rules’ by Albert…and if *you* are someone who is following them and believes in helping kids get more active and more out of their physical activities…then I would love to connect/chat with you as well! ;-)
One of my favorite things about travel, especially flying, is that I get forced down time to catch up on some reading. So while my trip this past weekend was fairly short - I did get at least a little time to do some reading.
Overall it’s a pretty short but great read about how stories, more than anything else, drive what we feel and even how we act.
I enjoyed it so much that I actually started it when I first got to the airport and had finished it by the end of my flight!
For awhile now I’ve been telling those close to Coach Wizard that I’m more concerned with getting our story properly set in users minds than I am in ‘getting the product or features just right’…in fact I think getting the story right is specifically what drives getting the product and features just right (doing it in a different order just doesn’t work).
This book not only enforced that belief, it provided some other really great and inspirational stories to use as a bit of guide with.
Design is one of the things I’ve been spending a lot of time on over the past year or so (as I thought about, planned for, and started developing Coach Wizard).
Design has always been a bit of a weak point to my ‘tech’ game. In the early days of the web, most all design was pretty lame and so I could get away with basic photoshop and graphic skills and ‘wow’ people more with features and services.
But over the past twenty or so years, design has become more and more important as tech. and backend stuff has become easier and easier (and a bit more of a commodity). A lot of the ‘wow’ factor of services now is as much (if not more) about the design and the UI/UX than it is the background tech. or services.
And it’s no longer just design as one bit - there are specialists within all the various parts of design. And the best of the best sites and products out there use them all.
The trouble is as a guy with an idea or even as a startup with *seriously* limited resources, I really can’t pay for any of these specialists. And even if I could, they are in such high demand that they are nearly impossible to find (pricing them out even more).
So in the meantime I started to try and refine my design skills and my ‘design eye’.
I started by making a list of all the most popular web sites/services I could think of. I listed out the ones that have clearly spent significant amounts of time/money on their design over the years — and the ones that I frequently hear people say things like “beautiful product”, “love”, “killer design”, and “so simple” about.
From there - I dug into using each product as much as I could to try and *really* get a feel for what they are doing with their design…to try and get inside their heads for each page/feature and guess at the why and where of every element presented.
In addition to doing that on a case-by-case basis, I also tried to step back and take a general view across all these popular services to identify common design trends and elements.
Was there a standard layout that the best of the best use? How much or how little do they all present at once? Should navigation be standard?
There are literally millions of questions that can be asked/answered as you dig into all of this (hence the need and development of specialists).
One of the things I did to help me in this analysis was to do box diagrams of many of these services on paper…here’s a picture of some of those pages (maybe you can guess what popular services each of these are):
Through doing this a few really interesting things struck me:
1. All the popular services people really love actually present us with tons and tons of data and features at once. But none of them *feel* like they are actually hitting us with as much as they are at once (btw - I did this with their mobile versions too - and it even repeats there as well).
2. The trends and ‘standards’ are not what I thought they would be. Most use multiple columns but there appears to be no ‘standard’ approach to navigation.
3. There appears to be a magical combination of whitespace, color, and images. Of the three, color seems to be the *least* important for usability (I was especially stricken with how ‘clean’ even the box diagrams I did felt for each service).
…for me specifically, I knew that I did not want to reinvent the wheel on my initial design approach so almost all of this was simply about figuring out which to ‘copy’. In doing that, it was as much about the feeling each service gave as it was about how my use-case generically mapped to their use-case.
Overall, that mapping and trying to figure out which to ‘copy’, has been harder to do than I thought it would be. In fact, I went through a large number of iterations of trying to map my design to one of these patterns before settling on my current approach (which so far I’m *really* digging — and if you go create an account to check it out, I would love to hear which service you *think* I copied the most)
Though I’m finally happy with our alpha design, we still have a long way to go before we hit our own real “wow” moment for users…and I’ve still got a ton of personal design skills (and eye) to develop.
So we’ll continue to work on it — just like everything else — and of course if *you* are a specialist with those skills, and interested in our mission, we would especially *LOVE* to talk with, learn from, and work with you!
I’ve been in meetings and busy in the city most of today…so limited email, limited blogging, and limited online communication as a whole.
Still as I finally grab a few minutes to check email and catch up I see that throughout the day new Coach Wizard accounts have started to trickle into the system.
I have no idea where they are coming from yet (or who is telling them about the site) but that’s one of my favorite moments of any new service (we people I didn’t push start to find the system)
Of course it’s also a scary moment because I know our product is still only a shell of what we intend to build…and it doesn’t yet have the real ‘wow’ out of the box we are after…so I can only hope these new and random users are foregiving and patient as we ramp up as quickly as possible.
Either way it’s an exciting moment and I’m looking forward to digging into the stats more when I get some real time back at my desk!
Hivemind was yet another little Twitter hack that I put together after the success of conversationlist. The core idea was to be able to list out a group of twitter accounts and get a quick view of who they all follow (that you don’t).
It was a fairly quick and easy hack to throw together and it actually worked pretty good and got some good writeups and feedback…including this:
However - the biggest problem was that it was solving a *very* niche problem (that really should have been a part of Twitter directly)…and it was also a “once in awhile” type of problem (nothing really sticky about it)…and of course there was no obvious way to make money from it at our small scale.
Twitter eventually released a suggested user system (and I now get tons of, annoying, emails and alerts about who I should follow). While I don’t think they’ve nailed it all just yet, I do think it’s basically “good enough” and certainly makes a lot more sense as a feature for them than a product by me.
For the past couple of days I’ve had a headache off and on. The other day it was bad enough that I actually took some aspirin (I usually avoid medication for most things when possible, and instead opt for more rest).
Because I took aspirin for this just the other day, I refuse to do it again today…but it’s really cutting into my productivity and usefulness as a whole. I rarely bake in ‘being under the weather’ to my plans and so it’s always doubly depressing to get hit with it.
Anyway, hopefully it’s just a small bump and I’ll be back to form tomorrow…
One of the biggest challenges I still struggle with from time to time in my youth coaching is when you lose the kid’s attention…how do you get them back on track and inline?
You can yell and scream and threaten…but that tends to scare off most of the younger kids and just really isn’t very effect unless used very sparingly.
You can make them run laps or do extra ‘tough’ drills…but lots of times the kids think that’s fun and def. don’t think of it as a punishment to be avoided.
You can make one or two sit out…but then they aren’t really learning the skills you are trying to work on (and they are not helping the rest of the kids either). Even when this approach works, it only works when there are only one or two kids acting up.
So there really are no great answers (that I’ve found). The best option I’ve found so far is to break for water and then use that water break to regroup into a different drill or way to teach the skill.
Usually the regroup and reset will help get things back under control for at least a little bit…but on some days (like today) even this doesn’t work for very long.
On those days, if it’s an option, I generally just end practice early (you have to know when you’re beat for a given day — and live to fight another).
A few years ago I was playing around with the Twitter API and building a bunch of little projects.
As I was doing that, I would often bounce the ideas off one of my friends, Whitney McNamara who would usually give me lots of friendly suggestions and encouragement on how to make it more interesting (and useful).
In the course of one of those conversations, Whitney pitched me on an idea he had been bouncing around. Twitter had just released a new ‘list’ feature and Whitney sent me this email:
"…and a pretty straightforward one, to boot. What do you think of this:
Thus far I’m not a big fan of the Twitter lists functionality (I’m not convinced that the topical groupings do much for the experience, among other things), but a few minutes ago it occurred to me that one could do something kind of fun with it via the API—create conversationalists.
The basic idea is that these are dynamic lists, created based on who you’ve sent @replies to over the past n (30,60,90, whatever) days. Every time you @reply someone they get added to your conversationalist, and if you haven’t @replied them after n days they drop off the list.
The result isn’t a list of who you think is coolest, or music people, or programmers, but a list of the people that you’re interacting with consistently. So if you want a sense of who’s significant to Fred Wilson (to pick our favorite example), a conversationalist tells you that, and it’s current, rather than a slowly rotting point in time snapshot.
What do you think? Could be a nice little collaboration. How quick can you code? I know I can do it, but I’d definitely be slower, and it’d be sweet to release, say, early next week or something. :-)”
We ended up exchanging a few quick emails around what to call it and some specific implementation tasks…including this little snippet from me:
"Coding this up will be no problem (but I gotta get it done by tonight because I’m heading out to New Orleans in the morning and won’t be back until Wed.)…the only things I need from you to start are some ideas/answers to some basic questions (or psuedo-code):"
…and believe it or not we had a working version up and running before I left for New Orleans (#humblebrag).
Thanks mostly to Whitney’s great connections and efforts, the service got immediate attention and before we knew it Fred Wilson and even Ev Williams were making mentions of it on Twitter!
Also thanks to how Whitney had designed the system, it became fairly viral and our numbers just continued to grow (so much so that my initial hacky way of building lists started to break horribly and I had to re-write it a few times within the first month or two).
So we were off to the races on user adoption and we started thinking about what other tools and features we could build…could we/should we try and turn this thing into a business?
Honestly it was a lot of fun, and we ended up building some really interesting tools (none got as popular as conversationlist did — but all were very interesting in their own right)…but ultimately we did not build a company out of any of them.
Well looking back, I think the main reason was that we were really just having fun and playing with ideas…we weren’t *trying* to build a business or really solve problems. We were just doing things because we could.
When we sat down to think about if/how we could make money around it…we didn’t really have any good answers (at least no answers that fit with what *we* would want to do for a living)…and at the end of the day, we also didn’t like the idea of trying to build a business on top of Twitter (or anyone else’s platform really)…so ultimately we decided it wouldn’t work (for us).
However, we were having so much fun with it that even after we determined it “wouldn’t work” we did keep the service up and running for quite a long time (I eventually had to shut it down to reallocate funds/attention/resources towards my knowabout.it efforts).
To those who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, Charles Darwin is the “antichrist” for developing the Theory of Evolution. Yet few people know that Darwin once intended to be a clergyman, or that his remains are interred in the vestibules of Westminster Abbey. It turns out that Darwin was genuinely torn between the religious beliefs he espoused as a young man, and the evidence he collected that would challenge the idea of Creationism.
Throughout the documentary they show various interviews with some creationists and some scientists.
For the record, I generally try to stay out of religious debates and conversations - mostly I believe whatever people want to believe is a personal choice that only they can decide.
However this documentary, and the creationists within it, were really frustrating and upsetting to me. Because they weren’t just following their own beliefs but they were doing so directly in the face of years of scientific proof *and* pushing those beliefs onto others as much as possible (including lots of impressionable kids).
I just didn’t (and still don’t) understand how these people (who seem completely normal in so many other ways) could think the way they do and make the arguments they make.
Not that this is my only major point of contention with their arguments, but the bible they are stating as *fact* was written a few hundred years *after* the events it references…that would be like us writing a book today about the American Revolution based only on the stories and tidbits of information that have been handed down to us since (and then treating every word within it as absolute and pure fact).
Forget the real science that backs up evolution and the age of the planet, and forget the fact that you can just look around your own life experiences and basically *feel* like evolution is probably more right than wrong…just believing *everything* in the bible is complete and utter FACT is just crazy to me.
So anyway - this documentary was an interesting thing to watch…and clearly got me rilled up. All of which means, if you’ve got HBO, I would highly recommend you check it out yourself…and then think about the world we really live in (and at what stage in history/enlightenment we *really* are in)…
I’m meeting with a lot of people right now, so I’m hearing a lot of advice. Throughout all of it, I don’t actually think anyone has been an “asshole” for sharing their opinions and thoughts, but I also am being *very* selective about what bits I’m actually taking action on.
However, there are a few people who I’ve already met with that have lots of experience in our general market. When these people talk about their first-hand experiences and what they’ve learned throughout their journies, you can bet your bottom dollar I’m listening (and taking lots of notes).
So far that sort of advice has been very exciting and motivating (in validating some of our early assumptions) and has also helped to keep us on track and ditch parts of the plan/product that sound interesting on paper (but are likely more fluff than fantastic features).
Anyway - I’m enjoying the process of getting out there and telling our story, getting advice and opinions from everyone, and even the harder work of trying to filter out just what to listen to and act upon.
I have a friend who emailed me the following the other day:
I often try to sell things that don’t exist. No biz plan, no team, no drawings… Nothing but an idea for something that the world has never seen before. Is that a good way to start a biz? I don’t think so. But it sure does help with crossing ideas off my potential biz list!!!
How about yourself have you ever tried selling what doesn’t exist?
Early in my programming career I did a lot of freelance work and *all* of it was based on selling something before it exists.
I would also argue that the paid writing I have done has also always been pitched and ‘sold’ before it really existed.
That being said, I’ve also built a number of things to a more complete or usable state before I started trying to sell them.
So overall, I think both ways can work for starting/building a business (the most important thing is just to get to *something* that sells — because you don’t really have a business until you have sales).
I think most of the time, and especially if you’re bootstrapping and just fighting to stay alive for another week, your best bet is to sell before you build.
In fact, I think the only time it makes sense to build first is when you’ve got some way (other than sales) to fund the building phase, have a network effects driven business (scale adds serious value), and have a reasonable belief that your sales/revenue chart is going to rapidly shoot up and to the right at some realistic point in the (not too distant) future.
…and even then…if you can figure out a way to sell so as to subsidize building it’s definitely the way to go.
The saying shouldn’t be “if you build it, they will come”…it really should be “if you sell it, they will come”.
The best developers I know strive to make sure their work is DRY (Don’t repeat yourself). They look for any and all ways to automate repetitive tasks and are often physically and mentally drained when they have to “go over it again”.
The best CEOs I know strive to make sure their communication is simple, clear, and adopted. They look for any and all ways to communicate that message and are often physically and mentally empowered when they get to “go over it again”.
If folks are misinterpreting what your startup does, either you are pitching it wrong or the person simply does not get it.
This whole post by Mark is great on so many levels and a complete *must* read for anyone thinking about starting something and/or somewhere in the fund raising funnel.
I’m out talking to anyone and everyone I can get connect with these days about what we are doing with Coach Wizard (for a number of reasons beyond just fund raising actually). In the course of that, I’ve gotten the full gamut of advice an opinions (all of which I believe has come from good and honest intentions).
The trick is to hear what they are all saying, but to use your core values and grand vision to guide you towards what to actually ‘listen’ to.
And at all costs…avoid falling into “reaction mode”. Nothing good will come of that.
Statsfeed was arguably the most successful personal project I’ve built to date. It was a b2b subscription based web service that a handful of fantasy sports businesses used for stats to power their games and systems. The average subscription was about $5-7k per season.
I never spent a dime on advertising and the cost for running the system was generally covered by just one client. At the time, the legal issues around statistics were a gray area at best and so I very intentionally kept the company very small and off the radar.
So this system made me a hefty little profit every year.
However, after a few years of running the business it started to reach a cross-roads point and it was becoming clear that I was going to need to either staff up and go big…or wind down and move into something else.
I struggled with the stage for awhile, but ultimately decided that the (legal) risk involved in the space as a whole was not something I personally would be good at taking on…and so my best option would be to sell the company and move on to something that would be a better fit for me.
The trouble was, I had basically backed into building the company. I did not have a structure or a system that was conducive to selling. There was some tech, and a little bit of process, but essentially I *was* the company (and obviously I wasn’t willing to be a part of the sale).
After shopping it around to the very limited connections I thought might be interested, it became clear that what I had put together - while interesting and profitable as I ran it - was not easily transferrable nor worthy of most any price I would be willing to take. It was un-sellable.
Coming to that realization at the time was a bit painful, but I eventually came to accept it and instead slowly closed the company down so that I could focus on my other interests (and in finding a better fit for my personal strengths/talents).
I also learned first hand just how important building a company the right way, from the very beginning can be — through every stage including the final ones.
Let me open with an introduction Forget Brooklyn, it’s no sleep till PRODUCTION
If you don’t have a plan, you can not fail
Nor can you succeed
Too much structure and you might miss an obvious need
You need an OKR if you want to raise the bar
Got a thousand lines of code and not one bug
Living on Mountain Dew Glug. Glug. Glug.
And if you got the thirst you’ve got to go mobile first
You need digital hipsters and beautiful design
to make digital crack into your gold mine
I woke up with the snippet above about a plan rolling around in my head…couldn’t get it out of my head as I got myself and the kids ready for the day…so decided to just let my brain free flow around the thought today and came up with the above…not loving the sequence entirely yet, and feels like there probably are a few more bits needed (and a catchy hook to slip in throughout)…but overall was something fun to play with in my head while doing the usual morning routine today.
The prototype phase is all about testing and trying ideas. Throwing features at the wall and seeing, through real action, what’s useful. What’s easy. What’s hard.
What people actually use. What people ask for based on the start. What people ignore. What people struggle with.
And perhaps most important of all…what story people start to form in their heads around what you are doing.
As you start to answer these questions, and move from prototype to real product, it’s important to clarify and enable more of that story for the user.
Regardless of what you want it to be, the story your real users tell *is* your story.
Make it even easier for them to understand it. Make it even easier for them to fall in love with it…and make it even easier for them to start to share it.
And remember…often times this means removing features, not adding them. It means simplifying design, not “improving” it. It means less and more powerful copy, not more explanation.
The path from prototype to product is one of my favorite parts of the journey…there’s just so much to do, so much to learn, and so much potential…I just can’t help but be excited and passionate about this phase.
“Once Bitcoin value becomes stable, merchants will accept it readily. They will have an economic incentive to take advantage of it. More money will flow into their pocket than when people use credit/debit or checks. 89% of B2B transactions among small business use checks today…..that’s a huge market.”—
Jeffrey Carter has started blogging about transactions, money, and the BitCoin challenges and opportunities…so far it’s been a really great break down and I would highly recommend everyone check it out (and follow along as he digs into more).
Knowledge might help enhance the experience, but it’s the experience and the engagement that true happiness, and the memories and stories around it, grow from.
The internet, and technology as a whole, is great at spreading knowledge and lowering the barrier to access for knowledge…so that’s great and powerful…but always remember that it’s only a part, a small part, of actual happiness.
…and to drive the point home a bit more…here’s a great scene to reflect on from Good Will Hunting:
Today’s post is a little out there but bear with as there is a point I’m trying to make at the end (I promise).
In my early twenties, I was working for a company in Erie, Pa and living in a place about thirty minutes away in Edinboro, Pa. The commute between the two, depending on which route you choose, is about 30 minutes and takes you through a cozy little town called McKean.
On one of those evening commutes through McKean, I saw a randomly flashing blue light off in the distant sky.
The night was a fairly clear night, and yet the light was very sporadic and random. I could not determine any sort of pattern out of it and I couldn’t stop noticing it.
What was it?
At the time, and because I’ve always been fascinated by the topic, my brain immediately jumped to it being a UFO. I ran through all the possibilities in my head and simply had no other rational explanation…but I also was having a *really* hard time excepting that it was a real UFO.
So I veered off course and drove towards it.
By this point I was starting to get really excited (and a bit nervous)…could it *really* be a UFO?
It’s still just hovering in the same general spot when it appears…and it’s still showing no set pattern of time between appearing and disappearing.
What can it be?
As I got closer and closer to the source, my mind raced more and more. A few times I pulled over to the side of the road to take a deeper look and regather my emotions and thoughts.
What the heck was this thing?
With every minute, and as I got closer and closer, I became absolutely convinced this *must* be a UFO.
Would I be the one to finally prove aliens exist or was I about to become another one of the ‘crazies’ who spend their lives trying to convince people they really were abducted?
I had serious butterflies by now, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for either of those options, but I had to have an answer - so I continued to drive closer.
After about 20 minutes of this driving closer, stopping to ponder and get over my anxiety of what I might be approaching, I was almost directly under the spot of the blue light.
…and then, being so close, it *finally* revealed itself.
Turns out it was nothing more than your average airplane warning light on top of an electrical tower above a hill.
The light rotated around so it wasn’t always facing the direction I was approaching…and because of weather that night there was a bit of fog on the hill (but not on the roads below).
The combination of these two things were causing the completely random pattern of visibility.
Having solved the mystery, my anxiety was completely washed away and immediately replaced with a massive feeling of being an complete and total idiot.
A UFO? Really?
Fast forward to about a month ago.
My youngest son and I were just heading out to the store for something (I forget exactly what) and just around the corner from our house is a small path that cuts through the woods.
As I drove past the path, I noticed a stroller sitting on the path behind a few small trees…I couldn’t see the whole stroller but I could see a leg of a kid hanging out the side of the stroller motionless.
I also couldn’t see anyone else anywhere near the stroller or anywhere in the woods.
At first I drove by thinking, “Hrm…that’s odd”.
Then about 200 feet past the spot, I started to think “What if someone left a kid there!?”.
I stopped the car and I backed up to the side of the path to double check what I thought I saw.
Still no one to be found in the area and the leg still isn’t moving?!
Now I’m worried that I’m about to find a dead kid in the woods!
I grab my cell phone and tell my son to stay in the car no matter what (if I *was* about to find a dead kid I didn’t want him to have to see it too).
As I hop out of the car, my heart is racing and I’m already sweating just thinking about how horrible this is about to be (and I’m getting ready to call 911 and thinking about how I’m going to explain this situation to them).
I quickly jog down the path till I’m about 20 feet from the stroller and then, about 20 feet past the stroller, I finally see an adult sitting in the tall grass watching the stroller (clearly letting the kid nap in the peaceful outdoors on a nice sunny day).
I stop immediately, make a huge sigh and wave to the adult trying to quietly (so I don’t wake the kid up) say “Sorry - I didn’t see you there!”.
Then I turn around and go back to my car.
Of course my son is completely confused by this point and I have to explain to him that it was nothing, his father is just an idiot.
BTW - as I pulled away from the spot, the local police did pull up and stop as well. My guess is that someone else drove by, saw the same thing, and called rather than stopped like I did — so at least I wasn’t all that crazy!
Anyway - my point in telling these two stories is that, even in the cases where you see something with your own two eyes you can’t just blindly trust or assume you know the full story.
Yes I was wrong about my wild assumptions and guesses…and felt very stupid in both situations…but they were both really great personal reminders that, even when I directly see something with my own eyes, it’s not always what it appears to be.
It’s impossible not to jump to conclusions and it’s often very scary to actually explore the truth behind them…but that’s where all the *real* learning and understanding comes from.
All it takes is the courage to explore for the truth and willingness to except feeling a little stupid once you find it.
I had a brief email exchange last night with an investor I really respect. I reached out to introduce him to the basics of what we are building with Coach Wizard and of course asked him to check out and follow our Angel List profile.
Even though he’s super busy he promptly checked out our profile and then quickly responded with “we recently made an investment that has some competitive overlap so I don’t think we are a good target for you”
Though obviously not the response I was looking for, I have to say the fact that he took a look so quickly and responded openly and honestly, speaks volumes to what great character this investor has (and is exactly the reason he was on my radar in the first place).
Don’t get me wrong, it wrecked my night to get that response (and frustrated me to no end that he also couldn’t reveal the company name or any other details yet as they have not announced the investment)…but I don’t hold it against the investor personally.
He had no previous knowledge of what we’re building and my connection to him is not so strong as to be on his radar or mind unless I happen to reach out directly (ie. he wouldn’t think of me when looking at the space directly or indirectly).
An opportunity came up and he liked it enough that he made an investment. The bet was placed and there’s no changing it after the fact.
And really it’s OK. The market is big and there is plenty of room for multiple players. If the company really is a competitor to what we are doing, I honestly hope they are good enough to be the Avis of the market and provide him with great returns (we will be the Hertz).
The truth is, though I’m frustrated on a personal level by the situation, I’ll recommend even more people to this investor down the road because of how quick, open, and professionally he handled my random request.
Honestly, if the answer has to be no…getting to it quickly and having a previous bet is about the best you could hope for.
The article itself is a really great read that I would highly recommend (it gives a little bit of insight into what a real ‘overnight success’ looks like).
But what really kicked me in the head about this share, was a small comment Andy Weissman posted on the share in which he mentions that “Initially I was one of those baffled business people”.
I first met Andy back in 2010 when he was more heavily involved with BetaWorks (and I did a few months consulting for bit.ly), but I had followed him via Twitter for some time before that (and have a number of friends that have known him for much longer)…so I’ve had a lot of time to form an opinion or a perception of Andy.
That internal perception - even though his day-to-day since I’ve known him has heavily been about finance, business, and numbers - is that Andy is an artist (with exceptional taste none-the-less).
Part of that perception is because he’s such a music aficionado and part is because all of his blog posts are thought provoking, emotional, and authentic pieces around creating, sharing, and consuming digital bits of what I would classify as some version of ‘art’.
So if I was someone trying to put together an idea like Kickstarter, and trying to find investors who ‘fit’ and might have a chance to ‘get’ my vision (and understand the business side/potential)…one of the first, and top, people I would think of would be Andy Weissman.
Yet - even he didn’t get it at first. Sure he woke up to the opportunity *before* most everyone else but it clearly wasn’t an easy sell and it wasn’t obvious.
This is a great wake up call and reminder.
When you’re starting something new and looking for early stage investors, the only thing you really have to go on is their previously formed beliefs, gut, and emotion about a given vertical or approach (and their belief in you)…but you have to be careful about the assumptions or internal perceptions about someone you are meeting with or looking to bring onto the team.
Don’t cut corners in the story, the vision, or the plan just because you think they already understand or “get it”.
They may very well be the *perfect* fit for what you’re doing…but it’s still *your* challenge to help them see and understand that.
No matter how much you think they could, should, or might get excited about what you are doing…the truth is they simply won’t until your *full* story is compelling and interesting enough to get them there.
It might not be with the first (or fifth) time you meet with them. But if you’re good enough to keep getting the meeting, keep working on improving and fleshing out the full story arc. If they really are a perfect fit, you’ll get them there (and if they aren’t you’ll still use the experience to improve your story and communications around it).
The truth is, I’ve been horrible at this in the past and continue to make too many assumptions and skip over really important parts of our story as I meet with people right now (honestly it’s *super* hard not to).
If you’re a regular reader around here, you already know I was one of the 8,000 or so in that class. I was also one of the ones that did the exercises and participated in as much of the Q/A as I could find time for (I didn’t participate as much as I would have liked, but hey I *am* trying to build a business too).
As one of the ‘active’ people, I had no idea it was as large as almost 8,000! Learning that there were, I had three big, immediate, reactions:
1. Wow. Seth cleaned up on this thing! (but Seth’s built a killer brand over the years and so he, deservedly so, cleans up on everything he does)
2. 8,000!? From my point of view, it felt like there were only 300 people in the class. Only 50-100 of which were active on some level.
3. I feel depressed for the 7,500+ people that were at the right spot, at the right time, with the right intent and somehow still missed the fun and the *real* opportunity. Hopefully they felt like they got some value out of the experience, but I’m sad that *I* didn’t get to hear, help, or be connected to any of it.
For me personally, I took a few worthy tidbits away from the experience:
1. I met at least one or two people that I hope to stay in touch with beyond just the Skillshare forum.
2. It revealed, and gave me a chance to fix, a few holes in the story around the company I’m building.
3. I got a taste of what my, real world, peers are doing, thinking about, and struggling with. I connected with a lot of these struggles and concerns because they are all things I’ve experienced at some point as well — and so it was *very* motivating to realize there is a lot I’ve already worked through to get to my current spot.
…there were other little things as well, but hopefully you get the idea. It wasn’t just the class, it was the people and how it all personally relates to me and my situation that made the class valuable (to me).
But getting back to the title of the post, I’ve always been the type of person where: if I’m in, I’m involved.
I just can’t sit through a class without asking questions or getting involved in some form of discussion. Just like I generally can’t read blog posts without digging into the comments section too.
It’s not just in academic situations either.
I have always hated conflict, but if there’s ever a fight around me I’m generally in it - usually trying to stop it and calm the situation down (a trait that has labelled me crazy by many friends over the years).
I also prefer to have the stress and the big challenges in most any situation on my shoulders (my self-confidence, or ego if you prefer, always thinks I can handle it).
Because of this trait, and being self-aware of my inability to sit idle in almost every situation, I actively avoid paying attention to things that I *know* will be slippery slopes (for my sanity)…things like politics, daily news, and religious debate (and honestly I don’t feel like I miss out or suffer for avoiding these things at all).
So anyway - seeing Seth’s numbers, and being the type that just can help from getting involved, I was just a bit surprised to find out how uncommon that trait appears to be. Especially since I believe most of my self-selected group around NYC tech is *very* much the “can’t help but get involved” type (but clearly I’m living in my own little filter bubble)
What about you? Are you the passive type or are you the type that can’t help but get involved in the moment?
Yesterday’s AVC post sparked a mini-conversation about mobile and just what ‘working’ means on mobile. In that conversation, I left the following comment:
Here’s what I know about mobile so far:
1. It’s rapidly reaching *everyone* around the world.
2. You have seriously limited ‘in-app’ attention from most people. They may go back to the app many many times throughout the day, but they aren’t spending a large amount of time ‘hanging out’ once they are there.
**This might simply be a side effect of not having solved enough *serious* problems with mobile yet…
3. Partially because of #2 People currently prefer *very* specific and focused experiences (the OS is the portal).
4. Combine #2 and #3 and you realize that the only models that can possibly work have to be in-line with the intent/use of the app (hence the ‘native’ mantra).
5. Distractions to the core intent/use of the app (advertising being a big example) will not generate serious revenue *and* will seriously hinder engagement and growth.
I’ve had this thought on my mind since posting it yesterday, and after thinking about it some more, I would add a few more things:
6. The app stores are designed around the idea of apps being a ‘hit driven’ business. If you can crack into a top ten list somewhere in the app store then you’ve got a chance at making some serious cash.
7. The ideal still seems to build a *brand* that you can take out of the ‘app’ and into the real world for insane success/profits. Take Angry Birds or Minecraft as examples here.
8. A large part of the cost and work behind mobile is front-loaded (ie. risky). Because of this, you are almost forced to do this with small teams, and small budgets, right now. Even the teams that have had huge wins, tend to remain small and lean as they attempt to repeat with another ‘hit’.
9. Network effect driven services, with the exception of search, have translated well to mobile engagement. Their common advertising model has not (yet).
10. Search on mobile has yet to be really defined in the mobile user’s mind. Does it mean search the internet (only for mobile friendly stuff)? Does it mean search around me in the real world? Does it mean search my mobile device? The answer is ‘yes’…it’s the ‘context’ part that is expected with mobile but not quite there yet in any of the solutions I’ve seen…
11. The mobile experience is still fairly complex and messy for users. No clean way to go from app-to-app or email-to-app or web-to-app yet. This makes it difficult to market in many traditional/proven ‘online’ ways.
I can and probably will come up with more as this continues to sit on my brain…but I’m interested to know, what would you add? What do you *know* about mobile so far?
Those of you that were around about two years ago, will probably recognize most of today’s post…it’s a copy of what I published to the knowabout.it blog when we finally decided to give up on it as a company.
Since publishing this, Will is still at Stack Exchange and loving life. I went on to help PubGears automate and scale much of their business (for the past two years) before recently deciding to go all-in on building Coach Wizard into a real company and big success.
Also I have since put out a new, smaller and refocused, version of knowabout.it that is really just a service meant to solve a small personal problem (not a business).
Why are we giving up?
The short answer is a lack of money.
For Knowabout.it to work, it has to catch all the links being shared with you across all your social networks as well as all the content you yourself are generating across those networks, then it has to actually visit each of those links and index the content it finds there, finally a variety of algorithms are applied to every bit of content we’ve collected for you to determine which are most relevant to you.
While we’ve worked really hard to do as much as possible with as little as possible, the reality is that all that data collection and processing does adds up. Bootstrapping in this realm could only get us so far, and I think for a variety of reasons, we were never able to land the outside funding we desperately needed to take the system to the next level.
I believe we had a very unique and interesting approach that was working for our users on a personal level (the open rates on our daily emails were consistently in the 20-30% range and our unique user click rates were consistently in the 30-40% range every single day, even as our user numbers grew).
But we never cracked the ‘how to be viral’ puzzle, so gaining traction was proving to be a ‘long haul’ process (we continued to add a handful of new users ever day, but it was not a hockey stick by any means)…and we never came up with a revenue plan that worked prior to reaching critical mass (note to fellow entrepreneurs from captain obvious: ‘long haul growth’ with no immediate revenue plans is an express lane to guaranteed failure).
So we had what we believed to be a really good product with a massive amount of potential and a slowly growing and fairly engaged fan base, but we were slowly burning through our own bank accounts and had nothing on the horizon to signal this was going to change any time soon.
In the meantime, new competitors were coming out of the woodwork daily.
Some with better UI/UX and design. Some with better industry connections to help their product gain the general public’s attention. Some with deep pockets who could afford to hire more staff, take their time building out their product, and simply outlast the rest of us.
All of which really just segmented the potential user base and added to the confusion for all the users.
Ultimately you only need one recommendation engine (if you believe you need one at all — and many people don’t yet).
What were we to do?
To be honest, we’ve struggled with this reality for awhile now trying to figure out the best way to move forward.
We entertained a handful of acquisition opportunities, but in the end, none made enough sense on a personal level for Will and I to fully pursue. We also had some discussions around a pure assets and IP sale, but since we had no investors (other than ourselves) to satisfy, we ultimately decided that we would rather keep (and possibly repurpose) what we’ve built than have a fire sale.
By simply shutting down knowabout.it (and the current version of pu.ly by extension) we are free to reuse parts of our proprietary recommendation algorithms and processes in our other projects as we see fit.
So while we are sad to have failed to keep knowabout.it alive long enough to evolve into the world-changing service we knew it could be…we are proud of having played the game our way, relieved to be exiting on our own terms, and excited to be heading on to the next game.
Hopefully one of the other services that remain will eventually fill the hole we are leaving (personally I’ve got high hopes for both news.me and getprismatic.com)…and more importantly, I hope that those of you that took the time and interest to go on this journey with us will join us on the next trip as well.
I can’t guarantee that it will be any more successful the next time around, but I can promise we’ll continue to do our best and always try to make it as fun and personally useful to you as possible!
In the real world most of us can’t fill our days entirely with fun. But if, at the end of most days, you were to look back and sum up your day…and some large percentage of it was not made up of ‘fun’…then why are really doing what you are doing?
It’s important to pay the bills…but if that’s at the cost of your happiness, and day-to-day fun, then perhaps it’s more important to rethink those bills in the first place. Do you really need all the things that are tied to those bills? How much more fun could you fill your day-to-day with if you just got rid of that stuff and focused on what really made you happy?
I think this is one of the secrets that the younger generations, the ones powering the sharing economy, are inherently aware of.
They are figuring out alternative ways to fund their experiences, and they are figure out ways to have more unique life experiences. They are ‘owning’ less but doing more and as one side result I think they may be filling their days, and their lives, with more day-to-day happiness.
There will always be some situations where you will have to power through unhappy periods. Times where you will have to do “real work”. Times when you will need “real money”…but if you can find a way to fill more of your days with fun and happiness hopefully these times won’t feel so long and draining.
…and if nothing else, at the end of it all, you’ll be able to look back on it all with a smile.
If you’re interested in learning how to build a successful startup, one of the best ways to spend your free time is by listening to and learning about what path others who have come before took.
Two great resources for this are:
This Week in Startups - Jason Calacanis has been doing this show for a number of years now and week-after-week he comes up with some great guests and content. If you pay attention, you’ll get a lot of nuggets out of each interview.
PandoDaily Fireside chats - About once a month Sarah Lacy does an in-depth interview with someone influential in the startup world (or someone that has built a really interesting startup from nothing).
All of these interviews are pretty lengthy (I don’t think any are under an hour) - but if you’re really serious about improving your chances in building a great company…you’ll get A LOT of value out of hearing the real backstory, opinions, and challenges that are revealed throughout these interviews.
A friend of mine, who clearly is at a bit of a cross roads, asked me this question yesterday.
"How much effort is enough before you drop a biz and move on to another one?"
I thought it was a really good question and something that people should talk more about…so I’m re-blogging my answer here today for everyone to see:
When to quit is a really good, and tough, question…I think it depends on just how passionate and interested in a given effort you are…but also has a lot to do with how big you believe the market is and how well people are connecting with your story (once they find out about it).
If it’s taking a lot of effort to convince someone, after you’ve found them, then it’s probably not a strong enough or compelling enough story…this might mean the market or pain isn’t as big as you thought…or it could just mean that the value-prop. and story you are presenting aren’t the right ones.
It’s hard enough to find people and get their attention in the first place…so if you get past that and still aren’t getting good results, it’s time to rethink something.
Only you can really decide if that ‘rethink’ is just the story/value-prop OR the whole business/effort itself.
I’ve given up on a TON of things that I still believe could/would be massive businesses…but in all of them, it became clear that *I* wasn’t the right person to get them there (this is part of the core behind my “Didn’t work Wednesday” series really).
The other bit that I didn’t mention in my response to my friend, but should have, is that once you’ve started seriously thinking about quitting - it probably means you should (sort of like how they say when an athlete starts thinking about retirement, it’s time to retire).
I do believe you can force it, and fake it, and still find a certain level of success (and in fact, I think *most* people live in this mode)…but it’s not how you’ll find happiness or joy…and it’s likely to have a serious cap on just how successful you can really become.
So why go that route? Why not step back every so often and reflect on just what your doing, and most importantly, why?
If nothing else, it will likely give you clarity on if you should keep going on your current path or not…
Throughout this past year I started collecting a list of what I think are some of the best loved services online…this includes the obvious ones like Google, Facebook, and Twitter along with any others I found being mentioned with affinity by users or the press.
The interesting thing about all of these, when you step back and look at them as a collection, none really stand out for design…in fact, most actually seem to fall into about the same basic design as all the other popular services.
So that leaves me wondering just what are the best designed sites on the internet and what value does that design bring to the overall success?
Is it that the service is loved so much that almost any design ‘feels’ great…or does the design add to/cause the service’s success in some tangible way?
The more I think about it the more I think great design, like great technology, is almost invisible…it’s comfortable and logical to the user…and just ‘feels right’.