Startup On the Side

Here are my thoughts on a transition plan from full-time employment to full-time unemployment; also known as becoming a founder of a startup.

  1. Never sign an anti-moonlighting or non-compete agreement – ever. Never sign a blanket IP assignment agreement.
  2. Find the smallest iteration you can do. Do it.
  3. Iteration zero: plan the first four weeks of development.
  4. 1 hour of focus each weeknight, 2 on Saturday. 0 on Sunday.
  5. Consider learning to be productive time. This includes reading books.
  6. Create a quiet space in which to work. Have a family? Include them in the planning so everyone has a voice and catches the vision.
  7. Write down on paper and post in your offline life somewhere: “Life is a marathon not a sprint – pace yourself.”
  8. Sleep well, eat well, don’t drink. No sugar, no pop, no diet pop, no candy. You need mental focus.
  9. Maintain old and foster new relationships. Life is relational not just task oriented.
  10. Don’t give equity away. Everyone’s time has the same value no matter what role they play. $200/hr, $100/hr, $50/hr – doesn’t matter what you choose when everyone is the same.  More is probably better later.

Ideas for Improving Tech Startup Speed to Market

  1. More open collaboration between big players. Big players does not necessarily mean companies.  I’m thinking programming language creators, library writers and platforms.  People like: Bjarne Stroustrup,  Guido van Rossum,  Simon Peyton Jones,  Philip Wadler,  James Gosling,  Martin Odersky,  John ResigIsaac Z. Schlueter, These Guys, DHHChris Wanstrath, Linus, AWS, Docker, Vagrant,  This list could be huge.  If you’d like to add to it, please comment.
  2. More open source released from incumbents and startups. Let’s stop solving the same micro-problems over and over. If you’re using, you need to be giving back.
  3. SAAS to support startups. API common web app needs: membership, subscriptions, accounting, legal – basically create a tech startup business in a box erector set or Lego style.
  4. Startup U. Worry about accreditation later. This is education for entrepreneurs and founders.  Focus on practical approaches to launch – level playing field.
  5. Create a foundation to focus on human-scale solutions for the betterment of humanity. This foundation produces white papers and a knowledge base that founders of tech startups can tap as needed.
  6. More cilantro. It makes everything better.
  7. Move beyond agile and into hourly iterations/releases.
  8. Move fast but don’t break things. Breaking things saps our energy. Let’s figure out ways to decrease defect rate while at the same time increasing release rate.
  9. Break mental models apart.  Deconstruct them. Require value from every stage of all processes.
  10. Less iPhone more flip phone.

What I Told the Investors Writing Big Checks

I recently raised a lot of money for a new investment. A lot of money. At least it felt like a lot – both to me and the investors.  When dealing with people who are writing checks for large amounts of money, you should let them know what to expect in return. So I thought about trying to set their mind at ease but instead I decided they don’t deserve to feel easy about taking a risk – they deserve to understand the risk as well as possible. In this case the investment seemed low-risk to me, but nobody can predict the future and I don’t want to burn my relationships.

So, at the very moment they were signing their checks, I delivered what may be my best line yet.

I said, “Just so you know, I’m going to go cash your checks. Then I’m going to head to the casino.  I’m going to gamble. And I will lose all your money because I’m a terrible gambler. And if you’re not okay with that then don’t give me your checks.”

After everyone laughed I made sure they understood I was serious. I still got all the checks and something else – the freedom to invest boldly.

The future is brimming with opportunity. Aren’t you excited?

I Just Crushed My Son’s Dream

My 9 year old and I just had a texting conversation.

Son: “Do you think for my art I should ask people if they would like a self-portrait like while they’re walking around? I could just go around asking them…”

Dad (me): “No, I think you should do the art that makes you happy. If you’re happy then you’ll be making art that makes other people happy. Eventually someone will offer to pay you for your art.

Son: “But no one ever comes up and asks for it.”

Dad: “right. It’ll take a while. Make a goal to do one ink drawing a day.”

Son: “I didn’t even sell one piece of art at our last garage sale. and our next one is tomorrow!”

Dad (realizing for the first time he was talking about selling his art at the garage sale): “people don’t go to garage sales to buy art.”

Dad: “You don’t want to be known as the artist who sells his art at garage sales.”

But then I got to thinking… what if he does want to be known as the artist who sells his art at garage sales.  What if that’s his thing?  So I didn’t actually send that last line.

What I did send:

Dad: You might want to be known as the artist who sells his art at garage sales but you have to be an artist and actually have some art to sell.

Son: I might be able to put my mind to it! Now I got to get drawing! 🙂 See you soon 🙂

What Happened When I Said Two + Two is Not Four

Everyone in the room had just agreed with each other that a statement that was obviously true was, in fact, true.

I spoke up and said, “No, that’s not the case.”

Everyone looked at me like I was crazy or dumb or a jokester.  But I was serious.  Then they tried to figure out if I really was that dumb.  (I’d like to state that I’m not.)

I had remembered the 10th Man Rule from “World War Z.”  Then I found an article that talks about confirmation bias.  This is all very interesting stuff if you’re a knowledge worker – if you use your brain to earn a living you want it to be as useful to you as a carpenter feels about his hands and tools (although a carpenter is probably a knowledge worker too… I can’t figure that out right now.)

The article states, “People mostly have a problem with the confirmation bias when they reason on their own, when no one is there to argue against their point of view. What has been observed is that often times, when people reason on their own, they’re unable to arrive at a good solution, at a good belief, or to make a good decision because they will only confirm their initial intuition.”

The consultant said, “are you serious?”

I said, “I’m completely serious.  What you said is obviously true, but this discussion is so much more interesting if someone disagrees with you.”

And so we had an enlightening discussion about how to handle a situation where 2+2 does not equal 4. And would you believe, it was productive and energizing and we discovered some weird edge-cases in our processes.

By the way, I disagree with the article I linked to.

Mount Everest, Private Social Networking and Story Telling

  1. A private social networking tool to allow mega-connectors to map out their social graph (yes, graphically).  Think relationship discovery tool through graph visualization.  Hyper connectors can find new ways to connect their relationships together. Sigma
  2. (related) Voice recognition conversation analyzer that maps social connections by listening to story telling.
  3. Story telling software that uses interviews and writer-supplied programmed techniques to automatically write biographies and life stories.  SAAS?
  4. Ebook about how to find abundance all around oneself.
  5. Motivational ebook about goal setting and goal achieving.
  6. Ebook about Mount Everest and the Mount Everest’s we face in life.
  7. Formulate a working plan for helping the homeless in my community.
  8. (related) Create a script for asking, “What is your story?” when breaking the ice with the homeless and pan-handlers.
  9. Dream Big. Come up with big ideas, then give them an exponential boost.  Assume ridiculous growth and come up with 5 ideas to achieve it.  Assume anything is possible – utilize magic if necessary.
  10. Create study curriculum for teaching brainstorming to kids (including high-schoolers)
  11. Learn how to make early-stage investments in local tech startups.
  12. Tweet more. Focus on substance in fewer words. Deliver value – people (audience) will naturally gravitate to quality and value.

Dream a Little Dream ♫

“Arrgh!!  Are we dreaming big enough?”

This is how the CEO announced his presence in my office.

“Pardon?” I said.

“We think we have big ideas, but what if we’re not dreaming big enough?”

That got me to thinking.  How do you know if you’ve successfully gotten out of boxed-in thinking?  How do we know for sure we’re thinking “outside the box?”

We can’t.  I’m certain this is a fact.  There is no way we can get outside all mental boxes. The good news is that simply by knowing we are stuck in a box means that we can make the effort required to dream bigger than yesterday.

In a serious planning meeting blurt out something patently absurd. Hopefully everyone will laugh.

One brainstorming exercise I have found useful is joking.  In a serious planning meeting blurt out something patently absurd. Hopefully everyone will laugh.  If you’re surrounded by really smart people* with a sense of humor** and a desire to dream big, at least one of them will say, “Wait, that’s not a bad idea…” and will offer up an improvement on it. And away we go, with our big dreams.

Another method I use is to question everything.  While observing people struggle with answering interview riddles it becomes obvious that being smart isn’t as much about knowing the right answers as it is about asking the right questions.  This is a topic for another blog post though so I’ll leave it for now.

* why would you spend your invaluable time with not-smart people?
** life is too short to be with grouchy people – get out if you are!