Month: September 2010
Want to work for a startup?
Have you ever wanted to work for a web startup, but aren’t sure where to look or how it might be different from a big company gig? Come check out the TechStars Smackdown event on October 12th in Boulder.
It’s not a typical job fair. The event starts with a panel of entrepreneurs that will answer questions about what it means to work for a startup – common questions such as salary levels, equity versus salary compensation, work/life balance, and job security. Then 12 Boulder companies (Vacation Rental Partner, ScriptPad, Rezora, SendGrid, Omniar, StatsMix, Spot Influence, Graphic.ly, Snapabug, Next Big Sound, Orbotix, BlipSnips, and Gnip) will each get 5 minutes to sell you on why working for their startup will be a great career move.
The event ends with networking so you can meet the founders of these companies in person.
It’s free and open to the public, but requires a reservation. Check it out – you might be the key employee that helps propel that company to stardom.
The Kauffman Foundation just announced that they are providing 15 scholarships to Defrag. If you are an entrepreneur running a startup that is pre-Series A funding, you are eligible for a scholarship. Kauffman will cover the full cost of the conference pass – all you have to do is get to the conference and find a place to sleep.
I’m hugely appreciative that Kauffman has stepped up to do this. Conferences are not cheap and it’s a big expense for a company that has no funding. On the other hand, it’s an incredible networking and learning opportunity for a startup that’s addressing issues in the ecosystem that Defrag covers. Paul Kedrosky had a big hand in this and has been super helpful to Eric Norlin at Defrag from the beginning – thanks Paul – you are a star.
If you are interested in applying for one of these scholarships, just email Eric Norlin (enorlin AT mac.com) with your name, company website, and a 100 word (no more) explanation of why you should be at Defrag.
I’ve written in the past about my obsession with measuring things. While my manual measurements via Daytum include miles run, books read, flights taken, and cities slept in, I’ve become much more focused in the past year on what I’ve been calling “human instrumentation.” This resulted recently in Foundry Group leading a $9 million financing in a San Francisco company called Fitbit.
If you want to see the type of data I’m tracking, take a look at my Fitbit profile. For now, I’m focused on the data that Fitbit tracks automatically for me, primarily derived from the step and sleep data. But from my profile page you can see a variety of other data which I can currently enter manually (I’ve entered a few examples) even though I use other sources to track them (for example, my weight using my Withings scale.)
I now have a house full of personal measurement devices and an iPhone full of apps to track various things. A few are still active; many have long been relegated to the “closet of dead, useless, obsolete, or uninteresting technology.” During this journey over the past year, I feel like I tried everything and finally found a company – in Fitbit – that has a team and product vision that lines up with my own.
A year ago when I first encountered the company, they were just launching their product. I was an early user and liked it a lot, but hadn’t clearly formed my perspective on what the right combination of software and hardware was. As I played around with more and more products, I started to realize that the Fitbit product vision as I understood it was right where I thought things were going. The combination of hardware, software, and web data integration are the key, and the Fitbit founders (James Park and Eric Freidman) totally have this nailed. That made it easy when we explored investing again to pull the trigger quickly.
One of the things my partners and I love about products like the Fitbit are the combination of hardware, software, and a web service that lets the product continually improve without having to upgrade the hardware. Fitbit is a great example of this which I expect you’ll see over the next quarter if you buy one today.
I firmly believe that in 20 years we’ll simply swallow something that will fully instrument us. Until then, we still have to clip a small plastic thing to our belt or keep it in our pocket. But that’s ok since it now knows how to talk to my computer, which is connected to the web, which is getting smarter every millisecond.
About a month ago I wrote a post titled Trying Gmail For A Week. I haven’t thought about Outlook, Entourage, or Mac Mail for a month and I don’t think I’m ever going back. It took about a week to rewire my brain for how conversations worked and what the keyboard shortcuts were, but not that I’m there it’s just awesome.
A few weeks ago Fred Wilson wrote a post titled Inbox Zero. In it he mentioned two Gmail services he found indispensable – Priority Inbox (from Google) and Unsubscribe.com (from James Siminoff who created Phonetag, another great service.) I agree with Fred on both of these, but have discovered a few extra things that are killer. I’ll list them below and for balance talk about a few shortcomings.
Priority Inbox: I’ve seen numerous tweets and blogs about how Priority Inbox doesn’t really do much. These are wrong / misinformed reactions. The trick to Priority Inbox, like many other things, is to actually use it for a few weeks. Part of using it is training it by quickly marking things up to “important” (by clicking +) or down to “everything else” (by clicking -). A small configuration change can make Starred emails (for quick follow up) a different category. I found that it only took about three days of this before I saw benefit and now (a month later) Priority Inbox gets it right 99 out of 100 times. I get over 500 emails a day – there is a long list of them that fall in “Everything Else”. I used to have to check / clear email obsessively throughout the day to stay at Inbox Zero. With Priority Inbox I’m finding solid email stretches a couple of times during the day are more than enough for me to stay on top of everything.
Unsubscribe.com: Like many people, I’m stuck in the endless “unsubscribe from email lists” infinite loop. I get vigilant for a few days and do the annoying unsubscribe drill one by one and knock a few off the list, but within a few weeks I’ve got even more. I’ve never seemed to be able to eliminate all the stuff I don’t want, especially around an election when it all escalates like crazy. With Unsubscribe.com, I simply click the Unsubscribe button in Gmail and the service gets rid of it. Don’t bother with the trial – trust me and just pay $19 for the service for a year if endless mailing list email that you don’t want is a problem for you.
Google Voice: I’ve had a Google Voice for a long time but I never fully switched over to it. The Google Voice integration with Gmail has tipped me over. I’ve been dreaming about getting rid of my desktop phone for a while – I now find myself almost exclusively doing every call from my computer except when I’m not online (where I have to use my cell phone.) More importantly, video chat and text chat is completely integrated within Gmail so from one screen I have email, my phone (inbound and outbound calling) Skype-equivalent video chat, and text chat. While I still use Skype extensively (I’m bradfeld) I find I’m using it much less as I end up using firstname.lastname@example.org instead.
Gist: I’m an investor in Gist and use it for my unified contact manager. Google Contacts is ok, but has a long way to go. But Gist integration with Gmail at a data level is superb. I’m still using Gmail’s consumer service so the integration is primarily at a data level, but I’m now playing around with a full switch over to Google Apps and the Gist + Google Apps integration (via the Google Apps Marketplace) just rocks. In addition, there’s a new browser-based Gist add-on coming out shortly (hint hint) that will provide direct integration into the consumer version of Gmail.
GooTasks: Since I am an Inbox Zero guy, I don’t keep anything (including paper), but I do have a short task lists of things like blog posts I’m going to write. I went through an Evernote phase recently but it’s overkill for me. Google Tasks is perfect, but I didn’t have an obvious way to sync with my iPhone. Now I do.
There are a handful of annoying things. The biggest one is that I have multiple accounts on Google (email@example.com as well as firstname.lastname@example.org) and they aren’t tightly integrated across all services. The other is the weak / inconsistent iPhone integration which keeps pushing me toward using an Android phone full time (I’m now carrying both an Android phone and an iPhone.) My dad’s recent story on the Samsung Fascinate has me seriously considering a full time switch over to Android.
My “while I’m working” migration from a full Windows / Outlook / Exchange / Office world to an almost completely non-Microsoft world has been fascinating. I’m in Seattle next week including a 24 hour stretch at Microsoft for some stuff – maybe it’ll come up and be an interesting discussion that my friends at Microsoft can learn from. In the mean time, I think the next big switch will be an organization one completely over to a Google Apps infrastructure.
I had my first pain free run in five months. And I’m very happy right now.
In March, I hurt my back. This was my first real running injury since I started running marathons in 2003. I’ve had some ankle twists and some knee bruises from all the trail running I do, but nothing that kept me off my feet for more than a month. This time I lost five months ; the last time I tried to run was two months ago.
I didn’t get serious about figuring out what was going on until half way through July in Alaska when I realized I just wasn’t getting better. My pain on a daily basis never got below a three (on a 0 to 10 scale) and I often was in the six to eight range. If you saw we get up out of a seat in the last five months, you knew I had a lower back injury. The pain gradually settled at the very base of my spin in the middle of back – it was localized, but sharp and chronic.
So I stopped running completely, increased the amount I was swimming up to a couple of times a week, and started the process of getting professional help. My first big goal was to rule out something serious, so I decided to get an MRI. That took a while (doctor visit, referral, scheduling). I had two different doctors read the MRI – each told me that there was an issue, but there was no need for surgery and steroid injections would likely be useless. So, I started the “sign up for physical therapy process.”
In the mean time, my general practitioner gave me a prescription for vicodin. I’m very afraid of drugs and have always avoided them. I don’t remember if it was a movie I saw about drugs in elementary school (I saw movies on sex but never was afraid of it), my parents, or something else but they’ve just never been my thing. I am a Vitamin I users and I used it for a while to try to manage my chronic gout, but eventually gave up and went on Allopurinol. I’ve had other prescription medicines over the year, but I’ve stayed away from anything illegal, even our friendly herb which is basically legal in Boulder. So the idea of taking a narcotic sort of freaked me out.
I was in so much pain after the US Open (and sitting on the stadium seats for two days) that I went ahead and took one pill. The bottle said I could take four a day, so I figured one a day would help without being dangerous. Amy and I flew from New York to San Diego and I took a second one. On Friday I flew to San Francisco for the day and took a third one. When I woke up on Saturday morning I was pain free for the first time in five months. So I decided not to take another one on Saturday.
On Sunday when I was sitting at my computer I started to stand up and had an extremely loud “pop” happen exactly in the region where the pain has been. Amy heard it from across the room and immediately shouted out “are you ok.” My back then went into a spasm – something that’s only happened a few times – and for about ten seconds I couldn’t talk or breath. But, when it stopped, I still had no pain.
I flew back to Boulder Monday morning. I decided not to take any more vicodin until I had at least a pain level of three again. As the week passed, the pain didn’t reappear. On Wednesday I saw a spine specialist who works with athletes as part of the PT referral process. I spent 30 minutes telling him the story from beginning to end and then we went and looked at the MRI together. He again confirmed that surgery was unnecessary and – more importantly – that the MRI showed a few clear signs of distress that would explain the chronic pain, but that steroid injections would be useless. We did a few diagnostic things and then he gave me his hypothesis.
He suggested that it’s likely that the small amount of vicodin I took broke the pain cycle I had been stuck in. Once the pain was gone, my body was able to move in certain ways that resulted in a natural adjustment (the big pop) of an area of my back that was stuck. Having it adjust naturally was much more effective than if I’d gone to a chiropractor. It had never occurred to me that this would happen, but when I think about the number of times my back adjusts in other spots when it gets out of whack this made perfect sense to me.
I’ve now had a week of no back pain. I haven’t taken anything – not even Vitamin I – in a week. I went for a few swims this week and a short run today. I feel great.
For everyone out there that has been patient with me, offered suggestions, and provided help over the past five months, thank you. Who knows whether this really solved the problem or not but this is the first time in a while that I’ve been optimistic about it.
Earlier this week I did a one hour interview on “Meet the Angels” sponsored by Tech Coast Angels (one of the LA Angel groups.) It was supposed to live but for some reason there were some problems getting into the webcast. It’s now up on the web – if you were trying to watch it and couldn’t, it’s posted below.
I think I’ll avoid all the “are super angels colluding“, “no they aren’t“, “go fuck yourself and stop talking horseshit“, and “guys, quit being narcissistic and do something productive” blog chatter today and focus on something that came up yesterday.
I was on a call when someone asked a straightforward question that had a binary answer (yes or no). The person responded with a five minute explanation with a lot of details, all factually correct and contextually relevant, but at the end still didn’t answer the question.
My partner in my first company (Dave Jilk – now the CEO of Standing Cloud) used to have an endearing way of dealing with this. Here’s how it would play out.
Dave: “Is the release going to be on time?”
Software Engineer Dave was Talking To: “Blah blah blah, five minute explanation of all the things that he was struggling with, why everything was difficult, what the risks were on timing, blah blah blah, why the client was giving mixed signals and changing things, and can’t I have a faster computer please?”
Dave: “That was a yes or no question.”
We spend a lot of time getting derailed in our work. I’m as guilty of it as anyone as I often answer a question with a story from my experience. Sometimes that’s a helpful thing to do; other times I should just answer “yes” or “no.”
The corollary to this is to ask why. I’m a huge fan of the 5 Whys approach and went through it with a long time friend and CEO of a company I have an angel investment in at dinner last night. He’s been struggling with some stuff and I explained how (and why) he should be using 5 Whys to try to get to the root cause of the issue, rather than staying on the surface and not actually learning anything. In his case he was experiencing the opposite of the yes/no problem – he was trying to ask an open ended question and getting a yes/no answer. For example:
CEO Friend: “Are the trials converting into customers?”
The appropriate response from my CEO Friend in this case would have been “Why?” And I’d predict he’d need to ask “why?” several (four?) more times before he got enough information to actually know what was going on.
I encourage all CEO’s in the world to use these two approaches judiciously. Don’t ask me why – just do it.
About a year ago David Cohen and I were having a beer together talking about ways to capture all the different things we’d learned about early stage entrepreneurship from running the TechStars program. In a moment of insanity, we decided to write a book. The result is Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup.
Over the next six months, we worked with many of the mentors and entrepreneurs that have participated in TechStars. Our goal was to write a unique book full of useful information for any early stage entrepreneur. Rather than give advice or simply tell an entrepreneurial success story, we decided to blend the experience of the TechStars entrepreneurs and the TechStars mentors in an organized fashion. As a result, we ended up with seven themes (Idea and Vision, People, Working Effectively, Product, Fundraising, Legal and Structure, and Work / Life Balance) and about eighty separate lessons and stories.
We were on the verge of self-publishing it when we were introduced to a senior editor at Wiley who embraced the project and one other one that we proposed. As a result, we ended up with a two book deal with Wiley. When I reflect on things, getting Wiley in the mix has been awesome as they have helped us materially improve the quality of the book.
My professional career – since I was 19 – has been focused on entrepreneurship either as an entrepreneur, angel investor, or venture capitalist. I’ve spent a lot of time since 2005 thinking about the “science of entrepreneurship” as well as the “dynamics of entrepreneurial communities”, especially as I’ve helped bring Boulder to the forefront of entrepreneurial communities in the US. I’m extremely excited about Do More Faster and hope it lives up to my expectations. But most of all, I’m really grateful to everyone who has participated in TechStars and has contributed to the book.
The publication date is 10/4/10 and it should be in bookstores around the US by 10/20/10. David and I are doing a 12 city book tour starting in Palo Alto on 10/12/10 – all the info is up on the Do More Faster Plancast. And of course, you can follow Do More Faster on Twitter or join the Do More Faster Facebook Page.
Finally, Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup is available for pre-order on Amazon as of right now. If you are interested, go grab a copy.
Andre Durand brings 18 years of software industry executive leadership experience to his role as founder and CEO at Ping Identity. Durand co-founded Digital ID World, the identity industry conference (acquired by IDG in 2007). Prior to Ping Identity, Durand founded Jabber, Inc., an instant messaging and presence management software provider (acquired by Cisco in 2009). While at Jabber, Durand incubated the Jabber Software Foundation, a non-profit established to facilitate growth of the Jabber Open Source project. Prior to Jabber, Inc., Durand was founder and CEO of Durand Communications, a bulletin board software provider (acquired by Webb Interactive in 1998). Durand holds BA degrees in Biology and Economics from the University of California.
I went on vacation for a few days to celebrate Amy’s birthday and those sneaky scarf makers at Big Red Scarves expose me on the Internets.
I’ve been trying for months to discover their secrets to no avail. I’ve even had Amy take up knitting to try to figure it out.
But now I know. It’s Trada. The real secret is out – Big Red Scarves has been using Trada for their search engine marketing campaigns. I should have been able to figure it out from the previous videos on the Internets staring Niel Robertson and Seth Levine, but I guess I missed them because I was too busy sheering sheep and cleaning off my sneakers.
I’m not done with them yet – just you wait. Bwahahahahahahahaha.
– Vladamir Schlockfeld, Chief Researcher at Globoscarf (Brad’s evil twin)