Mar 31 2011

Random Thoughts March 2011

No explanation required, here are some random thoughts that occurred to me during the past month. These ideas were either to long to force into 140 character limit of Twitter but not fully develop to belong on their own post.

No surprised that Borders bookstore filed for bankruptcy and is closing several of its stores. I went to one of the Borders store locations that is closing, in Silicon Valley, to see if I can find any great deals. Even with the 25-50% off the cover price on books at Borders, Amazon has a better deal on most of the books I was interested in. Amazon typically sells books somewhere between 30-45% plus add the 9% you save in sales tax and free shipping.

Every pitch deck should have a slide that describes the team as: Lean, agile, organic, grass-fed, locally grown, acrobatic, gluten-free, hungry, rockstar, gurus.

Team Description

Team Description for Your Pitch Deck

Law of Software Envelopment states… “Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.” In my experience, this should also including reading an Excel document, generating a PDF report, execute a VBA macro, sync with your Outlook contacts, fix end user printer problems, auto generate blog posts, …


Mar 21 2011

The Great Hacker News Lifestyle Business Flamewars of 2011

There was a great flame war over at Hacker News about what entrepreneurs should aspire to when they start their business, a lifestyle business or a VC funded multi-billion dollar valuation company like Facebook, Zynga, Google, YouTube, etc. It all started with a angry rant by Justin Vincent about how VC “holds us back from our true potential.” He rambled on to say that the idea of being the next big thing is keeps us, entrepreneurs, occupied and keeps them, I guess VCs and tech pundits, in business. My favorite line of the article is the following…

If every developer was to focus on the very achievable goal of building a lifestyle/micro business – the entire house of cards would crumble.

Another choice quote is…

The absolute truth is that each and every one of us can build a business that can support us. We don’t need to build a million dollar business to survive. We just need a regular paycheck.

If I could paraphrase the rest of the article, Justin believes that not all startup founders will have a multi-million dollar exit in so instead of shooting for the moon we, as entrepreneurs, should shot for Milwaukee, that is a $10k/month small business. So, if you know you won’t come in first in the race, complain that the Olympic commission is corrupt, that the judges take brides, and instead go play Wii Sports because you there you will get a participation badge.

The tone in article reminded me of something that Jason Calacanis complained about millennials. In This Week in Startups #47, Calacanis said…

Participation means nothing, your fulfillment means nothing, nobody cares if you are fulfilled, nobody cares if you participated. You were lied to. There is no trophy in life for participation, except your tombstone.

Things got a little heated in the Hacker News comments for this article. Paul Graham, who goes by pg on HN, said that if every developer worked on their lifestyle/micro business “the whole world would crumble, because we wouldn’t have any technology bigger than could be built by lifetstyle businesses.” After this, things got a little more interesting when Alex Payne, username al3x on HN, said the following…

There’s a middle ground between web application “lifestyle businesses” (like duping credulous customers into overpaying for a time-tracking tool styled with this month’s CSS trends) and trying to start the next Facebook. … There’s nothing wrong with being a small software company. People have been doing it for decades now. It’s boring, but there’s nothing wrong with it. Don’t expect anyone to celebrate you for doing it, though.

At this point some “lifestyle” business operators took offense, most notably Amy Hoy, username ahoyhere, took offense in the above statement since she is mentioned in the original article and has a time tracking application that uses the latest JavaScript and CSS trends. After that Amy went on a dogmatic crusade against what she called the “dominant paradigm.”

In one side of the argument you have people that believe that as long as a business covers operating costs and brings in anywhere from $10k to $100k a month and you don’t have to do much to run the company you have the leisure of a lifestyle business. Such a lifestyle business affords you time to spend with family, participant on your children’s school activities, join a community organization, take time off to travel, in addition to being your own boss and making your own rules. I can’t knock someone for having a gig like this. People in this camp might subscribe to Tim Farris’ book the Four Hour Work Week and in the folks behind 37Signals who wrote Rework. I remember Jonathan Coulton describe on an episode of This Week in Tech (TWIT) about his music business. Jonathan has a strong following as a singer/songwriter in the self-described geek community. On that TWIT episode he said something to the affect that if you have 1000 followers willing to pay $30 for a premium experience or content then you can make a decent living (he probably doesn’t live in California).

An income of $10k/month pre-tax, pre-health insurance for a family of four and a home mortgage in California is not a “lifestyle” I would like to aspire to. Ramen profitable is only profitable if you in college. Some critiques of the Four Hour Movement rightly ask that if someone can bootstrap a business with only working four hours a week, how much more profitable will the business be if they spend more time into it? The truth is that there is a generational gap in the way of entrepreneurs think and a bubble of some magnitude in every aspect of the industry, including in the “lifestyle” businesses.

I can’t find the source but recently I read a tweet where someone said something to the effect, “You know there is a bubble because every tech conference is sold out.” The conference circuit is one popular business with “lifestyle” crowd, in particular the tech, startup, social media conferences. You know there is a conference bubble with the large number of regional and national conferences, seminars, webinars, master classes, ninja training dojo summits, product mastermind madrasas available online. For example, 37signals runs a one day workshop for 37 people at $1k, that is $37k for one day’s work, especially you can reuse the same material many times over for different batches of students. I’ve been involved for the past several years as an organizer for a non-profit which puts on a one day conference for students that nets $50k in profits.

There is nothing wrong with running a small business, especially if you can get paid by non-technical folks for a calendar with last year’s JavaScript and CSS trends or for a one day training on how to use Twitter and Facebook. I mean, if someone would pay me $1 for adding up any two single digit numbers to support my lifestyle I would outsource that shit to India and work from some mojito island somewhere. But there is something to be said about aspiring to build something great. I want the narrative of my work to speak for itself; I’ve worked in some great companies that have had lofty goals such as understand the human genome and possibly curing cancer. Those goals can’t be meet with someone working for four hours a week and $10k/month.

This country will move in the opposite direction in the socioeconomic standard that we have enjoyed if we listen to such advice, if we don’t strive to build the best businesses we can. These millennial web 2.0 designers might not even remember how there was a time before 1999 were their predecessors could have charged anywhere from $30k to $100k for a website design. Economic pressure has pushed the price of a web design down to $300-$1000 for a awesome design from some kid in Russia. Even now, these small time “lifestyle” operations are under threat by solutions from the developing world, where $3/month can afford developers there a very lavished “lifestyle.”

One of my favorite quotes from Robert Frost is the following.

By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day. – Robert Frost

I believe in hard work, not easy baked cookie cutter one trick unicorn project that some folks are calling a business. You got to put in the time, differentiate your product, and think big if you want to be a successful business. It is widely known that somewhere around 50% of small business fail after 5 years, don’t let the reason you fail be because you didn’t take opportunities when they presented themselves.

In the end, everybody is free to run their business as they want and the invisible hand of Google’s search algorithm will be the judge.


Jan 29 2011

Random Thoughts January 2011

History is made by rewriting history. Imagine writing an academic paper a 100 years from now about Lost, when several episodes have been lost, and using as resources and references blog posts and twitter streams. In some sense, this is how history books are written. History is rewritten from personal points of views, second hand accounts, supporting national myths, rewritten based on cultural outlooks, and geopolitical propaganda.

If you provide a free no obligation trial version why do you need my credit card information prior to me getting access to the free no obligation trial version? I been a big fan of the online cartoon Geek and Poke and I just saw that he put out a free PDF on Scribd. I wanted to download to it the pdf ebook to my collection of free PDF document and books so that I can load it onto my other devices. Even thought I have an account with Scribd and even though I myself have posted documents on Scribd I was not able to download the Geek and Poke PDF unless a signed up to their Scribd Archive paid service, a $9/monthly service or a $5/day pass. I know that Geek and Poke is worth the $10 but I would rather have the author of the PDF get the money instead of Scribd.

One reason why students and teachers fail is because teaching has been reduced to a trade, no different than a fast food industry.  Do you want fries with that?

What will be the codename of the next release of Android? They’ve had cupcake, donut, froyo, gingerbread, etc. What is next caramel apples, cotton candy, laffy taffy?

I’ve had an iPhone for such a long time that I had forgotten how horrible an experience it is to buy or upgrade a phone from a cell phone company. I recently had to upgrade a family Android G1 to a G2 at the T-Mobile store and found the whole episode painful. First I had to wait what seemed over 30 minutes before anyone even asked if I need help. Once someone was ready to help it took all of 2 minutes to decide on the phone, but about another 30 to process my purchase. After all this I ended with a different plan that I used to have, of course I didn’t notice until I got home. I explicitly asked if my plan would be the same, I was explicitly told yes, and I came to found out that I am, not surprisingly, paying more. Why don’t cell phone companies have a self help kiosk. All I really need from their employee is for them to give me the phone. I could set the phone and the plan myself.


Jan 16 2011

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20

One of my favorite podcasts is Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders put out by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders is a lecture series with guest speakers from across different fields and industries. David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals, Mark Pincus of Zynga, Robing Li or Baidu, Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, and a great many of other founders, entrepreneurs have spoken at Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders. So when Tina Seelig, the person that runs the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, came out with a book I knew to put it on my Amazon wishlist. Sadly no one bought me anything off my wishlist so I bought it myself to read over the winter break.

A lot of the stories and lessons Tina dives into in What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 she talks about lectures she gave back in May 2009 and in April 2006 at Standford’s Entrepreneurship Corner.

In What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, Tina gives some important lesson on creativity, opportunity, and having the right attitude to invite both creativity and opportunity in what you are doing. For example, she speaks of having her students develop failure resumes and to highlight lessons learned from making mistakes. Her reasoning behind failure resume can best be summarized by the following quote from her book.

It’s a quick way to demonstrate that failure is an important part of our learning process, especially when you’re stretching your abilities, doing things the first time, or taking risks. We hire people who have experience not just because of their success but also because of their failures.

Aside from taking risks, and not being afraid of failure, she speak a lot of about having the right attitude to invite the correct atmosphere for success. A persons perspective is important to success, in one because each person defines what they consider a successful venture. Like in the movie The Social Network, where the Sean Parker character says “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars is cool.” For some people success is defined by having 500 million obsessive-compulsive users, and for others it’s about having 1000 paying customers. It is often the case that people let others define their success, but the truly successful are those that define their own success. And defining success has a lot to do with a person’s values and attitudes.

I took a lot of value away from What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. For example, create a failure resume in Google Docs. I’ve also learning to try to negate the effects of negative thoughts, especially when trying or learning something new.

Here are some choice quotes from What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20:

  • Problems are abundant, just waiting for those willing to find inventive solutions.
  • Steve Jurvetson, a partner at the venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, describes failures as the secret sauce of Silicon Valley.
  • Students are told that it is much better to have a flaming failure than a so-so success.
  • On reflection, there appear to be five primary types of risks; physical, social, emotional, financial, and intellectual
  • Experts in risk management believe you should make decisions based upon the probability of all outcomes, including the best- and worst-case scenarios, and be willing to take big risks when you are fully prepared for all eventualities.
  • Being too set on your path too early will likely lead you in the wrong direction.
  • Planning a career should be like traveling in a foreign country. Even if you prepare carefully, have an itinerary and s place to stay at night, the most interesting experiences usually aren’t planned.
  • The harder you work, the luckier you get.
  • Even when we think we’re paying full attention, there’s usually so much more to see.
  • I realized afterward that thinking about how you want to tell the story in the future is a great way to assess your response to dilemmas in general. Craft your story now so you’ll be proud to tell it later.
  • A few years ago I took a creative writing class in which the professor asked us to describe the same scene twice, the first time from the perspective of someone who has just fallen in love, the second from the point of view of someone who has just lost child at war.
    You shouldn’t take yourself too seriously nor judge others too harshly.

Nov 23 2010

The Learning Library

I’ve always been a book lover. I have a private collection of Ruby, Perl, and Java books, amongst other topics, that would make a public library jealous. In fact, I recently moved and was surprised that that the bulk of the items boxed up where books. I’ve been making the trend of moving my library to ebooks. I was an early adopter of the Amazon Kindle, I still use my first generation Kindle. Here are some books in my collection, which I’ve use as reference.

I’ve even dedicated a blog post to a few of my favorite books, such as the following.


Nov 22 2010

The Ultimate Geek Gift Guide 2010

This geek gift guide is not so much for geeks and techies but for those that have geeks and techies in their life and need a little help in finding the right geek gift this holiday season. If you want to wow the geek in your life with the latest technology gadget you need to look no further.

The hottest piece of technology this year has been the Apple iPad. The iPad is great for geeks no matter their passion, music, photography, gaming, social media, etc. A geek that travels a lot would enjoy the 3G iPad so that they can always be connected no mater where they are. Whether you give the geek in your life an iPad or if they already have one, there are a ton of great accessories such as the iPad cases. I have been happy with the standard Apple iPad Case but for something more eye catching then consider the DODOcase. I also enjoy this leather portfolio iPad slipcase.

Targus Hughes Leather Portfolio Slipcase

Targus Hughes Leather Portfolio Slipcase

To get the most out of an iPad you need apps, for stocking stuffers you can consider getting a few iTunes gift cards which can be used to purchase apps, music, books, and movies from the iTunes store. I’ve already written regarding my favorite iPad apps.

Not every geek is into Apple products. Fortunately, there are other viable touch-based tablets such as the Google Android powered Archos 9 PC Tablet or the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

For the avid reader in your life, nothing beats the Amazon Kindle. There are other electronic book readers but the Kindle is the most wished-for and most gifted ebook reader. The latest generation of the Kindle is smaller than previous versions and Amazon provides just about every top book in the Kindle format. What I love best about the Amazon Kindle is that your digital library is available to you in just about every device, iPhone, iPad, desktop, Android mobile device, and more.

This holiday season the most sought after family oriented game will not be on the Wii, it will be on the XBox 360. The XBox 360 has a set of games that do no require a controller to play, instead you play them by controlling the game play with your body. The Kinect Sensor has a series of camera’s that capture your body movements and uses that information to control the character in the game. The best game on for the Kinect Sensor has to be Dance Central. Dance Central doesn’t require any controller or pad for you to get down with your dance moves, you just dance in front of you television set.. The other games to look forward to is DJ Hero 2 and Rock Band 3.

Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle

Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle

As everyone already knows, the standard geek uniform is jeans and a t-shirt. Any self respecting geek needs to have some ThinkGeek shirts in his wardrobe. ThinkGeek gear is like Armani Exchange for geeks, binary fashionable and geek chic.

If you need more suggestions, take a look at previous years geek gift guides: The Ultimate Geek Gift Guide 2009, 2008