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.

Nov 10 2009

The Ultimate Geek Gift Guide 2009

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. So if you don’t know what is the hottest gift item or you want to redeem yourself from the Cosby sweater you gave last year, this is the gift guide for you.

The hottest tech gift two years running must be the Apple iPhone GS3. The iPhone is one of those gifts that will be used every single day, and not just to make calls. In fact, the feature I use most often is email, browsing online, and Google Maps. I also use the iPhone to play freely available casual games available on the App Store. And of course you can play your iTunes music on the iPhone just as you would on your iPod. This year, the iPhone has some competition in the new breed of Android phones in particular the Motorola Droid.

Netbooks are a trendy new segment in the ultra portable laptop market. Netbooks usually refer to sub $500 laptops perfect for email and internet browsing. The ASUS Eee PC is perhaps the most popular brand in this market but there are available models like the HP Mini 1140NR and Acer Aspire One.

Acer Aspire One

Acer Aspire One

The Flip MinoHD is quickly gaining a big market share of the camcorder business from established brands such as Sony, Panasonic, Canon, etc. The Flip is the iPod of video cameras. It is small, portable, and simple to use. When recording, you can zoom in out and stop. When playing back you can increase/decrease the volume and pause. We have take ours on every trip we take and it is easier to use than the standard point and shoot digital camera.

The new version of the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSPgo) has the best graphic intense games available in the hand held gaming market. The PSPgo has a new slim down form factor. Download movies, shoes, and games directly from the PlayStation Network.

The Nintendo DSi portable gaming system will also be a popular with geeks this holiday season. Unlike the PSPgo, the DSi has more innovative games that take full advantage of its touch dual screens. On the DSi, the geeks in the family will enjoy games like Scribblenauts, KORG DS-10 Synthesizer, and DS classics like Brain Age 2 and TouchMaster 3.

The Nintendo Wii is perhaps the innovative console and social gaming platform currently available. The game play with the Wii Remote can be very animated. The Wii is definitely a gaming console for the whole family, and there are plenty of games that the family can play together. This holiday season Nintendo is releasing a whole slew of Mario Bros games. What geek doesn’t love Super Mario Bros based games? Two highly anticipated games are Super Mario Galaxy 2 and New Super Mario Bros.. The Mario Bros have been geek classics since the first game came out in the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

One item that a geek never has enough of is disk space. Technologist can easily fill a 100 GB hard drive with bittorrents, software, games, movies, pictures, data, etc. in no time. The geek in your life will appreciate a portable hard drive like the Western Digital My Passport which are available with 360 or 500 GB. The My Passport is the slimmest, slickest, and sexiest of the portable drives I have seen. They are small enough to carry with you in your laptop bag. As a stocking stuffer, you might be interested in getting a 32 GB USB drive. Some of the cutest USB drives are the Star Wars Mimobot Thumb Drives.

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.

Another category of gadgets in every techie at heart wishlist is electronic book readers. The Amazon Kindle DX is probably the best ebook reader in the market at this time. But Sony and Barnes and Nobles have their own offerings.
The Kindle’s wireless connectivity allow you to shop and download books on the fly as you go on the run. Hundreds of blogs are also available through the Kindle such as Slashdot and The Onion. I have a growing collection of ebooks on my Kindle, in fact I have not bought a hard cover book since I got my Kindle last year, just like I have not bought a CD since I first had my first MP3 music player.

The Powermat is the perfect gift for the early adopter techie. The Powermat is a wireless power adapter. To enable your favorite gadget (iPhone, Blackberry, DSi, etc) you need to buy and use power receiver for your device in the form of a case. With the power receiver, simply place the device on the Powermat to recharge wirelessly.

No geek gift guide is complete without a computer mouse. The Apple Magic Mouse has the form factor of something out of science fiction. The Magic Mouse uses multi-touch technology used in the iPhone. The multi-touch technology allows the whole mouse to be a button and/or a scroll wheel without actually having a button or scroll wheel. You don’t just any mouse pad you having laying around with the Magic Mouse, the SteelSeries SX Mouse Pad is more appropriate.

Apple Magic Mouse

Apple Magic Mouse

Be sure to take a look a the Juixe Store. We have selected the best software development books that need to be in every software developer’s bookshelf such as the classics like Code Complete, The Mythical Man-month, and The Pragmatic Programmer.

If you still need a little bit more help in finding the right tech gift for the geek in your life, take a look at the following geek gift guides from other sources such as CNET.