Update on pitching social software to Sara’s elementary school

Sara’s teacher – Mr. N. was kind enough to schedule 90 minutes last Friday afternoon for me to pitch social software to her Grade 6 class.

No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.

— Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard von Moltke

Harmless Audio Plug

The Plan

My original intent was to play a couple of music videos I mashed-up to see how familiar the students already were with services like Facebook & MSN. Unfortunately, as I plugged the external speakers into my 6 year-old Dell laptop, something went pop & then all we heard was nothing but snap & crackle.

I should have known better than try to resolve the situation. Mr. N. jumped right in with a little discussion on the pros & cons of things like Facebook & MSN. But as Sara gave me her “Daddy…?” look, I figured it was time to move on and demo the mini-site I set up the night before.

Moving on

I started off logged into the site with Sara’s credentials & displayed the day’s Calendar Event. I toured the bullet items and the Video Gallery – like YouTube, I wanted to show. I clicked on Sara’s Profile page to draw the analogy to Facebook. I showed them the Image Gallery with a few pictures Sara took at their last 3-day field trip & mentioned Flickr. I showed them Status messages & Discussions – sort of like MSN, GTalk, Twitter, Facebook, myspace, gmail, hotmail, etc. Then there was the shared Bookmarks like delicious and digg.

In the end, I never needed the videos. For the most part, the kids were very much tuned into the virtues of social software. If anything, they just didn’t know that that’s what it was called.

Hmmm

For myself, I learned that more than half the kids were already on Facebook & avid MSN users. In fact, the Facebook users were also well aware of the fact they are “ineligible” to register but lied about their birthdays as a work around. MSN doesn’t challenge anyone on registration but it’s buried somewhere in the Terms & Conditions that a “Child” must have the permission of a parent, or, guardian – which seemed to bother some of the kids on MSN.

For those, not registered with Facebook, many were very quick to say they didn’t want to lie about their age – Sara included. In addition, I also found out that some felt the peer pressure to be on Facebook.

A simple analogy

So that’s what we offered the Grade 6 class. All the social software capabilities they want in the privacy and safety of their own school. I pointed out that at recess time, the school doesn’t send them out to the public parks to play. They go out to their gated schoolyard where there’s school staff to monitor them. And on some occasions, they get together with other schools to play soccer, or, football. So this was going to be exactly along the same thinking – just virtual.

The Project

While I wasn’t able to play any videos for the kids, I did cover the material the old fashioned way. I explained to them the deal in the making – described in my previous post The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 4, under “Who’s in for a little extra-curricular activity?”.

In the end, both Mr. N. & I concluded that there is certainly a desire and need for us to bring social software into the school. In the fact the interest level seemed so high, that Mr. N. offered to integrate the social software activity into his curriculum and even dedicate Friday afternoons for me to mentor the kids – given enough parents grant their permission.

Up next

Permission Slip and all the parents/guardians have been directed here to permit, or, not permit their child to participate in the social software activity.


[form 2 “Social Software In Schools Permission Form”]

 

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The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 4

Partnering, building communities and pitching social software to Sara’s elementary school.

Cut win-win deals. A partnership seldom takes place between equals. As a result, the more powerful side is tempted to squeeze the other party. The weaker side, for its part, will begrudgingly accept such deals and try to get what it can. Bad idea. Bad karma. Bad practicality. If the partnership is a win-lose deal, it will blow up because concrete walls and barbed wire cannot hold a partnership together. Only mutually beneficial results can. In the long, the bitter seed of resentment planted at the start of a partnership will grow into a giant, destructive weed.

The Art of Partnering, Guy Kawasaki

Background

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about building communities to help drive my start-up’s outside-in software development and my working relationship with the good folks at Cynapse. And while my last post was – for the most part, about getting to be a TechCrunch50‘s semi-finalist, I did end with my desire to sow the social software seeds in my daughter Sara’s elementary school.

Motivation

As a passionate software entrepreneur and social software evangelist, it breaks my heart when Sara tells me she’s bored learning how to use Word and Excel in Computer class. Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about her teacher – a fine and qualified professional. I’m not complaining about the curriculum, nor about the state of our education system. In no way would I ever expect the school to provide social software education. But nothing says that I can’t.

Who’s in for a little extra-curricular activity?

So I approached the school and offered just that. I prepared a marked-up version of Cynapse’s Flash marketing material & evangelized the virtues of, not only the mechanics of learning social software but the life lessons – I truly believe, it can teach the kids.

Our 30 minute meeting became an hour and a half and ended with a few action items:

  1. The school would have to agree to a trial period with the understanding that, if successful, they would continue the program.
  2. Cynapse would have to agree to barter three months of free hosting in return for a modified version of their Best Practices Guide for Elementary School Students.
  3. The students would have to volunteer for the extra-curricular activity and agree to collaborate on the Guide. Delivery of the Guide deems success.

Since the meeting, the school has delivered on Action Item #1. In addition, Cynapse has delivered on Action Item #2. So later this week, I’ll be presenting my offer to Sara’s Grade 6.

I’ve since elaborated on my initial presentation by incorporating some keywords mentioned during our meeting and added the narration. But after playing it back for Sara, she thought it may be “too much” and I should try to be more funny. 🙁

Up next

The problem was, I tried to create something that would appeal to too many audiences – students, school staff and maybe even parents. So in the interest of outside-in development, I created two more videos which have passed the Sara Test. Once, approved by her teacher, I’ll start with those & save the one above – hopefully, for another time.

Reflection

Please feel free to share any thoughts, or, experience around social software in schools.

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Homage to TechCrunch50 2009, its Organizers and Participants

As a TechCrunch50 2009 Semi-finalist who chose legal services over Demo-Pit costs, I empathized every moment with the presenters and salute all of you.

LBS is just gonna get, sorry Location Based Services, is just going to become more and more important.

Dick Costolo,  Panelist & Judge http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2169088

TechCrunch50 2009 Conference

Background
June 2009

with only the bare bones of running code, I submitted our TechCrunch50 2009 application. My contributors (The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 2), while suggesting I was being too aggressive, agreed that it’s always nice to have Milestones, and agreed to try.

July 27, 2009

I received an email informing stating:

Congratulations, your company has been selected for a phone and screensharing interview. We were truly overwhelmed to have over 1,000 applications from over 40 countries submit to launch at our event this year, so please feel great about making it to the next round of consideration.

August 2, 2009

We received an email instructing us to book a demo time and make whatever live demo arrangements necessary &

The duration of your interview will be 15 minutes. Please plan to demo your product for 8 minutes (show the product, we have the background information in your application) and use the remaining 7 minutes for Q&A.

As a reminder, DO NOT comment about your interview status publicly (including social media such as Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc.) Unfortunately, we’ve had to eliminate 2 companies to date from consideration who posted about their status with the conference. We don’t want to take these steps, but other applicants are certainly looking out for people who do not follow the rules. Please don’t let this be you.

Sunday September 8, 2009 5:00 PM to 5:20 PM PST

Our twenty minutes of fame. Jason Calacanis logged into the demo a couple of minutes late. I reiterated our assumption that he’s seen our background video uploaded with our Application to which he informed us that he only saw our names & that of our start-ups’ as he found the demo log in information. Somewhat disappointed, I pushed back reminding him of the previous email. All Jason said was:

Just demo.

And demo we did. Not taking any chances, we had a prerecorded simulated demo of how the system will work end-to-end, followed by a live demo of its current development state. Jason made a few observations. Fortunately for us, we had collaborated for weeks on an entire internal wiki pages titled -“Pitch FAQ”, which just happened to provide fuel for my answers. And that was it. twenty minutes does not last long. Jason thanked us for taking time out of our Sunday evening, told us we should hear something in about a week and immediately signed off.

The three of us stayed on the conference call for another hour going over and over those twenty minutes and wondering if we could have done any more and whether Jason got it, or, not. And the truth of the matter is, if we could have done it all over again with hindsight being 20/20, we wouldn’t have changed a thing. So we were just going to sit tight and wait for an answer.

August 18, 2009

Via email:

Unfortunately, we regret that we are unable to place your company as a TechCrunch50 finalist. This is certainly not a commentary of your business, technology or team. Many applicant companies have gone on to great success without launching on stage. For our 50 limited slots, we purposely showcase a diversity of technology innovation from different countries, mixing both funded and unfunded businesses. In many cases, our need to curate this content matrix eliminates many outstanding companies from a lead position on stage. We received more than 1,000 total applications— making for many tough decisions.

As one of our semi-finalist companies, we would like to offer you the opportunity to participate in our DemoPit. Over the last two years, the TC50 DemoPit has become one of the main assets of the TechCrunch50 Conference. It enables another 100 companies (50/day) the chance to showcase their technology to conference attendees. And the favorite “Audience Choice” from our DemoPit wins the last presentation slot on stage, along with the right to win the $50,000 best in show award provided by the TC50 organizers. The DemoPit wildcard is our way of acknowledging that our judging is subjective and that there are many more outstanding companies in our West Hall than we can fit on stage.

This year, we will be selecting two DemoPit companies to present on stage, one from each Monday and Tuesday. So your odds have doubled for a shot to still get on stage.

For a while I considered dipping further into my line of credit and “invest” in the DemoPit and associated travel expenses. But after conferring with my Contributors, it seemed the responsible thing to do was move the project to the next level by investing further in legal services. And that’s what I did.

I replied to Peter of TechCrunch my thanks for the opportunity but simply couldn’t afford it. But at the same time, in the interest of outside-in software development, I asked if we could possibly get any feedback to help us.

August 20, 2009

Email to Peter at TechCrunch

Hi Peter,

Here’s a thought…

TechCrunch should publish an index of the semi-finalists with their 140 character description & video (link to youtube if you prefer) in exchange for them not going public until after the site is published at TechCrunch50.

Ideally, you would let your community rate & comment on their favorites. That would be a win-win for everyone:
You’re still the mecca for launching start-ups
You’re still The Sensitive One when it comes to non-funded (some call it ultra-light) start-ups – you’re almost angelic 🙂
We get exposure & hopefully feedback that can be used in subsequent outside-in development
My one-liner is: [Still a secret] & you could use the 5-minute video that’s uploaded from my Application, or, I can repost it somewhere for you.

Just a thought 🙂

Regards,
Steven

Peter’s reply:

Steven, I’ll pass this along as something to consider for future years. Thank you.

My reply:

Peter, in the meantime, is there any feedback you can possibly share with us to add even more tremendous value to our TechCrunch50 experience?

Peter’s reply:

Steven, I spoke with your reviewer, Jason, who told me “I thought they were off to a really great start and that [still a secret] is a real challenge and opportunity. However, their product was not as far along as the top 50 we are selecting this year. I have no doubt they will get to the promised land with a little more time and effort.”

My reply:

Peter, you just made me very 🙂

September 14-15, 2009. TechCrunch50 Conference 2009

I haven’t watched all of the presentations yet, but enough to honestly say that my heart and nerves went out to everyone presenting. While all of the panelists I saw offered practical and useful feedback, I did feel that some of them were hell bent on not giving any kudos. Yet despite the pressure, I thought the demos were great and the presenters ability and preparedness to answer the panel’s questions were even greater.

Big Thank You

I can only imagine the organizational nightmare it must been to pull off this event with such class – not to mention the temperaments required in dealing with start-up to guru egos. I thank you Peter and Jason for all your efforts, patience and inspiration. I look forward to one day meeting you in the Promised Land.

Building communities

Once the legal work is complete we’ll start expanding our start-up Community to prepare for a limited private release. In the meantime, I’m going to try to bring in some income by seeding the social software seeds at my Sara’s elementary school.

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The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 3

Using social software to avoid building something that someone – other than me, thinks is awesome.

Once you have the community, let them tell you how to improve your product by exposing your engineers to the cheers and jeers. This type of feedback is one of the greatest values of a community.

Reality Check, Guy Kawasaki

idea - who
idea - who
Transparency

In the spirit of openness, I just want to state that this post is a plug for the wonderful folks at Cynapse and their awesome and even at times inspiring, social software platform – cyn.in.

Outside-in software development

The underlying theory behind outside-in software is that to create successful software, you must have a clear understanding of the goals and motivations of your stakeholders. Your ultimate goal is to produce software that is highly consumable and meets/exceeds the needs of your client.

Wikipedia based on Outside-in Software Development: A Practical Approach to Building Successful Stakeholder-based Products, Carl Kessler & John Sweitzer

Now Guy, Carl & John can’t all be wrong – developing software solutions in an ivory tower is no longer an option. As any external & internal stakeholder will tell you, you need feedback – especially in the world of global development & delivery (GDD). So how do you connect all these people from all over, with different skill-sets, different perspectives and most importantly different roles and rights? For example;

As a Developer (Internal Stakeholder), I would like to see Customers’ (External Stakeholders), comments on how they interact with the system, so I can better understand what value they’re trying to achieve.

As a Founder (Internal Stakeholder), I would like to collaborate with other Founders on our financial planning by sharing discussions, files and bookmarks, so we can communicate in a more timely and efficient manner than email.

Both of these scenarios involve the sharing and disseminating of information. However, not necessarily across Developers, Customers and Founders.

The state of the solution – Version 2

Having software development & start-up in my blood, I was thrilled to see the state of cyn.in. What the solution lacks in features, as compared to some of the competition, it makes up for in design, ease-of-use, quality and support.

Business Model

I think the business model is great – its got something for everyone. For the techies, the open source model is a great way to use & potentially contribute to the code. For the folks looking for a free open source solution to experiment with, the VMware image provides the cheapest simplest in-house solution. And for those who want to avoid any hardware/software/networking issues and assure themselves of timely & helpful support, then the Software as a Service (SaaS) offering is the route to go.

One weakness

For now, the one weakness is lack of documentation and knowledge base contents.

A few benefits

Since I consider myself a cyn.in early adopter, I hope to contribute to the requirements process – with my own spin of course 🙂 In addition, I’ll be blogging / tweeting about how we compliment certain features in their infancy with other solutions to achieve our desired results. Why am I doing this? Well, in the interest of transparency, I get a preferred SaaS deal for helping out and I better position myself as a potential reseller & service provider. However, most importantly, I actually do enjoy this stuff. And I will especially enjoy myself if I can contribute in a meaningful way to what I trust will be a distributed software development effort in an outside-in agile environment.

The state of the solution – Version 3

In addition to Enterprise Support, another SaaS benefit is being seamlessly migrated to the latest release – which by the way is as gorgeous as the Adobe AIR desktop client. If you’re currently a cyn.in Version 2 user, then moving to Version 3 should be one of your priorities. If you’re not, then Version 3 offers every feature you’d expect from a social software platform – minus some functionality. For example, while there are calendar Events, they lack the ability to invite members. Until that’s enabled, we supplement cyn.in Events and with Google Calendar. In my opinion, a minor price to pay.

World-class support

For whatever cyn.in lacks in documentation, they more than make up for it with their Enterprise Support. Despite being timezones away, I can always count on a timely, concise and helpful experience. There’s seems to be no question too small, or, bug too big for them to answer in the same courtious manner. And in those special cases when I do come across a missing feature, it’s nice to know that my input is used to help contribute to their development process.

A future post – User roles and permisssions

A key feature for this start-up community is the ability to control user roles and their permissions. Currently, we use Personas to help us in our development effort. In the near future, we’ll be ready to search for actual users to assume their own personnas and help us define and satisfy their needs. When that time arrives, I’ll describe our community’s site hierarchy and permissions for members to better understand how they fit in.

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The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 1

Here are some lessons learned from past experiences and how I hope to do things a little different this time when choosing Who will be members of this tribe.

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.

Tribes need leadership. Sometimes one person leads, sometimes more. People want connection and growth and something new. They want change.

You can’t have a tribe without a leader – and you can’t be a leader without a tribe.

Tribes, Seth Godin

idea - who
idea - who
Background post

The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 1. An Idea, Five Ws and one H

Lessons learned

Back in Connecting the dots – Part 2, I mentioned my previous dot com experience. Looking back, here’s some of the lessons I learned;

  1. Having a great idea and the ability to code it is simply not enough. Like it or not, you need others. Others who understand things like marketing, sales, support, service, administration and more. However, you just may not need them all from Day One.
  2. Too many chiefs (partners): We had too many voices, too many opinions, too many circumstances requiring votes where majority rules and even Super Majority Rules. Oddly enough, most of these issues were valid & necessary – at some point in time. And that’s exactly my point. At some point in time, we would have to discuss these issues at length. But that time never came.
  3. The “What If This Thing Is Worth A Gazillion Dollars One Day” Scenario: A pre-condition to this scenario is that you have to deliver something that could be worth a gazillion dollars one day. We exerted too much time and energy discussing, fantasizing, negotiating, bickering and haggling over this scenario. We really should have poured that energy and passion into the pre-condition.
  4. Lawyers and accountants: You need these people. You not only need them, but you need to talk to them pretty much from the start. But talk first. Do your best to net-it-out as much as possible. If you’re lucky, you’ll know someone who’ll say something like:

    Drafting an agreement like this and getting all the parties to finalize, could cost you around $10,000 – assuming everyone agrees in principle. But even with that in place, it could be always be argued that … On the other hand, you could just write … on the back of a napkin and get everyone to sign it. Of course that could always be contested too, but at least you’ve got a signed agreement in principle and $10,000 to pay me when you at least have money coming.

And that is the final point. If you don’t have any money coming in then you would not be contesting a dirty old napkin.

How to choose “Who”

So now I needed a way to invite others to help me with my quest. But on top of all my above issues, I had one more whopper. I had no money to pay anyone. Offering equity in nothing would only condemn me to repeating my errs of the past. It would be like Groundhog Day, all over again.

Up next –The Unhidden Agenda

My next post will be about my Unhidden Agenda & how I hope it will attract community members and contributors.

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The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 1. An Idea, Five Ws and one H

The time has come to put down the books, close the blogs and simply focus on doing and not learning. Here’s my Idea’s Five Ws and one H.

What’s Your EQ (Entrepreneurial Quotient)? The intent is to test your knowledge of the subject of entrepreneurship, not to test how good an entrepreneur you are, because, there’s no way to measure that. Therefore, scoring high doesn’t mean you’re the next Steve Jobs, and scoring low doesn’t mean you’re not. This makes the EQ test as reliable as the IQ test, but it can’t hurt to have a good working knowledge of the reality of entrepreneurship.

What your score means:
17-22. Your score is high, so you can now focus on doing, not learning.

Reality Check: Guy Kawasaki.

idea
idea
Background

Arising from my three-part Connecting the dots series, here’s the first entry of my Start-up Chronicles where I’ll journal about decisions made and ones coming up; actions I’m taking and those I’m deferring.

Focus on doing, not learning

Take a look on the right sidebar under “Pivotal Reading”. I’ve read all I could read – for now. (FYI, my “idea” image was inspired by Back Of The Napkin.) So it appears the time has come and the stars are aligned to take a shot. To be quite honest my idea is not the kind of stuff that will change the world but it might just change a few things for a few people. And if I could do that, well that’s pretty good for starters.

My Five Ws (and one H)

In the interest of keeping things short and sweet, I’ll briefly blog about my Idea’s Five Ws (and one H). However, I’ll save the What entry for when there’s actually a piece of executable code for you to try for yourself.

Next up – Who

My next post will discuss the Who decision-making part of my Idea.

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