Pivoting for Profit

Just build a _____ profitable business!

David Heinemeier Hansson, This Week in Startups #46 (1:10:45)

My Lessons Learned - Make a Profit
My Lessons Learned - Make a Profit

Reflection

In the spirit of Agile, here’s my retrospective on when we realized the primary objective is to build a business & not to get funded.

Inflating Our Own Bubble

TechCrunch50 2009

Back in June 2009, I read about the TechCrunch50 2009 contest & while we barely had any running code, submitted an entry. My collaborators thought it was a bit of a stretch, but we all agreed it’s nice to set goals. So while trying to get a grip on what was required of us, I immersed myself in TechCrunch stuff. From what I understood, there was a common theme emerging – get funded & get out. And making it to the semi-finals only encouraged me.

I Think Our Bubble Has a Leak

Signed Copy of Guy Kawasaki's Reality Check
Signed Copy of Guy Kawasaki's Reality Check

We thought we had something that was so paradigm shifting, yet so simplistically obvious at the same time, that we’d have no trouble bringing on a CEO to help us reach Jason’s Promised Land. But it wasn’t happening like that. And as time passed, we realized that if we wanted to see our dream change the world then we couldn’t wait on someone else to make it happen.

Paradigm Shifting

That primed us for This Week in Startups #46 with David Heinemeier Hansson | ThisWeekIn.  Fast forward to 1:10:45 and there you have it.  It was paradigm shifting, yet so simplistically obvious. Just build a profitable business and the problem will be solved. Read his and Jason Fried’s Rework and you’ll get it too!

Trolling for Customer Development

The other day I was perusing Twitter when I saw Ben Yoskovitz’s

BeanSprout – a dating website for Business Development Partnerships: http://bit.ly/ivLRyf

A few tweets later, I was signed up and working with one of BeanSprout‘s founders – Artie Patel. I told him “Ideally, we’d like to hook up with someone like Localeze“. To which Artie responded; “They’re a customer of ours. Let’s see what we can do to help.”

Lessons To Learn

I’m actually planning on meeting Artie next week when they present at International Startup Festival – Montreal, Canada, July 13-15th 2011 where I’ll be volunteering for my Starving Startup ticket. Stay tuned for more details about how another startup delivered an awesome experience & whether it can help us learn to build a ______ profitable business.

(Thanks to Greg Meyer for tuning me into  experiences that @delivertheawsome.)

Related Links

Go out there and make some money!

Dan MartellTo Raise, Or Not To Raise | @MapleButter

Can You Spot My Reeses Peanut Butter Cup Moment? Part 2

#7. PRACTICE THE ART OF COLLISION

The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is a metaphor for life. What seems completely new is often just an unexpected combination of the familiar but previously disconnected. This is Innovation 101, but too often we forget, and think the one asset we have is the answer, rather than asking what we can bundle it with to transform its value.

Mark Payne on Blogging Innovation: The Ten Tenets of Transformation – Innovation blog articles, videos, and insights

Background

In my previous post, I described how I was struggling with my lean start-up sales and marketing efforts on seemingly two separate fronts. In keeping with my perseverance theme, here’s how I combining these two  into one complimentary offering, yet still affording me the possibility of either one, or, better yet both launching a business.

Ingredients

  1. My peanut butter – AnotherSocialEconomy: A service that anonymously connects consumers – who already know exactly what they want with local retailers – who actually have it in stock. It’s like Google Local Shopping only way simpler and more accessible for small and medium-size businesses (SMB).
  2. My chocolate – edu.cyn.in: A social software platform enabling collaboration not just within the class, school but across geographies. It’s like Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, MSN, Twitter, Blogger, Wikipedia, iTunes, Digg, Google Calendar and more, all in one integrated and monitored web site.

Directions

  1. Offer limited edu.cyn.in membership to local schools and organizations providing extra-curricular activities for free.
  2. Offer limited edu.cyn.in education and mentoring services to students, teachers, staff and parents on how to get the most of the platform with regard to sharing, commenting and rating content – for free.
  3. Offer limited edu.cyn.in education and mentoring services to students, teachers, staff and parents on how to get the most of the platform with regard to self-organizing projects and events thereby reducing phone calls and oodles of emails with attachments.
  4. Add AnotherSocialEconomy Widget to edu.cyn.in.
  5. Offer those edu organizations free local Sponsor links in edu.cyn.in.
  6. Offer those edu organizations the opportunity to become AnotherSocialEconomy Retailers, InfluencersResellers and/or Referrers.

(Should) Yield

Our Reeses Pieces should consist of a hyper-local (thanks Flack Maguire) online community of consumers and retailers/merchant/service providers. If we succeed in educating and mentoring are target edu.cyn.in audience, we could have one, or, two adult pair of eyes for every student pair of eyeballs. So one class of 25 students could yield anywhere between 2 and 50 additional eyeballs on edu.cyn.in. The better we educate and help folks adopt the social software, the greater chances we have of increasing those hyper-local eyeballs. The more eyeballs, the greater the chances we have of getting folks to use AnotherSocialEconomy’s Widget. More local consumers, more local merchants.

Additionally, since we’re also Cynapse Reseller, we’ve also introduced a whole new crop of highly qualified prospects into our sales funnel.

Stay Tuned

Please feel free to comment below and let me know your predictions. Will our ingredients yield another Reeses Pieces, or, is this plan going to curdle? Just remember, the alternative approach could be to pay Google AdWords $7500 a month for pay-per-click search engine marketing (SEM) and pray that’s cheaper than the time and hosting frees we’re currently investing.

Can You Spot My Reeses Peanut Butter Cup Moment? Part 1

#7. PRACTICE THE ART OF COLLISION

The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is a metaphor for life. What seems completely new is often just an unexpected combination of the familiar but previously disconnected. This is Innovation 101, but too often we forget, and think the one asset we have is the answer, rather than asking what we can bundle it with to transform its value.

Mark Payne on Blogging Innovation: The Ten Tenets of Transformation – Innovation blog articles, videos, and insights

Worlds Apart?
Worlds Apart?

The Chronicles

Peruse my blog and you’ll see I pretty much chronicle my experiences as an ultra light, non-funded, start-up entrepreneur. You’ll also see that I divide my time, not necessarily equally, among two main efforts: 1) called :Twetailer, which has morphed into :AnotherSocialEconomy and 2) :edu.cyn.in. While both were born out of a burning desire to correct something I found profoundly wrong, yet so “simple” to fix, I’ve always considered them to be worlds apart. That was until I tried to fill a void in my execution plans – sales & marketing. Now I know these are not subjects to be treated lightly but, in my own defense, I was primarily concerned about the Guy Kawasaki lesson How to Change the World: Defensibility. With all that reasonably taken care, I started educating myself on Search Engine Marketing (SEM). As a matter of fact, my very last post was how I used that new knowledge to rethink AnotherSocialEconomy’s :Widget. Who knew? It was not only another entry point/channel/stream into the system (remember, I’m a techie) but it actually competes – quite nicely, with Pay-Per-Click (PPC), Cost Per Click-through (CPC) and Cost Per Action (CPA).

Selling sucks

In the early days, I tried getting schools to pay for the edu.cyn.in service but, being a techie and not a sales rep, failed. There was either not enough budget to go around, not enough qualified staff to support the service, or, simply the FUD Factor (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt). But I’m a persistent bugger and based on my prior experience with social software on the Internet, within enterprises and even within schools, I  just couldn’t give up.

I knew the service was greatly appreciated by the kids. I knew the service was greatly appreciated by educators – albeit a special select few. And as a parent, I also knew the frustration of organizing events, committee meetings, car pools, other extra-curricular activities and even purchasing related goods and services.

And on top of all this pressure to sell edu into schools, I was still struggling to sell AnotherSocialEconomy – which needed a way to reach retailers & consumers.

Started getting that sinking feeling

Things just seemed to be getting worse.  Was I going to be one of those start-ups with a great idea – in my case, two great ideas that no one other than myself, Dom & a few others knew about? It’s not like I don’t know my limitations.  I think I’m a pretty good technical business analyst, software product manager, maybe even a social media manager. I love pre-sales demos, presenting at shows and conferences, have a pretty cool online education story to tell, love story telling and I’m pretty pleased with my stickman videos and presentation creations. But I just can’t seem to get past this marketing & sales hump. I’ve tried to bring in others but it just hasn’t gelled yet. Maybe some seed money would be the way to go. Either way, if I don’t get any traction, I’ll probably have to drop edu. Yikes! That would really hurt because not only have the Cynapse folks been more than fair with me (I’m also a struggling Reseller), it would mean that my daughter Sara & friends would lose the service.

Perseverance

Back in my IBM days, Perseverance was not only a welcomed characteristic, but encouraged too (by some). In a company of over 390,000 (at the time), it was all too easy to say things like; “I’m waiting for so-and-so to get back to me”, or, “Today’s first agenda item is to decide when we’ll meet again to discuss this matter”. If you truly wanted to make a difference, you had to persevere – you had to press on people, press a few buttons, or, as my wife Anna says, I just had to continue being the real pain in the ass I can be.

Dropping edu, dropping, AnotherSocialEconomy, getting a real job are options I’m just not ready to accept yet. What I really have to do is find a better way to persevere.

Suggestions?

Do you have any suggestions on how I can make edu & AnotherSocialEconomy work for each other? Stay tuned for Part 2.

The Yin Yang of Techie Start Ups

yin yangIn Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin yang is used to describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn… Yin yang are complementary opposites within a greater whole. Everything has both yin and yang aspects,.. constantly interacting, never existing in absolute stasis.
Yin and yang – Wikipedia

Background

We’ve reached our techie milestone. We have quality code running in the Google AppEngine clouds. We’ve validated our concept with as many people that will listen to us. We’re at the point now where we have to validate with the market. We need users. More specifically, we need Consumers and we need Retailers. We need marketing & we need public relations (PR).

Challenge

So while the real techie – Dom Derrien, can breath a little easier, the other – me, with my techie background, has to go out and market the crap out of Twetailer. But, I’m not really a marketing kind of guy. While I absolutely love demoing and presenting and evangelizing, I’m not particularly strong at finding the right people to get in front of. So, I need to find myself a marketing guru. But being an ultra-light start up (read “living of my wife and kids”), I need to find a marketing guru – preferably one shooting for the social networking sphere, who’s willing to drink the Kool-Aid. Fortunately, Marc Bienstock likes Kool-Aid.

Lesson Learned

Twetailer was conceived and originally targeted for techies like ourselves – cube dwellers. Which is fine, since we never planned on using the line “If only 1% of China…”. So demoing to techies was never a real problem, despite some minor usability issues. But in order to get to the next level, we had to demo to prospective partners, prospective CEOs, prospective Consumers and prospective Retailers. And the further away we got from the cube dwellers, the greater the usability issue became for those higher up in the org chart – tower dwellers. Thankfully, everyone got the true value of Twetailer’s service:  “Brokering Consumer Demand with local Retailers’ available Supply – via simple messages, for f(r)ee, or, Reverse Retailing”. But even our own accountant and lawyer turned on us with comments like “Can’t I just have one button to press? I’m not very comfortable with all this texting stuff. Hey, I have a great idea! How about an app for my Blackberry?”. Not bad for tower-dwellers, eh? 🙂

So now I think I understand. While I originally intended to service techie consumers, I needed non-techies to help me get that service to them. In other words, my techie solution had a non-techie dependency.

Time to Pivot

It pays to get out of the basement. Last April, I attended the Montreal venue for the Startup Lessons Learned Conference where among other gems, I was introduced to what Steve Blank calls Customer Development process and Eric Ries calls the The Pivot:

“Pivoting” is when you change a fundamental part of the business model. It can be as simple as recognizing that your product was priced incorrectly. It can be more complex if you find your target customer or users need to change or the feature set is wrong or you need to “repackage” a monolithic product into a family of products or you chose the wrong sales channel or your customer acquisition programs were ineffective.

Modified Business Model

Originally, the fee plan was to charge both Consumer & Retailer a transaction fee similar to that of Amazon Flexible Payments Service fees (about 3%). But after speaking to several people, it became clear we couldn’t build a sustainable business like that. The common thought was the best idea is to solve a real business problem and charge money for it. So we’re going to charge a monthly subscription fee for registered Retailers. And because Marc felt Twetailer was too generalized and people needed a sense of urgency to use it, we’ve also introduced a Reseller distribution channel with our first one being targeted towards golfers & golf courses. (Congrats to Marc for being our first Reseller!) And to address usability issues, we’re offering a Managed Service for those non-techie Retailers out there.

Modified Development Roadmap

As much as I didn’t want to go down this route until there was actual income to pay for it, I seem to be in a Catch 22: If we don’t build it, they won’t come. If they don’t come, then I can’t afford to build it. So we re-prioritized some things & built it – an Android app targeted for the Golfer (Consumer) wanting to find a local Golf Course (Retailer). And since Twetailer is vertical agnostic, we’re making the app open source so other’s out there may be encouraged to built their own vertical, or, reseller market using our open application programming interface (API). Oh and by the way,  for those of you like my good buddy Rick Boretsky who think only techies have Android mobile devices, I encourage you to take a look a the First quarter 2010 information from The NPD Group’s Mobile Phone Track which reveals a shift in the smartphone market, as Android OS edged out Apple’s OS for the number-two position behind RIM.

Golf Pivot Videos

Please take a look at our pivot trilogy (less than 10 minutes) and let me know your thoughts. The first is intended to address our target audience with the second identifying their pain and the third illustrating our solution (for non-techies and techies alike).

Reflection

What do you think? Am I setting a bad precedence? Am I clouding my inability to market/sell my start up by throwing more code, time & energy at the problem, as opposed to, finding/solving the root-cause? Or, do you think this is a step in the right direction?

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Kool-Aid Being Served Here

#1You do not get credit before you do the work

Jason Calacanis, TWiST #47 with Niel Robertson (0:11:17)

If you’ve never heard of Jason Calacanis, then you owe it to yourself to check him out on one of his many ThisWeekIn episodes. I had the privaledge to demo to him once & he’s a character & a half! This past week he went after Generation Y – well 80% of them. And to be quite honest, I agree with him. Check out my own experience – My First Demo Pitch. Are All Retail Sales Associates Like This?

Living the Ultra Light Startup Life

Having lived and died the start up life during the dot com days and after reading everything on the right sidebar under Pivotal Reading, I’m now a proud ultra light startup entrepreneur. (See What are the characteristics of an Ultra Light Startup?.) With Guy Kawasaki‘s autographed copies of Reality Check & The Art of the Start tucked under my pillow at night, I have no trouble admitting to living off my faithful wife, dipping into my two beautiful children’s savings accounts the odd time and yes, there is a line of credit. So, if this was your reality, how would you go about soliciting help starting your startup?

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Work-For-Attribution. That’s what I called it back in my post The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 2 and that’s what’s in my Copyright Assignment Agreement. At least that’s the politically correct way of putting it. But lately, I just refer to it as Drinking the Kool-Aid.

The Pitch

Here’s my scoop

  1. I have no money.
  2. I’m living off the kindness of my wife & kids.
  3. I’ve done the startup thing & I’ve done it all wrong. Just Read Guy Kawasaki’s books for more examples.
  4. I understand the value of lawyers & accountants, so they get paid first and that comes out of my line of credit.
  5. If I understand my accountant – Sheldon Miller, correctly; banks just want the interest on your line of credit. VCs’ have a different kind of interest.
  6. If I understand my lawyer – François Senécal, correctly; pay for what’s in the critical path to getting your product to market.  Don’t pay for things like; “but what if one day Google buys this thing for a gazillion dollars?”.
  7. If I understand Guy Kawasaki correctly, paying for things that may never happen simply reduces the likelyhood they will.

Here’s what I believe

  1. I believe there’s a certain group of people in the world that love what they do but not necessarily where they’re doing.
  2. I believe there’s a certain group of people in the world that desperately want and can do more than what they’re do now.
  3. I believe these people just need an opportunity.

If you’re one of these people, then here’s what I’m offering you

  1. I’m offering you a chance to build your own micro startup doing things exactly the way you want them done.
  2. I’m offering you a chance to go beyond resumés and looking backwards when all you want to do is look to the future.
  3. I’m offering you a canvas, silly putty, a stage for to show the world what makes you so hot.

Here’s the Risk

  1. You have to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA).
  2. You have to sign a Copyright Assignment Agreement. Typically, when you sign one of these with your employer, you agree to give them total ownership of your work & they agree to financially compensate you for it. In my case, you agree to give me (Milstein & Associates Inc.) total ownership of your work & I agree to fully attribute your contribution. You get no money, no shares, no promises of anything beyond public attribution. Oddly enough, it’s exactly as Jason said in above episode.

Here’s the Reward

  1. If one day Google wants to offer a gazillion dollars, one of the first questions they may ask is; “Is the Intellectual Property locked down my Milstein & Associates Inc.”. The answer is “Yes”.
  2. If one day Google wants to offer a gazillion dollars, one of the following questions they may ask is; “Is the team that contributed that coveted Intellectual Property locked down my Milstein & Associates Inc.”. The answer is “No”. At that point, my guess is that Google will then determine the value of locking down these contributors.

Bottom Line

In order for my startup to succeed, I can’t afford to chance that maybe you’ll contribute enough for Google to offer that gazillion dollars. In order for you to truly succeed, you can’t afford to give up an opportunity like this. Besides, who would you rather assess your true value? Me – a guy living off his wife, kids & a line of credit, or, Google? Basically, all I’m offering you is a chance to sit at the table. But first, you have to set it & fill the glasses with Kool-Aid. Do you have a better offer from someone else?

Reflection

So far three people have drank the Kool-Aid & I’m hoping one, or, two more will belly up to the table in the coming weeks. Take a look at Dom Derrien’s blog and let me know if you still think, in the worst case scenario, that he’s not seeing some form of immediate returns on his investment.

Next Up

Thanks to TWiST #46 with David Heinemeier Hansson, I just ordered Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (founders of 37Signals). Stay tuned to see why.

TWiST #46 with David Heinemeier Hansson

What To Do When Your Kids Are More Connected Than You Are and Your First Social Safety Net

How to turn an unknown social network of yours into your kids safety net and maybe even help you start connecting too.

Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Bill Gates

Geniuses at Work: Bill Gates watches his friend and future Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen typing on a teletype terminal at the Lakeside School in Seattle in 1968. Gates was 13 when he entered the exclusive prep school, which was around the time this photo was taken.
Geniuses at Work: Gates watches his friend and future Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen typing on a teletype terminal at the Lakeside School in Seattle in 1968. Gates was 13 when he entered the exclusive prep school, which was around the time this photo was taken.

Background

I have two start-up projects underway. The first, Twetailer was inspired by one of those “OMG! Wouldn’t it be great if you could just yada yada yada?” moments. The second, http://edu.cyn.in, was not. No edu, was created out of my 11-year old daughter Sara’s frustration with her school’s computer curriculum. Complaints like: “Why do I care if something is bold?”, or, “Insert a column? When am I ever going to need that when I grow up?”. Yikes! Wouldn’t it be great if Sara could actually use technology for something she cared about?

You can’t always get what you want

– Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones

But Sara also shared the frustration she felt when some of her friends – who are on Facebook, kept urging others to join up, even though they know the minimun age is 14. Similarly for those with MSN, or, gmail accounts. And while I love seeing kids adopt technology, there are valid reasons why these services have age requirements. So, as a parent, what do you do? Do you stick to the rules & tell them to wait until they’re old enough? Do you let them waste their effortless ability to embrace these social technologies and stick to making things bold & inserting colums?

But if you try sometimes, you get what you need

– Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones

So again, as a parent, how do we monitor our kids’ activities on the Net? Google it. Here’s Dr. Phil.com – Advice – Monitor Your Child’s Cell Phone and Internet Activity. There are lots of sites offering all kinds of advice. But mostly all of them assume one thing – that you are as tech savy as your kids. And let’s face it, kids have a lot more time & friends to show them how than most parents do.

But what if you were able to trust another parent to monitor your kid’s activities for you? Like when you let your little one go on a playdate to a friend’s house, or, they’re invited to the movies. If you trust the friend’s parents then you let them go.

Perhaps your first digital social safety net

edu started out to be a way for Sara & her Grade 6 classmates to socialize in a secured and monitored Internet playground. A place where they could experience the power of blogs, wikis, discussions, audio, video, image sharing, etc. while learning the new minimun skills sets required in today’s digital and globally distributed workplace. Pretty soon, edu will be made available for the rest of her school and any other school interested under the following conditions:

  1. The student has to be attending an educational institution registered with edu
  2. There must be at least one parent/guardian, teacher/faculty member monitoring that student’s grade.

In Sara’s case, I monitored her grade. Did that mean all the other parents trusted me (and edu with their children’s related activities? Not necesarly. It turns out, most didn’t have a choice. Over the course of the project, I spoke with a few parents and they simply felt they didn’t have the skill sets to monitor. Even after informing them its just a matter of reading their email, they still felt uncomfortable with this “type of stuff”, but looked forward to watching how their kids used it.

Do the math

So in essence, condition #2 above, became those parents’ new social safety net. All they needed was one adult out of twenty students, to feel comfortable enough to watch over their child in their new digital playground. Is this any different than letting your child go to the movies, or, a school field trip with a parent like that?

My parents always told me: “All we want is for you to have more opportunities than we did growing up.” And they certainly succeeded. As a parent in today’s digital world, it would be a shame not to continue the tradition. edu gives those who aren’t as connected as their kids the opportunity to do just that.

Reflection

What are your thoughts abouts giving your kids access to things like Facebook, MSN, Friendfeed, MySpace, Twitter, Google Talk, AIM, Bebo, buzzup, Delicious, digg, Gmail, Mister Wong, Reddit, Stumbleupon, twine, WordPress and Yahoo? Do you have the skills to monitor their activities across all these sites? What percent of parents do you think can? Where do you fit in this Study: Ages of social network users | Royal Pingdom?

photo credit

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My First Pitch to More Than One Person Over the Age of 12. What a rush!

In fine company last night among QuantumWhisper, SoleiraSun, SolidWild at Montreal NEWTECH’s Demo Night.

Just demo!

Jason Calacanis, TechCrunch50 2009 Twetailer semi-finalist demo.

In 140 characters, or, less

Twetailer: Brokering Consumer Demand with local Retailers’ available Supply – via tweets, for f(r)ee, or, Reverse Retailing.

Rehearsed version

Live version

Last night I presented the slides & recordings as above but did the audio part live. Technically, I had 10 minutes – 5 for demo & 5 for Q&A. I actually consumed 7 minutes, leaving on 3 for Q&A.

Here’s the Q&A (paraphrased):
Q. Do you have any retailers signed up?
A. That’s the stage we’re at right now. We actually have one, my Volkswagen dealer Volkswagen Des Sources. GregVW thinks its great for used cars!
Q. Is it fully functional?
A. Yes! The recorded demo part was just to make sure we didn’t run into any timing issues. We also weren’t sure about Internet access here – which as it turns out, there’s none. But Yes, it’s fully functional. You can even do you own demo by sending “d twetailer what-are-you-buying #demo” and a robot will play the Sales Associate role. If you want, try sending “d twetailer used vw 2010 #demo” and Greg may even play along too.

Big Thanks!

Many thanks to Montreal NewTech, Felipe Coimbra for all his time, twitter apps & organization savy and the sponsors Bolidea and 63 Squares – Web Technologies and Marketing Collective.

See you at the NewTech Series: Pitch, Thu 2010-04-15 6pm.

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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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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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