Dec 09

Exactly one month to the day from arriving in the Bay Area, I pulled in an hour ago to my driveway back home in Tempe. What a month! The pictures from the trip say more than I possibly could in a single blog post. I met a ton of wonderful people in the Bay and made some great connections for our company. Here’s some stats from the trip that are interesting:

  • total distance traveled = 2987 mi
  • gas consumed = 166.558 Gal
  • total trip expenses = $2078.32
  • # days on the road = 31
  • business cards collected = 32
  • unique beds/couches = 17 (including a garage floor ;-)
  • total spent on hotels = $124
  • total spent on parking fines = $170
  • # of Executive Summaries sent = 22
  • # of VC funding sources pitched = 7
  • value of the advice, visibility, contacts & goodwill generated for JumpBox = incalculable
  • All told the trip cost a hair over $2k (which was way under budget). I want to personally thank all the people that went out of their way to give me a meal, a pillow, a piece of advice or an introduction to a valuable contact – the trip would obviously not have worked without the generosity and hospitality offered by these people. In chronological order here are some people that get a shout-out:

    Christopher Birdsall – for a pit stop at the halfway point in LA
    Scott & Sarah Yancey – for their repeated hospitality and their spectacular rooftop office
    Ben Flajnik & Corey Marrs and their roommate Justin – for a comfy garage and access to do laundry ;-)
    Francine Hardaway – for a fantastic intro and access to her beautiful house in HMB
    Robert Scoble – for letting me be on his Podtech show as a guest
    Andrew Hyde – for being on our podcast and putting on a killer startup weekend in SF
    Tony Jeffries – for all the key intros and drinks at La Bodeguita
    Josh Margulies and his fiancee Liv – for an aerobed and many connections (congrats on your engagement!)
    Jen Margulies – for 2 critical intros (happy birthday!)
    Mark Fletcher – for meeting with me and sharing entrepreneurial advice and a helpful contact
    Jay Margulies – for critique on our exec summary and letting me partake in two family celebrations
    My brother Connor – for hooking me up with a place and fixing my Quickbooks issues (happy 30th!)
    The Carroll family – for allowing me to join the family on Thanksgiving away from home (RIP Pop Carroll)
    Jen Behan and her family – for round #2 of pumpkin pie and a warm home on a cold Thanksgiving night
    Tom Jackiewicz – for a thermarest and a stellar selection of connoisseur tequila
    Jasmine Antonick – a key intro to an important connector
    Debbia Landa and her crew – 2 intros to solid funding sources and a wonderful meal
    The Hamilton family in Newport Beach – for a crash pad and a family feast at the end of a long trip

    To these people my couch and home are yours anytime. More on some of the many things I learned on this trip in a later post. For now, I’m really looking forward to my own bed. Here’s a cool video I shot yesterday while driving back down the coast on Highway 1:

    And here’s what a month’s worth of receipts and business cards looks like ;-) G’night.


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    Nov 28

    37.77716 -122.45762. Rooftop. FAN-f’ing-TASTIC :-)


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    Nov 19

    Having just completed the 54-hr-whirlwind journey of launching a startup company from scratch in a weekend here in San Francisco, I wanted to share some thoughts about what worked and what didn’t. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview the founder of startup weekend Andrew Hyde and one of his dramatic cohorts, Michael Gruen. It’s a short/sweet 30min conversation and gets at the heart of what they’re trying to do with these weekends.

    Let me just say that in every respect this was an amazing event. It condensed a year long product dev and launch cycle into just 2.5 days and it began on a Friday night with a room full of 132 complete strangers. The fact they were able to keep the wheels on the bus and deliver a working alpha by midnight on Sunday was an impressive feat in itself, but what was even more impressive was to see how leaders emerged and groups solved problems. The company we launched, managed last night to make the homepage of Techcrunch (something we still haven’t achieved in our year of lobbying efforts with JumpBox).

    What worked well

    The selection process was well-run. Ideas that had been proposed prior via the web site were pitched by their originators and every fourth idea the room broke into small groups of four to discuss. Someone called it “speed dating for nerds” and I suppose that was an accurate description of that frenzy. The selection was ultimately whittled down to just three ideas. Oddly enough, none of them won and one of the lesser-voted ideas re-emerged to win the selection process. I proposed a mutation of my Feelrz concept based on a genius twist that Josh Knowles had. Unfortunately the idea didn’t make the cut. The room divided into functional groups (development, creative, marketing, bizdev, legal, usability) and I gravitated to the marketing group initially. Being that I wasn’t super-stoked on the idea that got selected, I made the decision about 30min into it to play the weekend a bit differently than most would. Rather than lock into one group and engage vertically, I would bounce around and assume a horizontal role observing the activities across all functional teams. Granted, the weekend wouldn’t work if everyone were to do this but I had the unique opportunity to assume more of a “press” role and observe how the teams worked and communicated with the larger group.

    The majority of comments on the TechCrunch article were positive but there were a handful of haters that derided the weekend pointing to the unlikelihood of anything material benefit for the attendees. This position is understandable if the person attending the event goes in with the expectation that the sole value of the event is in the shares one receives in the startup that emerges. The true value of this weekend as I saw it was:

    1. A firehose of practical knowledge – wandering around the room absorbing all the dialogue and interaction between usability people, developers, marketers, etc. I couldn’t help but think of that scene in the Matrix in which Trinity is asked if she knows how to fly a helicopter and she responds “not yet.” Moments later a lifetime of flight experience is dumped into her brain and she has what she needs. The value of the collective experience from the folks that were interacting in that room was incredible. For anyone who’s entertaining doing a startup, attending a weekend like this would be invaluable in getting a taste for what’s involved.
    2. A connection bonanza – given the nature of the event and who decides to stick around until day 3, it’s no surprise that the solid people filter through and you meet incredible individuals that share the same passion for the industry as you. I met some kick-ass people this weekend (Jeff, Mike, Andrew, Chris and Jeremy).
    3. Lessons in leadership – you get to see first hand how certain people emerge as leaders, how the stew of different personality traits creates pockets of different styles and how natual selection naturally takes care of the wacko’s.

    Suggestions for improvement

    I do have some suggestions what modifications that could make the weekend better:

    1. Allow multiple ideas – I know this is counter to the mission of picking one idea and having everyone rally around it but there was 50% attrition each day and I attribute this to lack of interest in the chosen idea on the part of those that left. I was more interested in the event itself but I probably would have not returned the second day if I was purely there on valuation of the chosen idea itself. I would urge the organizers to experiment with one weekend where the group is permitted to organically self-form around any ideas. There will naturally be one or two that are more popular but I would expect to see great things from a small 4-person team if they were passionate about the concept. Plus, some of the functional groups could work across ideas (creative for instance should necessarily be partitioned and constrained to working in 4 different silos in the event 4 ideas are chosen – dev makes sense to split into teams however). This is the biggest qualm I had. I understand the counter argument to this approach in that it might fragment folks and detract from the community aspect which is the primary goal, but I don’t believe that would happen if it were glued together properly and certain teams worked horizonally across multiple projects.
    2. Phone tree buddy system to reduce attrition – so obviously this is the “stick” as opposed to the “carrot” method above for mitigating the attrition problem but implementing some kind of buddy system in which you got a phone call the next day from someone in your group saying “hey where are you? we need you to do xyz” would keep more people there the same way having a workout partner at the gym is just enough to make you go back to the gym. This is a challenging problem and one we encountered first-hand with Grid7 Labs – when people aren’t on the hook to deliver it’s easy for them to blow it off. I would expect this problem to lessen if suggestion #1 is followed.
    3. Better ad hoc infrastructure – this is a shameless self-plug for our stuff but a would be ideal instead of the hour it took them to get a subversion repository setup. The dev team also would have had access to the ticket system in Trac at that point which would make the accountability and assignment of tasks much more efficient. I showed Andrew the Trac JumpBox and it sounds like they’ll be using it in the future. This is precisely the scenario it was made for. Likewise, the talks I heard about securing a hosting account early in the event could have been avoided by merely serving it from a virtualized instance on someone’s laptop in the room and deferring the hosting issue until it was necessary. If the weekend is mapped time-wise to a year of the life of a startup, deferring the hosting decision translates to month’s of saved hosting fees plus the access to the local machine is much snappier than hitting a remote box over the internet during dev.
    4. Connectivity – this is just an issue of over crowding on a connection that wasn’t intended to have 130 people accessing it simultaneously but connectivity needs to made more reliable. Perhaps getting multiple EVDO cards and having alternative shared connections via that would help? I’m not sure of a silver bullet for this problem but solutions should definitely be explored.

    Anyways, the weekend was fantastic and much props to all the people that labored to put it together. I met some great people and plan to stay in touch.

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    Nov 17

    Ahhh the trials and travails of couch surfing in San Francisco.

    It’s alright though, Scoble dug the demo and I’ve met some awesome people so far.

    And for better or worse I’ve succumbed to peer pressure and taken the plunge today of signing up for a Twitter account. Curse you Ev Williams, I waste enough time as it is ;-)

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    Nov 07

    I’m moderating a panel tomorrow on Innovation at the Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference and then jumping in my truck and driving up to San Francisco. I’ll be staying in the Bay Area for a month couch surfing and hitting various conferences and user groups. Here’s the tenative itinerary:


    If you’re in the Bay Area, drop me a line and let’s meet for lunch. My whole goal is to get “in the mix” and meet progressive tech people in the area and see what everyone is doing. We’re somewhat isolated from the real action down here in AZ and I’m looking forward to traveling around Silicon Valley to meet folks and spread the word about some of the great things that we’re doing with JumpBox.

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    Apr 22

    Starting a new monthly tradition, here’s a smorgasbord of thoughts, none of which is significant to merit its own post but all of which deserve mention.

    Buying a place in Mexico

    I just did it. This one will get its own post at some point as I intend to journal the entire process of what’s involved in legally establishing ownership rights to coastal property in Mexico. Basically, Americans are not allowed to own property within a certain proximity to the coastline in MX (200mi?). The way it’s achieved is via what’s called a “fidei comisso” or a trust established through a Mexican bank with yourself listed as the sole beneficiary. The trust is renewable indefinitely and gives you all the rights of ownership to be able to deed, inherit, sell, whatever. My friend Benny and I just picked up this pre-construction condo in Playa del Carmen (shhhh don’t tell anyone, this place is poised to explode). There are a bunch of great pics from my college reunion trip down there last week that show how nice Playa is. I’ve almost perfected the art of the tripodless QTVR and I shot two down there, one on Mamita’s beach:

    QtvrThumbMamitas.jpg QtvrThumbChichenitza.jpg

    oh and here’s a video that shows where the Mayan athlete’s played this wicked game of cricket where the winner got beheaded as a sacrifice to the gods. Talk about motivation for point shaving and throwing the games… jeesh. My plan is to live down in Playa for about 3mos out of the year next year once G7 is in full swing with steady revenues. Their internet is fast and living is cheap.

    Airplane headphones off indicator idea

    So this is a random thought, but on the way back from MX both times the flight attendant lady had to come by and tap me on the shoulder to say “the pilot has announced you need to turn off your headphones.” I had to take my headphones off and ask her to repeat what she just said- there’s zero chance that anyone with headphones on would hear the pilot tell them to shut them off- they need a visual indicator. I’m thinking every airplane still has the antiquated “No smoking” illuminated signs left over from the 80’s when there were actually times when people could smoke on the plane. These signs stay illuminated 100% of the time- what’s the point? They should really just paint a “no smoking” sign and swap out that illuminated sign with a “no electronics” indicator so that passengers have a visual cue when to disable things like headphones. Audible cues don’t work too well when you’re jamming out…

    Art of the Start and Purple Cow

    I finished both and they were each good in their own right. I should really write up cliff’s notes on each one but the 30sec take on these books is:

    • AOTS – dense book packed with many genuine, actionable insights from Guy Kawasaki – the core essence of what he proposes is to focus on creating meaning rather than creating money. I’m a big fan of this guy and his syle, he was the product evangelist for the Macintosh and he has a knack for slicing through the “bullshitake” as he calls it and getting to what’s real. He’s very 37signals-esque in this respect and anyone who is starting up a business or a project of any kind for that matter would do well to read this book. I also recommend tuning into his blog which is also excellent and obviously interactive and current.
    • PC – Seth Godin crams a lot of nuggets of wisdom into this short book. It had aromas of both Gladwell’s books, Tipping Point and Blink and a smidge of Christiensen’s Innovator’s Solution, but the idea is that either your business is remarkable (like a purple cow) or it’s invisible. The covers all the different ways you can transform your idea to be remarkable. It discusses why the traditional evolution of companies cause incumbent businesses to grow complacent and fail to innovate beyond their first home run. Seth recommends poaching from big marketing budgets and channeling those funds into internal skunk works R&D projects. Focus on creating a killer product that people will rave about rather than marketing to people to tell them how good your blah product is.

    Grid7 update: McPing and Rawjobs

    A bunch of people have asked me what’s up with Grid7- we definitely haven’t kept the homepage current with the progress we’ve been making but in our defense, we’re focusing strictly on development at the moment. We launched the first G7 project which is not sexy in itself but serves as a cornerstone for the bigger picture of the structured blogging initiative in which we’re engaged. McPing is live but not officially announced, you can take a sneak peek and we’ll make the announcement once it’s loaded with useful data (disclaimer: we’ve had server instability issues this past week so the site is intermittently down until we move hosts). Here’s how it works:

    Structured blogging is the passion of my partner Kimbro and it’s where blogging/RSS is all headed. There are three moving parts to the structured blogging thing- the content feeders, the notification router and the end-user directory services. MCping is essentially the Ping-o-matic of structured blogging and serves as the librarian that knows where all the feeds are and passes realtime notifications through to the edge aggregators that are monitoring the feeds. Again, it’s not visually sexy (but then again neither is Ping-o-matic) – it’s a foundational piece for us though and finally nice to have something live as our stake in the ground. The first edge aggregator vertical we’re tackling is the job postings market. The site were building is called RawJobs (raw as in, “the stem directly from other blogs using structured blogging to post them, no middlemen involved). To the end user it will function not much different than all the other job sites out there except for one major distinction under the hood: how the jobs postings are acquired – it’s entirely open in its approach and anyone who posts using the jobs micro-content definition format will have their listing appear on RawJobs by virtue of their use of this format. Pretty slick.

    More to come on this stuff as we roll out the structured blogging initiative. We’ve setup a Grid7 blog and just need to customize it before adding it to the site. In the meantime if you’re interested in learning more about structured blogging, there are a ton of resources we’ve clipped on our “Tag” page.

    Cold Turkey Adult Prom Gig

    Cold Turkey played one of the most fun shows of our musical career the night after I returned from Playa. I setup a flickr account for the band and posted a slideshow on our site.It was a wild time and proved that many people (myself included) still have a repressed desire to relive the 80’s hairmetal days. My brother had an emergency come up last minute and we found ourselves scrambling for a bass player the day before the show. Fortunately my boy Manny filled in and turned what could have been a disaster into one of the best performances we’ve had. Big ups to Dixon Oates for organizing this party- it became an overnight legend.

    2 iPod Hacks

    1. Does everyone know you can play audiobooks back at 1.5x their normal rate? The setting to achieve this is under Settings > Audiobooks > Faster – I haven’t figured out how to add podcasts and voice memos as audio books to appreciate this same benefit on other spoken word audio, but I’m sure there’s a way. I would think this would be mega-useful for any student that wanted to record a lecture via iPod and doze off or work on something else- he/she could digest the material in 2/3rds the time at a later point.
    2. The “Hold” button on the top of the iPod can be used to hold it in the off position just as effectively as it holds it in the on position while working out or doing anything where buttons are inadvertently pressed. Maybe this was obvious but I just discovered it and it saved my batteries this trip (last time it got jostled around in my bag turning it on occasionally so my batteries were dead when I arrived)

    Odeo and iTunes store review

    I’m in the process of setting up a client with the capability to do weekly podcasts and distribute the audio he currently sells on CD via the iTunes store. I’ll blog what I learn once the iTunes store has been established but I can say that Odeo makes about as simple as it could be to record and syndicate a podcast via your site.

    Massive goodness

    I finally got around to one of those much-procrastinated items on my todo list of transferring all my firefox bookmarks over to (btw, does anyone else find it a pain to write the word “D E L . I C I O .U S ?). There is a ton of gems in this pile – I didn’t realize that they had the ability to protect certain bookmarks so now I have all the server maintenance-related stuff in there as well which is nice because I can get to this stuff remotely if I’m not on my own laptop.

    Good Movies

    The Three Burials of Milkiado Estrada – obscure independent film that slipped under the radar. Well worth renting when it comes out. Also, Why We Fight – another independent that looks at the military industrial complex in the US and traces its origins back to WWII. The old footage of Eisenhower’s speeches cautioning the public to keep the MIC in check are eerily relevant today.

    VPC / Eclipse filesave slowdowns

    I had a day’s worth of hair pulling associated with this problem I’ve encountered where saving files in Eclipse over a mapped drive to a virtual PC instance takes like 15sec on each save. When you’re deep in development and you’re saving and testing repeatedly, that’s a serious morale killer and causes big delays. After ruling out various culprits, we sniffed the traffic on the network interface and discovered a shit-ton of chatter on the SMB protocol. I disabled the SVN browser plugin I had installed on eclipse and that seems to have helped and gotten filesave time down to about 5sec, but it’s still problematic. I was advised to eliminate the mapped network drive aspect as Eclipse has problems saving this way. I tried UNC paths but that was actually worse for me. My friend Benny recommended NFS which I’ll probably try next but the real solution here it sounds like is to get VMware running on one of the new Macbook Pro’s. Budget-permitting I hope to make that switch this summer…

    Stop this ridiculous telcom bill

    Take 2min and fill out this petition. It’s disturbing that they have this bill on the ballot and clearly the result of some slimly lobbying by big Telcom companies but this will pretty much ruin the Internet for people if it goes through. It’s the equivalent of asphalt companies in the US suddenly banding together and declaring that all streets are now toll roads… insane.

    Avail for consulting

    Lastly, my partner Kimbro and I will be available for consulting contracts shortly. He’s big time software architect and knows about 20+ languages. I’m talented with Coldfusion as a developer but my strong suit is in business process analysis and distilling true business requirements and managing the development of a project. Kimbro is avail now and I will be looking for the next contract around mid-may when I deliver the massive extranet we’ve created for ABC that helps them interact with their housing providers and social workers. If you have a relatively-large project and need consulting, get in contact with us.

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