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A young entrepreneur in the making:
A 9 year old boy - who built an elaborate cardboard arcade inside his dad’s used auto part store - is about to have the best day of his life.
Some musings I have on things you encounter in start-up life:
- Most things you expect to be a problem probably will be.
- Many things you didn’t think about early on will end up giving you problems.
- A few things you expect to be strengths will end up being problems.
Taken together, there are few conclusions you can draw. First off, there’s a good chance your start-up will die no matter promising the idea or how much effort you put into it. Secondly, you’re also going to die. So if you are going to expend all this life force on your startup, it better be worth it.
One of the most memorable books for me is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I first tried read Zen in High School but I was only finish the first few chapters. In the opening chapters of Zen, Robert Pirsig discusses a friend who purchased a BMW and got frustrated when the bike didn’t just work. Prisig goes on to discuss the values of understanding the underlying structure of the motorcycle and doing motorcycle maintenance himself. Although it was interesting, I couldn’t go it because the thoughts are so dense. Every page requires contemplation, its not an “easy” read. Sometimes you have to re-read passages multiple times to understand the underlying thoughts and themes.
Right now, I’m involved with some entrepreneurial opportunities. One of them is a dating site I’m working on called Spring Candy. The development is being is being done by other people. Out of a combination of curiosity and frustration, I feel a need to learn how to program. I think it’s necessary for me to understand the underlying structure (the programming) of my new venture. Here’s some thoughts in my head as to why I need to know how to program myself:
- Without understanding programming myself I don’t think I can give clear expectations for timelines for development. Unless I have a novice background of rudimentary background in programming myself, my expectations for things being done may end up being too slow or fast. If it’s too slow, then I’m hurting my project by having things progress at a slower rate than it should. If my deadlines for completion are unreasonably short, then it’ll impede development of project because my developers. The developers will spend time being frustrated at me and rush which may lead to long-term problems for the site.
- For consumers, I think it is essential that technology just works. Simplicity is critical, this is why Apple is loved. For the person managing the creation of technology, a greater level of understanding is needed. It is essential to know the pluses and minuses of different decisions you make with regards to development. Even if I never add a line of code to the project itself, I need to understand programming so I can understand areas for improvement in the coding and implementation of the technology.
- Pivoting is critical and cash is low. I don’t have much money right now, so if I can make on the fly changes myself to the project later on, this will ensure a greater rate of success. I don’t expect to implement the changes myself. However, it’s necessary that I can code if needed. It’s like how airplanes have life preserver jackets. The more fully prepared for potential conflict resolution you are, the better. Hopefully, you don’t need that life preserver jacket and most likely you won’t use it (at the same time you should have one).
- It isn’t going to easy. Reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance isn’t easy. Reading instruction manuals so you can maintain motorcycles isn’t easy either. I need to come to terms with this and learn anyways.
I think it’s important for me to set goals for learning these things. Doing so publicly will force me to meet my goals. So I’ll make periodic updates on my progress with coding on this tumblog periodically.
About Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: I didn’t complete until the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. In hindsight, I probably wasn’t ready for the book before that summer. It’s a great book, if you haven’t read it, I’d recommend it. My suggestion is to read Zen slowly but consistently. Don’t try to take on more than one chapter a day and let the ideas sink in.
One of the things about tumblr that I find interesting is that tumblr purposely limits certain functions. For instance, the messaging system doesn’t allow you to reply. In turn, this limits the capacity to easily exchange private messages with other users. tumblr also tries to avoid a commenting function on posts. In most situations you are forced to reblog if you want to add thoughts to what is currently written. This forces users to only comment when they are really interested in something (since any superfluous commenting will take up space on the tumblog). Overcommenting / reblogging might cause followers to unfollow (since too much of this will overwhelm follower’s dashboards).
To make a long story short, tumblr uses a carrot and a stick to make users use tumblr’s platform in a manner consistent with what the tumblr’s heads want to achieve. It cuts out of the waste in terms of features which distract from the overall purpose of tumblr. This is distinctly different from facebook which adds everything it possibly can onto the facebook platform.
Tumblr begins to resemble the social networking equivalent of Apple with its emphasis on focusing on the core alone. On the other hand, facebook resembles Microsoft with the idea that more is always better. The upside to facebook’s (and its corollary Microsoft) is that they get a piece of every pie on their plate. So technically there is something for everyone using this analogy. Using this same analogy, we can also acknowledge that different flavors don’t always mix well and may lead consumers to have a worse experience (despite having more available) because the abundance of features disrupts or muddles the purity of what they consumer is seeking.
I think tumblr has something powerful that other startups can take from the more I think about this. Some other food analogies. Tumblr is the equivalent of eating raw vegetables uncooked. You get some extra nutrients and textures that you might not notice if the veggies are cooked. Meanwhile facebook is the equivalent of cooking the veggies and adding a dozen differences spices and sauces on top of them. It’s not to say one is better, but there is a market for both depending on the consumer’s preferences. I’ve been working late and I am very sleepy (it’s 5:37 AM as I write this), so that’s the extent of my thoughts on tumblr’s purposeful limitations for now.
Finding an undertaken domain name now a days is a ridiculously long process. I’ve spent the past week searching different names for my new start-up and literally every single permutation of words imaginable was taken - unless I wanted to buy the domain name from some squatter for a low price of $69,000 (that’s sarcasm by the way). If you contemplating of ever having start-up in any area, start finding a domain name now that you like and take it. When your finally ready to give your idea a go, you’ll be glad you have a domain name ready.
Note: After complaining to several friends on gchat about my frustrations for the past week, I found a name I liked eventually.
A interesting blog post from the perspective on an entrepreneur about why they lost out to a competitor. Below are my personal notes and lessons from what was written.
Second, Mint focused on making the user do almost no work at all, by automatically editing and categorizing their data, reducing the number of fields in their signup form, and giving them immediate gratification as soon as they possibly could; we completely sucked at all of that. Instead, I prioritized trying to build tools that would eventually help people change their financial behavior for the better, which I believed required people to more closely work with and understand their data. My goals may have been (okay, were) noble, but in the end we didn’t help the people I wanted to since the product failed. I was focused on trying to make the usability of editing data as easy and functional as it could be; Mint was focused on making it so you never had to do that at all. Their approach completely kicked our approach’s ass. (To be defensive for just a moment, their data accuracy — how well they automatically edited — was really low, and anyone who looked deeply into their data at Mint, especially in the beginning, was shocked at how inaccurate it was. The point, though, is hardly anyone seems to have looked.)
Simplicity and Usability:
- Make it easy for users to join. Don’t make users fill out unnecessary information just for data collection purposes.
- Make it easy for them to get started: If users don’t need to contact you to use your product in general, either emailing or calling, that’s a good sign. If users don’t even need to bother reading instructions or FAQs because joining up and starting up is so intuitive, that’s a great sign.
Focus on what really matters: making users happy with your product as quickly as you can, and helping them as much as you can after that. If you do those better than anyone else out there you’ll win.
I can’t put it any better than that, so just leaving it there word for word.
I’m glad Marc Hedlund took the time to his blog post up, to read it all, go here: http://blog.precipice.org/why-wesabe-lost-to-mint
I have some thoughts roaming in my mind tonight about the major players in the social media space that I want to get out of my head. This is going to cover some thoughts I have about Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, yelp, Foursquare and Zynga. There’s also going some corresponding thoughts on other blogging services (WordPress, blogspot).
It’s a post that will cover where I think the different major social networking players are at. I’ll probably write something about smaller social networking platforms (on a relative basis) and social / online gaming later this week separately.
Who are the major platforms and how do consumers use them?
- Used as a method to keep in touch with friends and family
- Used as a method to share images, videos and thoughts with friends and family (within the context of a private network, intended solely for friends and family)
- Used as a contact method alternative: Asking someone to connect on facebook as opposed to asking for their phone number (a dating context)
- Used as an online dating site: From the context of finding people (that you either briefly met or that may know a peer) within your social network and communicating with them
- Instant Messaging (as a competitor to gchat, AIM and MSN)
- Used to share brief thoughts instantaneously. Typically these thoughts are of a public nature. Public not only in the sense that the tweets can usually be read publicly but also public in the sense that they are about current events that other people are also tweeting about.
- Used to share brief details about life. This encompasses everything from daily frustrations to minor moments of euphoria (for stance, meeting a member of a band you like on the street).
- 15 minutes of fame: Andy Warhol would be proud. This manifests itself in the form of collective thoughts: Many people writing about the same topic. There is some mob behavior in the sense that if a user sees a topic on twitter’s trending topics, it might motivate them to write about it on twitter. Why do they do this? In one sense to express themselves, but I’ve noticed a voyeuristic thrill and excitement people have from seeing the tweets re-tweeted by other users. Twitter adds to this by having a count of the number of times a post has been re-tweeted (the RT is synonymous with the twitter experience).
- Sharing images: If there is one thing that is strongly associated with tumblr, it’s the appeal of sharing images. These images are likely to be a more artistic or public in nature. People are not sharing pictures at party (like they would do on facebook). These images are usually high quality or unique in nature. Either that or they are customized or altered images of subjects the user is interested in (this could be anything from a favorite comic book, movie star to an obscure magazine advertisement from a 1940’s magazine).
- Sharing other digital content (music videos, personal films, collections of favorite movies from youtube)
- Sharing ideas: This post is a good example.
Some key additional points of emphasis:
- tumblr and twitter are semi-similar in purpose and function. Both exist to share content to the outside world. tumblr has more of a visual focus.
- tumblr allows for more depth and versatility in sharing. tumblr allows you to easily share images in conjunction with many long paragraphs. It also allows you to share videos and songs and your thoughts on your those songs in a clear manner. tumblr is essentially the first blogging platform that got down user interface correctly just like facebook was the first socialization/dating site that got user interface down correctly. There is a big lesson here, simple user interface + visually appealing user interface without clutter wins. I’ve used blogspot, it sucks compared to tumblr, that’s why I don’t use blogspot anymore. Blogspot’s formatting and design is ugly (no offense). tumblr is beautiful. That’s why tumblr is so popular among artists and design professionals, that’s why people whose jobs revolve around aesthetics were the first early adopters of tumblr. Quick note on WordPress, it’s a little more complicated and better for commercialization (ie making money off your blogging) / advertising purposes. But for ease of use and social interaction, tumblr is better. This is for another time, but when it comes to blogging, it’s a two horse race between tumblr and WordPress. To the other blogging sites, keep watching the clock all you want, but your end is inevitable. Sorry, it was nice knowing you.
- A big reason Myspace lost to Facebook is because myspace had too much clutter. Kill the clutter, this goes for design, it also goes for life in general. The other reason was privacy (not going to get into Facebook’s huge mistake about trying to force users to share more info they don’t want to). However, I will leave with the note that a big reason people turned to Facebook was privacy. A reason a new player might overtake Facebook could also be privacy.
- Facebook is not like tumblr and twitter. Facebook is used in a closed end fashion (unless you don’t have any friends). Tumblr and twitter are usually used for the purpose of sharing things publicly. That’s why facebook’s efforts to turn themselves into a replacement for twitter was a failure. People want to share only specific things in public, they want to share other things privately.
- twitter allows you share brief thoughts on anything to the outside world. Twitter’s microblogging platform makes it more conducive to sharing because it is limited. You can’t write too many characters, which is good if you don’t feel like writing a lot or if you don’t have a lot to say. A huge part of of twitter’s appeal is that it’s users don’t feel stupid for sharing only a few words. No one would read a blog where a teenage girl writes: “Justin Bieber is soooo cute” over and over again, yet millions of people do just that with twitter / micro-blogging because their simple thoughts feel bigger because other people have those same simple thoughts. “Justin Bieber is soooo cute” sounds ignorant and it wouldn’t be worth visiting (as a blog). Relatively un-interesting non-unique thoughts are only interesting from the perspective of getting a sense of what society as a whole is thinking. twitter is a democratic form of that collective whole. Unlike watching the news or reading letters to the magazine/paper to have people tell you what people are thinking, twitter is instantaneous. twitter is essentially a better form of public opinion because it is real time and engaging. People aren’t telling you what society is thinking, you can look at it for yourself. You can also engage in it. You get a chance to participate in the collective hive mind of society with twitter. In a way, twitter is like a polling service that allows for a little more customization for results. People participate in twitter to act as part of the collective judgment on different topics mostly.
- foursquare and Zynga are not included. The reason they are not included is because I do not consider them to be major platforms. To me, they are more tertiary sites. There is limited interaction on these platforms. You don’t really interact with other users the way you do on twitter, facebook or tumblr. It is social in the sense that you can track other users to a certain degree, but you don’t interact.
- foursquare’s has a tough battle ahead. Twitter and Facebook can easily move in and add a similar offering in-house it wouldn’t hurt their user experience (like when facebook tried to move in on twitter). There is only benefit for moving into the location based sign-in market. That’s not even including dark-horse competitors like yelp, which has a lot going for it.
- Zynga is the myspace of low tech social gaming. First major player. However, it has bad UI, lots of clutter, and high dissatisfaction. The users are there because they had first-mover advantage. But they will leave when cleaner competitors arrive. They better shape up quickly.
Google and Verizon’s framework for internet providers is bad for start-ups. It’s also bad for consumers. It is good for big players like Google, Verizon, AT&T and Comcast.
Mobile Exclusion from Net Neutrality:
- Mobile online services is the fastest growing segment of the market. The proposal by Google and Verizon exempts it from any net neutrality.
How can you exclude the fastest avenue of internet usage and say you support an open internet? This is beyond comprehension to me. Online apps and websites dedicated to mobile usage is also among the fastest growing areas of the start-up community. How an you say you won’t do anything to hinder small businesses and start-ups when you say net neutrality doesn’t apply to mobile? You don’t. If you exclude mobile from net neutrality, you might as well not bother saying you support net neutrality.
The internet providers bring up the following point:
Phone and cable companies say they need leeway in managing their Internet networks so bandwidth hogs such as video services don’t take up too much capacity.
Verizon: We make lots of money charging people for cable TV and most people could care less about cable TV these days. Let’s kill off online video media so people will watch TV more. We’ll give the option for internet companies to pay more to be exempt: like Youtube / Google, as long as they focus content that doesn’t compete directly with cable TV too much. For everyone else, we’ll make the online digital content experience bad by slowing it down, maybe this way, we’ll force consumers to watch Cable TV again.
Google: There are new start-ups trying take on Youtube. We’ll agree to pay more in order to raise the costs associated with entering the online media hosting market so we can build a monopoly in this area. We have the money to pay for priority, they don’t. This is a good anti competitive strategy for us.
Then there is premium services :
The proposal would allow broadband companies to charge companies or consumers more for “additional, differentiated online services,” such as 3D movie streaming or gaming. That traffic would run in priority lanes alongside the traditional Internet.
Call me a skeptic, but this just seems like an excuse to charge people more for things people already use the internet for, like online gaming. It also seems like an excuse to package unwanted services that people don’t really care for (3D movies) and combine it things people do want (online gaming) and market it as premium.
Premium Services is essentially an attempt to invoke the Cable TV model:
- Packaging things people want with things they don’t want and charging them extra for it. Online gaming would be Cable TV, 3D movies would be Starz. You want HBO and wonder why you are paying for the premium package which includes Starz and Cinemax when they are worthless channel.
- How many of you are familiar with the “triple-play” offerings of broadband internet + cable + digital phone? How many of you thought to yourselves, “all I really want is the broadband internet, the cable tv and digital phone are additional services that just boost the cost and I don’t really want them at all.” This premium services by the internet providers a bigger extension of that.
Small Businesses / Start-ups
The administration has said it wants to help out small business. Well let me tell you won’t help small businesses. Giving priority access to companies that pay more in any capacity will not help small internet start-ups. It will hurt them because of the following main reasons:
- Established large players have larger balance sheets which will allow them to have priority access. This goes back to how google / youtube can potentially out price digital content start-up competitors. As an entrepreneur, why bother with content or design when you are priced out of providing a stable product from the start (unless you gamble for paying for priority access).
- Part of what makes online start-ups viable is the low costs associated with data and streaming currently. It’s still significant but it’s manageable. You add in the new potential costs and you’re killing a lot of the incentives for starting up a new company by changing the reward/ risk ratio associated with the potential profit and cash investment necessary to get it started. The proposal from Google and Verizon also changes the game in terms of development. Right now, if you build a more stable platform/ website it will translate into a better experience and more users (and hopefully profit). With any form of priority service, you open up the doors for badly made legacy websites / platforms by established companies to be more effective simply because they are willing to pay internet providers more for priority.
All in all, I am very disappointed in this pact between Google and Verizon. Hopefully, this legislation they propose will fail.