Three dot Friday

(Various short items in the Startup/MicroISV world I’ve bumped into this week, paying homage to Herb Caen, the best damn reason to read a San Francisco newspaper, when people still read newspapers.)

… March showers have given way to April showers in the soggy San Francisco Bay Area – take a moment to sympathize with all of shivering people who will be in line bright, early and probably very wet to pick up their Apple iPads in person Saturday. Forecast (according to my Weather Channel iPhone App): A mix of clouds, sun, naysayers and media pundits who don’t get it, followed by jaw-dropping shock after your first 10 minutes with your own iPad. Okay, I’m a fanboy. Stephen Fry is a fanboy – and a great writer too (even if Time still does popup ads – sheesh!). But he’s right. And, I think I will be right – welcome to the Revolution.

… One down, one up: Go Test It, the automated cross-browsing startup we interviewed founder Martin Kleppmann for on the Startup Success Podcast (shows #46 and after he sold the company, #47) has shut down. On the other hand, Martin and two cofounders have fired up http://www.rapportive.com/ – it’s a cool Chrome/Firefox extension that replaces the vertical column of ads in Gmail with a widget that’s part social media lookup and part your own private CRM – something that is immediately useful.

… Speaking of podcasts, a few listeners recently have taken me to task re my speaking skills (or lack thereof) on a few (many) of the episodes. That hurt. Especially since it’s true. When you’re in pain, you put aside your pride and get to the Doctor, in this case Dr. Ann Utterback, PhD a voice coach to mainstream media. Ann has been turning vocally-challenged people into professional broadcasters for a very long time – and now she’s getting with the times and offering podcasters like me great advice on how to upgrade the noises coming out of our mouths. If you do a podcast, or training/demo screencasts or talk with customers, this is advice worth listening to.

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(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/troyholden/4078141144/)

There’s an app for even that…

FOR RELEASE APRIL 1, 2010:
Contact:
Corey H Maass, web developer and press contact
MidLifing
corey@midlifing.com
MIDLIFING.COM WANTS TO HELP YOU THROUGH YOUR MIDLIFE CRISIS
Brooklyn, NY, April 1st, 2010 – A brand new customer-focused, interactive web 2.0 application launches today, offering help to people having a midlife crisis. The site, http://MidLifing.com, is designed to help the 1-in-4 adults over 35 who go through a timely self-examination or identity crisis.
However instead of “treating” a midlife crisis, the website indulges it. Nicole Harris, MidLifing.com’s CEO says, “People are going to have affairs, buy speed boats and date people half their age. Why not help them do it better? We’re leveraging new web technologies to help people get their lives back on track. Or further off track, if that’s what they want.”
The variety of tools, for managing affairs, budgeting for a sports car, and more, cater to the most common symptoms of the midlife crisis. The site offers three plans, “Divorcee”, “Desperate” and “Bender”, with each offering more features.
The site was designed by Brooklyn-based web-design company Gelform ( http://gelform.com ) as a portfolio piece.
For questions or comments please contact:
Corey H Maass, web developer and press contact
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Can’t wait to see the post-midlife app. Happy April Fool’s Day everyone.

New: 130 Microsoft WebsiteSpark StartupToDo.com Scholarships.

Microsoft WebsiteSpark is sponsoring 130 six-month full scholarships to StartupToDo.com for professional web developers and designers.

Here’s how it works: if you’re a web designer/developer delivering sites to customers and you have less than 10 employees, I can now sponsor you for the Microsoft WebsiteSpark program. And if you live in the U.S., Microsoft is sponsoring as of today those 130 six-month scholarships to StartupToDo.com (regular price: $105 for a six month subscription).

More info at: http://startuptodo.com/websitespark.

Even if you are perfectly content to be a professional web designer and have no intention of building your own software, I think you’ll find the 50 (and growing) Guides at S2D useful, as well as getting quick, useful feedback when you request Site Reviews from the community. And the Marketing Action Plans coming next month after Version 2 launches will work great for you too.

And even if you have no intention of leaving open source (I program in Ruby on Rails nowadays… :)), it’s worth having a (nearly) free toehold in the Microsoft World because:

  • You’ll be able to better work with prospective clients using ASP.NET,
  • You’ve seen the new Microsoft Phone demo, and realize there’s going to be a lot of shall we say graphically-challenged (like me) developers looking for professional help soon. Especially if there’s another explosion of mobile apps as there was/is for the Apple iPhone and Google Android platform. (here’s a Mix10 session from Monday on this: Authoring for windows Phone, Silverlight 4 and WPF with Expression Blend)
  • Speaking of Silverlight, version 4 developer release was just announced. If you haven’t looked at Silverlight in a while, things have changed: It prints. It can interact with the user’s desktop (PC or Mac). It supports Google Chrome. And a bunch of other stuff.

There are limitations on Microsoft WebsiteSpark – for example, you can either be in BizSpark or WebsiteSpark. And you have to reside in the United States to be eligible for the StartupToDo.com scholarships WebsiteSpark is sponsoring. And, there’s 130 scholarships available – when they’re filled, that’s it.

If you’re wondering if I can sponsor you instead for Microsoft BizSpark – I can and will. Just check out the requirements, email me or pick me as your Network Partner when you apply through the BizSpark site. You just might be 377th startup I’ll have sponsored for BizSpark .

That said, I’ve been working pretty hard to making the Microsoft WebsiteSpark StartupToDo.com Scholarships a reality because sometimes, all you need is just a bit of help and someone to believe in you to get your startup off the runway.

MicroISV Digest – 03/13/2010

Community News:

  • Pretty quiet out there…

Interesting  Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

StartupToDo.com, The Startup Success Podcast and other plugs:

  • No new Guides at StartupToDo.com (I’ve had my coder hat on, finishing 2.0a):
  • Show #59 of the Startup Success Podcast is up:  [link] [iTunes]. Should there be a special immigration visa for non-U.S. startup founders? We grill Eric Ries of StartupVisa.com about the federal bill he and thousands of VCs, Angels, Silicon Valley notables, IT people, and others are supporting, tweeting and advocating.

    Pat and Bob robustly question Eric on exactly how the Startup Visa would work, what it will and won’t do, how this VC/tech community political movement got started, and can social media become political action and even national policy.

  • Show #58 of the Startup Success Podcast:  [link] [iTunes]. Bob and Pat talk nuts and bolts, billing and bookkeeping with Greg Jones, CEO of Bookkeeping Express. A startup is a business and an outsourced, tech-aware, certified bookkeeper using a state-of-the-art online accounting system can do bookkeeping tasks better, and save you money at the same time

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(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

Stop hitting your Invisible Wall.

The Invisible Wall stopped you creating your startup today. That damn wall stands between you and what you know you can create.  That wall you hit, that something, that changes you into a totally unmotivated blob.

Why, when you know you should be motivated to write the code, go to the networking event, make those calls, write the blog, do you sit there instead, with the motivation sucked out of you, reading Twitter?

Remember when you were all fired up to build your own startup? It was a totally cool challenge that could become anything, it was going to change the world, or at least a part of it you cared about. So what happened? You hit the Invisible Wall. And touching that wall turns all that fire you into dead ash.

What happened is your intrinsic motivations to be your own boss (autonomy) , master the challenge of writing a real commercial app (mastery) and change the world (meaning) got swapped out for extrinsic motivation.

You slipped from “oh Wow!” to “oh Shit!” – tumbling back into the Carrots and Sticks extrinsic motivation you’ve known at every job. Work harder, longer, faster, smarter! Get done or get fired. You’ll make a ton of money, but only if you work. Get to work and create, or you’ll go broke.

Carrots and Sticks de-motivate creative work. It’s like passing the wrong type of arguments to that part of your brain that creates. Intrinsic, self-directed motivations – the desire to be your own boss, to beat tough business and IT challenges, to do something that matters, not just exist, that’s the fuel you need.

Of course the bills don’t go away, nor does the giant pot of gold you might just get. But the more you focus on those sticks and carrots, the thicker, higher and harder the Invisible Wall gets. You can yell at your self, kick your own butt around the block – “You’re Worthless!” -  reorg you office, revamp your task tracking system, declare email bankruptcy, light a candle, say a prayer – and it doesn’t work.

Don’t believe me? Try this thought experiment the next time you’re about to sit down to write code, a blog post for your business, or do whatever you do that builds your startup. Forget about the money. Forget about the bills. Forget about whether you deserve or are capable or are too slow or whatever carrots and sticks you’ve been using on yourself.

Instead, think about the challenge of making the code work, writing the post a post that connects. Think about how every line you write brings you closer to deciding your own fate and not taking “suggestions” from managers. Think about the difference you’re going to make in the lives of the people who use your software.

That’s the motivation you need – it’s like rocket fuel.

I didn’t somehow discover this myself out of the clear blue – I read Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us It radically changed my daily battle with my Invisible Wall. And then Pat and I interviewed Dan 3/7 for an amazing 80 minutes – and the first (of three!) parts of that interview we hope to have out tomorrow for the Startup Success Podcast.

Sometimes you get lucky in life – and sharing that with others quickly in the same boat is a good thing to do.

Three dot Friday

(Various short items in the Startup/MicroISV world I’ve bumped into this week, paying homage to Herb Caen, the best damn reason to read a San Francisco newspaper, when people still read newspapers.)

… Over at A Smart Bear, Mike Schoeffler, founder of iPhone running application Roadbud has an excellent column about Startup Fitness with some easy online ways to start and some excellent comments. If you think VC/Angels fund overweight/obese developers, think again.

InfluAds is Anibal Damiao’s, new advertising network where one small ad runs on your startup or web development site, and you make enough to fund your iTunes habit. Anibal, Portuguese, went up to Denmark 3 years ago for his MBA and is now launching this cool and tasteful ad network. He hates the weather in Denmark, but says it builds character. Since I’m signing on to run an ad here and the Startup Success Podcast starting in April, and I hate advertising with a passion, there may be something to this character building via freezing weather stuff.

Ever been to an O’Reilly Ignite event? Me neither – I had no idea what to expect. But since O’Reilly is based here in non-tech Sonoma County, and I hoped to meet some of the people on the book side of their company (the author itch is starting up again), I figured why not, at least there would be beer available.

What I got were cool tech and non-tech people into creating and sharing ideas, a chance to meet a personal hero of mine, uber-podcaster Leo Laporte (who gave one of the 5 minute/20 slides/go presentations, on Advertising is the Sickness and New Media is the Cure.), a special guest for the podcast soon and a great tavern, Hopmonk, to recommend. Nice!

Customer Dis-service and its antidote. I live up on a hill  that has no cable, no gas and a tenuous link to the AT&T DeathStar through one box at the foot of the hill, the inside of which is has about 10x more curcuits than it should. If someone adds a DSL line, a second telephone line or bluejay alights on this box, somebody else gets grief. This morning as I was about to welcome the newest member of StartupToDo.com to the fold (plan on personally connecting to your first 10,000 customers), dead goes my business landline, dead goes my connectivity.

So, I do what we all are stuck doing – first I get AT&T repair line’s # via my iPhone, because after all, no one would use their AT&T mobile to call AT&T business, they should go to the web site… then spend 20 minutes on hold and 2 minutes talking to the nice lady who agreed with me there actually was something wrong with my landline and I wasn’t a congenital liar, but could do nothing but schedule a service call and then subverted The System by connecting me to the DSL repair line because “they can do things we can’t.”

After 60 minutes of listening to dueling/overlapping pronouncements that I should visit AT&T’s web site for “faster service” and did I know you can put parental controls on you Internet service?, I get a nice AT&T DSL Service Representative who mournfully,firmly and repeatedly informs me first AT&T has to fix my phone service before he can do a thing. Click.

To say I was in a piping hot, road-rage state by this time is an understatement. So I did the un-consumer thing  - drove down the hill to see if there was an actual competent repairperson who, you know, did things. I can’t tell you the glee in my heart and the words I was yelling in my car as I spotted not one, but two repair trucks at the switch box. I wanted satisfaction, answers, service damnit!

“We know,” was what the repairwomen who got out of her truck and came over to me before I could say a word said. “Our supervisor is dispatching a DSL tech to fix this since we can’t, but wanted us to stay here and answer questions until they arrive – about 25 homes are knocked out. Sorry about that.” My boiling rage at being treated like I was nothing by human robots mouthing scripts evaporated instantly because here was a person treating me like a person. Stuff happens, fuses pop, no big deal when you don’t add insult to injury. It’s high time large companies remember that.

(Like this post, hate it – let me now now. Thanks.)

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(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/troyholden/4078141144/)

The 10,000 Most Tempting Software Startup Categories

Dharmesh Shah has a great post up today at OnStartups: The 10 Most Tempting Software Startup Categories. I won’t steal his punchline by quoting all ten here, but the first 5 are:

  • Project Management / Time Tracking / Bug Tracking
  • Community / Discussion Forums
  • Personalized News Aggregation/Filtering
  • Content Management (website, blog)
  • Social Voting and Reviews

These 5 – and the other 5 – are the low hanging fruit, the low barrier to entry app categories that are a easy first grab for the firsttime startup (my first app fit squarely under project management; StartupToDo.com is a variant of #2). People will say these kinds of apps have for the most part been done to death, but paradoxically that these are the only kinds of apps that will reliably sell, so stick with the “tried and true”.

So how do you explain a mint.com? Various VC’s seem to be bitching and moaning that Mint founder, Aaron Patzer cashed out for “only” $170 million when he sold to Intuit (“Don’t “Pull A Patzer” And Other Lessons Learned On Our Trip Down Sand Hill Road“).

Why is this so bad? “Here’s why: with large funds being raised on Sand Hill Road and returns from previous funds underperforming, investors are becoming increasingly desperate for that single homerun investment that returns $1B or greater. Even though Mint.com was a huge success for the founder and team, generating $60 million in equity value per year, many VCs believe they sold too early and left too much potential value on the table.” (props to Rob Hayes at First Round Capital for having a good laugh at this kind of nonsense.)

And how do you explain all those iPhone Apps? One news report puts the number at 189,000.

I think that what the VC Mavens are missing, and why Dharmesh’s list of 10 Tempting Software Startup Categories is good but incomplete, is it’s 2010, not 2005 or 1999 anymore. Three forces made possible by the Internet today means there are literally thousands of Most Tempting Software Startup Categories out there for the taking. Those forces are:

  • The demassification of the more developed societies. Which is a fancy way of saying that markets, categories, conventions, convictions and all the other “mass” things that worked throughout the 1900′s are increasingly irrelevant to more and more people.
  • The changing nature of software: a decade ago, would I have paid an extra $50 bucks when I bought a digital camera that had the option of doing a cat growl so my cats would look at my camera? Of course not, nor would I have found it for sale. Yet I bought exactly that app for my iPhone a month ago – for $1.99. The great secret of the iPhone’s success is not AT&T (which sucks), or Apple’s “specialness”, it’s that my iPhone is a Kindle reader, Mint interface that let’s me set what will record from DirecTV while I’m brewing my premium tea and entering my calories for lunch device. And you iPhone is something entirely different. The Apple iPad is the next generation of whatever you want it to be computers.
  • Digital people have digital problems and need digital solutions. Whether it’s remote support for my cranky copy of WordPress or coping with Twitter, or doing cash flow when I sell nothing tangible, let alone have a “real job”, more and more people live in the Digital World, and care very little and connect with only minimally to the old industrial economy/society. Want to sell me a new toothpaste? It had better be on Alice.com, come with a social network and have an iPhone app. Mass apps – spreadsheets, word processors etc. made sense then. They don’t now.

It’s time for “traditional” VCs and the (now online) trade press to understand they need to get with the times, and it’s a great time for developers to become startups who neither want or need to play by the old rules.

MicroISV Digest – 02/27/2010

Community News:

  • Mike Schoeffler, roadbud.com: the right three words could win you a top-of-the-line iPhone. Mike is running a contest to find a great tagline for his new iPhone app coming out March 1st – details here.
  • David Christian, Bright Spark Software, SimpleGlucose is trying an experiment, switching to the ‘freemium’ model: membership is now free with Google Adwords ads in the main members area, later diabetic specific companies (such as manufacturers of blood glucose meters). What do you think?
  • Marcus McConnel, bvsoftware, has released a major upgrade to his hosted shopping cart platform. They have a free store plan for up to 10 products which might be of interest to some of you. Marcus is presently working on adding electronic download functionality for MicroISVs looking for inexpensive tools to sell digital goods.
  • Wayne Allen, devZing.com, has released devZing.com, a software project management hosting solution where we deploy and manage the software and hardware and you make your product better. They call it “No Hassle Project Management Hosting”. Currently they provide Bugzilla and MantisBT with TikiWiki coming soon.

Interesting  Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

StartupToDo.com, The Startup Success Podcast and other plugs:

  • Three new Guides at StartupToDo.com:
    • Google Adwords for the Startup: High Level Overview by Ben Wootton
    • Google Adwords for the Startup: Increasing Adwords ROI by Ben Wootton
    • Rekindling your Motivation.
  • Show #57 of the Startup Success Podcast is up:  [link] [iTunes]. A very special interview with author and marketing authority Seth Godin on how startups can succeed in a world where fitting in doesn’t work anymore. Seth is the author of a dozen bestselling books including Purple Cow, Tribes, Permission Marketing and most recently and perhaps most importantly, Linchpin.In this interview Bob and Pat have the opportunity to ask Seth how Linchpin applies to startups, the IT industry, what art means to developers, what keeps you from shipping, what Ayn Rand would say and succeeding in this post-industrial world. And, we get to several of the questions you asked us to ask.
  • Show #56 of the Startup Success Podcast:  [link] [iTunes]. Bob and Pat interview Carl Erickson, President of Atomic Object, on the importance of testing regardless of platform, how to outsource startup development, applying Agile techniques – pair programming and standup meetings – to startup development, why programming deathmarches are a bad idea and more.

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(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

The secret to succeeding for startups: from Seth Godin’s lips to your ears.

How to overcome the resistance to shipping your product, why doing an app to spec isn’t enough anymore, why Steve Jobs is an artist and so are you, and lot more in this week’s the Startup Success Podcast (iTunes) with author Seth Godin. Pat and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Seth – author of a dozen bestselling books including Purple Cow, Tribes, Permission Marketing and now Linchpin – on how his insights apply to our world of startups.

If you don’t generally listen to the Startup Success Podcast that’s okay. But this is one podcast you really do want to hear.

Involuntary exactitude is involuntary servitude.

Maybe because we’ve all been burned at one time or another by a boss or client who didn’t spec out the software we ended up trying to build. Or maybe it’s because we live in a world where everything that matters is true or false, none of this messy in-between stuff that’s impossible to code. Developers crave specificity, exactitude, precision.

We are far better at dealing with 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288 than “a little more than 3″ so we don’t look for good enough, we want the best. The One True Answer.

For example,

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking for the best solutions when you build your startup – an absolutely zero chance you will find those answers outside of your codebase.

Best? By what standard? For who? In what context? In a world where there are programmers still at each other’s throats over whether VIm or Emacs “rules” setting your standard for what you’re going to attempt to an impossible degree of certainty is just another way of dodging the bullet you fire when you try to build something new, exciting and daring.

Defining the “best” process is a worthy and profitable way of making car seats by the million when the few less than best, the more money you make. But you’re building one software business, with probably one application and definitely one chance to get more business answers right than wrong. You can’t afford best – what you need is what will work for you, get that item off your multi-thousand entry To Do List and will let you move on.

Save the precision for your code, where it can do some good.