An interesting Amazon innovation

 

440px Small USPS Truck

I just saw something I never expected to see again: a mailman delivering a big heavy box to my doorstep on a Sunday afternoon. Seems Amazon has started using the USPS for big box deliveries seven days a week, at least here in California.

I’m hoping this marks a revitalization of the USPS who since 1775 have been doing their neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night delivery thing but in recent years has become a fading anachronism in the digital age.

Now, if the USPS wanted to pick up some easy change, they’d start selling a sticker you could put on your mailbox telling the carrier to filter out those crappy paper spam advertiser circulars.

Big Screen Sublime Text 3 – Cobalt2 theme is awesome.

Wes Bos' Cobalt2 SB3 Theme

Wes Bos’ Cobalt2 SB3 Theme

I happen to fall in the “there’s no such thing as too much screen” camp when it comes to writing code, which is why my setup is a iMac 27-inch with a Apple 27-inch display on one side and a cheapie HDMI screen on the other. And given I’m not in my twenties by a long shot, I want text sized, colored and contrasted just right for putting in multiple hours of coding.

Which is why I’m overjoyed that Wes Bos released today his Cobalt2 theme for Sublime Text 3. It raised the bar on what an SB3 theme was capable of, adding all sorts of  visual niceties that add up to a better coding experience. From the files with icons for their types to great contrast in the Command Palette, this is a joy to use.

One last thing before I let you run off to either your SB3’s Package Control or Wes’s github repo: If you’ve ever tried to change the sidebar font size and line spacing in Sublime Text 2 or 3, you know what a sheer hell it is – and most likely to break. In Cobalt2, it’s easy (no guarantees in other themes…):

  • If you use Package Control to install SB plugins, install PackageResourceViewer so you can poke around inside your installed plugins. See this SO Answer.
  • Then, after install Wes Bos’s Cobalt2, go to line 497 or so of the Cobalt2.sublime-theme file in the plugin and increase the font size. You might also want to go up to the // Sidebar tree entry and adjust row_padding, given the font.size you set. Then save the file.

 

AmazonSmile – what a good idea!

Amazon started something a few months ago that didn’t get much attention, but should: It donates 1/2 percent of what you buy to your favorite charity when you buy through http://smile.amazon.com/.

First you pick a charity – they have almost a million national  and local charities to pick from. I picked Pets Lifeline. There is no step number 2 – Amazon does all the work, and it costs you zip.

The key is going to smile.amazon.com instead of your regular login, but there’s a Chrome extension that will do that for you.

There’s some limitations on what’s eligible – basically physical goods. Hopefully they will extend this program to Kindle Books and their video streaming service.

 

Amazon_to_make_charitable_donations_when_customers_buy

Motivation for creating over the long haul

One of my absolute favorite podcasters has hit a rough spot. If you do Rails, then you know Ryan Bates’s Railcasts that for six years have been absolute must-watch content. But lately, it’s clear they’ve become a labor, not a labor of love. “You have probably noticed there has been a lack of new episodes lately. I have found it increasingly difficult to produce content, and I’m not entirely sure why. The best way I can describe it is that I feel paralyzed under the pressures of work,” Ryan posted at Railscasts in the last day or two.

Maintaining your motivation for creating is way harder than creating, and creating is damn hard.

It’s the light at the end of the tunnel that turns out to be a freight train. How many great artists, writers, actors, musicians, developers become great, only to burn out, go dry, stop creating? Ever wonder why so many prolific, good bloggers who created great post after great post years ago have gone silent? Keeping your creative motivation going, day after day, creation after creation, is a stone cold bitch.

I don’t claim to be one of those great creatives, by the way, but I’ve gone through what they’ve gone through on a smaller scale. Still going through it, in fact. That’s why I wrote the following email to Ryan, and am posting it here, in the hopes that a) it will help Ryan, b) it will help other creative people keep creating and c) to remind myself about the perils of forgetting motivation is not something to take for granted or lightly.

—-

Hi Ryan,

I and Patrick Foley did the Startup Success Podcast (http://startupsuccesspodcast.com/) for nearly 3 years before burning out. The pressure of getting a show out every week, meeting the expectations of so many people is non-trivial. First there’s the weight, and the weight gets heavier and heavier, squeezing out fun, then time off, then anything but self-imposed guilt because you’re not keeping up. That weight crushes out of you motivation to do the show, and you stop.

Here’s a few suggestions re getting back into it, if you so choose:

  • Top suggestion: get 4 shows in the can first. Knowing that you can take a break is a huge stress reducer. Building in that reserve means you can take time off. It’s your secret weapon to take the pressure off.
  • Vary the format. While you can do fantastic code tutorial podcasts, you deserve some variety. Go interview another really awesome developer and find out their tricks and issues. Go do a show about tools you like. Host a debate. Talk about php. Go wild! Get out of a rut. You have so much credibility  in the Ruby Community, practically any door will open to you.
  • Double your price – and offload all editing. I and thousands of others would happily pay you twice as much if that meant you could offload editing, responding to comments, etc. I at least want to learn how and what you think; that’s the product you sell: the rest is non-core and can easily be outsourced.
  • Connect more with your audience. Do an open hangout on a regular basis, read online your email from admiring viewers answering questions you’re interested in. Don’t underestimate or ignore just how much as humans the heartfelt admiration and respect of our peers refills your creative gas tank.
  • Make it a priority to understand how motivation works for creative people over the long haul. At a minimum, go read Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. Motivation to create is very, very different than what most people think, and that difference is all the difference when it comes to creating over the long haul.

Anyway, hope this helps and looking forward to you’re return.

Regards,

Bob Walsh

Two words. Get it. Focus@Will.com

I feel absolutely compelled to share something that has over the past week tripled my productivity: Focus@Will. This “productivity music service” will. Rock. Your. World. It’s that good. I find that when I’m coding away on PetSitterApp or DevNewsApp listening to this, I effortlessly slip into Flow and crank right through what I want to get done. At about triple the speed. This is an almost scary improvement over the halfway focused but easily distracted state I’ve been in for years.

Focus@Will can explain the science behind the profound effect music can have on your mental state, concentration, and focus; but what you need to know is that you will be more productive, less distracted, more focused, less self-interrupted with it. For $3.99 it’s a steal. Get it.

Keeper emails from 21times.org

For the past week or so I’ve been getting these absolutely great startup advise emails from 21times. First there was Spencer Fry on How to Bootstrap, then awesome Patrick McKenzie on Running a Software Business on 5 Hours a Week, and then today Jason Baptiste on going from idea to launch in 8 steps. First person, detailed, great stuff. The kind of content you seldom see. Highly recommended.

Changes…

Just posted show number 141 of the Startup Success Podcast – a great interview with Marc Nager, CEO of Startup Weekend and Pat’s last show as cohost as he goes on to founding his own startup, Tribbon. It feels really weird to stop doing something we’ve done together for pushing four years.

I just wanted to say thanks Pat! For sharing a dream, for countless hours whipping our raw interviews into shows, for putting up with me, for contributing above and beyond the call to the startup community. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun.

Next week, I’ll be putting the Startup Success Podcast into reruns, re-issuing some our best interviews over the past years. Pat and I did some really good interviews, and I think you’ll enjoy them. And stay tuned, there’s more changes coming!

They’re back!

The cold zombie hand of those who want to save you from the evils of the Internets are back: CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) will keep you safe from evil cyberterrorists, pornographers and copyright infringers. Just close your eyes, shut up, do as we say and go shopping.

Or not.

Spencer Belkofer of Lumin Consulting is ringing the alarm bells with this great infographic:
CISPA Infographic by Lumin Consulting

 

Google Docs – get a little style!

Matt Williams (an “avid” reader of this blog) emailed me this morning. Who’s Matt Williams? a) He’s the guy who added a little style to Google Docs – specifically this nice OS X-like Linen Background script and, b) He’s the guy who got a post about a) in TechCrunch about his “make it pretty” effort in under 10 minutes after posting.

“I have always been passionate about useful and well designed tech. When i designed the Google Docs iOS Linen Background, i honestly just wanted to share it with others who would appreciate it. I told my friend to install the pluggin and he sneakily sent it in to techcrunch and within 10 minutes a post had been written about it.”, Matt replied.

Matt runs No Yelling Driving School in Australia (Brisbane and Perth) when he’s not making the interwebs just a smidgen easier on the eyes or getting ready to expand his business to Sydney. Seems he has a few new Facebook friends now: 1,090 to be exact.

Maybe if your startup is looking for a few new friends and a ton of legit linkbacks you should take a page (linen of course) out of Matt’s playbook. :)

 

JOBS bill passes – New era for startup funding starts now.

If you’ve founded a startup, or are thinking of founding a startup, your API to OPM (Other People’s Money) just got earthshakingly easier to use.

Sitting in President Obama’s inbox this afternoon is HR 3606 – the JOBS act – ready for his signature, SEC rulemaking, and going into production. Three startup constituencies are going to get some good stuff from Washington:

  • Angels and Angel Groups will be able to do much more business, easier, and actually solicit business much more directly and publicly,
  • The onramp for taking successful startups public just got much easier to navigate, meaning it won’t take a Facebook-sized business to make this an attractive way of raising capital again,
  • People like you and I (not “accredited investors”) will be able to buy stock through crowdsourced sites (called “funding portals”) in startups who with relatively little effort will be able to list with these portals. How much stock? Up to 10% of our annual incomes or $10K whichever is less. As for startups, those who go through portals, can crowdsource up to $2 million a year.

Three other parameters worth mentioning. While a startup could do all the legal stuff that needs to be done and sell stock direct, it’s going to be a lot easier, and a lot more credible, to go through a portal who can do all that for a hundred, a thousand, 10 thousand startups. And for all the non-tech would-be startup founders, no, you can’t use this kind of stock to pay for your Facebook clone – you can’t own crowdsourced stock in a company you work for. And speaking of those new funding portals, how much will they be making? Dunno. Stay tuned as the SEC makes the rules. At least they will be startups, insofar by at least one informed reading of the bill, existing stock brokers cannot become crowdsource brokers.

New Rules, new Game.

So how is this all going to play out after Obama signs the bill and the SEC spends six months writing out the nitty-gritty there will be devils in these details rules?

First off, go get on Motaavi’s mailing list, like now. There’s a great story by PandoDaily writer Erin Griffith about how Motaavi’s co-founder Melanie Plageman pulled a Ms. Smith Goes To Washington, buttonholing staffers, started building a database of startup by congressional district,  and learning how the DC game is played. Upshot? Great networking, and already Motaavi is gearing up to start posting startup profiles. There will be of course other players – SecondMarket, KickStarter, Gate Technologies have been mentioned – but Melanie now knows the right people, is tied into the DC tech caucus, and has a power suit to wear while walking the walk :).

Second off, you need to get serious about a) what the hell your startup is going to do to be successful and b) just exactly why you want Other People’s Money. The single biggest hurdle to launching a startup is that it’s a killer to launch a company and hold down a day job. Crowdsourcing your big leap forward makes sense, and the 20 self-funded startups out there for every traditionally funded startup will be getting into the game. And that means it’s time to get read and adopt  both Steve Blank’s brand new Startup Owner’s Manual and Ash Maurya’s Running Lean, 2nd edition. Both these guys are channeling Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas that gives founders a way of figuring out how their startups succeed and investors a much better way of comparing startups to startups that b.s. business plans.

Re what you plan to do with the money you crowdsource, that’s definitely an app I’d like to see – and you will too unless you delight in using crappy old Excel accounting templates divorced from startup reality. Keep in mind those funding portals have an ongoing responsibility under the JOBS act to report to their investors where the money invested goes.

Third off, expect to see the rise of a brand new kind of Angel/VC. When the likes of you and I go buy $300 of NextBigStartup through a funding portal, we (or at least I!) will be doing it in the hopes of making some money, money we get when that startup gets bought and the new owners buy out the crowdsourced owners, or the company goes public, or when an “accredited investor” makes us a good offer. We won’t be able to sell our stock for a year (see Sec. 4A(e)(2) of the HR3606 if you’re interested). But if a Ron Conway, Brad Feld or Dave McClure want to take buy that $300 of stock for say $900, I for one won’t say no.

So what happens when non-rich people can buy startup stock instead of lotto tickets, successful startups can go IPO-Big, Angels can do real audition calls for startups not American Idol-like competitions and a whole lot more would be startup founders can get that critical first couple of million dollars? Stay tuned – but that damn Internet has gone and done it again – disrupted how things used to be.