Is it just me or is the tech industry getting ridiculous?


Videos on Ocho — as the free app’s name hints — are eight seconds long. That’s two seconds longer than a Vine loop and seven seconds shorter than the max-length Instagram clip, and that’s not by mistake.

This instantly reminded me of the ‘8min vs 7min vs 6min Abs’ scene in “Something About Mary”:

What a joke..

Referrals are an exercise in trust

This is a message to startups worldwide – don’t ask for referrals from people signing up to a landing page with no information. Why on earth would I spend my personal “capital” referring my friends to your service when I don’t even know anything about it? That is just completely insane.

Let’s be clear – I’m NOT talking about websites that have a tour of the features and discusses what the company does or provides. If you don’t describe the features or show screenshots, you shouldn’t be asking for any of referrals. Referrals are an exercise of trust – you’re basically asking me to vouch for you to my friends based on.. what?

My rant for the day.

Another Startup Weekend under my belt – Day 1

Well, that was certainly quite a weekend! Talk about going from one extreme to the other..  but I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, a little about the space and the start of the weekend – I had heard about The Makers Space in the Twitterverse, and seen pictures from the opening night party and other events, but for some reason, I was thinking that it was down in South Lake Union, presumably because I remember reading about all those new condos on Lenora and just associated Lenora with SLU. So here I was researching parking options in SLU when I looked up the address to see where the building was only to discover that the building is actually in Belltown close to the Pike Place Market – whoops!

I busted out my trusty Seattle parking app (don’t park downtown without it!) and discovered a previously unknown parking garage at 61 Lenora that has inexpensive $6.00/evening parking from 4pm-1:30am.. highly recommended! Of course, it was $23.00/day on Saturday, but that was for 7am to 11:45pm which I don’t consider unreasonable at all.

Startup Seattle at Makers SpaceThe space was scheduled to open at 5pm, and I arrived shortly after that, with networking in full swing.  I had some great conversations and met some really interesting people before the pitches started. My favorite conversation of the whole weekend was an extended conversation with @colindchapman about all things technical: Rails, ORM, MVCs and specifically Node.js + Express. Since it seemed we had similar tastes and complaints as far as MVCs go, he made a very persuasive case for exploring those, so that’s on the agenda for the week.

An aside – if you’re thinking about attending Startup Weekend, I would HIGHLY recommend attending the free Bootcamp in the days leading up to the event. You’ll get an idea of how to integrate your laptop with how everyone else will likely be configured (with regard to file/code sharing), but even more so, you’ll get a chance to network on a smaller scale, so when you arrive at the event, you already know a handful of people.

At my first SW, I just listened intently to the pitches, but I didn’t realize how many there were going to be, and how hard it would be to keep track of them all. When all the pitches were completed, I could barely remember which ideas I liked, and who pitched them. I was determined not to make that mistake again, so I was jotting names and notes during the pitches this time around. There were some interesting pitches (Bookstream: netflix for books, MyStructure: universal PIM API, Startup Stock Market simulator, a live QR/bar-code feedback system from @colindchapman actually that I didn’t catch the name of, among others) that I was surprised didn’t get more traction, and frankly some ideas that I was surprised did get traction. C’est la vie!

A tip if you’re going to pitch – state your name clearly at the beginning, speak clearly, and at least have a catchy name or phrase (doesn’t have to be your final brand name) to repeat through and/or close with. I took notes on every pitch, and I have maybe 20% of the pitches that I missed the person’s name because they didn’t say it, or they mumbled it, or the concept name wasn’t mentioned or wasn’t clear so I didn’t know what to call it. I think the reason some ideas don’t get more traction is that they are unmemorable or don’t stand out. If you don’t take notes (like I did), it’s hard to remember who said what, and having those things that stick in your memory really help!

I had planned to pitch this time – I contemplated several interesting ideas, had selected one which was solved a problem I am continuously having, had the pitch down in my head cold, and for whatever reason just didn’t feel like “going for it”.  In retrospect, I wish I would have pitched (and hopefully made it to the team selection round) but hindsight is 20/20. In the end, there wasn’t any idea that I was super jazzed about – and I honestly just figured I would float around and see if anyone needed any help. It would give me a chance to meet and talk with everyone, and not have an uber-stressful weekend, plus I wanted to post more pictures, tweet and live-blog a bit more.

Well, that didn’t happen. I ended up talking to Saia Taumoefolau who was in from Chicago on a lark who managed to snag a ticket at the last minute and planned to pitch an idea about sub-prime auto loans, something he was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about. He had already picked up a team member Jessi who had abandoned her (I thought) really interesting Crossfit idea to join his team. So my options were: float and coast, or jump in and help. I jumped, though I had no idea what I was jumping into.

For some reason, I thought we had more members to our team. It didn’t really hit me until we actually sat down and started discussing the aspects of the project that I started to worry. We had no graphics people, we had no html/css wranglers and two people who had never been to a Startup Weekend before and thus had no idea what was going on or what to expect. It was going to be a long weekend..

(to be continued)

Getting ready for Startup Weekend again

Last time I was somewhat timid because I didn’t know what to expect – I didn’t pitch, and I didn’t contribute nearly as much as I could (for the reasons mentioned), but I’m pretty excited for the one this weekend. I’ve been up since 4:30am going over a handful of ideas, trying to figure out which one I’m going to pitch.

I’ll try and post details to my Twitter and Facebook feeds throughout the weekend.

Thoughts about Startup Weekend

It’s taken me a few days to gather my thoughts about Startup Weekend (and ok, I was slightly distracted by the snowpocalypse this week).

I’m not going to give you a play-by-play because I’m not sure I could improve upon Dwight’s perfect summation (part 1, part 2, part 3) – he really captures what it was like to be there and be involved.

I had said before in my previous Startup Weekend post, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. Some of my fears were confirmed, but I was pleasantly surprised in many other areas.

First, my overall experience was incredible. Everyone (literally everyone!) there was super nice, really excited to be there, eager to meet you, find out about you, etc. It didn’t matter who you are or what you do – people were enthusiastic talking with you. Definitely a very friendly, gregarious crowd.

Based on the raise-your-hand survey at the begining, it appeared that most of the room were first-timers which was surprising. For some reason, I expected more grizzled veterns.

One of the other things I was surprised about was the amount of abandonment by team members throughout the weekend. I heard that other teams had people leaving because they couldn’t get along or didn’t want to take part any more. Even on our own team, we lost one person the first night, and one person the second night. So strange!

As for my team, there were some really talented people on it. Our team leader and pitch’er (Eric Butler) turned out to be the guy who wrote FireSheep (Firefox extension that demonstrates HTTP session hijacking attacks) which made a big splash when he released it, so he’s famous! (well, internet famous – at least to technical people). I didn’t know this when I first talked to him about joining his team, but I was certainly impressed when I learned this.

But that basically confirmed my worst fear – being on a team with tons of über-level talent. What exactly could I contribute? Even worse, the code was being done in Ruby on Rails, something I have ZERO experience with. I spent quite a bit of time getting my own RoR setup configured and running our source code which is another post in-and-of itself. Ugh!

I contributed what I could in various other aspects, but I did feel a little marginalized. It’s clear Eric had thought about this idea quite a bit, including researching competition, sketching wireframes, mocking up icons, and figuring out how to monetize it. This being my first time, I surely didn’t want to overstep my bounds or step on any toes by trying to take on too much oversight.

Here’s a guy who has a lot invested in his project, and extremely busy writing the backend code, and seemingly did not want (or is not able time-wise) to be the project manager, but also did not want to relinquish control of the project – it was definitely an awkward situation.

I was ok being a cog-in-the-wheel the first time around though. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t get thrown into the deep end and being primarily responsible for the technical aspects of a project. I got a chance to see how the process worked (and how I might handle or manage the process differently) and it was a very valuable experience.  I did find out at the end that there was at least one team that didn’t have a developer though. I wonder how it might have worked out if I’d have found that out and migrated to that team? I’m sure it would have been a completely different experience!

There were some incredible teams coming out of the event – some teams I thought were well on their way to forming an actual company and making a go of it.

In the end, I really had a great time – met a lot of great people, got some extremely valuable experience that I will be applying to my next Startup Weekend:

  • I will definitely blog/photograph/tweet more. Documentation!
  • I will definitely take notes (and possibly even photos) during the pitches. I had a hard time remembering all the pitches, what they were about, who pitched, etc. 54+ pitches in an hour or so – very hard to keep track of!
  • I am definitely going to pitch next time! I don’t feel bad that I didn’t the first time around, but now that I have a better idea of what pitching is all about, it’s something I really want to do.
  • Picking the right team – pick a team that you can contribute to, and something that you feel strongly about.
  • Confirming that I really need to tighten up my technical chops in some areas that I’m lacking (especially front-end work)

My last thought: this SW was held at in Pioneer Square so I was wandering around the streets morning, noon and night. I can’t believe how far the area has fallen with regard to hustle and bustle. Granted, it was the weekend so maybe the foot traffic was less than it might be during a normal 9-to-5 weekday but Friday and Saturday night were D-E-A-DEAD! I remember back in the 90’s when it was THE place to be, and now, nothing. No one in the bars, no one walking around on the street. Nothing. How sad.

Pre-Startup Weekend Bootcamp

I had my pre-Startup Weekend bootcamp last night at the co-working facility StartPad. The premise was to get Startup Weekend participants’ laptops set up with Google AppEngine, Bootstrap, jQuery and GitHub, since those tools were likely to be in use over the weekend.

The only one of those tools I didn’t know much about was Google AppEngine (cloud-based Java/Python service), but that was primarily because I don’t know how to code in either Java or Python. Still, I set it up anyway to get the experience and see how it worked. The service itself was pretty cool, but the Mac-based software used to interface to it was a mess.. installing shit all over the place on my MacBookPro. (sigh)

An aside: I really hate installing package software because it has a tendency to install things in various places. Give me a straight source-code install every time to specific directory location. That way, I know where it was installed, what it installed and can easily remove it or update it.

Having my own servers and doing all my own sys admin, I don’t often use cloud services. Plus I don’t write in Java, Python or Ruby on Rails which is what most cloud services seem to be focused on these days. I’ve used PHPFog before and it’s a neat service. If I had something that really needed to scale, I wouldn’t hestitate to use them, or set up Amazon EC2 servers.

Anyway, the valuable part of the bootcamp was getting to know my fellow participants and being able to ask questions of the more experienced leaders of the group, like @mckoss and @kavla. I had questions like, “So everyone works on something together, who owns what?” and how the team selection process works. Getting them answered beforehand really gave me a good idea of what to expect which put me much more at ease.

Startup Weekend

So I signed up for Startup Weekend in Seattle next month.  I had tried to sign up for the November event but I procrastinated and it ended up being sold out. I have to say, I’m really excited about it!  I am a little nervous though – I’ve met some local startup programmers, the type of guys that I imagine will be at this event, and they were just out-of-this-world smart. I consider myself intelligent, and I have extensive knowledge in many areas, but these guys are ridiculously smart with regard to building large scalable dynamic Web 2.0-type websites quickly using RoR, Django or similar.

It’s going to be interesting to see where I “fit in” – I’ve always considered myself a programmer, but I may be more valuable to my team in other areas if there are 1 or 2 really top-notch framework developers on my team (and if that’s what we end up coding in). I’m good with CodeIgniter, but that seems to be unpopular with the Seattle startup community (though very popular elsewhere) so we’ll see.

Anyway, I think it’s going to be a great experience and I’m looking forward to being immersed in a sea of smart geeks for a weekend working on neat things!

Consulting and startups

After my dad passed away, I was very fortunate to be able to take some time off and figure out what’s important to me and how I want to move forward with my life.  During this period, I moved back to Seattle from San Diego, re-established very close ties to my family, and evaluated what I wanted to do with my time.

Lately, I’ve been getting up to speed on the latest techniques and technologies.  For example, I had worked with WordPress before writing backend plugins and hacking things  up as needed, but I knew it was important that I learn how to do things the right way using filters and actions. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time learning JavaScript/Ajax, jQuery and CSS. Those technologies really started to blossom when I was getting less hands-on as a COO-type, and I feel like it was very important for me to be up-to-speed on them.

I’m learning to love rapid deployment cycle.  I’ve always been an old-school guy, writing code in vi over an SSH session (which I still do of course!). But I like using Komodo to develop code locally, especially with MVC frameworks!  I use both SVN and Git to manage projects which allows me to develop on my MacBookPro remotely, my home Windows machine, or the unix command line on my servers sometimes.  And especially love using branches to fold updates into my main trunks – truly handy for updating things like WordPress and CodeIgniter.

I’m doing all of these things because I find myself wanting to get back into consulting – it’s what I love and it’s what I’m good at. It took some time away from it for me to realize it, but isn’t that how things always seem to work?

And I’ve got my eye on the startup community here in Seattle. I won’t lie – I absolutely love being around REALLY smartest people. I love the energy and excitment coming from the local startups here, and I’m curious to see where I fit in.

I’m in the process of developing a consulting website, and I’ll certainly be promoting it when it’s presentable.