Archive for the 'Startups' Category

Seattle Startup Drinks Recap

Last night was another successful Seattle Startup Drinks event.  About 20 people showed up at the People’s Pub in Ballard for beer and tech talk.  Of note to me personally was that this was the first time I’d showed off Crowdify on the iPhone, and it worked reasonably well as a demo platform.

Interestingly, the founder of i-booze.com, Karim Varela, was in attendance. Karim got blasted a couple months ago on the Seattle Tech Startups mailing list.  I give him credit for taking his virtual lumps and coming out to support the community! Funny note: his business card has a little liquor bottle running around on wheels with a lit cigarette sticking out of its ass.  No, no, no, Karim: the cigarettes go in the mouth, not the ass!

I also got to meet tweep Danielle Morrill last night for the first time in person.  She’s been a very public online presence for Whrrl, which is one of my current favorite Seattle startups.

Continued mad props to Cassie Wallender for putting in the time to organize the Seattle Startup Drinks events.  You rock Cassie!

Portland Infects Seattle With Hoppy Goodness

Dave Schappell, founder & CEO of Seattle-based TeachStreet, has launched a new startup drinking game called Hops and Chops — a chance for Seattle startup types to cure Wednesday’s hangover with a Thursday cocktail.

He says it was inspired by Beer and Blog, a Portland gathering which I’ve seen Rick Turoczy tweet about time and again – proof that in some essential alcohol- and startup-related respects, Portland is further advanced than Seattle!

Dave has asked that we spread the word – full text of his invite is quoted below.

Key influencers are already (pardon the pun) hopping on board!

Please help us spread the word about a new recurring happy hour/networking/meet-someone-new event.

Idea is that you can add this to your calendar and always know that folks will be there — grab dinner, have a beer, and head home/back to the computer!

Website for it — http://www.hopsandchops.com
Twitter for it — http://www.twitter.com/hopsandchops

* Where? – Linda’s Tavern (Capitol Hill) – 707 E Pine St, Seattle, WA 98122
* When? – 6:30pm, every Thursday (starting 9/25/08)
* Who/What? – Startup junkies, networkers, folks interested in learning new things and meeting new people, activists, and fun people!
* Why? – Here’s the gist:
o We were inspired by a fantastic recurring Portland happy hour event called Beer and Blog semi-coordinated by Silicon Florist & others.
o We liked that it’s recurring and in a set-location — you can just put it on your calendar, and there’ll always be a few folks to catch up with.
o Folks who start companies are frequently inundated with “let’s have coffee/lunch” requests — this gives you a way to aggregate them and make intros/network in real-time.
* Other? – Idea is that maybe we’ll bring in speakers from time to time… maybe tech-related, or maybe just cool/fun to help you learn something new/meet someone new. We aren’t stressing over it… we’ll figure it out as we go.
* Notifications? – Sign up for our Hops and Chops Twitter or follow the Hops and Chops RSS feed.

Rating Development Stacks for Startups

On the Seattle Tech Startups mailing list, there’s been a discussion recently about the pros and cons of various development platforms.  Eventually it devolved, as many of these discussions do, into a general throwing up of hands and a recommendation by several people to avoid development stack debates, because it inevitably leads nowhere.

I’m not so sure I agree with the proscription.

It seems to me that there are few things in play:

  1. Very few developers know more than a few stacks well enough to assess whether or not they are REALLY better or worse for certain tasks.  For example, I don’t have enough Python or Ruby experience to be able to pass on anything other than secondhand knowledge (and my own guesses) about their true capabilities relative to, say, .NET.
  2. There are intrinsic and extrinsic factors that can be evaluated for each stack.  Intrinsic factors are things like readability, breadth and depth of built-in libraries, expressiveness, flexibility, etc.  Extrinsic factors are things like cost, availability of developers, vendor support, etc.
  3. The notion that each common stack is as good as the other is bunk, in my opinion.  Maybe it’s my latent objectivist streak, but just as C# is objectively more productive than assembler for web development, you could pit any two languages, and – given perfect information – come up with a rank-ordered list for any required scenario.

Someone on the STS list asked the reasonable question: “where do I go to get information about the various choices?”  I agree with the commenter who thought listservs like STS are a great place to go in theory.  It’s mostly working professionals, in or near the startup experience, and refreshing lacks the anonymous yahoos that flame away on Google Groups tech lists.

Key Takeaways from Six Hour Startup

Last night I went to the Six Hour Startup event held at the Collins Pub in Seattle.  The premise behind 6HS is: start something up and get it launched in 6 hours, using the combined talents of a group of startup folks.

It was my first time attending a 6HS event, and I’ll definitely be back for more.  My key takeaways:

Don’t be afraid to come if your expertise is not in Python or Django.  What better way to learn than to start coding with experts sitting right across the table from you to help you get through the inevitable setup and configuration hurdles?  I’d never done any Python or Django before but was able to get up and running with very little pain, and I learned a ton.  Thanks, Brian, Justin, and Anders!

You don’t need to be a hardcore nerd to attend.  We had quite a few business/legal/marketing/PR folks attending last night, and everyone contributed.

You’ll learn more than you thought.  I was able to get the Yelp API calls working last night, after never having touched them before.

Community matters.   It’s so much better to do these types of things with other motivated people in the startup community than alone, or only with people you already know well.  Take a chance and stretch those social muscles a bit!

The side talks are very valuable.  Last night Wes Maldonado showed me the beta version of a new product that Pivotal Labs is working on called Pivotal Tracker, which is a very sexy-looking web based XP project planning system.  I feel like Pivotal Tracker may be just the thing I need to push Crowdify to the next level.

Roslyn Brewing Company makes a damned fine beer.

And, surprisingly, the Deschutes Black Butte XX is amazing as well.  I say surprisingly because I’m not normally a fan of dark beers.  This one was yummy.  Thanks Marina!

All in all – a great evening, and one I hope to repeat many times in the future.

Listening To Success

I have never quite understood the attraction of “real-life” crime dramas like CSI, Law and Order, etc. My main issue is that these TV shows deal in the underbelly of human existence – death, injury, crime, pain, loss, hopelessness, and all the rest.

I guess I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with positive things, and moreover, thinking positive thoughts. I guess that’s why my wife occasionally calls me “Pollyanna.”

What touched off the introductory thoughts? I just finished listening to a short MP3 of serial entrepreneur Matt Cassidy speaking at SXSW. It occurs to me that I don’t spend enough time listening to podcasts of successful entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of material out there to listen to. And, at some level, conscious or otherwise, listening to that material has to have a positive impact on my own entrepreneurial efforts.

Think of Stuart Smalley and his daily affirmations, but add in real actionable information, unique insights, and best practices, experience, and much more. I’d love to hear an audio series in the same vein as the interviews in the book Founders at Work.

My June goal: listen to more successful people. If you know of any great audio, please link to it in the comments.

Starting Your Startup Video At TechStars

I just finished watching a video presentation from TechStars called “Starting your Startup” with a panel composed of Todd Vernon, Brad Feld, and David Cohen.  Great stuff.  For those of you who need the Cliff’s Notes version of the video, here’s the shorter version, although I really recommend you watch the video:

  1. Figure out what you can be the best in the world at.
  2. Don’t worry too much about competitors at the beginning.
  3. Mentorship is important and often undervalued.
  4. Focus.
  5. There’s a fine line between being true to your focus and being responsive to customers.
  6. Aim for intellectual honesty, check your reality, and recalibrate often.
  7. Listen more than you talk.

(h/t Andrew Hyde)

Start, Then Continue

Two nice thoughts today on the business of iterating your startup idea: First, from my friend Carolynn Duncan, this comment (via Twitter):

re: that entrepreneur link– starting the race isn’t the difficult part, it’s running the damn marathon.

Next, a blog post from Seth Godin about “grand openings”:

Make a list of successful products in your industry. Most of them didn’t start big. Not the Honda Accord or Facebook, not Aetna Insurance, not JetBlue or that church down the street. Most overnight successes take a decade (okay, four years online).

I might have a little quibble with Carolynn over the semantics of what it means to “start the race”: launching Crowdify this past weekend was hard. Damned hard. All the typical procrastination/perfectionist/fear of failure/fear of criticism bugaboos exposed their fangs at numerous points along the way. Yet, I didn’t feel like I’d “started” until I actually released something. Before, I was the talker. Now, I actually have something out there. I’ve put my stake in the ground.

I think a lot of people are like I was in the beginning: they think (secretly hope?) that “starting” means “I have an idea that I’m tinkering with.” That way lies the slow death of unfulfilled promise.

Here’s some feedback from my friend Craig on his review of Crowdify:

Good first release, now the real work starts….

So true.

Managing Two Twitter Accounts?

I have my personal Twitter account @anthonyrstevens, and I recently set up a specific account for my recently-launched startup, @crowdify (thanks @wesm!). Do you entrepreneurs out there have multiple twitter accounts, and if so, do you find it useful? Is the overhead worth it when you’re early into your startup life and have few followers?

I suppose the argument would be that it can be a valuable PR outlet for things that your regular tweep friends might not be interested in.

Curious to read your responses.

Silos, Networks, and Value

I’ve been hearing Robert Scoble yak for months, nay, years, about the “walled garden” metaphor in social networking. This is where a vendor, say, Facebook, locks in users by restricting their ability to move their social graph to other, possibly competing services.

It appears that the trend is slowly moving in the direction of portability, which is a win for average Janes and Joes, not to mention the Scobles and Calacanises of the world who have about 1.0*10^12 friends apiece and who are singularly responsible for recent Twitter downtime, among other horrible crimes.
There’s a larger issue, which is almost the reverse of the walled garden issue, and that is, how valuable are silo networks in the first place? The item that got me thinking was a post by Ken Ross on the Seattle Tech Startups list about his new venture called ExpertCEO:

We’re writing to invite CEO’s, COO’s and Presidents to join ExpertCEO, a private on-line community where senior executives can confidentially exchange ideas with peers, locate trusted resources, ask questions of experts across a range of disciplines, and quickly solve real-world business problems. The site combines social networking technology with concepts proven by CEO membership organizations like Vistage and YPO

I was immediately brought back to 1992, when I was the store manager for a Mailboxes, Etc. franchise, and a guy who had a mailbox there invited me to join a similar organization. His gig was to go around to different cities, set up an irresistable buzz among the wanna-be CEOs, collect his membership dues, then hand over the managerial reins to some clueless schlub and go on to the next town.

The thing was, I was 20 years old at the time and had no executive experience of any sort. I was a struggling student who happened, by dint of responsible behavior, to land this slightly less crappy job than most of the other students. But when he invited me to join his super-CEO group, I was thinking something along the lines of “I wouldn’t want to join any organization that would want to have me as a member.” I went to one introductory meeting and it was a roomful of mostly clueless, mostly preening young guys who had big ambition but not much in the way of real mentoring, or anyone they could ask to see “is this thing really worth my time?”

I’ve been fortunate since to have a couple older mentors who have taught me a lot – often through osmosis – and so now, when I see the ExpertCEO pitch, I immediately reject it. But let’s assume for the moment that this guy, Ken Ross, is a decent guy who really thinks that this idea has legs. He might be thinking along the lines of the job-hunting site for “people making over 100K a year”, TheLadders.com

Does it have legs? Do “communities of interest” have a place?

I get a lot of value out of my self-selected network(s): Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. I also get a lot of value out of special-interest groups I belong to (formally or informally), such as the Seattle Tech Startups group itself. What’s worth paying for, and what’s not? Is Twitter worth paying for? Is Biznik? Is ExpertCEO?

Recently on STS there was a long series of discussions about whether it was useful for startup founders to subscribe (pay for) membership in the various Angel and VC funding organizations, like NWEN, Alliance of Angels, Keiretsu, etc. There were strong sentiments on both sides of that argument.

What do you think?

High-Concept Pitches for Startups

Venture Hacks has a post up right now about so-called “High-Concept Pitches”, a device apparently originated and perfected in the movie business.  Think “Jaws in Space” = “Alien” and you’ve got the idea.

The author implies that it’s a good idea to develop a pitch you can write on the back of a business card (hopefully legibly).

So, let’s see: my startup is Crowdify, a tool for brand and reputation managers to discover new insights into consumers’ attitudes about their subjects and make better decisions about marketing and public relations strategy.  We do this through semantic analysis applied to consumer-generated correlations among and between brands and reference data.  Further, we utilize social-networking metaphors to keep interesting information flowing back and forth between branding people and the consuming public.

That’s a little wordy, especially for a business card, so let’s try a little high-concept pitch development.  Hmm…relations that people will understand.  “A for B”, where A is a known brand in my space, and B is the target audience…how about:

  • Facebook for Brands

I think I like it!  Not least of which is the rumor floating around today that Facebook is about to be acquired by Microsoft for something like 15 to 20 billion dollars.



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