Category Archives: Startups

Internet companies that are new, different and trying to change the world whether funded or bootstrapped.

Product, Design & Engineering: The Public Development of Everything Paradigm

I’ve read, well, a lot of stuff about product management. Some advice stuck, some advice didn’t. For example, I’ve heard many, many engineers say, “You build two systems. The first is a prototype. When you build that one, you learn how to build the real one.”

Over the years, this bugged me. I’m not an engineer, and the idea of, explicitly, asking somebody with better skills than me to create something – only to throw it away on purpose as soon as possible – sounded like the worst sort of advice.

So this morning, after having yet another parallel discussion, I realized something. The main reason I detest hiring an engineer to build the prototype is that I don’t want anybody else to build the prototype. Other than me. I’ve outlined my three step process as it stands today in the diagram (below, old school notebook. I’m classic that way).

notebookthree

Let’s start with the basics, because this is a pretty hard diagram. Three steps, a bullet point to explain each, etc and a lot is simply left off, in favor of “Narrowing the focus,” for ease of knowledge transfer. If telepathy is off the table – and more importantly, mind control directly over one another is off the table – then, we have to figure out the right communication protocol. Just like HTTP 2.0 over HTTP 1.0, or perhaps better said – the “Fist Bump,” out performs the, “Handshake.”

Why? Well, hand shakes are old school, and more likely to transmit germs. However, removing the interconnection completely from the communication means that the only thing we interface with is a terminal – *never another human being*. We’ve already figured out how to simulate away and measure the human experience, from dreams to love to success, sales or marketing.

What’s left, then? Without purpose, there is no, “Human condition.” So, let’s assume that while we automate everything, we’re left with a single, solitary purpose: figure out, individually and in society, how to communicate effectively what our goals are…and, how we can collaborate to achieve them. Sometimes, those goals put us at odds.

Other-times, those goals unite common enemies. It really depends on the situation at hand.

Let’s review the product, design, engineering process I use in my work. Could be, somebody out there is building something. Like me, could be you abhor excessive “Re-work,” like the folks at 37signals / Basecamp.

  1. Idea person (let’s call them, “Product Manager,”) wants to build an escalator. However, the problem they were solving was that of, “Ascension,” or rather, “Getting from the ground floor to the first floor.
  2. After they have the idea to build an *escalator*, they realize, nobody gives a flying fig about escalators. However, they understand the idea – getting to the fist floor above the ground.
  3. A flash of genius, and, the Product Manager builds a staircase. Then, he walks up and down, over and over, while chatting with the designer and the engineer.
  4. The Designer realizes, finally, that the objective of getting to the first floor above the ground is a useful one. It enables, “Stacking,” or, putting a whole second teir of experience on top of that first. A parking garage, for example, is far more useful when, “Piled High and Dry.”
  5. The Engineer realizes, finally, that walking up the stairs is not the point. The point is to “Ascend,” to the second floor. Or, put another way, to enable somebody to rise to the first floor above the ground.

With this experience behind them, the designer then helps the engineers to invent electricity, motors, gears, architecture and more. These innovations, as we refer to them, enable the regular folk who *love* the idea of ascending to the first floor above the ground to get there – faster than they could have ever imagined, perhaps, on their own.

Or, perhaps they could. However, without the requisite idea (the Product Manager, perhaps) which becomes manifest so that people, other people, can help build out the actual factual system…nothing ever moves. Nothing improves.

A butterfly’s wings might never actually kick off a hurricane on the other side of the globe. Or they do, all the time, and it’s only the combined might of all the other butterflies, flapping in the opposite direction, that prevents a global catastrophe.

Paid upgrades coming soon.

Focus Friday: a gift, from an Intuit colleague :)

Back a few years ago, a friend and temporary team member I worked with taught me a lot, in a very, very brief period of time. “Focus friday,” was what Laura called it, when she sent me the meeting invite.

A simple idea, really. Help the broader team, “Stack,” their schedule, to ensure that they focus, and plow through as many of their own personal, “To do,” list as possible. There are always goals, trade-offs and priorities. The trick is, being able to stop for a moment, listen & prioritize.

Amazing things happen when you do. A recap, take a look at our new dashboard coming soon:

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This isn’t what’s live now, which is “close,” but not this (yet). Also, to recap, just about a week ago, we had these issues with the hookupJS dashboard: dashchange

Hideous before right? It’s amazing what happens when good people come together, to do wonderful work.

Oh, and finally. The paid version is coming along nicely, and soon :)

hookupjs-coming

Now shipping: open source tool for Facebook posting and scheduling

For a while now, I’ve been thinking, long and hard, about the business model we’ve been building. As a team, there are revenue goals, business milestones and more we need to hit.

However, as a very selfish individual, I miss my old software. I miss my team at Intuit, I miss my children and yes, my life isn’t where I pictured it today. I would rather sell it than give it away.

*But*

The “Missing old software,” bit is why I’m writing the post and the only reason I miss the team at Intuit is because those relationships were built over a longer time than the current team and I have been working together.

Also, it’s a lot easier to focus on team building when you have revenue, aren’t, “In the red,” etc. That makes it a bit hard to focus on culture, but, I’ve been taking a step back this year, on purpose, after burning myself out shipping and doing too much during the holidays.

If I’d been less selfish, last time, I might have the last SEO software I built today.

Some of the clients I had back then I still have, so, the only things missing are the team and the technology. The team I’ve been rebuilding, along with the software.

Sure, it wouldn’t be, “Cutting edge,” in every sense of the word but in 2006 at the time I helped design the tool set, the automated page analysis market was still very primitive. That’s nine years back now, and a lot has changed. If the software was open source, just maybe, it would have found a home. Grown. Or at least, been kept alive, on life support, as a hobby project by anybody who cared. There was no opportunity to do any of that, because I was selfish.

We didn’t give it away, we kept the source code to ourselves. I didn’t expect to be a full time consultant again, but after a few months, I decided if I am going to do this, I’m doing it right. Adam and I hired Hans, joined forces more formally.

Now we’re shipping. I’m tired. It doesn’t, “Feel,” like victory, because there’s not money in it – yet. The software saves us some amount of time, but not a ton – again, yet.

The operative word here is, “Yet.” I don’t know what’s going to happen today, tomorrow or next year. The upshot of giving away our tools (more coming) is that if I end up going around in another circle, nine years later, I have a better shot next time than I do at present.

I’ll have a foundation. Building blocks. Another link in the chain, and the more I’ve been learning, reading and grokking open source movements in general, it’s the absolute right way to do technology. I’m a tinkerer at heart. I leverage other people’s hammers and view the world as one huge box of nails.

Today, and from now on, we’re sharing our hammer with the world. Like it, love or leave it, for people who appreciate the fine art of pounding in yet another nail, filling in yet another box, this one’s for you. It’s not shiny shiny – yet.

If we’d left all the details off, we wouldn’t have a product. If we had fine tuned to our hearts content, waited for Facebook’s permission to publicly use the variables we need from Open Graph, well, we’d be admitting that our business depends on Facebook. To a degree, it does, in terms of access to their tools, data and infrastructure.

But, we know our business is really people. There are distribution channels that come and go, like fads. It was Google, it still is Google, and next year, it’ll probably be Google still. But there’s Facebook now, which didn’t exist in the 90’s when I first learned the ways of Excite, Infoseek & Inktomi. The world’s changed, people have moved on, and for the first time in nearly fifteen years, we’ve got a new HTML standard. Five.

For a few years now, I’ve been telling people, I feel like now, today, is the very best time to be building things. So, I’m putting my money where my heart is, in case the rest will follow. If it doesn’t, well, consulting is getting better. Clients are doing incredibly well.

Retention over time is increasing, too, which is humbling like nothing else. Thank you, everybody.

Try the hookupJS freebie, download it & give it a spin. If I can install it on my macbook pro, the rest of you, ‘Marketers,’ have little excuse. :)

home

Busy, busy bee: submitted to Facebook, fingers crossed

I still can’t seem to beat Jeff, but, I moved up to #36 in my network now. Thanks for the invites, everybody :)

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Once our software is live, it should be easier to actually, you know, start helping people at scale. That’s the dream. Oh, we submitted to Facebook, fingers crossed. First time I’ve done that ever. :)

Ironically, I did the final “push,” updating text, that I was slow on, via Github. Bugs gone, that was the very last thing to do…I slowed the team down in the end, but, in the big picture:

  1. Ten weeks in total since we got our CTO
  2. Ten weeks to submit a beta product to Facebook
  3. Early feedback has been great from everybody and we have even more awesome in store.

Now, soon, it’s time to let the public kick the tires. Clients are all good; average year over year growth is 100% among current clients. Double. Can you freaking believe it?

:) Good things happen when you work with great people. Epic things in store, and this year is already amazing.

Experimenting with 3d, visual novels and more

So far, the best I’ve used and gotten furthest with is Ramify Games Visual Novel creator. It’s mobile, easy, interesting and fun. However, it doesn’t (to my knowledge) have a few things that I want to eventually incorporate into my interactive fictional adventures:

  1. Sprite driven animations & workflow – these are “core,” to some of the premium games that HTML5 & javascript games compete with. Without being able to implement or add a new mouse, for example, this is a gap that can be filled. The use case is fairly obvious, but if you want to animate an arm swinging a sword, for example, a sprite + javascript to play through those sprites in a Z-layer seems like a “No-brainer,” feature. Trouble is, I don’t (yet) know how to do this with a tool as good as the one I’m using.
  2. Integrate movies with a click or unlock during the flow – I have some 3d short film that I’ve created as a proof of concept; if I can add this with a “Change Vars,” movie = name, that solves the problem right there to play the movie inside of the scene. After playing, the scene would resume the exact spot in the visual novel as pre-film, OR, optionally, a new, “Start scene,” which is used right after the movie is played. The use case, after the movie where the monster dies, the hero sees the treasure, etc, as the “prize,” in the story is played, the new scene to startup is with the bloody carcass blurry in the background of the evil dragon. Or similar.
  3. Easily integrate the above features with say, Ramify Games Jstory or similar and export to the Baker format for compilation into iBooks, Android or iOS stores. This way, it would be possible to monetize the exported product (interactive fiction, visual novel, cross platform game, etc) within each of those distribution channels. With the tracking of say, Google Analytics or similar, you could even optimize the purchase, retention, enjoyment of features, provide extra “call backs,” to the server later on to extend the story and more.

The way I see it, a great platform like this one already exists. The open web is very, very powerful. I played with HTMLVN recently, downloaded a program called Belle and more. As a part time author, I’d love to pay for an upgrade. Help design a product. But, I’m too busy.

Thus posting this wishlist here, because I’d be happy to help support any project that opens up these avenues, as that project will also start to earn a TON of money on affiliate fees, running an aggregated store for downloads, offering marketing / distribution help & more.

To me, this is the very best blueprint for games of the 21st century. For even more fun, check out this list of game design tips from way back. It’s fantastic advice, and if these “loops,” could be optimized, expanded, machine learned & tracked, it would extend the ideal product far, far into the future.

With haptics and emotion tracking, it becomes even possible to personalize and improve the game the more it’s played. Truly revolutionary.

IOT is returning us to the web, away from the app store

If you haven’t, read Panic’s year end report. Go on, I’ll wait.

Done?

Good. Now, remember this quote:

It’s still an awful and nerve-wracking feeling to know that, at any minute, we could get thrown into a quagmire of e-mails, phone calls, code removal, and sadness, just by trying to ship something cool.

That’s the feeling of being beholden, 100%, to a random, larger than you entity. Thanks to the lack of net neutrality, some companies that use more bandwidth already pay taxes on their ability to provide services to people that pay a subscription fee. Next month, we’ll see if Comcast wins, or the internet wins. I’m rooting for the web, if not, it’ll be tragic for all of us.

I’ve thrown my hat into the ring, numerous times, on the side of open over closed. That’s why the software I’m building now is open source. Even if we fail, as long as we ship something cool, it won’t die. It won’t fade away.

Many, many times I’ve helped develop software. Nearly zero of those projects, from almost a dozen years of collaboration with my longest running business partner. Not a single line of usable, open source, awesome code. Anywhere.

We did amazing stuff. Ericson’s an extremely talented individual, when he puts his mind to the task at hand. So is Widhadh, Mike, Adam, Hans…I’ve been lucky to always work with fantastic business partners, everyone. However, we’ve all been greedy, until now.

2015-01-06-internet-of-thingsOpen source isn’t a trend, it’s not going away, and in fact, more & more of the web is dependent on open source. Cryptography, data security, privacy. The future depends on the populace knowing enough to validate that yes, we’re free. Otherwise, we’ve traded the Great Firewall of China with a Red, White & Blue Version.

Why would the Panic story help tell us why companies should avoid the app store?

Sure, you can leverage it, but, mobile isn’t a channel just like, “Flying people,” aren’t a channel. Yes, people are using wi-fi on planes, no, that doesn’t mean they are new people. Those mobile users who were on your site in 2003-2006 pre-iPhone? They switched; it’s still the same people, just a smaller screen.

If we can build haptic interfaces (and we can) with HTML 5 and no app store, well, it’s pretty clear where the future is, and it’s not in a walled garden.

Foul ball, penalties and salary changes: this CEO gets a pay decrease for the new year

A lot of people like to do, “New Year’s Resolutions,” and the last few years, indeed, most of my life, I’ve had a habit of doing, “New Year’s Planning,” instead. What I mean by that is I reflect, pause and try to grow as a person.

Highlights this year were on-boarding my team, Adam and Hans :)

Low-light this year was missing plan, given we’re a month behind schedule.

So, given that, “I touched it,” I own it – CEO means buck starts, and stops here. Some companies have a saying, “Sh!t rolls down hill.” I’ve always hated that idea.

Image via wikimedia commons.

Image via wikimedia commons.

Effective in our financial models for the business (still an LLC, but, we’re following plan) immediately, I’m dropping my salary to be the lowest on the team. Also, a lot of reflection went into our salary plans and levels.

However one thing that sounded great, because I got the idea from Buffer, was to increase pay based on what, “Expensive,” city or location you’re in.

Well, that’s also getting kicked out the door. The reasoning is simple because long term, I don’t see myself living in an expensive area. Talent might not live in a large city, but it might be found in unexpected places, that I know. After all, I’ve been importing talent from Nepal, India, China, Costa Rica, UK, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Ukraine, Maldives and many other countries for years.

The plan personally was never to hire in any given place. Learning from my parents growing up, I realized that, “Buy low, sell high,” was a great idea. Ask any good American, “Neo-colonialist,” and they’ve been pushing product production East, towards India and China.

That’s a fantastic strategy and until now, the very best engineering team I’ve ever worked with was from China. Fate gave me an awesome chance to work with a great guy, who grew to become an even better leader and, well, I’d love to say friend.

Consulting is good. It’s great, in fact, especially when you have awesome clients. I’m a tinkerer at heart though, and will only ever be truly satisfied when I have ample time for, “Work,” and what I call, “Play,” or what other people call, “Chatting with the best engineers and standing in awe as they make dreams come true.”

Besides which, this is a short term move. I’ve got next year, and the next, to do a better job. Improve performance. Enable the team to hit the group goals. Also, once we hit massive profit, I can’t underpay anybody on the team due to IRS rules about base pay and using somebody’s past experience and salary as a guide. Otherwise, I’d be able to slip myself a bunch of bonus money, along with the rest of the team, and lower my overall tax burden artificially – that’s a huge no-no. The only reason I’m able to do this is because, frankly, I missed plan. Sucks but whining won’t fix it. :)

I’d also like to take a moment and challenge other CEO’s whose teams were perhaps fired to drop their salary to be the lowest on their executive team. Both in cash and in stock, which is what I’m doing.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now, for those who aren’t the “boss,” of the company, like me. Ask the friends and families you see this holiday season, who perhaps have been hit in the face by corporate greed. Or been the unwitting victim of a colonoscopy.

Ask them if they think they deserved to get screwed. Or maybe, just maybe, the rich, the powerful and the influential should hold themselves to the standards I’m putting up.

You know, a humble, nobody guy like me. Somebody you’ve never heard of, haven’t met, and that can’t do anymore harm than a butterfly, right?

Intel Real Sense, Your Face is the Controller and the Age of the Mimic

Convert an analog face into a digital wave form

Convert an analog face into a digital wave form

Growing up, a read a lot of fantasy books. Even if I haven’t read as much sci-fi as fantasy, I love me a good story. Especially when it involves magic. Thing is, fantasy and science fiction are always grouped together in the bookstores and ironically, I never understood until today why that is; from the perspective of us human beings today, both worlds are fake.

Fantasy represents impossible things happening in the past, where people had access to extraordinary abilities not present in that time period. Same with the future, where people have flying cars, hoverboards and more.

Ying and yang, eh? Funny but, it makes sense. Librarians are some of the smartest people I know, probably becuase they have been dealing with the physical orginizations of knowledge across space and time. Like the Palace of Knowledge, from the middle ages, the librarian has to figure out how to re-position the specific knowledge into the three dimensional spot it previously occupied. For that task, we have a Dewey decimal system. It works well, in some respects.

Have you seen that you can use your face as a controller for a game now, in javascript?

This isn’t science fiction, it’s Intel’s Real Sense camera. I suppose, “Primsense,” being taken by Apple via acquisition meant that, as usual, the marketing folks played the name game to ensure that we all understand Real Sense is very close to Prime Sense, and each one enables technology that’s, “As intuitive as your own feelings.”

Welcome to the age of the mimic: buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for a bit

3d is a powerful thing. Until somebody can create a perfect video, audio and kinetic imprint of somebody committing a crime. With projectors, Real Sense, a cocktail like those favored by Bill Cosby, I’d wager that we go from a few, “Football player raped me,” stories to, “The aliens raped me,” and they will believe it.

I, for one, don’t want to start in an unauthorized digital reproduction of, “Me,” unless I agreed in advance. Unlike a photo, a 3d representation of a person is incredibly powerful. Coupled with physical evidence, how hard would it be to convince a jury of our peers that somebody peed in the street, simply by breaking in, stealing urine & hacking a computer system?

Physically, there would be the urine. The molecules left over from your shoes. The path taken, etc. The only actual way to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you didn’t pee in the street would be to be able to prove that, while the pee in the street happened, you were in fact located elsewhere. Track, trace, record and project your particular harmonic resonance all over your existence – and a digital one to correspond to the analog. An address you own, only yours, ever.

Sounds a bit like science fiction, but as they say, “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I did not even *see* the Intel Real Sense technology until last night but of course, it fits perfectly as an integration into both our correspondence system as well as our task management system via distributed identity.

Oh, one more thing. Google’s tech, they admit, is, “From the future.” So is ours :)

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Developing magical products: quickly deliver increasing amounts of happiness over time

2014-hookup-js-screenshotAutonomy, mastery and a clear connection between actions/results. These are the three principles of “amazing work,” or a job, or a career, where you, as a human, can feel validated, whole and do your very best. This is the environment we’re building and it’s, as Apple says in their marketing, Magical.

Take a look at the chart below. This is how the very best products are built. They start out fast, and then over time, they grow even faster. They deliver joy, while they are growing faster and easier to use…then, finally, at their stage of maturation, they deliver the fastest possible experience while providing more joy on a per experience basis than ever before.

It is our virtuous cycle, it’s mine, it’s been used in hundreds of products, thousands of times, by hundreds of thousands of people. All over the world, with the shared expectation and vision to bask, to glow, to revel in excellent products that provide intuitive, powerful experiences.

Breakthrough productivity. Joy. Mindfulness. I’m excited about all the products in our pipeline at work and rather than be greedy, selfish or mean, I’m sharing. This is the secret, this is the key.

If you want to add amazing, if you want to bottle magic, this is the formula for you.

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Email emotion tracking to monitor the health of your corporation: a must have tool for CEO’s

Check this box and your butt will be pixelated. :) Nice.

Check this box and your butt will be pixelated. :) Nice.

Somebody please build this for me, since I’m too busy and the idea is too good. Every year, the best run corporations do an, “Engagement survey,” which is focused on measuring a bunch of crap, really. The data is all there already in hundreds of thousands or even millions of email exchanges between teams, managers, etc. By scoring, sifting and analyzing the emotional subtext and then mapping the relationships over time, you’d be able to see clear patterns emerge.

Coupled with a centralized system to pair the email emotions with employee performance in tools like Workday or other HR systems, you’d have a complete, holistic approach to managing human resources like never before.

There are two components of top teir performance: the ability to know and plan, and the ability to measure actual versus plan. Without the proper mindset, driven by emotion, change is impossible. Every company wants to grow, innovate and acquire more share. This is the, “Maximize shareholder value,” metric and dream the USA’s been chasing since before I was born. By measuring email emotional patterns, we would unlock a bunch of the communication in every company that, today, is largely being ignored.

Did your boss shit on you, metaphorically speaking, before your performance nose dived?

Think about it. Back in the day, I was part of several, “Re-orgs,” which made me feel good, a few times, not so good, other times. When your manager changes, it’s a huge, massive deal for an employee. In fact, studies show that people don’t quit bad companies. They quit bad managers. The recent rise in quitting, the highest we’ve seen in the US since 2008 right before the financial collapse, should give every one of you CEO’s I know pause as you think about your 3, 5 and 10 year plans.

Let me get specific for a moment. At Quinstreet, I started reporting to the 2nd in command. Then I reported to her next in command, then I reported to a manager who reported to my second manager. Finally, right before taking the exit door, I reported to a new guy who showed up after I did to the company, the new team lead, when my third manager left to become self employed. Normally, that chain of events will drive anybody to leave a company. Looking back, it probably makes sense, because I wasn’t ready for the role they needed me to fill, that I took the exit when I had one and moved on with my career.

However, during my time at Yahoo, I had good and not so good experiences with managers. There was a lot to still love about the company, and my role, department, etc, was not well understood given that SEO, as an internal function, was brand new in 2004. It showed up as a critical business priority along with the rise of Google as the dominant driver of referral traffic. These days for some categories, it could be any one of Google for search, or Amazon for products, or Facebook for media, or Apple for apps, etc. Many categories have their own primary driver of traffic, no longer is in every case, Google number one – though in many cases, they still are by a mile.

When working at Yahoo, if management had been able to track emotional shifts across teams, as well as the business outcomes, things probably would have gone the same way. But for those of us like me, and many other amazing people I worked with, we’d be able to see that without the emotional drive, the intellectual challenges of sustained high performance would elude the team. With feeling, we win. Winning is a feeling.

Tracking, reporting and correlating en masse across eighty thousand people’s emotional well being would do wonders for a company. In ancient times, it was well known that an army marches on it’s stomach. In modern times, a company marches on email. Without knowing how the army felt about the march, the food, the general risked mutiny. Without a company knowing how the team feels about the most critical aspect of business, communication, it’s driving blind and risking mutiny. Or worse.

Happy to help anybody who takes this idea and runs with it, I want to buy this product when it’s ready. The email mining techniques have been applied to customer service for prioritization of inbound requests, but not to on-going operating communications within companies that I’m aware of. The best way to reach me these days is my corporate email, first dot last at hookupjs. Or gmail, same format, if you’d prefer that one and aren’t a former or current colleague (most folks who read this have worked with me in the past).