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Showing posts from 2007

In search of common sense

Guy Kawasaki wrote an article a few days ago titled: In Search of Inexperience

He talks about why serial entrepreneurs are not necessarily what they're cracked out to be - implicitly arguing in favor of first-time entrepreneurs.

I wrote a comment there which I'm reproducing below.
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I agree with the premise, but disagree with the analysis. In other words, the theorem is correct but the proof is wrong.

In the 8 years since I first dived head-first into entrepreneurship, I've found that people with common sense - in this Silicon Valley chockfull of analysts, MBAs, VCs, and "angels" - are an endangered species.

It is plain common sense that anyone who is hungry, passionate, persistent and all that good stuff is more likely to succeed than someone who is not as motivated.

But the malaise afflicting the armchair quarterbacks in the Silicon Valley (i.e. anyone who is not an entrepreneur) is the obsession with bottling up the…

The Man Who Thinks He Can

A blog post by Guy Kawasaki inspired me to go digging for this classic poem.
Dedicated to all my fellow bootstrapping 'Agile Entrepreneurs'.

The Man Who Thinks He Can

If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don't.
If you'd like to win, but think you can't
It's almost a cinch you won't
If you think you'll lose, you're lost,
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellow's will;
It's all in the state of mind.
If you think you're outclassed, you are.
You've got to think high to rise.
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the one who thinks he can.

Walter D. Wintle, "The Man Who Thinks He Can." - Poems That Live Forever, comp. Hazel Feldman 1965

Would you hire an entrepreneur?

Would you hire an entrepreneur?

A lot of entrepreneurs, especially the successful ones, proudly proclaim how "unemployable" they are. But given that a lot of entrepreneurs are bootstrapping these days and funding sources have gone upstream, more and more entrepreneurs are looking to moonlight or get back into the job market to make ends meet.

Assuming that a typical entrepreneur is a highly motivated and driven individual and likely to contribute more than any typical employee, the only risk for a hiring manager is the knowledge that the entrepreneur-hire is going to leave the job sooner or later.

Would you consider hiring an entrepreneur for a short-term (3-6 months) contract, assuming that you'll get double the work and a lot of passion, energy and a can-do attitude in the bargain?

Entrepreneur Committee - Advisory Board of SVASE

For whatever it is worth, I would like to announce to my millions of would-be readers that I have been invited to join the Entrepreneur Committee on the Board of Advisors to the Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs.

And I have accepted.

If you're a hi-tech entrepreneur, I would love to hear your suggestions on what I can do in my "official" capacity to make SVASE a better organization for startups.

TheFunded.com - Report Card for VCs

Most of you probably know about this site already, but I just learned about it and I had to share it with you!

Report Card for VCs

The Funded

Quoting from the Red Herring story:
Report Card for VCs

TheFunded.com turns tables, letting startups rate funders.
April 29, 2007

By Ken Schachter

Venture capitalists, long accustomed to taking the role of Simon of "American Idol" in judging startups, are seeing the tables turned.

That's because TheFunded.com recently launched, inviting entrepreneurs to post to its web site ratings of venture capital firms. On Thursday, after collecting more than 500 reviews, TheFunded.com released a list of the top five venture firms worldwide.

Venture capitalists said it was inevitable that VCs became subject to the same scrutiny as college professor (RateMyProfessors.com), doctors (RateMDs.com) and contractors (AngiesList.com).

"It was only a matter of time before this came up," said Sarah Tavel, an analyst at Larchmont, New York-based Bessemer V…

Pay by productivity

I have often said that people should be selected and rewarded based on productivity, not mere experience.  In fact, this belief forms the basis of the 'pay by productivity' contract system we use in the services division of Crystal Ball.

But today I'm not going to talk about how we do things at Crystal Ball. Instead, let me just point you to this very cool article on incentivizing, measuring and rewarding productivity.

Quoting:
Software defect measurements are frequently attributed to individual developers, but the development environment often conspires against individual developers and makes it impossible to write defect-free code. Instead of charting errors by developer, a systematic effort to provide developers with immediate testing feedback, along with a root cause analysis of remaining defects, is much more effective at reducing the overall software defect rate.By aggregating defect counts into an informational measurement, and hiding individua…

Bootstrapping in India

I'm posting my response to a question asked on LinkedIn Answers by Sramana Mitra: "Bootstrapping a Product Company from India?"

Here's what I had to say:

One aspect of bootstrapping is money. The other is people- good people.We're solving both problems with our strategy of treating our offshore team in India as a services company that specializes in high-quality, low-cost product development for early-stage startups in the Silicon Valley.But we are really a web-based product startup based in the Silicon Valley with our offshore team based at Hyderabad, India, since June 2005. When I came back from India in September 2005 after putting it all together, I had a team that boasted a University gold-medalist who turned down an offer from Google and deferred PhD at MIT to join us, a national programming competition winner, and a seasoned manager from Wipro. Then one fine day, in March 2006, my whole team just disappeared, and I only had 85 pages of use-cases left to sh…

Finding a co-founder for a "mature" early-stage startup

Often, you hear about how two or three or four friends/colleagues got together and launched a hi-tech startup ... and lived happily ever after.

You might also have heard about how VCs "help" a single founder put together the right team- sometimes without the need for the quotes around "help".

I have come across several founders of hi-tech startups lately. Maybe it's because they're all bootstrapping, and maybe it's because the cost of doing a software startup has gone down so dramatically. But the fact is that more and more startups are being launched and bootstrapped all the way to Angel/VC funding, until they become cash flow positive or until they die.

Many of these solo-founders don't want to go it alone. But once you're bootstrapping, you are on a roll, and it's not easy to find someone at a later stage who comes along, say a year later, and shares your passion and vision.

On the flip-side, I see wanna-be co-founders on the sidelines mu…

Why is it so hard to find a good "User Information Architect"?

As the bootstrapping founder of a web 2.0 startup, the single most important - and difficult to find - skill for me is the web User Information Architect. Not quite UI design, and definitely not graphic design, a UI architect is a human-computer-browser interaction expert and highly experienced and skilled at both layout and transitions.

Many of my fellow entrepreneurs seem to share my predicament. They tell me how they hire 3 different people:
- the first one to do the UI storyboards (in Visio or some graphic tool, or even paper);
- a second person who converts it to HTML, changing where needed to see what's really possible in HTML, finding appropriate tools/controls for combos, etc., but adding hard-coded links to show page transitions; and
- the third, to convert remove the hard-coded links from HTML before implementing JSP.

In the last 8 years, I have personally found only one person really skilled and able to do it all in HTML/JSP, with phenomenal productivity (about 3 times mo…

A plan to blog more often.

I am a prolific writer when I set my mind to it.
From 1977 to 1984, I had exchanged an unbroken chain of written letters (about half a dozen per year) with a childhood friend. I had similar, smaller chains with some of my other school friends. I read a lot too. And don't me talking - I usually have a lot to say.
But trust me, I listen well too (when I shut up).

So, it's like all my life I was waiting for the blog' to get invented, but when that did happen, I seem to have run out of steam to take advantage of it.

I've thought about why that is and the answer is simple.
I'm a whole lot busier- especially since I'm bootstrapping my startup.

But there are those who should be busier than me, successfully blogging all the time.
How do they do it?

I don't know for sure, but I'm going to start doing the following:
1. Write short blogs, with anything that I can think of. Even a single line quote.
2. Start writing the moment I think of something to write about, …

Are you a Predator?

While searching for a metaphor for "Entrepreneur", I came across this very interesting blog by Tom Evslin:
Entrepreneurs Are PredatorsPredators are smarter than prey. Hare-brained is an insult; sharp as a fox is a compliment.

I have an evolutionary theory to explain this (full disclosure: except for reading voraciously on the subject, I am totally unqualified to have evolutionary theories). 

A leopard chasing an impala can make a mistake, lose the quarry, learn from the mistake, and hunt more wisely on another day. If the impala makes a mistake, it becomes the leopard’s lunch. 

Predators fail often; 
Prey fail only once.

So it would be a waste of energy for prey to have a large analytical brain or to divert any resources into learning while running away. Better just to have long legs, good ears, and a healthy paranoia. 

Thinking could be fatal. 
It also doesn’t take a lot of smarts to eat grass.

On the other hand:

Predators learn terrain; 
they can learn the habits of prey they’v…

Optimize your resources- Apply the 80-20 Rule

Formally known as the Pareto principle, the 80-20 rule states that "80% of the consequences stem from 20% of the causes."
Startups - who by definition are starved for resources - would do well to apply the Pareto principle to everything they do. From Wikipedia:
It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., "80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients."It also applies to a variety of more mundane matters: we wear our 20% most favoured clothes about 80% of the time, we spend 80% of the time with 20% of our acquaintances etc.In business, dramatic improvements can often be achieved by identifying the 20% of customers, activities, products or processes that account for the 80% of contribution to profit and maximising the attention applied to them.The idea has rule-of-thumb application in many places, but it is commonly misused. For example, it is a misuse to state that a solution to a problem "fits the 80-20 rule" just because it fits 80% of the cases; i…

There's no place to hide in XP!

I have not met a single person who doesn't acknowledge the inherent values in XP when we talk about the values and not "this thing called XP". It is obvious to *anyone* who has enough years of experience behind them.

* The challenge then they often face in accepting XP/Agile is their own conflict-of-interest. *

You see, XP and Agile are brutal if you are lazy or if you are (or have become) mediocre. There's no place to hide in XP- everything is exposed. You can't create the anecdotal "job security hacks" so that you can't be replaced- because there are others in your team who know your code and can replace you if you're not pulling your weight. Or if you're a contractor, you now risk being caught for overbilling if you don't have "velocity" commensurate with the hours you're billing.

I speak, of course, from my experience as a programmer.

But more currently, I speak from my experience as the founder of a startup- as the emplo…

XP is to Development Process what GOF is to Software Design

The problem I see with most objections to Extreme Programing (XP) and Agile development is that they are often speculations on theory, rather than wisdom based on actual practice. It's amazing to see the amount of time and energy people spend in *discussing* process than actually building something and learning from the experience.

The following is my real-world take on this subject, directed at no one in particular, but at everyone in general who is critical or afraid of XP (often the same people who don't have meaningful experience of using it):
XP is a process that has *evolved* through the collective experience of programmers through the mess that the software industry had become- always late, always over-budget, always buggy. And we were told to accept it as a fact of life. In the midst of all the chaos, there were programmers working after hours doing what they weren't allowed to do during the day - writing tests for code (TDD), automating builds and tests…

Test Trimming: A Fable about Testing

While browsing the web randomly, I found this very cool article on the value of testing.
Says the author, Gerald M. Weinberg:
"Throughout my career, I've watched in dismay as one software manager after another falls into the trap of achieving delivery schedules by trimming tests. Some managers shortcut test work by skipping reviewing and unit testing in the middle of their project. Others pressure the testers to "test faster" at the end. And, most frequently, they just drop planned tests altogether, hoping they "get lucky."

I've written several essays about the dangers of test trimming, but nobody seems to understand, so I asked myself, "What am I doing wrong?" Perhaps I wasn't practicing what I was preaching. Perhaps I was trimming tests myself. Perhaps my writing needed more testing!

So, I wrote a story about taking shortcuts and read it to my granddaughter, Camille."