Archive for August, 2010

Startup Business Hours = 24/7

August 28, 2010

My time can divided into four buckets listed in order of total time (clearly not importance):

1. Vaporware Labs

2. Family

3. Sleep

4. Church

If it doesn’t fall into one of those buckets, then it’s likely not apart my life over the next few months (probably more). I’ve found that if I’m not at work, at church, sleeping, or spending time with my family, I’m probably still ‘working’. Watching TV but also working. Eating lunch with business partners or at my desk.  On the phone non-stop in the car.  Scanning emails while brushing my teeth.

I was talking with someone yesterday (Friday) helping us with our upcoming launch. When he said he would get my email “in the morning” I asked, “You mean tomorrow morning?” He responded, “No, Monday morning.” Kind of shocked I wondered why he would let it sit for so long?

Trapped in my own little bubble for the last 6-months, I think I almost forgot what the ‘job’ mentality was like. While working @EA I remember one Friday afternoon when my boss said he had a project we needed to finish. Being young and ambitious, I came in for 6 hours on Saturday and completed it. When I proudly told him about it Monday morning he acted upset about what I had done, even though it seemed urgent on Friday afternoon.  I quickly learned that there was little added benefit to working extremely hard in an organization of that size.

That’s not to say I didn’t work hard. I did. I just didn’t loose sleep over giving 110% instead of 120 or 130%. I learned that I could receive review marks in the upper 10% of employees, while still using my extra time to work and think about my own projects. This was the true start of my entrepreneurial experience. I would sit at Starbucks for an hour and a half before work and still arrive before most got in at 9am. I would be the last to leave but work until 2am building my own ideas. Working long hours are not necessarily smart hours (different post), but sometimes it’s a necessary means to getting things done.

As I type this on Saturday morning, the dictator (my son) is finishing his nap, my wife is getting a lesson ready for church, and I’m planning on a great afternoon at the street fair with the family. I’ll wrap up the day with a critical business phone call in the afternoon that could get us 3-steps closer to a major goal, and then some emails in the late evening because startup business hours mean 24/7.

YouTube’s Redesign Spells Bad News For ‘Virallity’

August 20, 2010

I just saw YouTube’s site redesign and I can tell you in 5-mins of browsing that it’s a major direction towards to death of highly produced User Generated Contented.

Everything about their site screams revenue. From the new tabs at the top of the page, to the increase in ad banners and promotional window sizes, to the overlays on almost every promoted video. I get that Google wants to make money with the site. We all get that. But they’ve successfully eliminated almost every major avenue for a low level content producer (like myself) to get eyeballs on my videos. Unless you’re an established content creator with thousands of subscribers, or you have the $$$ to play ball with the sales team, don’t think about becoming the next big thing on YouTube because the boat has sailed.

They’re killing features that help the average user get views. First they removed video replies. Then the top view links on the front of the homepage. The site appears to have turned 180 degrees to an advertiser/paying publisher focused site.

Financially it’s definitely not a bad thing. YouTube is the web video king and getting insane amounts of traffic with 500MM users. But considering the initial vision of YouTube was to “Broadcast Yourself” (a tagline recently removed?), it’s obvious that vision is long gone. Perhaps their new motto should read, “YouTube: SHOW ME THE MONEY”!

From an outsider’s perspective Google appears to be getting impatient about making their money back. I don’t totally blame them, but at what cost? Perhaps they milk the site for 5 more years and bleed it dry of users and original content before pushing it aside and giving it the ‘wave’.

I don’t go to YouTube for movie trailers (iTunes). I don’t go to YouTube to watch movies (Netflix, RedBox). I go to YouTube to find the best original user generated content and viral sensations that (in the past) always finds it’s way to the front of the site and top of the charts. Now I have to weed through marketing video after marketing video to find the goods. Or commercial after commercial just to watch 60 seconds worth on content. Not likely to last long with users because frankly it’s not worth the hassle.

I love YouTube. I admire the founders’ vision. I’m sad to see what looks like Google’s full monty hold in return for some major revenue for a few years. There are definitely issues with the old system. A lot of garbage got through the cracks and made it’s way to the homepage on a daily basis which was frustrating. The new design appears to solve those problems. But the new design has filled the holes left by garbage with Twinkies and Ho Hos.

(Disclaimer: My authority on the subject is I’ve been apart of dozen of major YouTube video campaigns with varying levels of success. I’ve seen a $3k brand video get 300k views, and I’ve seen $750k produce nothing of consequence. My personal YouTube channel has more than 2.5-million views.)

Friday Video: A Champion’s Speech

August 13, 2010

On Fridays I sometimes struggle to get through the day. I hope someday soon we can move to the 4-day work week and take Friday’s off altogether. But if you’re in the office today check out the Jerry Rice speech from his induction into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame last week. Jerry Rice holds about 50 NFL records, and by some is considered the greatest football player ever. There are some great quotes, but here is my favorite:

The feel of failure is the engine that has driven me throughout my entire life.”

The reason nobody caught me from behind was because I ran scared.”

(about other receivers) “You’re going to have to work so hard to get to where I am and if you can pay that price you deserve it.”

Here’s a great video showing career highlights at the beginning, and then an interview done with Steve Young.

Rice’s full Hall Of Fame speech here. It gets going about the 4:30 mark.

Ultimate Entrepreneur: The Little Red Hen

August 11, 2010

On Sunday I was talking to someone roughly my same age about his summer. He said he tried to work as little as possible and spent more than a few weeks on vacation. I was taken aback as I thought about the summer my team and I have had trying to finish our upcoming iPad/iPhone game Steve Young Football. Very long days, dinner at work, weekends at the office, coming home on almost a nightly basis and apologizing to Erica (my supportive/awesome wife).

This experience reminded me of a nursery story I often think about called The Little Red Hen. In the beginning the Hen looks for anyone who could help her with her idea (startup). She asks:

“Who will help me plant this wheat?” To which the replay came:

“Not I,” said the goose, “I’d rather swim in the pond.” “Not I,” said the cat, “I’d rather sleep on the hay.” “Not I,” said the pig, “I’d rather lie in the mud.”

But undeterred, the Hen responds without hesitation: “Then I’ll do it myself.” And she did.

The story continues as the hen goes on to weed the field, harvest the wheat, take it to the mill, and bake the flour.  All along the way she asks her friends, “Who will help me?” to which the reply is always the same, “Not I”. After all the work is completed, she sticks it to her friends  by asking, “Who will help me eat this bread?” to which they all respond “I will.” The Little Red Hen, now hardened from her lonely and difficult (startup) journey says, “Oh, no you won’t. Now I’m going to eat it with my family.”

Here are 4 entrepreneurial lessons I’ve pulled from the Hen’s experience:

1. The Hen worked hard for success. There was no lottery jackpot for the Hen. The story says she lived humbly in a small cottage and provided for her family before her breakthrough with the wheat. While some hit the preverbal startup jackpot, it seems most have done the work first.  Some big examples: Before they were YouTube founders, Steve and Chad were low level employees at Paypal. Before Facebook, Mark built 5-10 other similar products with varying degrees of success. Before Zynga Mark Pinkus worked for 11 years out of college before selling his first company. Some do strike gold on the first shovel in the ground, most earn it the hard way.

2. The Hen took something simple and made it great. One day while the Hen was walking she found a few grains of wheat.” After 4-5 different iterations, she finally turned that wheat into bread. There was no magic button (or bread maker) involved. She saw the vision of what that wheat could be, and she went the distance with it. It was not a Step A + Step B = success. Step A turned into Step B which turned into Step C.2 all the way to Z.

3. The Hen tried to build a team. Why would the Hen ask her friends for help over and over again? Honestly she sounds desperate asking the lazy pig. It’s because she understood that there are times when you’re alone it’s easier to talk yourself back into that old comfortable job. If you’re part of a group of people that relies on each other, you quitting means that not only you fail, but so do the people counting on you. Like soldiers in war whose motivation to live is not to see their families again, but to see their comrades survive. Fear of failing your teammates can be just as motivating.

4. The Hen overcame all obstacles in her path and SHE DID IT. This is my favorite lesson because as entrepreneurs there are always impossible obstacles. In my experience (admittedly limited) the successful entrepreneurs are the ones that find the best and fastest solutions. Many years prior to jumping, I had lots of ideas I wanted to execute on. I would ask for help, and when no one else stepped up I would shrink and go back to my corporate hole. The day I finally decided I would solve the problems myself, was the day I started to find success.

In terms of where we (Vaporware Labs) or I’m at personally in this story, it’s probably somewhere between planting the wheat and getting ready to look for help on pulling the weeds. Hopefully we will continue to get out and DO IT when the next big challenge comes.

50 Things Learned In My First Year As A Full-Time Entrepreneur

August 6, 2010

This week marks one year since I left my job and began an unheralded life of the entrepreneur. While the learning curve has been steep, it has been one of the most productive years in terms of personal growth. Here are 50 of the most important things I’ve learned along the way.

1. It’s really tough to leave a good job to start a startup.

2. No matter how hard you try you can’t please everyone.

3. Getting employee #2 is 10x harder than #3 and #4.

4. Pay the good ones well so they’ll work with you again.

5. Create deadline incentives for every vender.

6. Don’t write anything in an email you don’t want published on a blog.

7. Lack of money is a major contributor to failed startups.

8.  Taking funding is a gift and a curse.

9. Find people older and smarter than you and listen to them as much as possible.

10. It’s easier to manage a startup as a single guy than a married one.

11. Some of the best work is done after the 5th insane day.

12. Pizza can taste really bad after a couple of days.

13. Don’t let the engineering team help move the fridge.

14. Continually educate yourself and your team.

15. Silicon Valley is still the place to be for startups.

16. Being the last company to leave your office complex at night feels really good.

17. Desks are way better than cubicles.

18. Contract work is an easy way to a slow painful death.

19. The personal struggles of employees come before work.

20. No one is right 100% of the time.

21. It always takes longer and costs more than you plan.

22. Whiteboards are the lifeblood of good ideas.

23. Negotiating lease that includes utilities makes the AC feel a lot better.

24. Partnering with friends makes problems more complicated.

25. Work on homerun opportunities because it’s likely they’re only doubles or triples.

26. Everyone hatets pointless meetings.

27. The iPad is creating jobs (four in our office).

28. Save your best ideas for your own products.

29. Money can be a horrible motivator.

30. Treat colleagues and partners the way you want to be treated.

31. California has brutal tax laws for small businesses.

32. Daily progress is much more rewarding than weekly progress.

33. Make decisions when they need to be made. Not too early or too late.

34. Ideas are the easy part, doing the work is the hard part.

35. It feels great to get written up by technology blogs you read everyday.

36. Don’t buy any office furniture; companies give it away all the time.

37. When tech companies go out of business hire their engineers.

38. Don’t believe everything other Founders tell you.

39. Getting paid is sometimes harder than getting the job.

40. Your wife/girlfriend can make or break your startup.

41. Your family is the most important thing you can make succeed.

42. Working remotely may make or break your employees’ work production.

43. Make sure your cheap Macs bought on Craigslist have AppleCare.

44. Do at least one deal per day, no matter how big or small.

45. Working in the shadows of Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook (Silicon Valley) is inspiring.

46. No one will understand your great ideas until they see it work.

47. Don’t make critical decisions on little sleep.

48. Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes. It can help you move forward.

49. Celebrate your wins when you get them.

50. Keep fighting. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. There’s light ahead.

1-year of startup bliss

August 2, 2010

This week marks the one year anniversary of leaving my job to start my own company. I almost can’t believe it’s been a year. In some ways it feels like a few months, and in other ways it feels like five years. Either way the first year has come and gone and I couldn’t be happier about where we’re at and what I’ve personally been able to learn.

I originally left EA to start a big rig truck advertising company (seriously). A close friend works in the trucking industry and it turns out there are millions of trucks driving across America with completely white sides and no advertising. While the idea wasn’t the coolest thing in the world, working with my friend sounded like it might be. When his circumstances forced him to drop out, the task on my own sounded neither fun or appealing.

I worked for two months pitching to anyone that would listen. I met with friends in the gaming industry, I sent out a hundred pitch decks, and spoke on the phone with a lot of angry truckers. After it all I realized that I had a product no one would buy, and something I could care less about selling. Bad combination.

Through an almost fluke circumstance, I began doing new media consulting for someone I’d known in college. It was basically my same job I had at EA, only I worked less hours and was able to pay the bills. This led to me pitching and winning consulting contracts with multiple companies including Palm, EA, Ubisoft, and others.

Watching startups build products was by far the most rewarding experience I saw.   Here were guys putting their heart and soul into products they were convinced would succeed. I decided to figure out a way to jump in. Interesting enough, building my own digital products/expereinces was my original goal before leaving EA. I just didn’t believe I could solve all the problems around getting there. Slowly I started to see how to breakdown and solve the process.

In February I launched with a friend. The idea was based on a problem I’d had with EA’s massively ineffective meeting structure. During meetings of +15 people I would calculate roughly how much each person earned per hour and how much money EA was wasting. It seems other companies have a similar problem as we had over 10,000 bad meetings calculated in the first week. We gained the attention of the internets with sites like Techcrunch, Mashable, and Lifehacker all singing our praise.

The day after the iPad unveil, I had a meeting with an angel looking to do some iPad/iPhone game development. We brainstormed ideas and ended with a play on the classic tabletop game paper football. In the console gaming market (XBOX360, PS3, Wii) the Sports category is the largest segment at 12%. So why is the iPhone/iPod Sports category closer to 5-6%? I believe there just aren’t any good touchscreen sports games worth playing. Nothing that suits the iPad/iPhone platform.

At the end of March we began development on a game called Steve Young Football. It’s a hybrid of Paper Football meets Plants vs. Zombies. It’s the anti-Tower Defense game where instead of trying to defend the the castle, you are defended and must break through. It stars 2-Time NFL MVP Steve Young.  We’re nearing the end of development and getting ready to launch.

If one year ago today you would have told me we’d be launching an iPad/iPhone/iPod game staring a former MVP athlete I would have said you’re crazy. But after 9-10 pivots I know we are where we should be. Hopefully next year I’ll write another post marking two years since leaving and featuring results 10x what we were able to do the first year. In the meantime, quit your job and join/start a startup! I highly recommend it.

Look for my post later this week about the top 100 things I’ve learned in my first year.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Powered by