Saturday, March 29, 2014

What Has It Got in Its Pocketses? Mar 29

It's time for another edition of, What Has It Got in Its Pocketses! It has been a while but I wasn't scouring the web looking for great content when I was in Boulder. Now that I am back I am getting into the grove again.

IT Crowd Soundboard - If you havent seen the IT Crowd it is on Netflix. It is very quotable and this soundboard has some of the highlights.
Cat Shaming - Maybe you have to be a cat person but I found these really funny.
Dash Plus System - If you take notes by hand you will want to read this. Great for todo lists as well!
The Web Is Changing - This was pretty interesting. Especially if you are just getting into web marketing like I am.

Hanselman on Productivity - If you like my posts on being productive then this is a must read.
Why Candy Crush Made it Big - Interesting thoughts on mobile gaming pricing models.

Web Design Links - A toolbox of sorts for web designers.
E-Commerce Toolbox - More helpful links linked from my post full of links.

Google Will Eat Itself - Pretty nerdy concept. But it has made a lot of money so far.

The Toolbox - This guy had an idea and whipped it out in 10 hours. He explains the whole process. Pretty interesting if you are a web guy.

That's all folks. Enjoy! -jb

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When all else fails, Pivot.

Tyler  Hansbrough, pivoting like a champ!
In case you didn't know I went to a startup weekend two weekends ago and I am slowly recapping some of my experiences, starting with the vocabulary of startup people. You can read part 1 about creating the MVP. Today is about pivoting. It seems that the startup world is just borrowing terminology from the sports world because when I was growing up, pivoting was something you did in basketball. When you picked up your dribble you could pivot on one foot. If you moved your pivot foot you traveled and turned the ball over. Once again I had to fake it till I learned the meaning of the word pivot in the startup world.

When starting a new business, failure is expected. Not only is it expected but in some ways it is encouraged. Obviously you want to hit on a good idea that will make money but it just so happens that the people who are good at failing are the people who hit on the good ideas. The real trick is to fail as fast as possible.

Here is how the starting a company in a weekend works. You start with a premise for a business. I'll use the one my brother came up with today:

Corporations have nasty fridges and need an impartial service to come clean them out and organize them once a month. 

Now you need to prove that this will make money as quickly as possible. So you send out polls to business owners and go door to door and see if someone will let you clean their fridge. You also need to see how scalable your models is if people liked it.

You come to the conclusion that, yes, this is a problem but not very many companies are willing to pay for your services. Not only that but if they did want to pay for your service it wouldn't scale very well since there is no element for exponential growth. If this took three weeks to realize, you failed too slow. If this took 4 hours, congratulations, you failed fast!

One important piece of information you found: dirty fridges are a problem in corporations. You now have validated that there is a business there to be had but you just failed to get it right. This is where you pivot meaning you tweak your solution a little to better solve the problem. Next you try to come up with a web camera system that displays on people's computer wallpaper. That doesn't go over too well, pivot. Fridge dishwasher combo? Pivot. Robots? Pivot. Public shaming? Pivot.

Finally you design a cubby style fridge with a glass door and a special squeegee that is the perfect size of a cubby so they can be cleaned with one swipe. Each cubby has a dry erase label for a name and a date. You get 100 companies that say they would buy it if it existed. It's production is easily scalable once you get the money to get it off the ground. So you kickstart it for 100,000 and tons of companies jump on board.

That's the gist of it. Failure is not bad unless you are not willing to part with your idea. If you can't adjust, it can be disastrous because you will spend hundreds of hours working on something that nobody wants. When you fail, learn what you can and move on. This idea is very central to developing a process over a goal. The process of pivoting allows you to move on where the goal of starting your business might have had you beating your head against the wall trying to make your idea work.

So remember when all else fails, pivot.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Baby steps... This is the last bus to Winnipesaukee Bob!

I am back from the Startup Weekend Boulder! Well I have been back for a week now. It took me a while to recover from the weekend since I got back at 5 am on Monday morning! I have seemed to be in a creative vacuum ever since. I think it is a combination of the intense creative marathon, some really hard workouts at Crossfit, and of course march madness. Whatever the reason I have been feeling lethargic and unmotivated this week. This brings me to a key concept I learned from the startup weekend and a lesson about getting things done in general. You need to focus on the MVP!

So I went to Startup Weekend knowing nothing about how startups work or the lingo that they use. Everybody was saying that we needed to have an MVP by the end of the weekend but nobody was saying whether or not they were willing to step up and be the MVP. I kept wondering what it took to be the MVP of a nerdy weekend like this. Maybe l33t hacker skills or something like that. About halfway through the weekend I started understand that what they meant by MVP isnt what I understood MVP to mean. I eventually had to ask since I couldn't quite figure it out from context. In the startup world MVP stands for "Minimum Viable Product". It is the simplest form of your product that somebody is willing to buy. There are big props to you if you can sell some of that product before the end of the weekend.

The concept of MVP is so important and I got it right away. You see I have a history of starting projects and working really hard on them for a week and then stopping. The idea of the MVP is: what are you able to make that is worth value today. Once you define that you need to stick to that and only that. My github is filled with the code of good ideas that got too big too soon. Programmers like to think big and while that is good it gets you into trouble because if you cant get people using it you will lose interest. And if an idea is too big you will become overwhelmed with the amount of work that is needed to be done to finish.

If the idea is too big I see two problems. First of all you wont be motivated to start and secondly you will lose interest before you finish.

What is the solution? Baby steps Bob, baby steps. I love this scene from What About Bob. It captures the very essence of what it means to break big tasks into the tiniest of steps. Keeping the steps small is so important. Lets deal with these two issues on their own.

Getting started is probably the biggest battle. It is for me, I know that. 9 times out of 10 I will finish a job if I can just get it started. I put off writing this post all week and now that I am doing it I am really enjoying it. I just had to start. Getting started is so important for big things like starting a business or doing something you don't normally do. You will be tempted to do tons of research before you start to make sure you don't fail (I will talk about the benefits of failure in another post). With the internet we can spend more time researching our tasks than we will actually spend on them.

I strongly disagree with the research heavy approach. You don't know any of the problems you are going to face until you face them so you may waste a lot of time researching something that in the end would not have been an issue for you.  Some research is ok but you have to start at some point. A popular saying is that you can't steer a ship that is not moving. Research should be done while you are in motion trying to do and not too much before you start. Is there something big you have been wanting to do? Take a baby step and just start it.

The second problem is scope. Here is how my ideas often go, "Oh I should write a little program to remind me to water my plants. Oh better yet I could write a program to water my plants. Then I could add a sensor that lets me tell if they have gotten enough enough sunlight. Oh then if they dont it could turn on a grow light and give them more light. I could then package this up and sell it to home gardeners. Wow that would take a long time. Ill just watch another episode of Archer." We all love to dream but when the scope grows too fast it can kill a dream. Keep your ideas super small. Something you could do in an afternoon.

It's ironic that we are told in school to dream big but the best way to be successful is to dream just a little bit bigger than where you are. I could write an app that could be sold to home gardeners that keeps track of their plants but it would start with the first step of just having it remind me and then build from there.

Focus on the MVP and get that done. That can be a launching point to keep going. Baby steps.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Crunch Time!

So this is a quick post from the Boulder Startup weekend. I am learning a ton. I will have a ton of posts after the event to unload what I have learned. We have 16 hrs to go and we are trying to validate if our idea is worth doing. I made an info graph basically explaining our problem and solution.

We have launched a site and we will be getting some more content up soon so be sure to check back on Sunday. We have a survey here and a poll here. The poll is to get quick responses and the survey is to get a more in depth response. Please fill these out as they will validate some assumptions we are making about how people interact with the homeless.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Startup Weekend!

I have decided to take a day off work this week and go to a Startup Weekend in Boulder Colorado. I am really excited and nervous at the same time. 

A startup weekend is an intense 54 hr block of time when you create a company from scratch and try to come up with a finished product or service by the end. It all starts with pitch night. Everybody has one minute to present their idea. All of the participants vote on which ideas they think will be the best. Everyone gets divided into teams and the weekend starts. Fueled by coffee and an impending deadline the teams work like mad to create a product. All day Saturday, teams are heads down working on the product. There is free coffee and meals are provided so there is not a lot of reason to stop and go anywhere. On Sunday night at the end of the weekend you demo your business to a couple of CEO's who judge the competition. Then if it feels like this was a good thing you can keep going and start a business. If it flopped? Well, everyone can go their separate ways and cry in their pillows. As part of my Make 2014 Initiative this event is right up my alley. 

Apart from the trill of just attending the event, I have been wanting to see if a startup company is for me. This will be an great way to try it without getting too committed. Even if my team keeps going with the idea I am free to walk away. I also really want to find the areas in my skill set that are lacking. There will be lots of coaches around who will be great people to bounce questions off and feel what I am lacking. Plus we never pass up an opportunity to go to Colorado.

Another benefit of  this trip is we are trying out Airbnb. We were going to couch surf but since I will be busy the whole weekend we thought it would be better to have a nice rented space so Kara doesn't have to sit in somebody's house all weekend by herself. Airbnb is also something we will probably use in our travels so it is good to figure out the process now. We ended up finding a place in walking distance so I can get to the event and back without needing the car.

I might not have time to blog during the event but expect a lengthy couple of posts afterwards. I will probably be tweeting so be sure to follow me on twitter @johnnybloom. -jb

Saturday, March 8, 2014

What Has It Got in Its Pocketses? Mar 8

This issue of emptying my pockets has butter coffee, learning new languages and food from the matrix. Click the links precioussss.

Bullet Proof Coffee - Coffee with butter. The new high performance drink!
Soylent - Eating food is so inefficient. "all the protein, vitamins and carbs of your grandma's best turkey dinner" -Jayne Cobb
Frozen Skate Park - Pure Awesome!
Be More Magazine - Online magazine with beautiful pictures and interesting articles about being healthy!

Create Better Content - 5 ways to become a better blogger.
3D printed Board Game - That's right. Print your own games is coming!
The Art of Learning - Learn how to learn and you will learn faster.
Learn a New Language - I might try to pick up some French with Duo the owl. Bonjour, mon nom est John!

Human Task Switches Considered Harmful - Pomodoro to the rescue!

Jorge Regidor - Another developer trying to do the blogging thing. We will be friends. :)
Why Hard Developer Interviews are Good - Time to hit the books!

Animate.css -  Just add water.

There you have it! Less heavy on the tech articles this week. -jb

Monday, March 3, 2014


Big news! Kara and I have quit our jobs and are going vagabonding in Europe! No seriously last Friday we both quit our jobs. I think it was like national quit your job day or something. I cant remember.

Anyway, at this point you are probably wondering... What is vagabonding? Here is a short explanation from a book I have been reading.
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel.
Vagabonding involves taking an extended time-out from your normal
life—six weeks, four months, two years—to travel the world on your own
But beyond travel, vagabonding is an outlook on life. Vagabonding is
about using the prosperity and possibility of the information age to
increase your personal options instead of your personal possessions.
Vagabonding is about looking for adventure in normal life, and normal
life within adventure. Vagabonding is an attitude—a friendly interest in
people, places, and things that makes a person an explorer in the truest,
most vivid sense of the world.
Let me explain, no there is too much, let me sum up. We have been wanting to take a trip and this year happens to be our 5 year wedding anniversary. So rather than scrape together a few weekend getaways we decided it needed to be a long one, maybe a month or two. We haven't traveled out of the country since we have been married so I think it is time we left. We will probably go to London since we both loved it there and have been wanting to go back. We may drop down into other parts of Europe. That is the thing about vagabonding. You never know till you get there. Vagabonding is meant to break all of my efficiency, pomodoro system mindedness for a few months to give me a fresh, new perspective.

You might think that a trip like this would cost tons of money or if not we would be eating out of trash cans and sleeping on the street. Welcome to the new age of travel. With couchsurfing locals put you up for free and often take you around if they have time. If we cant find a host there is always airbnb where people rent out their rooms or their houses. Hostels are great places for travelers. Some of them look really creative and fun. You just have to be creative when you travel.

The real truth is that my job doesn't end till September. So we have some time. I will be needing a job though so let me know if you have a connection. Or maybe, if you are the kind of person who throws milk away according to the date on the jug we can come and live in your alley. -jb

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A System Over a Goal and the Art of Saying No

So I've decided to make this year the year of doing things. Now I have run into a problem:

Do not be confused! I have plenty of ideas and I don't think I will run out soon. I have also started about 10 of my ideas and some of them are pretty big and could take a long time. This is not suppose to be the year of starting things, I have been doing that forever, this is the year of doing things. So I'm already going to have to cut back. Which brings me to today's post. Developing a system over a goal and the art of saying NO!

A while back I was introduced to a concept that has really blown my mind and the more I think about it the more I like it. We have developed this concept that people who get things done are "Goal Oriented" people. Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert, doesn't think so. In an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal he said this:
"To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That's literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary.  
If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize that you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or to set new goals and re-enter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure."
I have noticed that with myself I have succeeded the most when I have a system. Take breakfast for example. I blogged about my breakfast habits last week. I have known that eating breakfast was important and it has been a goal for a few years. It wasn't until I threw out the goal and developed a system that I actually start being consistent. In fact I don't even think about how I have "achieved" my goal of eating breakfast I just do it. I don't have a count down chart or a reward system and there is no guilt in failure. I just tweak the system and repeat. 

Its time to kick the goals to the side and develop systems that help me keep going even when I fail.

The other thing I need to do is to prioritize and learn to say no. This starts by making a list of things that are important to me and then learning to say no to the things that are not on the list. In all of the studying I have done on being productive this is usually near the top. 

There are millions of things that we could be doing and we need to decide which are the things we want to do. I am not going to look back over my life and say boy I am glad I watched 3 hrs of tv a day when I was 27. That sure enriched my life. We watch Netflix together but we have been getting better at watching just one episode and then turning it off to do other things.

Another thing not on my list is Facebook. While I agree Facebook is not the devil and it is useful for some things, it can be a very dangerous black hole. Millions of status updates that you don't really care about can suck your life away. Real relationships are the people in front of you. Don't pass that up to keep in touch with your old high school friends.

So what is on my list? Well today is the day that I make it so stand by...