Category Archives: Startup

Getting Out of a Rut

A couple weeks ago, Patrick and I got ourselves into a mental rut. For a few days, Patrick was slaving away on server configurations. I was trying to figure out how we were going to charge credit cards on a monthly basis without storing customers’ credit card information. I started to get in trouble when attempting to merge two unaccepted patches for the Active Merchant Ruby library into something workable. Patrick and I like just about nothing worse than configuring servers and trying to fix unacceptable code. It was eating away at our morale; we could feel it; and it was slowing us down.

One night I wrote an email to Patrick explaining my despair and suggested we work together for a few days. Within minutes Patrick replied admitting that he was just about to write the exact same email.

The following day we pair-programmed our way through the Authorize.Net Automated Recurring Billing patch for Active Merchant. Not only did we see a task drop off our to-do list, we got the morale boost we needed to go back to individual work.

Although I largely agree with developer isolation as described by Fog Creek Software and 37signals, you just need to work together sometimes.


Just Start and Public Beta

SandwichBoard manOur video of SandwichBoard didn’t take us to the final round of Intuit’s Just Start competition, so there will be no begging for votes–sorry!

The good news is that Patrick and I are extremely close to releasing SandwichBoard as a public beta. We have a few open-loops we need to close, and then we’ll be ready for prime time.

Cutting Out the Middle (Wo)Men

SandwichBoard manOur first two customers are South Street Steaks and Aqui Brazilian Coffee respectively. As you can see, the sites will eventually need new designs; however, both establishments helped us develop a solid system, have been great beta-testers, and most importantly, they love SandwichBoard.

Today I walked Carminha Simmons of Aqui through SandwichBoard. She added a news article, event, and web page herself during the training. While she used the system, I took notes on anything she didn’t understand, things she got stuck on, and features that broke. When I got back to my home office in the afternoon, I went through my list and fixed the majority of the issues or UI flaws I saw before dinner.

I had direct contact with the customer and saw her every mouse click and facial expression. I was able to discuss with her how to fix things she didn’t understand. I didn’t have to go through a committee or get permission to fix what we thought was broken. All we have to do now is run a command to update our system live in a matter of minutes. Try doing that when working in an organization divided into job functions and heavy processes.


SandwichBoard manWe’ve finally told the world what our startup is all about! See the video announcement of SandwichBoard and our entry in Intuit’s Just Start competition. (I’ve also shown the world that I desperately need to fix my camera conversation skills and just talk naturally.)

If we make it past the judges and into the public voting phase (only five will make it to that round), I’ll write another post begging for your votes.

Building Something That Matters

If you read TechCrunch or any other news site focused on startups, you have noticed that there is a lot going on. However, the majority of the startups mentioned are focused on one of two things: social networking and media (music and video). He is why I wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole:

  • There is too much competition. Unless you’re a well-rounded genius, you’re not going to be much different than those competing in the same space with the same ideas.
  • Their business models are weak like all the startups that went belly-up in 1999. Most rely on advertising revenue. Although revenue is based on click-throughs instead of impressions, the same ads shown on multiple sites will become noise and people will stop clicking.
  • They are based on fads. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook and I love YouTube, but they can be an incredible time sink. The first two or three months I was on FB, I generated a lot of activity, as did my friends. I would have to visit FB at least twice a day to not miss anything. Now I see two to three days worth of activity on the homepage. The novelty of “Josia is eating gummy bears” is wearing off.

So what’s a budding entrepreneur to do? Solve a current consumer or business problem. Find a niche market or monopoly that you can beat at their own game because they’re just too big and bulky and outdated and used to doing things the old way. Create a novel device with BUG. Just don’t do what everyone else is doing because they’re all doing it.