Crazy? Awesome? or crazyawesome?

Only time will tell.

Most startups wait until right before–or even after–they run out of money to finally answer the question, “How are we going to make enough money for this to be self-sustaining?” At clippPR we wanted to solve this problem before the runway ends. But, pretending like there is no more money in the bank is nearly impossible unless you create an environment that feels almost as desperate.

So, we decided to ship as many revenue generating features and products as humanly possible, by doing seven 52 hour hackathons in one month.

A couple random details before I describe our process:

  • In case it needs to be said, this is an insane schedule for a very specific amount of time, we normally have a more sustainable schedule. But, sometimes, startups have to do things that aren’t sustainable.
  • This obviously doesn’t leave much time for test coverage, scaling, or refactoring. But, sometimes, startups have to do things that don’t scale.
  • One of the reasons we can do this right now is because the main product has high test coverage, and is built on top of a solid internal API. And, sometimes, startups have to do things that are crazy and fun.

So, the process:

  • find things that have immediate revenue attached
  • cherry pick low hanging fruit
  • validate quickly
  • and show off progress

We started by reviewing all the feedback and insights we captured through our customer development and ongoing conversations with existing customers. (I can write more about that if you like?) At the end of that process we had collated and refined a clean list of five things our customers and potential customers would say to, “clippPR is good and I like it. But, if you could just __________ it would be great and I couldn’t live without it. Please take my money.”

Then we did a massive dump and sort of all the ideas we could imagine would solve those problems. Everyone had 10 minutes to fill as many post-it notes as possible with their ideas. Then we threw them all on the white board and stacked up the notes that were the same. Then we grouped similar solutions into little piles. Then we pulled off all the piles that couldn’t produce real revenue within three months, to save for later. We were left with 29 piles, and gave each one a product/feature name.

Next, we created a quadrant with an x-axis of estimated time required to build and a y-axis of amount of estimated revenue within 3 months, and plotted out all the ideas. So, the ideas that have the highest potential revenue but shortest amount of time to build were in the top right, and the ideas with the lowest potential revenue but longest amount of time to build were in the bottom left.

The scary part was looking at the calendar. Our hackathons would start at 11am the first day and finish at 5pm on the third day. We needed a FULL day off after each hackathon to catch up on sleep and get a little break from one another, and we would need a recovery day for any bug fixes, integration with the live product, and deploying. We ended up with 7 slots. We filled in the slots with the low-hanging-fruit first, and then added the bigger projects last.

My wife made a quick run to costco to pick up some hackathon vittles, I invited some folks to our first demo night, and then we got started.

I am writing this on the second morning of our third hackathon, so I’ll save the review for the very end. But, I can tell you a few things:

  • We’ve already shipped 5 new features/products to live, and it feels amazing. There is something inspiring and motivating and very tangible about shipping so much new stuff.
  • Most of these shipped around Thanksgiving, so I don’t really get to start showing everything off to the larger group of customers until next week. But, the alpha testers who have already seen things and helped test during the hackathons are really excited.
  • I work with an amazing team who can do magic.

Update: Zack Miller asked a great question that made me realize I left out a very important point: The value is not so much about getting no sleep, and more about having a single focus and purpose for the entire team, all-hands-on-deck solving one specific problem, and having the time constraints to force us to ship the first version of things that actually work.

Help you help me

5/365

I connected one my friends in VegasTech with an advisor/mentor who is absolutely amazing and knows a ton about her market and business. But, he is also neck deep in his own company and projects. Which, is ideally true about any great mentor… I mean, I am probably not scrambling to get business advice from someone who is sitting around their apartment working on manually updating their episode guide to Yu-gi-oh cartoon reruns. I digress…

The best way to get help from busy mentors is to make it as simple as possible for them help.

1. Get your head right: Simply remind yourself that they are excited about your business, have offered to help, and want to help. (They did actually opt-in to this, right? Right?)

Which means, don’t waste more of their time apologizing or feeling bad or rehashing how amazing they are. We’ll get to the appreciate part at the end, don’t shove another paragraph in their face at the beginning.

2. Keep it simple: You are most likely to get input when you tee them up for a simple “yes”, “no”, “maybe but…”, response.

3. Keep it actionable: If you’re looking for an action instead of an answer, ask for a very specific action, like “Can you forward this to someone who has done x?”

4. Split out updates from actions: Sometimes you just want to keep them in the loop on changes, or share results from some previous advice. If they can just hit archive when they’re done, tell them upfront. “Just wanted to let you know about y, no need to respond unless something jumps out and makes you think I’m crazy.”

5. Spell out deadlines: Need an answer by Thursday at noon? Tell them, “We’re going into this potential partnership meeting tomorrow (April 7th) at 12:30. If you catch this before then…”

6. Say thank you: Probably goes without saying. But, you shouldn’t go without saying it. Always say thank you at the end of every email. Especially if your thank you is specific about the results of a previous exchange. “As always, I deeply appreciate your help. Thanks to that link you sent me last month, we decreased our churn by 8%! Cheers,”

leave-you-hanging-bonus-thought: How many of these tips can implemented in the subject line itself?

There is only the service of journalism

"The Conversation", 1963 - NARA - 558908

This thought from Jeff Jarvis has been rolling around in my head all evening:

There are no journalists, there is only the service of journalism.

/via There are no journalists — BuzzMachine

I love the way it puts the energy and focus and respect back onto the person who does the work of journalism instead of the chunk of media itself.

The ideas, the truth, the conversation. Those are the things that should be alive. Living, breathing, having their being. Changing the way we think. Adding to our perspective on the world.

In a time when the entire population is in danger of dying of consumption, we have a chance to shift back to conversations.

Conversations require participation.
Consumption requires nothing.

When should we start?

Cathy Knoll

Happy mothers day to the one who taught me:

Rise and Shine!

Also known as, “UP AND AT ‘EM!!” To be fair, it might have taken me a couple decades to truly appreciate this influence. But, these days I cannot be thankful enough that she taught me to seize the day with joy and excitement. The day has an entirely different feel when I watch the sun come up after I’ve already accomplished something.

Sleep is overrated, sometimes

You might think that, since she was waking us up at 5:45am to go down to the beach to look for sand dollars, she would be the type of person who turns in by 9:30pm. You’d be wrong. At 1am she would still be up be creating new content for her students, or emailing back customers who had questions, or writing up an article for the newspaper, or creating a guideline handbook for an organization, etc. I realized (1) 8hrs a night isn’t really necessary (2) Especially when you have a ton of projects and people you are passionate about.

Why not start a business?

I’m not sure whether my mom ever spent even one day working for anyone else. For my entire life she has owned her own businesses. She contracts Music Therapy services to schools and group homes in our part of Texas. She co-owns a business selling resources and courses to other music therapists across the world. She has created and run large programs for the community. She created a whole website of resources for caretakers of people with autism.

So, the idea of starting my own business wasn’t foreign at all. In some ways it feels inevitable. This is something we do because we absolutely love an idea. We know if we want this thing to exist in the world, we have to build it. No one else could love it and create it for us.

The show must go on

Growing up with my mom, several things were true: (1) Everything was a production (including actual community theater, talent shows, follies, multi-day conferences and events, and mini-plays with her students). (2) Very real hardships and random kinks in the system will always try to knock a production (life) off its tracks. (3) Get up. Dust yourself off. Get creative. The show must go on.

I can be a victim, or I can be the protagonist.

Make the most of today

When I was 4 or 5, my mom had her head shaved, a hole drilled in the side of it, and her balance nerves clipped. She’s deaf in one ear, and has so much tinnitus that its hard to hear out of the other (or even think straight). And, because of the nerve damage, there is quite a bit of physical pain that comes along with that. I have to tell you all this, because unless you’re really close to her and some reason to share this information occurs, the most you’d ever know is that she’s deaf in one ear.

I never met her dad. He was a business owner as well. And, from what I hear, the type of guy who could be the priest, the mayor, and the sheriff of a town. But, he dropped dead out of the blue before she even made it to college.

It was never said out loud so explicitly, but looking back it is clear we grew up living life as if tomorrow might never come. Our projects, and world travel, and huge family vacations, and weeks at the beach, and band camps, and scouting trips, and on and on.

If an opportunity to experience life shows up, the question isn’t “should we do this or not?” it’s, “when should we start?”.

loss

Today I lost a friend and an inspiration to suicide. He was an inventor, creator, instigator, and innovator. But for reasons we can only really speculate about and guess at, he decided to choose an ending for himself rather than a future.

Every time the entrepreneurial community processes news of suicide, we decide it is finally time to deal with this issue and come up with solutions.

Originally posted as a comment on AVC

We never really get very far in that particular conversation, even though it is brought up every time we lose another young high profile developer. It helps when people like Ben Huh step up and tell personal stories to demystify and demarginalize entrepreneurial depression. As a community, we still do not have enough tools and resources and shared stories to prevent losses like this. While we will probably never bring a complete end to suicide, hopefully we can get better at supporting our own and learning how to step in and step up for each other.

The entrepreneurial road is extremely tough. It is far too simple to glorify swimming against the stream and seeing what others cannot see and persevering through years of hardship to come out the other end a winner. Yet we are required to keep our game face on, convincing everyone around us that the future is bright and we have a winner on our hands. The people around us we probably most need to lean on for support and encouragement of our own, are often the people who are relying on us to ‘keep the faith’ for them. And showing any fear or weakness to those people can feel like a non-option.

I don’t know the ultimate solution. But my own small attempt to address this issue in my life and in the companies I advise, is to make sure there is at least one mentor/advisor/friend who is allowed to hear all the fears, all the frustration, any moments of hopelessness… who have opted in to be the listener and encourager (and whose life would not be directly impacted by a business failure). Maybe if more entrepreneurs had this as a habit and common practice we would lose less bright minds to despair.

I did know Aaron. We had multiple conversations which impacted the trajectory of my career. I was not a close friend, and I do not know what was going through his mind these last few days (weeks?) (months?). But I am angry and sad that we lost him.