Coding On Christmas?

santa-needs-a-new-laptop

Santa Could Use A New Laptop

Well, not actually coding, just throwing together a quick burndown list of what’s left to do on one of the many projects I’m working on. Don’t you love it when you’re working on something and you can’t stop thinking of great ideas for making it better? When this happens to me I have to pour it into Evernote or something, otherwise I’ll forget it. Of course, prior to the internet it would all be in those composition books all us engineering types love to write stuff in. I prefer mine blank so I can draw all sorts of things – I was never very good at following the lines anyways.

But I digress. I used to have a running joke with one of my colleagues – whenever he’d ping me or call me on the phone he’d say “You working?” and no matter when it was – whether I was driving, attending one of my kids MMA classes, or watching TV, or even actually even working, I’d say “Always!”

Truth is, I AM kind of always working. I think the very soul of a startup entrepreneur is just like that – no matter where we are or what we are doing, we have this little engine in our heads which is constantly churning out new ideas. I think everyone has that little engine – some of us purposely shut it down and other just ignore it. But that thing kicks out some great ideas – yes, even on Christmas Day.

So I say unto you – let your little engine let loose with those ideas, and write them down as soon as you get them – you never know if with a little development they might turn into the next multi-billion dollar idea.

Yes, even on Christmas.

Are You In A Cowboy Startup?

cowboy-sunsetHave you ever had the feeling that you are going a million miles an hour, working like crazy, and no one around you knows whats going on, what you are working on, or what you are focused on doing? Well, yeehah! welcome to the cowboy startup, my friends.

  1. Does every founder have a different idea where the company is going?
  2. Do you careen from one project to another just to satisfy the next prospects demands?
  3. Is there a plan? If there is a plan is it being followed? Did you hire someone to attempt to keep to a plan (sometimes known as “adult supervision”), then promptly ignore them?

Yes, my friends, some of you can look around and realize that you’re in this situation right now. But what do you do? You believe in some aspect of the product, which is of course why you are still there, but for some reason, no one is focused on THE BIG PICTURE: i.e. what are you really trying to do?

I’ve come across this a bunch of times in my startup lives and I can tell you its not easy trying to focus people – especially high powered, high performers, who seem to be doing fine in their paths. Especially some coders I know, hell they’ll start coding before they even know what they are going to do. Gold star for enthusiasm, but if the company pivots right after you start, then your code is wasted. I’m all for agile, but sometimes people push it to extremes and start with no spec at all.

Say for example you are doing a social networking clone. I’ve seen coders leap into action and code a stripped down Facebook clone in a day. The day after, the founders decided to focus on search instead. Oh well, the coders says, at least I can use some of the code for the new build. Oh, but next week they have a demo for a publishing house! Can you scrap everything you’ve done and come up with a working demo which scrapes all social media for book information and displays it in a responsive design?

One thing all successful startups have (or at least HAD when they first started) was focus. They did one thing and they did it well enough to gain enough traction to win. Think UNIX, not Windows – every command does one thing, every startup does one thing, and does it well.

If you can’t wrangle your cowboys to focus, it might be time to ride off into the sunset. Just sayin’

If You Aren’t Mobile, You Are Behind The Curve…

mobileapps2…and being behind the curve is not the place to be at the moment. There are new startups every day, each either carving a new place in the market with an interesting new product, or doing being an improved me-too startup.

If you’ve focused on making your web based experience awesome, that great – but you’ve probably not hit the biggest and growing section of the market – mobile users. In fact, a startup (or any business for that matter) without a mobile strategy, or at minimum, a mobile app, is in danger of being left in the dust.

What are you going to do? You can either a) either a kick ass mobile developer who’s probably in high demand at the moment because everyone is moving quickly to build mobile apps b) begin the arduous process of learning to build an app in Objective C for iOS, Java for Android, or one of the many all-in-one SDK’s like Titanium Appcelerator or PhoneGap, all of which really are truly arduous for the non-coder or c) use an app builder software, which will generate and submit apps for you, using a combination of things like CSS3, HTML5 & Javascript (AKA all-the-latest-mobile-tech). For simple apps (and more complex ones if you are willing to do a bit of b) above) there are plenty of great choices which can get you started off for free or a minimal fee.

Take for example one of the easiest to use and fully templated ones called appypie.com (Great name, but makes me hungry every time I hear it) – I personally created an app, a simple one mind you, but I created an app for for Android and iOS in less than 5 minutes. Now, I used the standard template that they gave me (and they have about 30 main templates – for everything from generic business templates, to fitness apps, to with about 27 modules that you can mix and match between them) and it would take longer if you’d like to put in your own custom images and really think about what your mobile app needs to do – but its a great way to get into having a mobile app quickly and for very low cost. I think the top price is about $33 a month for a true white label with no appypie branding and submission to all app stores etc. Good deal when you consider the typical cost of mobile app development.

It’s a great start for most startups who don’t have very complex mobile requirements from the beginning and may be all that you need. I haven’t dug too deep into more complex apps (I’m in the middle of two projects myself that need a mobile version and am considering appypie for one if not both of them) but I’ll likely test both of them through appypie and see if its suitable for either and report back.

I’m curious – what you all all use for you mobile development platform? I’m sure there’s plenty of hard core – native or fuggedaboudit folks out there – but for those others, what have you used successfully..?

The Hard Way, Or The Easy Way?

easy-hardThere are so many entrepreneurs that I come across with fantastic business ideas, but a lot of them just take a hell of a lot of work – I just wonder why they persist at them, when there just seem to be so many other problems to solve and that aren’t as difficult.

Case in point: I was working with an entrepreneur awhile back who had, at first blush, a fantastic idea. It wasn’t mind blowing, world changing, but not a bad idea at all. First thing he wanted to do was rip out a prototype, which wouldn’t have been too difficult, but it did require that a key technical hurdle be met. So instead of doing that, we sat and went through the specs, the design and the market. As we kept on going, we realized that that great idea, would be really, really difficult to implement, had a tiny, low value market, and that the rest of the market actively wanted to maintain the status quo of terribleness.

In the end, I left the project, all attempts to convince the entrepreneur that this project was just too difficult, failed. He was focused on his vision, this difficult vision, and no one could sway him otherwise.

Take a look at your vision: are those roadblocks worth surmounting? Do you really have a product which serves a market with demand? It is not only a great idea, but one that people with money actually want? If you don’t meet that criteria, maybe you should be working on something else.

If You START…You’re Much More Likely To FINISH

DS1-Start-finish-lineIf you’ve wondering where I’ve been over the last little while I’ve been really busy 1) taking a vacation and 2) doing NaNoWriMo. If you’re not familiar with that its the acronym for National Novel Writing Month, where you’re supposed to power out at least 50000 words during the month of November which hopefully at the end resembles a novel.

When I first heard about NaNoWriMo (in the early 200os) I thought to myself, that’s a great idea – I should do that. I’ve always wanted to write – I used to write reams and reams of fiction longhand back in high school. Even before I learned to write, I remember sitting on my cousins knee, telling her stories which she wrote down while she was babysitting my brother and me. But every year, I always found some reason to put it off again and again.

This year, even though I had a number of things going on this month – I was determined to squeeze it in, no matter how hard ti was going to be. And you know what? It wasn’t that hard after all. Just had to re-prioritize a few things, get up a little earlier some days, and I found the time.

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the time that was stopping me from doing it, it was the thought of not finishing. I figured, boy 50000 words is huge! Sometimes I struggle to write a measly blog post.

But once I’d started, I really got into it – writing up the characters, putting them in danger, and then eventually having them work their way out of it. I hesitated to start – because I didn’t think I could finish, when the reality was the opposite – once I started, I didn’t wan’t to stop. In fact, once I hit 50000 words early last week, there was still about 11000 words of story to go.

So if for some reason your holding back from starting anything, like for example, that startup idea that you’ve been sitting on for years, just get started on it. If you need to know how to code – learn how. If you need a graphic design, there’s plenty for designers out there who will give you ideas on the cheap. Or learn how. If you want to do a mobile app but have no idea, grab one of the many mobile app development platforms out there, and learn it. Of at the very least, write up a detailed spec and work on the kinks on paper.

My point is: at least start. ┬áIf you are reluctant to do even that – don’t be surprised if some startup pops up one day with a similar idea and you’ll be kicking yourself that you never took the plunge.