Category Archives: startup

Please let your product passion endure

There is a natural continuum between an uncompromising idealism of a starry-eyed, first time founder, and a jaded cynicism of someone who has already found a winning formula and is prepared to apply it indiscriminately. I’ve seen an expression of both extremes of passion in my conversations with founders,  managers and product people, and I’ve seen it come across vicariously through the product itself.

What so often begins as a passion for a product and exceptional user experience turns into a passion for profit. I am struggling to express what, if anything, is particularly wrong with this tendency. After all, everyone needs to make a living, and passion alone cannot buoy every single product. It’s brutal out there, and when the money runs out, it has the inevitable effect of also smothering any passion to make something great.

But the converse is also true. I feel like far too many products and far too many judgements never leave the dollars and numbers dimension. There is almost a criminal lack of concern for the user experience or user value, and this comes across as wholly unjustified and offensive. The respect for the user is gone as soon as the product person starts saying things behind the user’s back that they wouldn’t say to their face.

It’s especially disconcerting when an attempt is made to make the business piece fit while the product vision hasn’t had a chance to take flight or even fully form. And I really wish there were fewer of those personally gut-wrenching moments when I see passion compromised for something not worth the paper that business model spreadsheet was printed on.

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Thinking of Going to a Hackathon?

Hackathons are the new black. They seem to be all the rage these days and everybody seems to be doing it. I, for one, always wanted to go to one but never had the chance until two weeks ago when I attended Angelhack NYC.

What finally made it possible for me was a fortuitous combination of: (1) a free weekend, (2) a moderate ticket price, and (3) an event with decent reputation. So if you want me to come to your next hackathon, you know what you need to do. Don’t overcharge and make it good.

But I digress. How to put together an awesome hackathon is a topic for another post. For now I’d like talk about my personal takeaways – what went right, what went wrong, and what I could have done differently to get more out of the event.

If you are a first-time hackathon attendee, I sure hope you’ll find this bit of anecdotal observation useful. If you are feeling impatient, feel free to skip ahead to the summary section below.

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Defining the vision for Raffl

I am taking “How To Launch your Startup Idea for Less than $5,000” class with Michael Karnjanaprakorn of SkillShare fame. For the first time this class is taught as a mix of interactive sessions, self-paced study, and weekly assignments, and I am happy to be a part of the experiment.

I don’t really expect any major epiphanies from the assigned reading and watching — I am already familiar with a lot of the material. Instead, my hope was that the class would help lend structure to the entrepreneurial dabblings I’ve started getting myself into.

In the spirit of transparency (for which this blog is undoubtedly famous), I decided to project my class assignments, discoveries and experiences here for all of you to follow. Also, I decided to use the Raffl idea as a vehicle for this class.

So, let’s start with Assignment 1 – Vision:

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Does proficiency mean you stop learning when you get good?

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about proficiency and skill. Where does proficiency come from? How can we quantify and measure it? How is it different from skills that non-practitioners have?

So here are some of my thoughts. You are fully entitled to vehemently disagree.

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What Build-Measure-Learn Is Not

Any framework or structured way of thinking is an opportunity for some structured abuse. Business frameworks like Build-Measure-Learn, which is at core of the Lean Startup Movement, are no exception. Just to be perfectly clear, I like Build-Measure-Learn, and I think it’s a valuable tool for startups and mature companies to generate more value and to find a viable business model.

I am using Build-Measure-Learn as a vehicle here not because it’s easy to pick on, but because it’s easy to understand and navigate. It offers a convenient platform to illustrate how these abuses can creep in and hijack the business objectives the framework was designed to help achieve.

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I want role models who are happy, not rich

Here is a damning indictment and a heartfelt confession rolled into one:

I am a startup junkie.

Ok, perhaps, that’s not the worst kind of junkie to be, but it’s still pretty silly when you basically have no substantive connection to this community apart from the fact that you desperately want to have a connection to this community. Don’t leave just yet, let me explain.

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LinkPeelr: Wondrous Journey from Weekend Project to 3000+ Users

LinkPeelr has been fine and dandy. So fine, in fact, that I feel a pressing need to tell you about its progress. This is a long post — sit back and enjoy!

When I started on LinkPeelr I thought it was a neat and compact idea, and a small enough project I could actually tackle myself. I ended up launching LinkPeelr after 3 weekends of work, but I never intended for it to evolve far beyond the small project that it was. From day one I viewed it primarily as a “pipecleaner”, an app that could help me test my own ability to go from problem to launch and prepare me for more ambitious things that I’ve had simmering on the back burner.

LinkPeelr was a first in many categories. It may come as a shock but it’s the first “complete” piece of software that I wrote from scratch (all 122 lines of Python and 507 lines of JavaScript). If that’s not shocking enough for you, it’s also the first piece of software that I wrote that now has thousands of users whom I’ve never met and who don’t know me and who voluntarily choose to use this software.

Needless to say LinkPeelr has quickly outgrown its  purely experimental intent, managing for a few weeks to eclipse everything else I was thinking about and working on. This period has been a period of rapid learning, and something that I enjoyed immensely. Although I obviously set out to make LinkPeelr a learning experience of sorts, I never anticipated that this learning would come at this pace and intensity.

What follows is an account of what happened after I launched LinkPeelr, and what I’ve learned in the process. After hitting 1400 words with this post I realized that “what’s next for LinkPeelr” section had better come in its own separate write up.

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