Archive for December, 2011

Vacation!
December 29, 2011

So I’m supposed to be four days in to my only vacation of the year. But things aren’t going according to plan. As it turns out, when you own a business your work hours are dictated by your customers. For you to have customers you actually have to be available for their needs. Thats actually the most important part of the deal or else they go somewhere else.

My wife asked me why I can’t simply turn off the phone and have a vacation responder on my email. Well, once upon a time we had no customers. No money. No revenue. All we had was free time. Maybe I should have taken my vacation then.

When your customers need you is when you have to work. If you aren’t willing to do that then maybe starting your own company is a bad idea.

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The Best “little” thing about the iPhone
December 20, 2011

I’m about 6 months in to owning an iPhone instead of an Android device and while there are a number of HUGE things I like (brightness auto-adjustment, great battery life, the fact that it never ‘hangs up’ or requires a reboot), the best “little” thing is the Reader feature in the browser. Simply put, if you open a web page then a little button saying “Reader” appears in the address bar. Click it and the text of the page is presented in a format similar to the Kindle app. The text is readable and large and most images and ads are stripped out.

Im sure there are Apps that can be downloaded for Android or WP7 that do this same thing. But I wouldn’t know because Apple was nice enough to bake the feature in to the OS. What’s great is that consuming blogs and internet pages is SUBSTANTIALLY more pleasant using this feature. As a result, I spend not just more time on my phone but more time being happy on my phone.

Well done.

Here’s how it works
December 18, 2011

If you have an idea, build a product, and gain users then you should be proud of yourself.

And you should prepare for going broke.

If you have an idea, build a product, and can CHArGE users then you should be satisfied with yourself.

Because you can prepare for your company to have a long and profitable life.

That is how it works.

How to stop SOPA
December 18, 2011

I saw a post somewhere stating that Jimmy Wales was threatening to shut down Wikipedia in protest of SOPA. Good for him. That’s a powerful statement. Unfortunately it won’t do much good since 60 year old Senators from North Dakota don’t know anything about the internet, much less Wikipedia.

But there is one person that could put an end to this SOpA non sense. There is one person who could flip a switch and immediately conscript a force of hundreds of millions of lobbyists. He could turn normal people in to pissed off constituents in a matter of moments.

Not to give away the secret but his name rhymes with Clark Nuckerberg.

Seriously.

If “he” directed all Facebook traffic to a single page that said “Facebook will be inaccessible until the SOPA bill in congress is defeated. Please contact your representatives. Thank you” then SOPA would be dead tomorrow.

Can you imagine all the ignorant (used literally, not as an insult) legislators hearing from their staffers and grandchildren about Facebook shutting down? Can you imagine how many otherwise ignorant (same usage) citizens would actually be spurned to do something once their addictive, time wasting timelines and Zynga games were gone?

You say you want a revolution? Well, call Mark. He has the tools at his disposal to start one.

What’s next
December 17, 2011

I’ve posted about this before but I’m going to keep writing about it, both to keep my own focus and to see if anyone else has any thoughts.

Right now the Internet is full of ways to express yourself. Facebook, twitter, , etc.

There are also ways to gain acknowledgement for your online activity. Think foursquare “mayors” and quora vote-ups.

What’s next is the convergence of the two. It’s platform where you can express yourself, where people will listen, and where you will find quantifiable approval (or disapproval) for your thoughts and opinions. The communities on these platforms will in turn shape your motivations and mold your behaviors through their attention and approval.

It will essentially be the long tail of celebrity where who you are as a person and your individual brand will converge. You will express yourself as you would on Facebook but you will collect feedback as you would on quora. And you will be rewarded as on foursquare. You will compete for attention and approval. And you will be rewarded when you have earned it.

That’s what’s next.

Shut up and ship
December 15, 2011

I read techcrunch and boy genius and hacker news and a zillion different blogs. And I am inspired. But the inspiration they offer is fake. It doesn’t spurn me to action; it simply spurns me to daydream. But daydreaming doesn’t create code or find customers. Its just the introverts version of wasting time, like Facebook or The Jersey Shore.

Less day dreaming. More producing

Less brainstorming. More pen to paper.

Less procrastination. More finding the partners and players needed to make build the engine and paint the car cherry red.

Shut up and ship.

Looking for a production ready kit of board level material?
December 10, 2011

If your component supply chain is causing you frustration then it is worth your time to check us out at Signature Electronics. We provide complete board level component kitting services. Send over your Bill of Material and we’ll reply quickly reply with a single price for the entire kit. Three to five days after receiving a purchase order, the entire kit will be on your dock ready for production!

Construction.
December 10, 2011

Every job exists to build something. To build a house, you need carpenters and plumbers. To build a car you need engineers and technicians. To build a company you need administrative assistants and sales people and a lot of other people in between. Of course you need lots of other things to, but the entire concept of working is this:

You earn a wage.
And in exchange for that wage you play a role in the creation of more net revenue than the wage that you are paid.

You are paid to build, to construct, to create, to generate something greater then the cost of being kept around.

Everyone plays a role. At every company every person has a part to play in earning a wage that is fair (or else they would not keep working) and taking their time on the clock and creating a greater amount of money than the wage they earn. It’s simple math.

Businesses that grow, that succeed are those that have workers who impact and create gross net revenues greater than their individual and collective compensation. Businesses that fail are those that employee workers that do NOT produce more gross revenue than their individual and collective compensation.

If your business has the latter, you will succeed and prosper.
If your business has the former, you should plan for the end.

I once had a job where I grew top-line revenue by 22% year over year. I grew bottom line net revenue by 17% year over year. My boss thought we should have grown by a much higher multiple, so he fired me. I wasn’t mad about it – maybe he was right and someone else could have done a better job.

But where he was wrong was in dispensing of a person (me) that generated more net revenue than he cost. I could have done something else and helped grow the business. I could have earned him more money than I cost, but he didn’t want me there. You can never have too many people on your team that create profit.

Construct your team out of people that create more money than they cost. Keep them around. They are valuable. And, surprisingly, they are rare.

From Rock Stars to Tech Startups – A multi part series
December 7, 2011

20 years ago I set out to become a great guitar player. 20 years later, I’ve set out to become a web programmer. The parallels are ridiculous.

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When I was 12 years old I liked skateboards and BMX racing. But my family had just moved to a new town, I had started at a new school, and no one I knew shared my interests. And as is the case with young people, I quickly gave up skating and biking to do things my friends enjoyed.

In music class when I was in 7th grade, a classmate named Will Adams brought out an old classical guitar and played the first few bars of “Here Comes The Sun.” It was probably the only song he knew but it was enough. I HAD to learn to play guitar.

My parents gave me a Yamaha acoustic guitar for Christmas. My mom bought it at a pawn shop for $100 (it still hangs on my wall today). They enrolled me in lessons at a local music shop and I began to learn to play.

The funny thing about learning a new instrument is that all of your efforts sound like noise….right up until they don’t. I clearly remember the first time my Dad came around the corner and told me, “Hey…that sounds like music.” Even better, I remember the first time I actually put a couple chords together and it sounded like music to me.

My first band was me, John, and Hjalmar (YALL-mar). We named our band Liar’s Choir, which is still a bitchin name for a band. We lacked a drummer and a bass player but by God we were a band. My first performance was with John on guitar and me singing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” Hjalmar was there but he was too scared to sing. We were mad at Hjalmar for bailing so we had a stint where we kicked him out and called the band (me and John) Toxic Opera. Then we called it Noise Boys. Then back to Liar’s Choir at which point we invited Hjalmar back in. We were 13.

Two years later we finally had a full band. Jack played bass and Matt played drums. MAtt was older then all of us and he could buy cigarettes, so he automatically was welcomed. HE also sang in a band called Voodoo Grog that made fun of us behind our backs, but we didn’t care. We spent most of the summer going to their practice space (Matt’s converted garage), chain smoking, and playing our songs a couple of times before my Mom picked us up in our minivan. The Voodoo Grog guys hated us and thought we were dorks (and we probably were), but they loved that John could play every Metallica song. Our songs had names like “Feed My Aggression” and “Don’t Judge Me.” At that moment, we were the worst band ever in history. And even thought we knew we weren’t any good all we could think about was opening for Aerosmith and GNR and the Stones. Some nights we would practice in Matt’s garage and then Jack would call some girls from his school over to swim in the pool in to the night. On the days we didn’t get to practice I’d hang out at Hjalmar’s house. We would swim in his pool while his parents were at work, listening to Kiss records and discussing what our stage names should be. He was “John Doe.” I wanted to copy my hero Slash with a one word name; I would be “Mutt.”

Our first gig came at the end of the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year of high school. We had practiced our songs but had no idea how to perform. We spent 10 minutes between every song making Beavis and Butthead jokes in to the mic. We ran out of songs so we played “Symphony of Destruction” while Hjalmar sang the words while reading the cassette insert of the latest Megadeth tape. I had changed my strings right before we went on stage and they hadn’t stretched so I was out of tune the whole time. Our first song was called “Sixteen” (which is still one of the best songs I ever wrote in an L.A. Guns sort of way). We ended with “Bangkok Girl” (pun intended). We saved “It’s Alright” for an encore that never came. The show was at North Shore Park in the The Woodlands. There were about 12 people there and all of them were in the bands playing after us. I wore high tops, jean shorts, a Faster Pussycat T-Shirt and a leather hat. Re-read that. Seriously, that is what I wore for my first rock show. (To my credit, I was playing a ’71 Les Paul Custom through a Marshall twin).

It didn’t matter – we were rock stars that night. When we came off stage we all lit a cigarette and talked about how we had just taken the first step that would eventually lead us to the Grammy awards and Madison Square Garden.

There is something liberating about being sure of your coming success.

I had a different band each year in high school after that. Mister Stone’s Garden was my sophomore year. Hjalmar had moved away and John had started a metal band. MSG wasn’t very good either, mostly because our singer couldn’t stay in tune despite fashioning himself as a teenage Scott Wielend. My junior year brought Spilt, wherein that same singer finally learned to carry a note and the rest of the band started to gell. Spencer played drums. He was good except for wanting every song to be two minutes long so he could smoke another cig. He’d had a drug problem so his counselor told him to “keep Marlboros, kick the hard stuff.” We were supportive. Chris played bass and wanted to grow up to be a mortician (seriously). I wrote all the songs and most of them were about the girls who I dated a little but mostly didn’t understand (the feeling was mutual in our small school). One night we played at Zeldas, which was a small dive bar in Houston. We had a lot of people there including my family and we played songs called “Scarlet” and “After Me” and “Life Flat.” I’ll never forget how afterwards my Dad came up with a big smile (mostly of surprise) and said “That sounded great!” as if he couldn’t believe we actually had evolved in to more then just noise.

As a note since I’ve mentioned Dad twice: no musician has ever had a bigger fan than I had in my mother. She took me to see GnR when my dad wouldn’t let us go without an adult. Se listened to the same Cinderella tape over and over as we drove across the country and never once complained. I am blessed.

My senior year I started Triggerfish with an entirely new group of friends. Mostly I wrote the songs and played guitar and my friend David sang the lyrics ( that i also wrote). Spencer was still our drummer but some other classmates joined in on bass and guitar. It was sort of like a Hootie and the Blowfish cum Pearl Jam band. When our shows ended, all the girls wanted to go out with David and I was left packing up my guitar. Todd, our bass player, would disappear in to the night. Spencer would smoke cigarettes and pack up his drums. Any girls not following David would circle around Hunter, the other guitar player. If you know Hunter now you are bound to see the humor in the girls chasing him around.

John’s band was called Urban Chaos and they rocked hard. He shredded on guitar, Mark banged on the drums, and my old bass player Chris was now playing with them. They played lots of Pantera covers.

And just like my bands they sounded terrible. Until they didn’t. One day both of our bands sounded like actual rock bands. John quit playing solos all the time. Chris started paying attention to harmony. And Mark quit thinking that 3 minutes of drumrolls constituted a song.

The songs I wrote for Triggerfish had structure, verses, and choruses. I tried to woo a girl in school with one of our tapes. She liked it, then she made out with another kid during one of our shows. Then, in the spring of my senior year our class gave out “awards” to each other. I was voted “Most Argumentative”. David was voted “Most Musical.” Not to say it’s the entire reason, but it certainly factored in to the fact that I have spoke to him (my best friend from 7th grade until graduation) exactly twice since we received our high school diplomas.

Anyway, I went to college and tried to start a band with guys in my dorm. They were awful. So I played Dave Matthews songs and leaned on that as a good use of my talent. Later my Freshman year, a well-regarded band on campus called “Smudge” enlisted me to play bass. So desperate to be a musician again, I complied. Then the second guitar player quit and I was back to my original instrument. I didn’t smoke enough weed to ever really be a part of Smudge but a tipping point had occurred for me as a musician. I wasn’t a guy that knew how to play a guitar anymore – I was a guy that could play in a band and make the band better. Smudge broke up after the school year.

My sophomore year in college I answered an ad in the Austin Chronicle and linked up with a guy named Jason. We formed a band called Urban Pet Collective. Being in UPC included a LOT of practice, a LOT of songwriting, more practice, and a lot of shows. We even played at CBGB’s in New York City with Paul Simon’s kid (the one he refers to when he sings “My traveling companion is nine years old…” in “‘Graceland’) as the opening act. I played in Toronto and Chicago as well. We were really good. We sounded like Matchbox 20 and LIVE but we were good. UPC was all Austin guys and we were baked in the oven that is the Austin Music scene. The bands that formed and played on campus at my school sounded like 3 or 4 guys playing instruments together. We sounded like a fucking rock and roll band. UPc ended 19 months later when Jason and I began sparring over who was the leader of the band (and he fell in love with my best friends girlfriend$,) our bass player started getting depressed, and our drummer would disappear for weeks at a time to visit his Dad who was locked up in federal prison in Mississippi. As a note, Brendan Anthony (Pat Green’s violin player) spent some time in UPC. Brendan is a sensational musician and performer and it is really no surprise that he ended up making a career of all of this.

A few years after graduation I would form the Broken Stars. We played 100 shows over three years, made an album, and had a lot of fun. One night our pedal steel player told me, “this band can’t exist without you….you brought us all together and even if all of us quit, there would still be an awesome band here.” I ended up walking out on them, quiting. They were mad at me for a long time (justifiably) although we’ve mended those fences now. They think I quit because I wanted to get married. I tell people I quit because I was tired of loading gear out at 2 a.m. on a work night after playing to 4 people and getting only a $10 comp at the bar in exchange.

THe truth is that I quit because there was a moment where I realized i was never going to be a professional musician. I was never going to be a rock star. And I quit not the moment I became fine with that fate but even earlier, the moment I was honest with myself and realized that no amount of work or practice or stone cold luck or great shows or late nights loading gear was ever going to transport me back to being 13 years old, diving off of Hjalmar’s diving board while listening to Physical Graffiti and dreaming of jamming with Joe Perry.

My songs were good, but they were far from great. My voice was good, but far from great. My story of being a good kid from a good family and having no drug problem or social issues or whatever simply wasn’t going to lend itself to making me a star. I was a normal guy who wrote good songs for a pretty good band. The. End. I quit the band and I hung up my guitars for good. Literally.

When I quit the Broken Stars, I sold my Taylor acoustic and my Gibson ES135. I have a ’71 Les Paul Custom hanging on my wall next to my original Yamaha acoustic. I’ve maybe played the guitar 5 times in the last decade. I only play at parties after everyone has had too much to drink and we want to sing Robert Earl Keen songs. Occasionally I play “Fact of The MAtter”, which is a song I wrote that my wife loves (which makes no sense because it’s extremely, unapologetically misogynistic). I don’t miss being in a band or playing music at all. Given the chance to get on stage again I can say with certainty that I would rather eat a hand grenade.

But somewhere in there along the way I went from struggling to play a single chord to being able to play every chord 6 different ways without looking at my guitar. And I can still do it. I may have lost a couple of chops here and there but I can sneak my guitar down off the wall for a few minutes and it’s like I never ever put it up. I looked down the other day while talking to my wife and I was fingering a Major scale on my pants leg. With my right hand. Which is odd because I never fingered a fretboard with my right hand (that was my strumming hand). At some point it goes from being something you think about to something that is in you. And it never goes away.

***************

I’m 34 now and trying to teach myself how to program web applications. THe model holds the same – you bang around on a keyboard and nothing good happens. Then, with enough practice and study, you start to see how things work and you start to make music one note at a time. Then you learn a chord. Then a chorus. Then a song. And you keep at it diligently until you look up and it doesn’t take a lot of thinking but rather it just sort of happens, like how an artist doesn’t see the block or marble but rather the thing that is stuck inside it. Like playing the guitar, coding just starts to flow. You don’t think about the transition from a D chord to a G chord…it just sort of happens. And you finally get to the point where you don’t think of what you are doing but rather what you will do next and next and next and suddenly it’s there.

20 years ago we all wanted to be rock stars and play the Forum and wear leather pants and turn up the Marshall stacks to 10. But Les Pauls have been replaced by Macbook Airs and pentatonic scales have been replaced by Ruby on Rails. The goal is the same. THe vision is the same. TO take a language not everyone can speak and make it do something amazing. To take an instrument and sting together notes that make people happy. That resonate with them. To form small, tiny pieces in to experiences that can be repeated and remembered over and over again.

***UP NEXT – How tech startups are like being in a band***

The Moment You “Win”
December 3, 2011

“It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back…so shake it off.”

There are places where winning is obvious. Michael Jordan hitting a game winning shot, for example, is a clear win.

Most of us don’t deal in such absolutes. Our wins are found in moments, and a moment later we move on to the next challenge. But maybe we should spend more time celebrating and acknowledging the wins we earn along the way.

Watch this amazing performance of Florence and the Machine on Saturday Night Live. Florence Welch is an amazing vocalist in total control of her instrument. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. She earns every win.

She spends the first two minutes toying with the crowd. They’re thinking, “she has a big voice and this a nice song. When does the next skit start?

At 2:00 she starts to morph, to ready for the payoff. It’s like watching Evil Kinevil (sp?) as he backed down the ramp to the starting point and began checking all of his gauges before he started his approach.

At 2:44 she seems to loosen up completely. Her shoulders drop 5 inches and her eyes open wide. She’s mentally where she needs to be. Now she needs to get her tools – her body, her lungs – in sync.

At 3:00 her breathing becomes more deliberate. She puts her body in the right posture to get the most air in her blood and lungs. At this point, she is on the win-horizon, and she is doing what is necessary to be ready to pounce when the opportunity presents itslef.

At 3:12 she goes in to a falsetto, off-tempo thing. If you were listening you would think she was adding “texture”, “balance”, or “dynamics” to the performance. But you are a fool; she’s more like a sprinter getting ready in the blocks.

And at 3:18 she launches a note that kills the whole room. A note that would make Randy Jackson say, “Man…she can BLOW!” A note that lets the SNL booking guy say, “I have booked some bad acts, but this moment makes up for them.” A note that makes everyone watching turn to someone and say, “what was her name again?” A note that makes her manager see dollar signs. A note that makes the band have to work hard to even hold the beat together. A note. The note. The win.

Eight seconds later her body language, her face gives a wink to the crowd and to herself that she KNOWS just hit the hard part, she just WON the performance. For a moment, there is the perfect spot, the perfect piece and peace, the perfect…note. Watch it and see what I mean. Right then, for a moment, Florence Welch wins.

Ask yourself if you’ve ever hit the right note at the right time….if you have to think about it then the answer is “no.” Because you would know the moments that you have been perfect, and you would remember them like they happened a mere moment ago. Do you remember? Do you think about how to repeat the moment? THAT moment? Did you luck in to it…or did you earn it? Were you prepared deliberately? Were you waiting, ready to pounce when your chance of chances came? Are you ready now?

Celebrate your wins. More than that, KNOW when you have won. And take those wins and learn from them so you can win again and again and again. Whether you code or write or sell or talk or sweep the streets of Detroit…know when you have hit the right pitch and done work in a way that no one anywhere could repeat right then and right there. Celebrate your wins and there will be more of them.