I certainly understand how you could think that all CEOs are rude and all investors are assholes but it’s really not quite that simple.
This occurred to me today as for the 4th (or was it 5th?) time in a row, I told someone talking to me that I had to go because I had a meeting. It wasn’t one long-winded person, either. Basically, every person I talked to today, I eventually hung up on to go do something else.
There were plenty of emails I didn’t return, calls I didn’t answer, copies of receipts I did not send, letters I didn’t mail and requests for meetings I turned down.
“No, I’m very sorry. I cannot speak at your conference.”
“No, I can’t speak to your students about careers in the game industry. Perhaps someone else in our office can attend.”
My first meeting was at 7:30 am. It’s now 11:30 pm and I just realized I owed someone copyright forms from a month ago but in the intervening month I’ve been in North Dakota, Brazil, San Jose, Salt Lake City and back home again. So, they are getting scanned and submitted now.
Building a product and simultaneously building a company is hard work. Here is my schedule for tomorrow:
- Fix bug in path after first math challenge in Forgotten Trail
- Write summary of bonus level for Keith to code
- Attend meeting on investor reporting
- Write contract for data analyst
- Finish pages for teaching lowest common denominator
- Draft financial model for meeting on Thursday
… and a whole lot more.
It’s not that I don’t think the person asking for the meeting, receipts or information in their email is important, but there is not enough of me to go around. I think it will always be like this. Time management has nothing to do with it. The better you get in your profession, the more people want a piece of you. You will have to turn some down and put others off.
What about investors? They have it pretty soft, though, right? Why are they such jerks to people? The truth is, they aren’t really, although it might seem that way. Let me explain
The fact is that many investors were at one time CEO, CTO, CMO or some other C involved in building a company. They put in years of getting up at 7:30 am and going to bed at midnight so when you come waltzing in with “a dream and a team” saying you are going to have 40% of an $8 billion market within 18 months, they mentally file you in the folder of “wasting my time”.
Because they know what it takes to be successful, they are going to ask you a lot of questions about everything from market size to sales strategy to cash flow analysis. They also aren’t going to give you a lot of time to answer and if you don’t have the answers they often will dismiss you out of hand.
That doesn’t mean they’re jerks so much as realists, and laboring under the same time crunch they were as C- whatever- O . Imagine if you had several million dollars to invest, the number of people who would be trying to get in to pitch their idea to you. Maybe you are still doing some of whatever made you that millions of dollars in the first place.
Yes, I am sure there are some CEOs and investors out there who are arrogant jerks, but a lot more are just trying to fit into the hours in the day the accomplishments that make you want to take up more of their time than they have available to give you.
First, the big, exciting news, if you have not heard it – we are one of EIGHT COMPANIES IN THE WORLD selected to be part of the Boom Startup Accelerator for Educational Technology. Can you tell that I’m super-excited about this?
At lunch today, for the second time in two days, someone asked me what exactly an accelerator does.
As our CMO, Maria Burns Ortiz, said,
Until you’ve been in one, it’s really hard to comprehend all of the advantages of being in an accelerator.
Ever seen the TV show, Shark Tank? Imagine that happening every day, sometimes twice a day. You pitch your company and people ask you hard questions.
- What is the market for your product? You say your games are for students in grades 4-8. How many students are there in that market in the U.S. ?
- What is your cost of customer acquisition? For every game you sell via social media (twitter, Facebook, blogs) how much does it cost you?
- Can we see your cash flow analysis? How much money do you ‘burn’ each month (sales – costs) ?
- What is your sales strategy?
- How many games did you sell last month?
- Who are your main competitors? How much do they charge for their products?
- Let me see your Profit and Loss statement. What does your balance sheet look like?
- Do you have a financial model? What are your sales projections for the next five years? Your cost projections?
- Who is the usual decision maker on purchases of educational software?
All of these, and many more, are questions you should be able to answer about your business. Often, I would get asked a question and think,
Damn! I should know the answer to that – but I don’t.
Boom Startup has about 40 mentors, with different areas of specialization. Some are experts in finance, others are in sales. Some specialize in sales to the education sector. They ask a lot of questions, and they help you find the answers. After two weeks, I know my business a lot better (and this is coming from someone with an MBA, PhD and 20 years of business experience). I can’t imagine how much I will have gained after 12 weeks.
There is also money. Every accelerator is different. At Boom, you get $20,000 in cash, but there is also the opportunity for services which you are silly not to use. We got six months of pipe drive free, which has proved really useful for planning and tracking sales.
We received credits for Amazon web services, where we just moved our web site, free legal services to incorporate as a Delaware corporation, saved us about $1,000.
The downside? Well, it is exhausting. I’m writing this at almost 1 am and I got up at 9 am and have been working ever since. It’s a good kind of exhausting, though.
Just finished the second week of the Boom Startup Ed Tech accelerator, which is GREAT. I am learning a lot and plan on working insane hours for the next few months to put it all into practice.
We have had to answer a lot of legitimately hard questions about cash flow analysis, burn rate, user base, sales strategy and more. We’re a really small company and creating a product while creating a company is a hard road with just a few people.
After a month away, I sit down at my computer to read more feel good tweets about “teaching girls to code to improve diversity in tech.”
Seriously, fuck all you people.
(If you’re actually in a room teaching girls to code instead of just tweeting about it, that doesn’t apply to you. Anyone who is actually in a classroom teaching instead of pontificating about education has my sincere respect. See Mentoring below.)
Do you know what would increase the number of minorities and women in tech? If they actually saw people succeeding in it and THE REASON THEY AREN’T SUCCEEDING ISN’T LACK OF CODING SKILLS.
The very best sessions (of many great ones) at Boom were by a couple of successful entrepreneurs who talked honestly about their career paths. Repeatedly, they emphasized that there is a knife’s edge of difference between success and failure.
It’s not that only white and Asian males can possibly succeed in technology companies, but the statistics are decidedly skewed.
Let me explain this to you.
No matter how good your product or coding skills, almost everyone faces the same challenges.
- Access to capital. How do you live while building a product? You can do it as a side project after work which then gets you into the Catch-22 of investors want (rightfully so) to see your startup as a full-time job but you can’t afford to quit your job because then you will have no income.
- Access to users. This is another Catch-22 where people don’t want to invest in a product that has no users but with millions of apps available and hundreds of millions of web pages, billions of tweets, it’s very hard to rise above the noise and attract users without capital to advertise, attend conferences, hire sales staff.
- Mentoring. No one knows it all. I have an MBA, a Ph.D. and twenty years of business experience and I am learning A LOT through the accelerator program. There is always going to be someone better than you at some aspects of your business – whether it is sales strategy, financial modeling, or, yes, even coding. Having access to those people is golden.
- Access to capital. Whether it is through sales (not likely) or investor funds you are going to need money to grow. At a minimum you need good credit, but even better investors. Say you do get a million users who download and pay for your game. Now you need enough tech support for a million users, enough administrative staff to respond when people have a problem with payment, updates, incompatible operating systems, etc. etc. If you are dealing with institutional sales, say, to schools, you may need the people right away but the payments come later. How do you hire those people without money?
So, yes, teaching girls to code (or boys, for that matter), is a nice thing. If you are really concerned about having a more diverse workforce, though, maybe you could try supporting the companies run by women.
Really want to support diversity in tech while having fun and getting smarter? Try our adventure games that teach math in a virtual world.
Get games here for $9.99 each. Play it yourself, give it to your kids. You can donate to a child or school, too.
Are you an angel investor? I’d be happy to talk with you. email@example.com
If you are offended by people who say ‘fuck’ a lot, Maria Burns Ortiz, our CMO, would be happy to talk with you.
A few months ago, in between everything else in my life, I had been working on applications for accelerators and an executive summary for investors.
While money is always a good thing, I was surprised by the unexpected benefits. The questions asked by investors are the same ones you should be asking yourself.
- If you had additional funds, how would you spend it? How much would go to marketing, to software development, to legal, accounting and operating expenses? Asking this question made us look at how we re spending the money we do have, and re-allocate it in some areas.
- What is your cost of customer acquisition? What marketing channels have paid off for you and which have not been worth it? Asking these questions led us to limit our efforts in some areas and expand others. Ads on Google and Facebook did not pay off for us . Social media – blogs and twitter – have been effective. ( Subliminal advertising: Check out our Fish Lake demo here!)
- What are your biggest personnel needs? Marketing? Software Development? Management? Have you identified people that you want to hire? If not, how do you intend to find those people?
- What are the strengths of your founders? Your staff? Are any of those people not pulling their weight? This is a question people are reluctant to ask and equally reluctant to quantify. Asking that question of ourselves has resulted in everyone taking inventory of their base camp projects and making items specific with fixed deadlines.
Now, it’s our second week as part of the Boom Startup Ed Tech accelerator and I have to say it has been an exhausting and productive time.
Getting people to invest in your company is much more than refining your pitch (although we have done that as well). I used to mock those requirements that you describe the opportunity, your solution and your key team members in two minutes or less. No more. You know why? Because it shows that you know what is truly important to your customers and what is unique about your product and company.
As I’ve said over and over the past two weeks, almost everyone here knows they should have done things like identify market segments, track results of social media efforts, call potential customers and a hundred of other things. The fact is, most founders are so busy focused on building a product that they don’t spend near enough time building a business.
I read this in a review of a study on teacher expectancy effects but it could really apply to so many other studies.
If these results bear any relationship at all to reality, it is indeed a fortunate coincidence.
Those of us who choose careers in research like to believe that it is all like everyone learns in their textbooks: hypothesis, data collection, analysis, results, conclusion and *PRESTO* knowledge.
In a few weeks, I will be in San Diego at the Western Users of SAS Software conference presenting results of the past year of testing with Fish Lake and Spirit Lake: The Game.
Occasionally, colleagues will ask me about my interest in the nuts and bolts of data analysis and why I ‘bother’ presenting at SAS conferences instead of ‘the real thing’, like the American Educational Research Association or the National Council on Family Relations. One of the main reasons is that I like to be very transparent about how my data were collected, scored and analyzed. I find it odd that these “details” are given short shrift in publications when, in fact, all of the conclusions ever published rely on the assumption that these “details” were done correctly.
Presenting the nuts and bolts of the data cleaning, coding and analysis assures any funding agency or consumer of the research that it was done correctly. Or, if anyone wants to dispute the way I’ve done the analyses, at least it is crystal clear how exactly the data were processed. In most cases, the reader has no idea and is just taking it on faith that the researcher did everything correctly – which given some of the bozos I know is pretty shaky ground.
Once I have confidence that the data sets are in good shape, have corrected any data entry problems, deleted outliers, accurately scored measures and identified any statistical assumptions that need to be met, then I’m ready to proceed to the analyses with confidence.
Think about that next time someone with a turned up nose says,
“I don’t go to that type of conference.”
Yeah? Well, I do.
Having been in Rio the past two weeks where Internet access occurred in five-minute increments roughly 11 hours apart, I have a few blog posts saved up I was unable to upload. Expect a few more over the next few days.
I was in our office at the Water Garden exactly 1 day before heading out of town again. I’ll get back in early August, be home for less than 24 hours before leaving again.
The receptionist at our office (are they called receptionists still, or do they have a new title at the same pay, like ‘telecommunications operative’ ?) said to me:
Wow, you have a really exciting life!
It was funny because I had just been thinking how this was getting a little old. Most of the time, whatever airport I’m in, my laptop connects automatically to the wi-fi because I’ve been there before.
Whether it is Minneapolis, Washington National or Tokyo, all airports are pretty much the same and I know the drill – change planes, eat mediocre airport food, which is marginally better than nasty airplane food, pick up luggage, get car, get to hotel. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a hotel in Dallas or DC or Devils Lake, my routine is pretty much the same – get some exercise, get on the Internet to get some work done and get to sleep.
I work pretty much every day, so I have trouble keeping track of what day it is or what time zone I’m in. My iPad says it’s 9:08 because that’s the time in Texas, which was the last place I had an internet connection. It’s 7:08 at home in Santa Monica and 11:08 in Rio.
My point is that you do anything often enough it becomes routine. I’m guessing that the person who does the fireworks show at Disneyland every night comes to work and says,
Ho, hum. Another day of explosions, another dollar.
This isn’t to say that my life isn’t really fun and awesome at times. It is. The fun times aren’t so much sleeping on a 10-hour flight to Rio, though.
The most fun I have had lately has been with people.
At Spirit Lake, I went to dinner with the teachers and site coordinator who were involved in 7 Generation Games from the very roughest alpha version. Dr. Erich Longie, whom I am proud to call a friend, had to leave early for an event the next day honoring the president of UND who had overseen the retiring of the Fighting Sioux nickname.
The teachers and I spent the evening lakeside sitting around a fire talking about our children, love lives (or lack thereof) and future plans. As a female tech entrepreneur, one doesn’t get a lot of chances for “girl talk”, so it was precious time just hanging out.
It’s the closest I am ever going to get to camping since The Invisible Developer believes that sleeping outside on the ground is ingratitude to our ancestors who evolved to the point where they could build houses.
I’m not so jaded that I haven’t taken the time to take in the sights in Rio. Everything from whatever this is (papaya?) and espresso for breakfast to the flavelas. In fact, I’m actually taking more time to “stop and smell the roses”, or, as in the North Dakota State Fair that I stopped in on last week, the sheep manure, than I ever have in the past.
In part, that is because as I get older, I am beginning to appreciate the opportunities I have had to see everything from Athens, Tunisia, Beijing, the Grand Canyon, New York City, to the Peace Garden, the Minnesota State Fair and Disneyland. Some of the time I have taken full advantage of the opportunity and others not so much.
More and more, I’m having the sense to realize that those opportunities will not be infinite and not to let them pass by.
There is also the fact that I’ve spent so much of my time in various ‘exciting’ locales working and I’ve come to accept there will never come a day when I say,
“That’s it. I have done all of the work there is to do.”
So, I may as well take a break now and then and take in the scenery. It’s also taken me about 30 years in business to quit worrying that I will run out of work if I don’t take every single opportunity that comes down the line.
The other thing I have learned about my exciting life is that just about every place I land has something worth seeing. Sully’s Hill Game Preserve on the Spirit Lake Nation is definitely worth spending a day or two exploring. So is the Prairie Village in Rugby, North Dakota. Maybe it’s routine to you but to me it’s exciting.
Which is why, when I finally get some time at home late next month, I’m going to take an afternoon off and spend it lying on Santa Monica Beach.
——- My Day Job
Stuck in an airport and bored? You can play Fish Lake and get smarter.
(You don’t have to be stuck in an airport. You can play it if you are bored at home, too.)
Well, I don’t know about you, but I am anyway, and I’m guessing if you are reading this that you probably are, too.
If you read the bottom half of the internet (a.k.a. the comments section), you’ll find that any mention of privilege sets some people off …
I’m not privileged! My parents didn’t have any money when I was growing up! We bought our clothes at K-Mart when we were lucky and the thrift store when we weren’t. When I was in college, I worked for $2.12 an hour ! I work 60 hours a week! I raised 3 children while going to school and holding down a full-time job.
Yeah, me, too.
I’m still privileged.
Being without privilege when you were young and being privileged as an adult are not mutually exclusive.
I’m typing this on an iPad with a Logitech keyboard, on the 12th? 15th? flight this year and it’s only July.
Before I got on this flight, I was in the United lounge, drinking free Chardonnay and working on my laptop. A lot of other people were working there as well. It is a lot easier to work in the lounge because it’s quieter and there’s lots of outlets and plenty of comfortable chairs.
While Darling Daughter Number 3 arranged for the lounge and this flight to Rio, I paid for all of the other flights this year, the iPad, keyboard, laptop and all of the software on it, with the money I earned from working really hard. I also bought an iPhone and paid for a service with a personal hotspot.
My point is that since I walk around with thousands of dollars in technology in my briefcase (and many of you do, too), it is a lot easier for me to spend six hours en route writing a conference paper, analyzing data for a research study, editing graphics or video or programming the next level of a game. It’s much easier for me to get 4 hours work done in whatever hotel I find myself in the evening.
If I think it would benefit me to take a few days off and attend a conference on Unity 3D, SAS software, small business innovation research or serious games, I do it. I don’t have to go through three layers of management to get permission.
Being privileged and working hard are not mutually exclusive.
It’s like Dave Winer said – Money sweats.
He was talking about interest, that once you make money you get paid money just for having it. It’s also true in technology careers – once you have made some money, you can use that money to buy you advantages that keep you ahead of the competition, like practice with the latest version of whatever software you use, or 20 more productive hours each month, as you sit in airports.
It’s true in athletics as well. The better you get, the better coaches, nutritionists, strength trainers you can afford. You don’t have to take public transportation or work a full-time job at Starbuck’s, so you have more training and better training than the competition, even if they are working just as hard.
In America, a great many of us are privileged. If more of us recognized it, maybe as a society we’d be a little more humble, a little more grateful and a little more generous.
It was recently noted on our company twitter account that I’m out of town so often that I’ve come to resemble the Travelocity gnome in more than stature.
I’ve been traveling on business for nearly my entire career. Despite the proliferation of Google hangouts, Skype, Webex, Go-to-Meeting, FaceTime and God knows how many other technological innovations, there are still a lot of situations that require me to head out of LAX to points north, south, east and west.
This lifestyle has definitely shaped who I am.
I’m always surprised at people who travel frequently and come home to a seven-bedroom house.
The reality shows on the “tiny house” movement fascinate me, in part because of the creative uses they make of space in their designs, but also because I can see myself living in a very small space. After all, much of my time is spent in one or two rooms in a hotel.
For me, living out of a suitcase for weeks out of every month has meant that I have pared down greatly the amount of clothes, books and other personal possessions I “need”. The Invisible Developer points out that we could not live in a tiny house because his stuff alone would fill it up. That’s what happens when you stay put – you accumulate things.
It was a big advantage for me growing up in a house with a lot of siblings and not a lot of space. That may not sound like an advantage, but the result was that I had to be able to study wherever I found a spot that was unoccupied – in the room I shared with my sister and younger brother, in the attic, on the back porch, a corner of the living room table.
To this day, I can work anywhere. I’m typing this on an ipad as the plane is landing. I’ll sit in the airport and review a data analysis for a client that I’ll download on to my laptop using the personal hotspot from my iphone. When I get to the hotel, HOPEFULLY there will be cell phone and Internet access so that I can finish the online course I’m taking on a new game development library. (Thanks, lynda.com !)
I really do travel far and wide, which means there are few things I can depend on having – no, not even internet or cell phone reception. This seems self-evident to some people but inconceivable to those inside the Silicon Beach/ Silicon Valley bubble.
Before I met The Invisible Developer, the longest I had ever lived in one house was 4 years. I’d lived in Japan, Canada, Pakistan, California, Minnesota, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi and no doubt other places I’ve forgotten by now. Since I had moved so often, traveling to a new place wasn’t all that different from being in the relatively new place where I was living.
After 18 years in Santa Monica, I’ve gotten used to a location, and for the first time I find traveling a trifle unsettling because I have actually gotten settled somewhere. That’s been reinforced by the fact that I work out of my home office a lot. Working at home is convenient because it is where all of my stuff is and it’s full of people who know me,
Maybe that explains why I’ve started to give some thought to traveling less. I don’t think that will actually happen, for a while, though. If I were to just stay home and write code, I could make a fairly good living, but then someone else would be flying hither and yon to meet potential partners, customers and investors and the final decisions would rest with that person. With responsibility comes a certain level of discomfort, regardless of what you told yourself it was going to be like “when I’m running things”.
I’m not ready to turn over the reins just yet – which is why I’m finishing this from a plane to Minneapolis where I was re-routed after my flight from Denver to Minot was cancelled. So, now, I’ll finally get a Minneapolis to Minot flight that lands around midnight and then drive 2 hours to Spirit Lake.
Wake me up when the glamorous part of travel starts.
People often ask me how I get so much done. Over and over, I have found one of the simplest ways to increase productivity is by not reading my email in the morning. Some days, I don’t get around to reading it at all.
This evening, when I finally opened my email, I had over 1,100 messages. In less than an hour, I have winnowed it down to 480.
As you can imagine, the majority is spam – offers to optimize my site for search, improve my sex life and sell me dishes. For some reason, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and the like are convinced I’m a good market for housewares. Bizarre, because the only thing domestic about me is that I live in a house and the only thing I make for dinner is reservations.
The spam takes a few minutes to sift through.
Then there is the large category of email that is unnecessary. If you are guilty of any of these, do the community a favor and reform.
- Notifications I don’t need. It’s nice that someone wants to thank me for speaking at an event, that students from Billy Bob Elementary appreciated the donated site license. I appreciate that you thought of me, I do. I don’t, however, appreciate it so much that I’m going to put off starting work for an hour to read all of this. Sorry, not sorry. I also don’t need to be informed that I have changed my password (I know, because I did it) or that The Spoiled One has a game at 3 pm in San Francisco ( do they think I didn’t notice she was gone?)
- Copies of email that I don’t need to be copied on. If someone else will be attending an event on behalf of our company, held a meeting or has been assigned an action item, nice. I don’t need to be informed and I don’t need a copy of the agenda of meetings I won’t attend unless there is an item along the lines of, “In an attempt to curry favor with the venture capital gods, we will be making a human sacrifice of the CEO in the lobby at noon on Wednesday.” – in which case I might want to avoid the office mid-week.
The biggest reason for not reading my email, though, is that I already have an idea of what my priorities are for the day and I start on the highest priority first. There has yet to be a day when I looked at my to-do list and it read:
Priority #1 : Read email.
The real time suck in my email is the emails from people who want me to do things – complete this form, write this letter, review this contract, give me your opinion on this, let me know when you can schedule this meeting. The key point here is that all of these involve someone else’s priorities.
There is such a temptation to take 5 or 10 minutes to respond to each of these requests, or to at least consider it, then decide it is not a priority and I’ll do it later.
Occasionally, I do miss something that I needed to know. However, that inconvenience is minor compared to not starting off my day with an hour or two of reacting to what other people request, rather than acting on priorities for my own company.
It seems as if parents can do no right. Parents who are very involved, who coach their children’s sports teams, who insist that their child not skip practice are criticized for living through their children. However, as every Disney after-school special ever will tell you, God save the child whose parent has an actual job to pay for all those basketball camps, private schools and plane fare to tournaments because that means they won’t be there to see their child score the winning goal/ star in the school play which explains why their child is the class bully/ mean girl. The hero of the moviet then understands why mean girl/ bully is that way. It is because the parent ads to have a career that might conflict with sitting on the sidelines watching a Little league game.
You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
The people who told me I’m not involved enough have been people who have different priorities and opinions from me. They mean well but I beg to differ that my child will NOT be scarred for life if I don’t see her performance as tree #4 the school play. It is not a bad lesson to learn that someone can love you and simultaneously have a life of their own with their own goals and desires.
So, the people who judge me as not involved enough will get together and talk shit about me at the PTA meeting and Booster Club and all of those other things I don’t attend. It’s not something I drink champagne and celebrate, but it doesn’t worry me all that much, either. I’m doing the best I know how.
One thing I have learned personally over 32 years of raising children – no one who has accused me of being over involved in my children’s lives had their best interests at heart. This group included a minority a who didn’t know me or my children and didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. The majority of the time, when a someone has told me that I was too involved with my children and needed to back off, they were trying to take advantage of my children and didn’t want me to get in the way. THAT’S the group you have to guard against.
It reminds me of the time, years ago, when I was at the park with my 5-year-old daughter. There was a boy who looked about 11 playing on the playground. He asked me,
“Don’t you think that’s weird that you watch your daughter every second? Don’t you trust her?”
I told him it was other people I didn’t trust.
“Well, I feel sorry for you and your daughter. You must have a really depressing life.”
The rest of the story: 6 months later, I heard about that boy being arrested for molesting a young child in the same park.
My point – when someone tells you that you are too involved in your child’s life, ask them flat out,
“Why are you telling me this? Are you implying that you know my child better and care more than I do?”
On a darker side, ask yourself,
“What does this person gain by me being less involved?”
And watch that person like a hawk.