I find it weird when I make people nervous. I’ve had people shake and stutter so much that I thought they had some sort of disability, only to find out later that it was a reaction to meeting me!
My family and friends say I’m intimidating, which I also find bizarre. I am, literally, a little old grandma.
Are you kidding? You’re just amazing! Do you think we forget that you were the FIRST American to win a world judo championship, have a Ph.D. , published a book last year, started a company that made a million dollars in less than two years, then started another company to make games, came out with your first game this year, published scientific articles. Oh, and you raised four successful kids, one of whom is also a world champion and making movies.
He went on to an embarrassing degree about a lot more stuff. I’m not one of those fake humble-brag people, like the super-models who claim to be “so fat”.
It’s just that …. it’s not like that when it’s happening. Even to me, if I stopped and piled it all up like that, it sounds impressive, but day to day, it’s not really like that at all.
Whether it’s winning a world championship, earning a Ph.D., building a company or making computer games, it’s not amazing when you’re in the middle of it.
For example, I spent the last week fixing up our next game, Fish Lake. I improved the graphics, added gravity so that when a character walks off a hill, it falls down instead of walking around on the air. I added artificial intelligence to make the animals run around at random instead of just stand there. I modified the css so that the input boxes for the math problems stand out better. All of those are minor fixes in the grand scheme of things. The purpose of the game I was working on is to teach fractions, which are a super important part of understanding math, but if it’s not a fun game, kids aren’t going to play it.
Tomorrow, my day starts with reviewing the quizzes one person wrote, followed by reviewing a PowerPoint and video clip someone else wrote to teach about reading graphs and then testing some software for podcasts.
Hopefully, enough days like this piled on top of one another and we’ll have an amazing game.
It’s just like in my judo competition time, when I trained three times a day, every day. Looking back, winning a gold medal and being best in the world was amazing.
In the middle of it, though, it’s just getting up and working hard all day. Repeat a few thousand times.
Every day, every week, I face the same question that all entrepreneurs ask themselves -
“How do you know when you are done?”
Most days, I start work around 10 am and finish about 14 hours later. Usually, I take off an hour for lunch and an hour for dinner, or take a few hours in the middle of the day to get away from the office. Sunday, it was taking my grandchildren to the Natural History Museum and the park. I average 10-11 hours a day, seven days a week. Even then, there is no end in sight to the tasks I want to accomplish, goals I want to achieve. When there’s no time clock to punch, no boss looking over your shoulder, how do you decide when it’s time to hang it up for the day?
One answer is when you are just exhausted and making more mistakes than you are progress. Frankly, the prospect of just working every night until I fall asleep from exhaustion isn’t very appealing. I did that in the year after my husband died, and even though it was probably a preferable (and more profitable) way of coping than drinking myself into a stupor every night, I can tell you that it’s not a lifestyle I would recommend. The reality is that there is never, ever going to be a day at the office when I say,
Okay, that’s it. No more work to do here. Time to head to the beach.
Some people (who are not me), would say that you should take off to celebrate achievements. For example, last week, I
- found out that a project we had worked on for a client had been wildly successful,
- submitted a grant proposal to create a game for English language learners, including receiving written agreement from teachers in three school districts in three different states to assist with development,
- finished 1/4 of the lectures for a course I will be teaching soon,
- made major improvements in one level of the Fish Lake game, which we will be able to use for Spirit Lake as well,
- found out that a huge school district is now using Spirit Lake,
- renewed a consulting contract,
- created css to improve our web pages in the Fish Lake game,
- did the usual stuff of meetings, approving payroll, answering email, reviewing staff tasks on basecamp, updating a few things in the company wiki, approved a couple of employment contracts.
And all of this was accomplished with having spent all of Monday in airports and on planes flying back from Kansas City where I had been as coach for a judo team of seven students from Gompers Middle School. So … did I take off early? No, because I still needed to
- submit a revised budget for a contract,
- submit another revised budget for a grant,
- rewrite the PHP for a client database,
- get ready for an investors’ meeting,
- figure out what is wrong with the gravity in one level where the player is literally walking on air.
My unhelpful point here is that I DON’T necessarily take off to celebrate and I definitely don’t take off when I have something that could be very important to our company, like a meeting with a potential investors during which I want to get as much information (and not look like an idiot) for that time down the road when we do need to bring in outside investors.
What I DO try to to do is stop working by midnight every night. There just seems to be something dysfunctional about not leaving the office the same day you came in, even if you come in at 10 a.m. I don’t take off to celebrate so I can take off when I feel that I need a break.
One thing I can guarantee you for an absolute fact is that you will be less effective if you don’t get enough sleep. You’ll make mistakes you never would have made if you were not so tired. Knowing this, another reason that I try to quit working at midnight so I can be asleep by 2 a.m. That gives me 8 hours to sleep before I get up and hit it again at 10 a.m.
Staying up until 5:30 a.m. as The Invisible Developer sometimes does strikes me as counter-productive. You’re just going to sleep later the next day, so why not just go to sleep now and start up again when you are rested enough to be more effective. Even if I do say so myself, this post I wrote about doing one more thing before you go to bed is worth reading. Often, that one more thing will be to make the list of the things that are a priority for tomorrow. I then can knock off with confidence that I’ll get on those things first thing the next day.
I work hard, I work a lot, but I have learned not to make myself crazy trying to get everything done, because … at the end of the day, there’s another day. That’s how time works.
I’m pretty certain that I’m a woman in technology.
Last night, I was using SAS on a virtual machine through a remote desktop connection to prepare data from the National Hospital Discharge Survey for use in examples of MANOVA and multinomial logistic regression.
Next week, I will start on a contract to completely re-do the PHP/ MySQL database for a client to bring it to something more secure and up to date.
Oh, and I also was reviewing my notes for the graduate courses in biostatistics and advanced multivariate statistics that I’m teaching this fall.
Pretty certain that by any standard – writing code, founding companies, graduate degrees, university appointment, successful Kickstarter – I am definitely a woman in tech/ STEM whatever the day’s buzzword.
I read SO many articles, blog posts, tweets about the need for women in tech, women-led start-ups, women entrepreneurs.
If you ask me, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the greatest proponent of women in tech that there is, because they have actually put up money and funded us to do a prototype of an adventure game that teaches math.
When results from that were positive, they funded us again with a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research award to develop the games for commercialization.
I have written here before about the troubling nature of the Black Girls Code, Latina Girls Code emphasis that seems to completely overlook the grown women who are here now. I am NOT saying those aren’t good programs. I assume they are but I have no personal experience. What I am saying is pretty much what I said in January.
It seems to me that when people are looking at minorities or women to develop in their fields, they are much more interested in the hypothetical idea of that cute 11-year-old girl being a computer scientist some day than of that thirty-something competing with them for market share or jobs. If there are venture capitalists or conference organizers or others out there that are sincerely trying to promote WOMEN who code, not girls, I’ve never met any.
(Since then, I have met a couple of conference organizers.)
I suppose Ada Lovelace was cool – my two-year-old granddaughter has a shirt with her picture on it. Still, I don’t think a trending hashtag of #fuckyeahadalovelace did anything for me as a woman in tech.
You know what helped me as a woman in tech? Seed money from the USDA. You can see what we did with it here at our 7 Generation Games site.
One thing Sheryl Sandberg got right in her book, Lean In, was that women tend to be judged on their accomplishments where men are judged on their potential. Of course, you also don’t want to be “too old” to be an innovator so by the time women have those accomplishments, they are past their prime as entrepreneurs according to those VCs who believe that people over 30 are too old to do a start-up.
It’s hard for me to complain about my life when my morning starts out with reading technical books with lines like, “Figure 1 shows the sprite with the red and green blood particles for player and zombie”.
My point is that our company is in the situation we are in not because of any “help minorities code” program but because USDA and our backers on Kickstarter gave us cold, hard cash to develop our products.
Want to help women in tech? Back them on Kickstarter. Buy their products. Tweet about their products and companies to help their marketing. Invest in their companies.
USDA got it right.
Yes, I do realize that I’m probably far more excited about our new website coming on line than is normal. Several points here on a Friday night:
- I completely disagree with those entrepreneurs who say, “You sell the sizzle not the steak” when what they mean is that they really don’t have a good product but just a good story a.k.a. a line of bullshit.
- I think we have benefited from never hiring anyone in our company who has experience as a middle manager.
- You’re better off having a great product and a lousy website than the other way around.
- Not having too much money can be a benefit when starting a business.
Back in the paleolithic era when I was in undergraduate marketing classes, they drilled into us the four P’s – product, price, promotion and place. There were lots of things I learned in business school that I disagreed with, but one I have found to be true to this day is that the most important of those four P’s is product. If your product is terrible, you may get people to buy it once if it’s cheap enough, they live close enough or you advertise it enough, but they aren’t going to buy it again.
Since we began 7 Generation Games, our priority has been making math awesome. Our first game had a lot of problems, many of them due to incompatibilities with web browsers, being stopped by school district firewalls. Ever call technical support and the person on the other end of the line says to you,
“Well, it works on my computer.”
Yeah, it was like that. So, we have been working like crazy to add every feature, correct every bug reported by our infinitely patient and wonderful alpha and beta testers (we love you guys). We still have, literally, hundreds of improvements we want to make, and I expect we always will. I work on them every day. Spirit Lake: The Game works. It doesn’t crash, it has lots of math and kids like to play it. Fish Lake is in process. Making a good game was our highest priority and still is. We just hired another developer (yay!) to help us out, are ramping up the artwork for the next two games, hired people as testers, an audio engineer …
Now that we have more people working in our company we have started to implement some actual policies and procedures. We have a git repository, use a source management system, an issues tracking system, file sharing system. We signed up for Amazon Web Services, Google Apps for Work, basecamp, some payroll system Donna manages - a lot of stuff I thought would be useless for us at the beginning. This is why I am glad we never hired anyone who had been a middle manager – because I was right. That stuff would have been useless for us at the beginning. It would have wasted our time and kept us from doing the most important work of making a good product. When do you add that layer of management? When you find yourself swearing,
“Damn it, we NEED a way to make sure you’re not copying over the changes I just made!”
When you only have two people working, and both in the same house, one can holler upstairs to the other,
“Hey, I’m working on level 4 today, okay? So, don’t touch it.”
At that point, you don’t need version control. Now, we do. When we did hire a project manager, we hired someone who had run a small business for ten years who shared our idea of having the degree of management you absolutely need and no more.
Finally, finally, finally, we are updating the 7 Generation Games website which, I believe, Maria originally put together in four hours one afternoon. It isn’t as if we didn’t know it needed a huge improvement. We believed our less than infinite time was best spent improving the game, meeting with customers, getting their feedback, designing more levels. We’re a small company. At Unite 2014, I attended a session where a developer mentioned they had 50 people working on their game for 2 1/2 years and it still wasn’t finished – that’s 125 person-years! That’s just people making the game – not managers, marketing, accounting. We’ve spent something more than 2.5 person-years developing ours, which explains why we constantly feel like we need to put every spare second into development.
Having the luxury to worry about the website says something about how we have matured as a company. With new people hired to take the non-development work off of us and additional people picking up some of the development work, we no longer can say,
“Having a spiffy new website is the least of our problems.”
In fact, it’s been bugging the hell out of me for a few months now. Did I feel bad about it? Yes. Like the source management system, when it got to the point where it felt like,
“Damn it, we need this!”
“Brother, I got 99 problems and that aint one of ‘em”
that it was time to get it done.
I’ve had people tell me that we should have been working on our website with bells, whistles and gold tassels before now because “VCs won’t be impressed if you don’t have a professional website.”
Hmm. Not sure VCs will be impressed if you don’t have a product, either. I know companies that started about the same time as 7 Generation Games and had terrific website, brochures, every social media account you can imagine, unbelievably honed pitches – and they evaporated because they were all sizzle and no steak.
I’ve written before about Paul Hawken’s recommendation that in growing a business that you do as much for yourself as possible. That’s a whole post in itself, but to cut to the point – you keep your overhead low, which means you don’t require external funding in the short run. You are more viable in the long run not just because you have low debt and low operating expenses, but you also have the asset of everything you have learned yourself.
But we still hired someone else to update the website (-:
I read an interesting post by Heidi Roizen with the title, “It’s different for girls.” Ms. Roizen is an admirable person. A successful entrepreneur, venture capitalist and mother. (The latter is relevant as you’ll find if you read her post) This is a quote from her post:
Wine was brought and toasts were made to our great future together. About halfway through the dinner he told me he had also brought me a present, but it was under the table, and would I please give him my hand so he could give it to me. I gave him my hand, and he placed it in his unzipped pants.
Yes, this really happened.
I left the restaurant very quickly. The deal fell apart. When I told my brother (T/Maker’s co-founder and chief software architect) what happened, he totally supported my decision to bolt.
This is the part I read over and over and did not get. She didn’t throw wine in his face, punch him or do anything other than leave. Her BROTHER didn’t do anything other than agree they shouldn’t work with the company. Now, the latter I completely understand and I also am in agreement with her view that you don’t work with dirtbags and there are people out there who are not shaking their dick at you – literally – that you can work with.
Maybe it is growing up getting in fist fights in the neighborhood on a regular basis. Maybe it is being the world judo champion. I cannot imagine being in a situation like this where I did not haul off and hit the person as hard as I could. To me, it’s assault. The one time I did get groped at work – over 30 years ago – I actually did throw him into a wall. Really, it was just reflex, the same as if someone punched me in the face, I would have hit him back.
Ms. Roizen is admirable not just for her accomplishments but because she is honest enough to say,
It pains and somewhat embarrasses me that I am not recommending calling out bad behavior and shaming the individual or individuals responsible. In a perfect world people would have to account for their behavior. But as an entrepreneur who spent years in a daily battle for existence, I did not feel like I could afford the hit I’d take in exposing these incidents.
I respectfully disagree. She was not in a daily battle for existence. She was not a woman in Nigeria who was in danger of being killed or sold into sexual slavery. Perhaps she was in a daily battle for existence of her company, a certain lifestyle. I am sure she believes that the end justified the means and now she can, as a venture capitalist, help other companies, speak out in her own way for women. I don’t know her at all and I’m in no position to tell her how to run her life.
What I will say, though, is that it is totally different for me. In the few times in my life that I thought the end justified means I did not think were right, it always turned out to be a mistake.
I appreciate her. I appreciate the honesty of the female college president who wrote in her book about deciding to have her breasts removed at the point when she was walking through an airport and a man said, “Nice tits”
However, as I said in the post I wrote about that, I am in more agreement with my sister who commented,
“Wow! If I was walking through the airport and a man said, ‘Nice tits!’ I think I would accidentally spill my coffee on him. And if I wasn’t carrying a cup of coffee, I’d go and buy one to spill on him. Having my breasts surgically removed would be the last thing that would occur to me.”
I’ve been married to The Invisible Developer for 17 years. We’ve raised our voices to one another perhaps twice, so it’s not as if I go around randomly swinging at men. However, I know without a shadow of a doubt that in Ms. Roizen’s situation I would have jumped up, yelled,
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
and then I would have smacked him.
I am sorry that Ms. Roizen and Dr. Spar had to make the choices they did.
One thing these women have done for me this year is cause me to dramatically increase my plans for 7 Generation Games because I intend to show the world that you can become an extraordinarily successful woman without cutting your breasts off or enduring a strange man putting his dick in your hands.
I have four daughters and two granddaughters and I refuse to accept the status quo will be their future.
I read some poorly done research the other day that showed a very small number of start-ups that became billion-dollar companies were started by people over 50. As someone else pointed out in the comments to it, that was lacking a key number, the denominator. That is, if people over 50 only started 20 companies, and 2 of them made a billion dollars, while people 25-35 started 10,000 companies and 20 of them made over a billion dollars, that still suggests that your odds are far better with the older crowd.
Regardless of the denominator, I don’t care that much. As a statistician, I am well aware that while statistics are great at predicting probability you cannot say anything with certainty about an individual case.
I was talking with The Invisible Developer one day about scheduling, cash flow and so on, and asked him,
“How long, realistically, given our current rate of spending, do you think we can continue development?”
Here’s the thing – all of the coding now is done by the two of us, and we managed to put enough away to live on in retirement. Three of our children are on their own doing fairly well. The Spoiled One received a significant scholarship to prep school and we already saved up for her college education.
So … at 55 and 58, respectively, we can easily work on developing these games for another 10 years. Being these ages, we have a ton of years of experience in programming, documentation, and other fields like statistics, mathematics and education. Think what it would cost you as the major expense for creating a game and it would be - developers. We can afford two full-time senior people before we have to bring in a dime of revenue. We can probably continue to support a part-time tech support person and a part-time administrative staff member indefinitely as well.
Now, of course, we would LIKE to make money and that is our plan. (The Spoiled One and our Chief Marketing Officer both remind us regularly that they would like us to make a LOT of money). Our employees would be unhappy if we shrank down to two part-time people plus us. The fact that I am writing this post at 11:30 on Saturday night in North Dakota, after spending much of the day writing improvements to the game tells you something about how serious I am – and The Invisible Developer is home working on another game.
Still, it appears to us a huge advantage that we have a relatively long runway. In addition to the funding we have received from the SBIR Phase I and Phase II awards and the Kickstarter funds, we are able to self-fund development for a really long time.
One of the more brilliant things we have done – for which I would love to take credit, but I have to admit the SBIR grant was an impetus – is to install the beta version of the game in a lot of schools. If we were just home coding, there might be a tendency to have a laid back attitude – but knowing that teachers in several states are having a problem with a part of the game introduces an urgency on getting in fixes. Because we do those fixes in-house, we can often do them in less than a week. The fixes the teachers requested on Wednesday will be done by Sunday night, tested by our fabulous game testers and installed in the schools on Wednesday of the upcoming week.
My point – which you may have despaired of me having - is that older entrepreneurs who have raised their children and secured their retirement, may be able to put in more time for a longer period, than younger founders. That ability to stick in the game makes them LESS of a risk.
The game is focused on mathematics for grades 3-5, but it’s also fun if you just want to tromp around in a virtual world set in North America in 1800s.
Lately, I’ve been a terrible person. I have told many people, “No, I cannot help you.”
After six happily profitable years, we’re winding down The Julia Group consulting division. We are not taking any new contracts and not adding on to any existing contracts. As contracts expire, we are not replacing them with new business. In the next month or two this blog will get merged with the 7 Generation Games site.
I have agreed to present at one conference, the Tribal Disability Summit, in July, where I will be speaking on Start-up 101 : The Challenges and (Yes) Advantages of People with Disabilities. I have also said no to other offers to speak at conferences. I’m really bad at answering email requests.
Every time I tell someone no, I feel like I am a terrible person. After all, that’s why I went into consulting and why I started The Julia Group, so I could help people. We have always had rates far below the market average so that non-profits could afford the help they need and also so we could choose to work on the projects most rewarding to us overall and not just financially.
The truth is, I’m not really a terrible person. I decided to do a new start-up to make games that teach mathematics and I work every day on making those games better meet the needs of students and teachers.
The best advice on succeeding is to focus on whatever it is that you want most.
When I was competing in judo, every decision I made all day met a single criterion:
Will this help me win the world championships?
If the answer was, “Yes”, no matter what it was, I did it.
If the answer was, “It will make my chances of winning lower”, I didn’t do it.
If the answer was, “It won’t make any difference”, then I did it if I felt like it or there were other reasons.
I’m applying those same lessons learned in winning a world judo championships to running a successful gaming company. Being best in the world is not a part-time gig.
As my big brother (who is, coincidentally, a math teacher) told me,
There are too many people in this world who cannot give up what they want now for what they want most.
I’m trying my best not to be one of those people.
Most start-up events waste my time. Founder Friday Women 2.0 was one of the few exceptions.
Generally, at start-up events, the people who have an actual company make up a tiny fraction of the attendees, being out-numbered at least 5 to 1 by people with “an idea for a company”. The remainder of those in attendance are in insurance, law or other companies selling to start-ups. Nothing wrong with that and at one event we actually met a company we signed a contract with, so it’s not always a waste of time.
I think most people running actual companies are like me, they are too busy doing things to have a lot of time to spare for drinks with people talking about what they are going to do.
Our Chief Marketing Officer insists that I get out of the office and network. She believes everyone in the company, regardless of job title, should pitch, present or exhibit our games at least once a month. So … I agreed to put up a table at Founder Friday ‘s Women 2.0 event in Los Angeles.
There are only two guarantees that your time at a start-up event won’t be completely wasted; 1. You get to pitch/ present your company or 2. There is a speaker you can learn from.
Founder Friday, Women 2.0 had both. I did get to discuss 7 Generation Games with a number of people, but most helpful for me was the speaker. I tweeted about the event and a couple of people asked me her name. It was Jody Dunitz, and she is an investor with the Tech Coast Angels, which is the largest angel investor group in the country. Most of her talk was about how she personally decided whether a company was a good investment. Here are the main points from my notes:
- She looks at three things.
- Look at the product first. It must be innovative in some way. Status quo is a huge barrier to overcome. You can have a greatly superior X but if people already have an X then they are very inclined to stay with that. (Take the example of a car. You’re probably not going to go out and buy a new car right now just because a better car came out on the market. If you have a Prius, when it comes time to buy a new car, you’re likely to just buy another Prius. )
- You need to have a product. “There has to be some there there.” Too many people have just an idea but no actual product. It can be a prototype, a minimal viable product, but there has to be something.
- You need to have a way that you are going to make money. Too many people say they are going to scale up and then be acquired for $19 billion. You need to have a way that you are going to make revenue.
- Second, she looks at the team. Some investors may look at the team first.
- She is extremely reluctant to invest in a company with a sole founder. To make up for being a sole founder they would have to have some other aspect of the company that was really extraordinary.
- There isn’t a magic number of founders to have on your team but whatever the number is, it’s more than one.
- The key member of the team is the CEO. The CEO should be knowledgable about all aspects of the company. He or she doesn’t have to write code but should at least understand the technical aspects of a product and not have to go ask the CTO. The CEO should understand the financial situation and not have to go ask the CFO.
- Third thing she looks at is valuation. Founders always think their company is worth more than investors do. Founders look at how much time and effort they have put into it. Investors look at how much money they think they can make.
- Angel investors look for a 10x return in 5-7 years. It used to be 3-5 years but there is more competition from accelerators, incubators and different investor groups now, so the horizon has gotten a bit longer.
- Growth in venture capital has not matched the pace of growth in angel investment, so a higher proportion of companies than previously now get angel funding but fail to get venture capital and die.
- Angels are looking for a 10X return. They need a high return to make up for all of the companies that fail and don’t make anything.
- If your company looks like it may pay 10-20% returns, they aren’t interested. In that case, it would make more sense to invest in something like Apple stock.
- Startup companies at the Angel level are usually valued at $2- $4 million
- When founders are deciding whether an angel investor is a good fit, the first thing they should look at is rapport, do they get along. Is this person interested in their company over and above the money it can make? Will the investor bring something to the deal in addition to money – connections with key customers, knowledge of the industry.
Two main points I took away from it for me personally are,
- Our team is doing a lot of things right.
- We need to stress more how 7 Generation Games is different from other educational gaming companies. I got right on that.
I said that despite taking me away from virtually every other interest in my life, being obsessed with a start-up is worth it.
In thinking it over today, I realized that 7 Generation Games meets every possible desire I could have
Mental – making a game truly challenges me both intellectually and creatively every day. It began with creating, with my partners, a vision of a virtual world – what would the people look like, the scenery, what would they do? How would this dovetail with math? How can we make it interesting enough that children keep playing it? On top of all of these questions is how to write the code to get it to run, record data and for all of the parts – database, 2D program, web input forms, 3D programs – to work together. There really isn’t anything more satisfying in life than seeing something that started out existing only in my brain becoming real. It’s exactly like being a parent except that 16 years from now the games won’t tell me I’m ruining their life by refusing to sign them up for a club soccer team.
Emotional – there is the good part of the emotion of working on 7 Generation Games. We are sincerely striving to make it easier for more kids to learn math. When our games succeed, students improve their chances of passing grades, graduating from high school and going on to college because math is a hierarchical subject. If you don’t understand division, you aren’t going to get fractions. If you don’t understand ratios you’ll fail geometry and statistics. They also learn Native American history, pick up some words in native languages and even increase their vocabulary in English. There is also the elimination of the negative part of working many other places. I can make my own hours and since I am allergic to mornings, I can get up at 10 a.m. Because I telecommute, I almost never have to drive in LA traffic. I seldom have to wear a suit. I work only with really smart, motivated, interesting people. The teachers who use our games and provide us feedback are a delight because they are the ones who are on the forefront trying new things, and not shy about giving their ideas for improvement.
Physical – if we’re going on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this is the basic ones, food, shelter, heat, etc. While our Chief Marketing Officer joined up because she expects us to make a lot of money, and I’m not averse to that, we do make enough to cover the bills. We’re not yet making what we would be if we had taken corporate job offers, but it covers private school for The Spoiled One, trips to see Darling Daughter Number Three continue to dominate the world in mixed martial arts, wedding expenses for The Perfect Jennifer and visits to The Even More Perfect Grandchildren. My goal is to be like Bill Gates, both in making software a billion people use and in giving away a billion dollars.
Today I worked on making a game more fun for kids. Tomorrow, I will work on putting in new ideas, new challenges for helping kids learn more. Yes, I actually get to do this for a living as a grown-up. How awesome is that?
The number one thing not to do is other things. If you find yourself saying a sentence that ends with “but we’re going to keep working on the startup,” you are in big trouble…. We’re taking on some consulting projects, but we’re going to keep working on the startup. You may as well just translate these to “we’re giving up on the startup, but we’re not willing to admit that to ourselves,” because that’s what it means most of the time. A startup is so hard that working on it can’t be preceded by “but.”
In particular, don’t go to graduate school, and don’t start other projects.
As my co-founder, Maria and I discussed today, that is absolutely true but it’s also true that it may take some time to get to the “Nothing but the startup” point. In our case, we had existing contracts we needed to fulfill, mine with consulting clients and hers with ESPN and Fox News Latino. You also have to be in the financial position that you can afford to not only work at a reduced salary for years but at the same time pay for expenses – artwork for the game, animation, travel expenses to demonstrate the game. As you grow, there are other expenses for tech support, promotional items like the posters the teachers put up in the classrooms, the $25o I just paid to have a table at Women 2.0 Founder Friday in Los Angeles.
Paul Graham’s article was the second-best advice I have read on starting a business. The best was a book by Paul Hawken I bought over 20 years ago called Growing a Business. He advised a couple of things. One is that you learn how to do as much for yourself as possible instead of paying for expensive “experts”. Justin Flores does our artwork, with occasional contributions from Gene Wilson, because I totally suck at art. Other things, whether it is CSS or sound editing with Garageband, I just learned. I took a class at MacWorld one year, bought some books. Yes, I took several books out of the library, too, instead of buying them. Hawken’s other advice was to keep your operating costs as low as possible, thus making it possible to follow the advice of Graham 20 years later which is to just do your start-up.
We have an office upstairs where The Invisible Developer works, shielded from all human eyes, and an office downstairs where I work and so does Marisol, Maria when she is in town and the occasional intern. Because we have been in this location in Santa Monica for over 30 years and the city has rent control, the rent for our space comes up to under $500 a month. The down side of that is that it is not at all feasible for us to move. The Spoiled One would like us to move to Ojai. I’d really like to live somewhere we could have a dog, but it is not in the cards.
Doing “nothing but a startup” means saying “No” a lot, and saying “Yes” to the right things.
It’s good to be learning new stuff in a new area, but there is also new stuff in the old area – like the SAS model selection procedures, that I really wish I had time to learn. I’ve been writing on my blog less. I quit teaching at Pepperdine University as an adjunct because I just could not commit the time to showing up once a week for four months straight.
It’s absolutely beautiful weather most of the time in Santa Monica and I rarely make it outside because I am working. I’ve quit volunteering nearly as often. I teach judo once a week at Gompers Middle School and several times a year, I have to get a friend of mine to substitute for me. I’ve resigned from all non-profit boards I used to be on except for one, and when the board chair term expires this year, I’m stepping down from that.
As consulting contracts have expired, I haven’t renewed them. I’ve turned down several offers to teach classes, present at conferences and take on new consulting clients.
I wrote a book on matwork for judo and mixed martial arts last year, but I’m not working on another book.
All of this has now enabled me to spend 8, 10 or 12 hours a day most days doing nothing but working on 7 Generation Games (while only getting paid for less than half of those hours!) and the result is that we are progressing far faster than we were a year earlier.
Is it all worth it? Yes.