Start-ups are all about buzzwords – innovation! disrupt! billion!
We’re going to disrupt the something something something with our innovation that will bring us a billion dollars! Hurray! VCs , give me money!
We’re part of the Boom Startup Ed Tech accelerator for twelve rapid-fire weeks. Three weeks in, much disruption has occurred. We’ve moved over to Amazon Web Services, which gives us less down time and more opportunity for scaling up quickly in response to a rapidly rising number of users. It also meant we had to move over our mailboxes. Our method of counting website visits changed to require a minimal time on the site to be counted, eliminating webcrawlers (which don’t buy stuff) and only counting humans (who do buy stuff). That’s good, but it shows a drop in our site visits.
We moved the databases over the weekend to minimize inconvenience for our users, but there was still a period of more than 12 hours when people could not play our games because they could not access the server that maintains the game state.
The advice from the mentors was to focus on school sales as opposed to selling to individuals. That’s reasonable – in one school, 200 – 1,000 students might play our games. School sales will increase revenue and users much faster than individual sales.
It’s a great idea to focus on schools but during the first week of school, teachers and administrators are too busy to hear about your new software. So, our consumer sales are down because we are spending more time meeting with school personnel and our school sales aren’t up yet.
In preparation for raising investor funds, we’ve been asked to research and prepare a lot of documents. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what the Total Available Market is for adventure games that teach math, social studies and English. It’s reasonable to ask how many students are at the grade levels that we intend to address. There are a lot of other questions we should be able to answer, including cost of acquiring customers, whether activities like this blog, twitter or events like tweet-ups pay off. We should be collecting and analyzing data on number of new users and active users.
However, doing all of that takes time away from contacting schools and telling them how wonderful our games are. One of the mentors suggested we should be making 100 contacts a week with educators. which is very reasonable. It comes out to about 7 a day from Maria and I each. How are schools going to know about us if we don’t call, email or visit them personally? From spam in their mailboxes? I doubt that.
Everything requested sounds like a good idea, and, in fact, is a good idea. The problem is finding time for all of these good ideas plus making the games and analyzing data coming in to demonstrate the games’ effectiveness.
We’re working more hours than ever. Maria missed her daughter’s first day of school. I missed my daughter’s first two soccer tournaments of the year. I’m writing this post today while watching her team play.
No matter how many soccer games or first days of school we miss or hours earlier we get up, there are not enough hours in the day to do everything. We will work it out, persevere and power through. Disruption always sounds a lot better when it’s happening to someone else.
Speaking of schools – if you know a teacher, principal or school administrator looking for games that make you smarter and have the data to prove it, send them my way: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
In assessing whether our Fish Lake game really works to teach fractions, we collect a lot of data, including a pretest and a post-test. We also use a lot of types of items, including a couple of essay questions. Being reasonable people, we are interested in the extent to which the ratings on these items agree.
To measure agreement between two raters, we use Kappa’s coefficient. PROC FREQ produces two types of Kappa coefficients. The Kappa coefficient ranges from -1 to 1, with 1 indicating perfect agreement, 1 indicating exactly the agreement that would be expected by chance and negative numbers indicating less agreement than would be expected by chance . When there are only two categories, PROC FREQ produces only the Kappa coefficient. When more than two categories are rated, a weighted Kappa is also produced which credits categories closer together as partial agreement and categories at the extreme ends as no agreement.
The code is really simple:
ODS GRAPHICS ON;
PROC FREQ DATA =datasetname ;
TABLES variable1*variable2 / PLOTS = KAPPAPLOT;
TEST AGREE ;
Including the ODS GRAPHICS ON statement and the PLOTS = KAPPAPLOT option in your TABLES statement will give you a plot of both the agreement and distribution of ratings. Personally, I find the kappa plots, like the example below, to be pretty helpful.
This visual representation of the agreement shows that there was a large amount of exact agreement (dark blue shading) for incorrect answers, scored 0, with a small percentage partial agreement and very few with no agreement. With 3 categories, only exact agreement or partial agreement is possible for the middle category. Two other take-away points from this plot are that agreement is lower for correct and partially correct answers than incorrect ones and that the distribution is skewed, with a large proportion of answers scored incorrect. Because it is adjusted for chance agreement, Kappa is affected by the distribution among categories . If each rater scores 90% of the answers correct, there should be 81% agreement by chance, thus requiring an extremely high level of agreement to be significantly different from chance. The Kappa plot shows agreement and distribution simultaneously, which is why I like it.
Want to play the game ? You can download it here, as well as our game for younger players, Spirit Lake.
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.)