I’m just sitting here in Boston airport waiting to catch the bus to Rhode Island. For some reason, the WordPress app on my iPad doesn’t want to upload the images I downloaded from my phone. This is the sort of thing I would often get upset about. I also have several emails to answer already and it’s not even 5 am at home.Landing here is a bit of travel down Memory Lane because my daughter, Ronda, lived here for a few years while training for the Olympics and my other daughter, Maria, lived here with her for family for a few years, right after she had her first child.
Coming back to places always makes me reflect on what has happened in the time intervening. Life has been a rush lately – startup incubator, doing a seed round, making games, hiring – all of the things that go into moving from being a small business to a big one in a short period of time.
Everyone I know spends a lot of time worrying. When Ronda lived here, she was unhappy being away from home but convinced in her own mind that she needed to be here to develop further in judo. She did improve a lot, but did she really need to stay as long as she did? Who knows? When Maria lived here, they bought their first house, which they liked a lot, but then her husband decided to change jobs and they moved in rapid succession to Silicon Valley and then to Santa Monica (Silicon Beach). She worried a lot about how they were going to pay the bills and find a house big enough for three kids. As for me, I worried about all of my kids all the time, about Jenn living in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the country, and trying to find a job with a history degree.
So … what happened? Well, Ronda went into mixed martial arts and movies, Maria and her husband started two businesses between them, Maria and Ronda wrote a book that has been on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks, Jenn got a teaching credential and masters degree from USC, got a job, married and moved into a house in the valley. Just as a random fact, Julia was on the Homecoming Court for her high school yesterday.
So, what did I worry about and what good did it do?
I want everything to be perfect all of the time. I do. This may explain some of my successes, but it also results in not being nearly as happy and relaxed as I could be.
Why CAN’T everything be perfect all of the time?
When I was about 10 years old, I asked my grandmother this exact question. She stopped cleaning the house and answered me very seriously.
Do you know what you get when the sun shines all of the time? A desert. There is a saying, ‘Into every life a little rain must fall.’ If you don’t have bad times, you won’t appreciate the good ones.
That’s definitely true for me. When I was younger, I had to make weight for judo tournaments, and that sometimes meant going without eating for a couple of days before weigh-ins. Ice cream has never tasted as good as it did right after weighing in. One reason I appreciate sleeping until 10 am – or I did before we started ramping up 7 Generation Games – is that there were years when I was going to school full-time and working full-time or working 3 jobs when my husband was sick and I had a family to support, that I never got enough sleep. So, just getting 8 hours sleep is something I appreciate every time it happens (and I assume will appreciate even more when I get back to the point where I can do it again).
It’s also true, that just like my grandmother pointed out that the rain makes the flowers grow, the stresses and difficulties make us better and stronger. Ronda learned judo, Jenn learned history, Maria learned marketing and I have learned more about financing and scaling up than I thought possible in such a short period of time.
Quit looking at what you haven’t got and start looking at where you’re going.
That, my dears, is the secret to happiness.
Do you really need to document everything?
Those who say that there is no such thing as a stupid question might be reconsidering their position right about now. Of course we need to document everything!
Perhaps my reluctance stems from my hatred of technical writers. If you are a tech writer and are a decent human being, the next time we are at the same event, please come up and introduce yourself. I would like to see what you look like. All of the technical writers I ever knew well were evil, which made me suspicious of the rest of you. I should also note here that if you respond to this by posting hateful comments you will have only reinforced the stereotype of tech writers = evil.
Supposedly, tech writers are hired because of their ability to communicate well, which makes me wonder why they insist on making such insulting comments as:
I translate what the programmers wrote into English so the normal people can understand it.
I take what the engineers say and put it into complete sentences.
Everyone knows that software engineers can’t communicate with other humans.
Hey, tech writers, you do know we’re standing right here and we can hear you, right?
Animosity toward an entire semi-profession aside, I caught myself wondering how much documentation was really necessary. I was looking through some code I had written months before, which, I have to confess had almost no comments in the code and no documentation anywhere outside of the code. Even though I hadn’t looked at it in four months (there was a comment with the date created!), I found it pretty easy to read and got to thinking that perhaps documentation was over-sold by literature majors who couldn’t find jobs.
Then, an uncharacteristic burst of rationality overtook me and I realized that our company is growing. The code was pretty clear to me because I’m fairly familiar with the canvas tag and using canvas for graphics. The program used two libraries with which I’m familiar – jquery and a library for making charts. There were 50 other ways the program was easy for me to read because I wrote it using what was easy and familiar for me. However, we’re a growing company, and as The Invisible Developer reminded me, whether it happens kicking and screaming or I go quietly, the handwriting is on the wall and I’m going to be doing less coding and more CEO’ing.
I know that if HE were to have taken the same program, there would be much swearing going on upstairs right now.
So, yes, documentation appears to be more necessary than originally believed.
Is the solution for me to go through and document everything? Sigh. If only I had infinite time.
What I think might work and be a good idea for a new employee is to have him or her start off with reading some of the code and documenting it. That would be a good way to get familiar with what we are doing before diving into a project. It would also be a good way for us to verify if that person understands what is going on in a particular piece of code.
Or, one might say that was a lazy way for me to get out of writing documentation – if one were a tech writer.
My ISP is currently not allowing me to upload or insert image files. Show your sympathy for me by buying games. The games will make you smarter, amuse you and enable me to afford a better host. Everyone wins!
I went to the Western Users of SAS Software conference last week and came home sad. It wasn’t for the reasons you’d guess.
- No one sexually harassed me (as if!).
- I did not forget how to code a confirmatory factor analysis in the middle of the pre-conference class I was teaching.
- The other statisticians didn’t make fun of me. (Not within earshot, anyway.)
- All the other SAS programmers didn’t refuse to sit and drink with me at the networking mixer.
It was actually during Maura Stokes’ presentation on new developments in statistics procedures that I started to get depressed. You might wonder why discussion of adding link=alogit in PROC LOGISTIC so that the adjacent category is used as the referent would be a cause for dismay or what is disheartening about changing the default number of imputations in PROC MI to 25 from 5.
The problem is that as I sat there I thought,
This is some interesting stuff and I probably won’t get the time to try hardly any of it.
Now, I do realize that not being able to play with the latest software is close to first on the list of First World Problems.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been in this situation. When I started my career, I was a pretty good programmer. That’s what we were called back then and it didn’t bother us. Software engineer, software developer and data scientist weren’t things yet.
After I earned my doctorate and started teaching, my husband was in an accident and I became the sole breadwinner for the family, so my consulting side gig grew and all of a sudden I had more people working for me than I could count. It was more like dozens than hundreds, but I just didn’t have any time to count them. I also didn’t have time to do nearly as much data analysis and coding as I would have liked and ended up in the unhappy situation that some of the people working for me were more up on the latest technology than I was. (NOTE to young people: If your boss is not up on the newest OS, language, update etc. it maybe isn’t because he or she is unintelligent, uninterested or an old fogey but perhaps, instead, is doing the things that bring in the money to pay your salary.)
After a while, I disentangled myself, paid the bills and remarried, not in that order, and was able to get back to doing work that really interested me. However, here I am again, spending more time building a company than building a product.
A few weeks ago when we began our three months as part of the Boom Startup ed tech accelerator, The Invisible Developer turned to me and said,
“You know, I’ll bet there came a point when Bill Gates started to spend more time building Microsoft than building operating systems.”
I’d pout about spending so much time in meetings on convertible notes, discount rates and forecast returns but then I remember that:
- All companies need some adult supervision, so it may as well be me.
- The alternative to let someone else take the responsibility and make the decisions.
—- This is my company —
You wouldn’t think there would be that much to say about scree plots. That is because you are like me and sometimes wrong.
The problem I often have teaching is that I assume people know a lot more than is reasonable to expect for someone coming into a course. Sometimes, I’m like a toddler who thinks that because she knows what color hat the baby was wearing yesterday that you do, too.
So …. a scree plot is a plot of the eigenvalues by the factor number. In the chart below, the first factor has an eigenvalue of about 5.5 while the eigenvalue of the second factor is around 1.5. (If you don’t know what an eigenvalue is, read this post. )
As I mentioned in the previous post, an eigenvalue greater than 1 explains more than a single item, but as you can tell by looking at the plot, some of those eigenvalues are barely higher than one. Should you keep them? Or not?
What is scree, anyway? Scree is a pile of debris at the base of a cliff. In a scree plot, the real factors are at the top of the cliff and the scree is the random factors at the bottom you should discard. So, based on this, you might decide you only have one real factor.
The idea is to discard all of the factors after the line starts to flatten out. But is that after 1 factor? It kind of flattens out after four? Maybe?
Sometimes a scree plot is really clear, but this one, not as much. So, what should you do next?
Hmm … maybe I should write another post on that.
I find this scree plot of eigenvalues very helpful in identifying the number of factors. A scree plot is a plot of the eigenvalues by the factor number.
I realized this is only helpful if one understands what an eigenvalue is.
Understand that the default is to factor analyze the correlation matrix and that means that your variables are standardized before analysis, with a variance of 1. So, that is the total amount of variance we are trying to explain for each variable.
Therefore, the total amount of variance to be explained in a matrix will equal the number of variables. If you have 10 variables, the total amount of variance to be explained is 10.
If you’ve ever looked a correlation matrix you will have noticed that all of the diagonals are 1. The correlation of an item with itself is 1.
An eigenvalue is the total amount of variance in the variables in the dataset explained by the common factor. (Mathematically, it’s the sum of the squared factor loadings. If you are interested in that, you can come to my class at WUSS on Wednesday morning. Or, possibly, I’ll blog about it next week.)
Now, if a factor has an eigenvalue of 1, it is pretty useless. That is because the whole purposes of factor analysis is to replace your 20 or 50 items that each explain of variance of 1 (their own variance) with a few common factors. A factor with an eigenvalue of 1 doesn’t explain any more variance than a single item.
Let’s say you have 24 items and your first factor has an eigenvalue of 6. Is that good? Yes, because that means that a single factor explains as much of the variance in the matrix of data as six items. If you could get four orthogonal factors, each with an eigenvalue close to 6, then you would have explained nearly 100% of the variance in your 24 items with just 4 factors.
Think about correlation matrices again. It’s not often you see an EXACTLY zero correlation. You’ll find correlations of .08, .03, .12 just by chance. Who knows, the same person had the highest score on sticks of bubble gum chewed and number of asses kicked (R.I.P. Rowdy Roddy Piper), it doesn’t mean that those two variables really have that much in common. This is why we look at statistical significance and how likely something is to occur by chance.
How do you tell if that factor has a higher degree of common variance, that is the eigenvalue is higher, than would be expected by chance? One way is the scree plot. You look at the eigenvalue for each factor and see where it drops off.
I would write more about this but my family is urging me to leave for a barbecue for Maria’s birthday, so you will have to last until tomorrow for a more detailed explanation of scree plots and why they are called that.
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.