May

11

There are, or so I have heard, people who are energized by parties, meet-ups and social events. I am not one of those people.

Dinner with the family

If I had my choice, I would never go to any gathering larger than our family dinners for the rest of my life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking to intelligent people nor that I don’t appreciate all of the great people that I get to work with in the course of the year – I really do. However, I have to confess, that is a fringe benefit. What I am most interested in doing is sitting at my computer solving problems. If there was some way to get anyone else to go to the meet-ups, demos, conferences and pitches, I would do it.

Most of our staff at The Julia Group is like that. When meet-ups or other networking opportunities there is more whining than taking a kindergarten class to church.

“Oh, man, do I *have* to go?”

“I just went last time.”

“Can’t I go next time?”

“Isn’t it somebody else’s turn?”

In fact, we DID hire someone, our new Chief Marketing Officer to handle these responsibilities because I got so tired of hearing the whining from everyone, including me. Now I only go when she tells me that I have to – and I still whine.

In my experience, most meet-ups will have from zero to one good point that  is worth knowing. Usually that comes from whoever they have as a speaker, but not always. You’ll meet, if you are lucky, one interesting person with whom you wish to follow up, several people who want to sell you stuff and a couple of people who have an idea and are looking for someone to give them money so they can pay someone else to make it. Yet, I still go because that one point is worth hearing and the one person is worth knowing.

Here are five points I have learned from start-up meet-ups. Since you read my blog you can tell your CMO that you get to skip the next five (she probably won’t buy it, but it’s worth a try).

1. Cash is more than king. – From Jenny Q. Ta , founder of sqeeqee.com This advice from a highly successful founder confirmed what I have thought for years. At one point our company rented an office because I thought we should have one to look like a “real company”. Almost no one ever went there. Most of us work at home and we have people in several states. Now we Skype, FaceTime , email or meet in the office downstairs in my house. If we need a conference room, I rent one at the business center a half-mile away. Sometimes people are unimpressed that we still haven’t permanently moved out of the downstairs, but what we save on renting offices for a dozen people goes a long way to making sure we are in the black every month. If you have a healthy cash flow, you can get by without investor money for a long time.

2. Put off taking investor money as long as you possibly can – This is another good tip from Jenny Q. Ta The sooner in the game that investors come in, the more of a risk they are taking and the larger percentage of your business they are going to want.

I find it ironic that the two things that might impress a casual observer – paying for office space and getting angel investor money are the exact points that she argued against. (She’s not the only one, check Paul Hawken’s wonderful book Growing a Business). We have people putting in considerably more hours than they are getting paid for a share of the business – those are co-founders and that is the best investment we can get because not only is it equivalent to funds but it brings the talent with it.

3. Don’t believe everyone knows more than you. I heard this at a General Assembly start-up event and it is worth repeating. There was a time when I thought all of these people spouting so confidently that the target market for their product was in the hundreds of millions (it isn’t) or that the best choice for an application was Ruby (it wasn’t) knew so much more than me. Now I realize that many of them are just posturing. They’re either trying to sound confident for investors, or they just have a different world view than me. I’m a statistician. If I tell you we’ll make $5 million on a product I believe there is a greater than 50% chance based on the facts at my disposal. Others, if they say they’ll make $500 million are basing it on an assumed 5% chance and convinced they’ll make it with the right strategy.

4. Find a co-founder or two. I believe the optimal number of co-founders is three. More than that, you dilute decision-making too much. Less, and you probably haven’t covered all of the key skills.

 

The fifth and most important thing I have learned and I have heard it several times – most of success is just keeping working even when it’s hard and frustrating.

Speaking of which, I was taking a break from revising our first game to write this post but now I’m going to get some sleep and hit it in the morning.

(And there you have five more things I have learned in almost 55 years.)

May

6

Two questions I get asked occasionally are:

1. No. The only one who pays for my blog is BlogHer – which is the ads you see – and they don’t seem to care what I write as long as people read it. The checks from them pretty much cover my Chardonnay bill. Incidentally, they pay WAY better than Google AdSense.

2. My original reason for writing this blog was to remind myself of stuff. Ever see that comic where the kid raises his hand and asks the teacher

“May I be excused from class? My brain is full.”

Well, my brain is like that a lot. At any given time I may go from javascript to jquery, impact.js, SAS, PHP, SQL to giving a lecture on logistic regression. I forget stuff. That terrific site, really cool application, a function that allowed me to do exactly what I wanted, so I write it down here to remember the next time I need to know something like that.

Here is a fact: A lot of stuff sucks.

There are over 1,000,000 books on Amazon. It’s a lot more productive to write about a book I read that was good than the 867,345 books on Amazon that are mediocre or worse. You’ll find something good much faster by looking for stuff that’s good than ruling out everything that sucks.

Whether you’re talking about a mobile app, a new suite of software or added functions or formats, there will be a lot that are boring, useless or just plain suck. It just seems really inefficient to waste my time writing about them unless the rise to a truly notable level of suckiness – and most things don’t, they don’t even excel at sucking and will fade out of the general consciousness, sinking under the weight of their own mediocrity.

I honestly don’t understand people who spend a lot of time writing about the stuff they DON’T like.

May

6

I highly recommend, The Dip,  a short book by Seth Godin that lauds the value of quitting. I wrote about this at greater length on my other blog on judo and life, under the topic, “Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.” where, being the horrible mean old woman that I am, I suggested that giving up trying to make the Olympic team, going back to school and getting a real job might be a better path for some people.

Or in the words of not one, but two of my professors in graduate school, at two different institutions thousands of miles apart, the 19th thing I have learned in (almost) 55 years is

“Never play with a stacked deck.”

The deck might be stacked against you for a number of reasons. One of the professors who told me that was an African-American woman and at the end of the academic year, she left for another university. She was right that she would probably never get the job she wanted at that university. Her research wasn’t African-American studies – it was policy analysis, and she taught not multi-cultural something or other but statistics. She could have stuck around hoping to get tenure and make them see that she really was just as good, just as smart – or she could have gone to another university where they already knew that.

The other professor was white, male and vice-president of a major corporation who had come to teach in the MBA program for a year because he felt like it and he was rich and important, so there. We were glad to have him. He was a great professor. He pointed out there are times that you are not going to get what you want, because, say, the company was a family business and the owner’s son was going to end up as president no matter how wonderful you are. It could also be that there is an entrenched group and they are not going to support you in your job no matter what you do. They’ve worked together for twenty years and you just came in here because the boss hired you over them. One of the students asked,

“Isn’t that letting them win if you just give up and leave?”

The professor answered,

“Or, you could stay there for five years and fight them and maybe after five years, bring them around to recognize your contribution to the team and support you. In the meantime, you’ve wasted five years when you could have been working somewhere else where people got behind you and got the job done and been five years further ahead in your career. So tell me, what did you win?”

Sometimes, it’s not people that have stacked the deck against you. Maybe you have had too many injuries to come back and compete. That may sound hypocritical since I won the world championships with a knee missing all the cartilage and 2/3 the ligaments. The fact is, I was lucky and if I had taken one more shot that took out that last ligament, I would have been done not just competing but probably walking.

So, that brings me to my 20th thing,

Know what you are willing to risk.

In the case of competing, I was willing to risk never walking again without crutches. Thank God for the medical advances in knee replacements or I’d be on crutches now. Right now, I’m making half the money I could be making because I’m spending a lot of time on starting up 7 Generation Games and not taking any new consulting clients.

This might sound hypocritical again, because isn’t doing a start-up something for only young people? As Vivek Wadhwa said, isn’t it true that the average venture capitalist portfolio consists solely of white and Asian males barely old enough to shave? So isn’t this playing with a stacked deck?

Not at all. We may not get $10 million in venture capital but I’m okay with that (really). We have learned not to trade our lives for stuff. We’re pretty happy with life because we’ve learned not to want too much what we haven’t got.

We’re willing to risk some of our own funds and half (or more) of our time for two or three years to make this game happen. Looking at the progress we’ve made so far, the people we have working with us and the work we are all doing, I am pretty optimistic, but it’s a risk. If it doesn’t succeed, I will be disappointed, we all will. Then, we’ll pick ourselves up and after some swearing and possibly a martini or two, we’ll go on to the next idea, because we have learned that failure is never permanent and neither is success.
See how it all fits together – it’s like Legos.

capybaraI know that’s actually a picture of a capybara and not Legos, but you see, I didn’t have a picture of Legos and I had this one of a capybara and I really do like capybaras.

Which brings me to my twenty-first thing I have learned …

You’ll be a lot happier in life if you don’t  take yourself too seriously.

May

2

Here is the scenario …

1. The researcher had a return rate more than triple the average return rate for emailed surveys in general. This return rate was despite apparently not having any of the features related to higher return rates – incentives for completion, an advance postcard or email explaining the survey and incentives, email or phone follow-ups to non-respondents. A 2005 study conducted with 1,500 subjects from the same population in the same state on a similar topic had a return rate less than one-third that this researcher claims, even though the 2005 researchers used incentives AND advance notice AND in four out of five sites, emailed or called non-respondents.

2. The completion rate for each item was 97-98%. From the first item asking about the topic to the 50th, there was no drop out in responses. There appeared to be almost no drop out of the study, over 98% finished it. There was zero correlation between where the item was on the survey and how many people completed it because virtually every one of over 750 people completed every question.

3. Responses came in three types – from Group 0, Group 1 and Group 2. Over half of the subjects – nearly 400 – came from the same location, there were times when as many as 9 respondents would start the survey at the exact same minute of the same day. In one group, surveys were ONLY started between 10 and 11 in the morning or between 3 and 7:15 pm.  (Well, 5% did come in between 7:15 and 9). None of the 141 surveys in that group came  at any other time.

4. The typical audience member quoted is verbatim the same in both this report and another report from a study at a different site completed two years ago.

5.  In the report, there is an almost complete absence of detail on sampling method, nothing on return rate, nothing on how the online survey was distributed, nothing about missing data, incentives or follow-up. There is minimal discussion about possible bias in the sample. Return rate had to be computed based on the raw data and a report on the number of students surveyed. Similarly, missing data percentage was computed from the raw data.

When someone questioned this, it was stated that,

“The data were reviewed by a statistician who said that he saw no problems.”

Your comments and opinions are eagerly awaited.

ugly fish head

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