Chronicles of Summer Startup Accelerator Experience, Insights, and Projects

Archive for July, 2012

Talking all things internet with Elena & Entrepreneurial Thinking with William

Today we met two amazing people. I had the pleasure of meeting Elena Silonek and William Reinisch. Both elite people in every aspect.

Elena taught us, at a rudimentary level, how the “internet” works, which is different from the “world wide web”.  I was really more interested in learning about Clothia and how she got to where she is today. From reading her short, but dense bio, she’s an amazingly intelligent, creative, and awesome person. I love entrepreneurs who embody the lifestyle that pushes the boundaries. Something else that intrigued me was her background in data science and mathematics. If I could have another meeting just to pick her brain, I’d be honored.

That last statement also goes for Mr. William Reinisch who manages the New York office of Paladin Capital. His talk on “Entrepreneurial Thinking” reminded me of some of the other talks I’ve heard from Lean Startup speakers and others who talk about “innovation”. It was well received by the entire class, and I was glad to get these things drilled into my head. He covered things like ideation methods and cognitive tools to begin putting our ideas into buckets.

Where I thought the guest lecture really shined was in Q & A. I finally got to speak with someone who has worked alongside startups with hardcore IP. I mean come one, his first startup IPO’d because they invented the radio component in a cell phone that

1) was low power 2) had low radiation 3) allowed phones to efficiently connect to cell towers.

I asked him about his time at Motorola and the path to technology commercialization. He gave me powerful insights that will be kept private.

Additionally I asked him about university spinouts and commercializing university research. His theory is that there will be a bimodal distribution in the next 10 years. You will have the top universities who got it right and those who fall into the chasm. Some who are models of success are obvious: MIT & Stanford.

From hearing Mr. William speak, I was relieved to finally here some validation on my theory. If you’re an aching entrepreneur and a serious dreamer, then the problem you have is choosing the idea, not trying to come up with one. In my experience, execution is difficult, but no where near impossible, and many times you at least know the general direction or path you’re suppose to be on. Beforehand, you’re staring at the edge of the abyss chewing on glass. I think once you can decide on an idea that resonates with you the rest will come easy. Your eyes begin to focus on the prize more than the obstacles. Persistence and focus keeps you moving forward and obstacles begin to melt away when you disregard them.

Steve Blank recently wrote an article on Tenacity and includes his statement at the Congressional Hearing regarding Startups

All in all a great day.

Note to self: Re-connect to both Silenok & Reinisch

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Day 12: Finishing WordPress + jQuery

We finished up WordPress programming and had a little Q & A for loose ends. This is something I still need to practice and master. This is probably one of the most important skills to master with web development. On a meta level, the ability to mash one tool and the other is super important.

Learning introductory jQuery was great. jQuery is a javascript library that makes it easier to code web behavior. We learned how to toggle paragraph boxes. Simple, but useful way to organize information.

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User acquisition with Derby Jackpot. We learned how to execute a facebook ad for user research. Overall, it gave me a better understanding of how to do online advertising and optimizing for Click-Through-Rate and optimizing survey questions for usefulness.

Day 11: WordPress just got complex

After a total of 11 days of 4 hour intensive courses I can say I have the “fundamentals” of HTML and CSS. This is only the beginning of the journey.

Today we focused on adjusting things such as changing the layout and format of pages versus posts, which are  fundamentally different. For example a page might serve a different function that someone simply reading a single blog post. This is where you begin abstracting WordPress as a simple content manager and the “blog” becomes a website. Every page begins to get its own skin and personality and your home page is the most distinct of all with navigation becoming the focus.

All in all it was productive. I got REALLY stuck when the FTP messed up. Basically when I saved my local copy and transferred them over to the server, it didn’t update my template. I eventually hacked a half-ass solution by deleting the theme and then reinstalling it each time to update. Thus far it’s worked out splendidly, but I do need to get to the core to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future with other web pages I create.

Tomorrow is our last day with Chris, but thank the lord I have his email. I’ll give him a quick disclaimer: I will bother the hell out of you when I cannot google, stackoverflow, codex.wordpress.com the answer. You’ll get the occasional dumb question with a copy of code. I will kindly ask you to debug =).

It’s been great having you as our front-end web development teacher and I couldn’t have asked for someone more friendly and welcoming into the programming environment. I look forward to going deeper into the rabbits hole.

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Craft Coffee presentation – Better than expected, but under my par of excellence.

Overall we winged the presentation. I wish there had been a lot more depth and thoughtful insight put into all of our suggestions. After the presentation I immediately went straight to reviewing “The McKinsey Way”. I couldn’t believe how far I strayed from the problem solving methodology. Because of this, I will be sending Craft Coffee some personal notes and tactical recommendations and samples of implementations of these so they can move forward. I want to see a direct impact from one of our recommendations. Perhaps a small change in messaging that ups conversion by 10% would mean the world to me!  I just hate that we had about 10 off the cuff recommendations that didn’t have enough facts to back them up. We didn’t really clearly understand what the key drivers of Craft Coffee growth was. Regardless, I will thank them for giving us this opportunity.

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Other daily stuff: Just finished errands, prepped for a busy Tuesday, and read another 50 pages of Lean Startup. I should be finished in the next 2 days or so in preparation for the NYC Lean Startup Machine Workshop.

Additionally, I visited the Strand bookstore and took a pictures of a list of books worth looking into. I found HUGE 8 POUND business encyclopedia aptly named, “Business: The Ultimate Resource”. This is going on my list for sure.

At the end of the day I ended up buying “Exposing the Magic of Design” by Jon Kolko, whose writing has fascinated me for the past few months. Not to mention I bought a ticket for the Design Extravaganza he’s hosting in Austin in October.

It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.

This past weekend I watch UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen II (rematch)

What prompted the rematch was Sonnen’s domination of Silva in a previous match. Sonnen landed more punches on Silva than Silva’s gotten hit with previously in his entire career. From round 1 to round 4 Sonnen repeatedly beat down Silva and took him down. Finally, going into the fifth and final round Sonnen almost had it. He had the championship within arms reach. Fortunately, Silva choked Sonnen via triangle choke with 2:30 left on the fifth round clock. Silva finished him, barely.

In their next bout at UFC 148, Sonnen took down Silva in 15 seconds and spent the rest of the round beating Silva from the top and eventually got into mount position to end the round. I could see the hunger in Silva’s eyes between the round. In round 2, he came out with a new strategy and some fire in his belly. He showed strong takedown defense and went back to the elusive Silva that I knew was there. He dodged a backhand by Sonnen. The backhand’s momentum sent Sonnen tripping to the ground. Silva finished him with a knee to the chest and some subsequent ground and pound. Regardless, he finished up Sonnen good this time. He dominated.

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What does this mean for entrepreneurs and other ambitious leaders? It means that even though you’re not at the top of your class, or your startup hasn’t “grown up” yet, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Things are always 20/20 in hindsight. I think this notion can best be seen by Dave McClure’s most recent post late bloomers. Dave laments that at one point in his career he felt like he was going nowhere and his only success was his wife and kids, but look at him now. He’s truly a character to be revered. I know I look up to his sailor cursing ways.

It means that instead of focusing on how bad you may be at something in beginning you need to relentlessly pursue your dream because how you finish matters. That’s your legacy. Be like Silva. Finish the fight. Whatever it may be, realize your vision. Save the world by creating a social endeavor like the girls who made Soccket, or make that t-shirt company grow exponentially like I know Infidel USA did. Wherever you see yourself, just go and get it. Do it. FUCKING do it.

I dreamt of finally interning in New York and spending the summer with my girlfriend. a few months later, here I am with my beautiful girlfriend living in New York City, interning at both General Assembly and Lean Startup Machine which were companies I dreamed of a year ago.

Dream it. Do it.

Day 9-10: Almost done with Front-End Web Design

This past week was a short week since July 4th fell on a Wednesday. We spent the past two days reworking our own wordpress templates and getting them hosted in a subdomain. Mine currently needs to be fixed, but it should be at blog.summeratga.com.

Tonight I’ll be working on editing the content and the structure so the page is more “me”. By me I mean it should host a portfolio of work, link to affiliations, and in general a great place to keep track of all my stuff in addition to my about.me page This will also be my practice page once front end web development. This domain name might end up having a lot of pages that holds all my work in process stuff.

Regardless, I’m glad to have had someone as skilled as Chris teach us all the necessary skills to take the next step into web development. This is only the beginning of my programming journey. I’ll make sure to hone my skills each and every week with exercises and some side projects so that I’m constantly executing the basics and adding new functions as I find them across the internet sea. Not to mention finally honing some graphic design skills.

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On another note, I was referred to Drew at Lean Startup Machine by a fellow intern and friend Sam Hysell. After meeting with Drew this past week, I am the new sales intern. I’ll be helping Drew setup for the two new full-time hires who are coming on. We both agreed that I should be able to close a sale or two from warm lead to finish by the end of my experience. Considering the pay is solely commission based, I know I’m incredibly hungry to get started.

Drew decided it would be a good idea to start by going to the New York City Lean Startup Machine workshop this weekend to begin mingling with the entire team, the mentors, and participants. Really I think Drew just wants to see me in action socializing, generating leads, even getting some sort of “intent” closing by word of mouth. More than anything I’m looking forward to learning about Lean Startup methods in a workshop format versus reading the books. I’ll be there adding value however I can. Take out the trash, get drinks, order food, and schmooze with everyone. Maybe I’ll be able to impart some limited wisdom that a participant will find useful. All I want to do is add value!

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Craft Coffee Project – Boy am I worried. I know the core team has been working pretty diligently on it. I wouldn’t say we’ve come anywhere near nailing it, but I do know we better ship and ship good tomorrow. We have good data, good insights, and good advice, but it needs two more things.

1) We need to structure together a logical consulting presentation so Craft Coffee can leave with something actionable that they believe in.

2) Overall we need to assess the core competencies and interests of the intern class. I feel like the leaders are starting to come out, but we are still walking around with guns that we’ve never used before.

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