Chronicles of Summer Startup Accelerator Experience, Insights, and Projects

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Stop Talking. Start Making.

This is a mantra.

Similar to “Fuck it. Ship it.” but less profane and more widely accepted and understood by the mainstream.

This mantra brings to mind two things.

1) Talk is cheap

2) People need to see to believe

As an designer, entrepreneur, or taught engineer, you need to make this very welcome in your system. If I really want to make a mark, then you’re going to have to start RIGHT NOW. Seriously, a “someday” or “I’m thinking about it” attitude means it’s not going to happen. Seriously, I’ve seen it in myself. So please do us all a favor and make the world better, and turn what’s in your head into a reality.

I would suggest the same to all of you makers and non-makers alike. We can all make a mark. A simple blog post is a deep dive for many of us who passively read and consume the knowledge of others. The best way to learn is to dive right in.

Small and imperfect is perfectly big =)

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

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.

Dreaming of Tomorrow

“We can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow. How much would you pay to launch our economy? How much would you pay for the universe?”

Beautiful. Inspiring. Visionary.

I’m hungry to make and discover. Are you?

Philosophy of Life

“Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it. Extinction is approaching. Fight it.” – From Blake Master’s blog who has detailed note essays from Peter Theil’s CS 183 course.

Day 7: CSS3 Techniques + Synthesis

Today was great! We were given an exercise to confirm our fluency in building links with sprites.

After that 20-30 minute exercise we were finally given our big project, which was to build a very legitimate looking web 2.0 website that synthesized everything we’ve learned thus far.

Everything from working with our blank template (essentially starting from scratch), copy & pasting old code and making sure to debug for the new website, implementing advanced navigation design and shadow boxes.

This post is short, but I will admit I love this style of class. I’m feeling the power of the curriculum. We are learning, and more importantly applying it all on projects daily.

My favorite quote came from Dave Lifson, who came in to speak with us and allow us to pick his brain for knowledge – “there’s a fundamental difference between understanding theory and concepts and fluency in application. At General Assembly we hope to empower both”

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Dave Lifson – he was a rockstar Product Manager at Amazon, the Team Lead for Product Management at Etsy, Co-Founder and CEO of Postling, and now head of Product Management for Education Programs + Outcomes at GA.

There was no formal lesson. We essentially had an opportunity to pick his brain. I think more guests should do this since, like a Lean Startup, allows the audience to guide the conversation in the direction it wants. The guest can add stories and give key lessons where necessary, but answering questions helps the audience get what they came for.

I got three key insights:

“there’s a fundamental difference between understanding theory and concepts and fluency in application. At General Assembly we hope to empower both”

“Work-in-process work has no inherent value, so get to “finished” product as fast as possible”. You want to get a shitty version of your project in front of some people versus keeping it in “built”. This is sort of like the drafts section of my blog. I’ve written blogs, but haven’t published them. Unpublished work , which isn’t shared, has no value.

Inherently starting a company and getting funding is all about risk. You do everything everyday to begin lowering your risk profile. VC’s run through a risk profile in their head: execution risk, team risk, market risk, etc. The lean startup method, lead by Eric Ries and started by Steve Blank, teaches entrepreneurs to close the gap as fast as possible. Every hypothesis is a risk and the sooner you get data and insight and are able to act on it the better. Every milestone lowers your risk.

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Craft Coffee Project:

Now that accounting is over, I can finally dive head first into the project

Acting on Insights – My goal for the next day is to observe and collect as much data as I can. This means getting video narrations of people on the website and also building a flow-chart of the web and physical experience of gifting Craft Coffee to begin understanding what parts of the experience diminishes customer experience. Lastly, I feel the need to do a 5 Why analysis.

I think Sam and I are also putting together personas of their customers. I have a feeling I can just ask Mike and Angie about their customer demographic.

Search for tipping point & using the Pareto principle – My goal also includes finding the 10% we can change that will yield the biggest difference. This may be as simple as changing the messaging on the post card to optimizing the transaction to encourage gift givers to input gift recipient emails.

Day 6: Responsive Design + Business of Gaming

Today we focused on design responsive navigation bars and touched on HTML 5 and CSS 3.

Either someone read my blog and responded or the pace or things just went back to normal I loved class today.

I loved class today because it had great structure and I felt like we accomplished a lot in 4 hours. Within our time we learned about HTML 5, and checked out a few cool links like —>

http://html5readiness.com/

http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/30/google-chrome-html5-arcade-fire/

http://slides.html5rocks.com/#landing-slide

After that we spent time on 3 separate projects today

We did a basic navigation bar with links only. From this very simple project, I was reminded of the importance of the “.clear” hack we learned to make sure containers don’t collapse on each other.

Our second navigation bar we made focused on turning a link into a button. One application might be that making a link’s environment active, then people can use it on a touch screen. Additionally, we got the background to hover behind a text link. This came with a lot of confusion until I learned the syntax to code it. It was a nested CSS, which gets long and looks like this: nav ul li a {}

Our last project Chris introduced us to SPRITES! He did this by showing us the Google pacman HTML5 page that’s just a series of images. He showed us that sprites were essentially an entire picture that the internet would download and call once versus make a call every time you needed the site to respond. We turned an images into responsive active links. I loved this. I’ve always been curious about how to make the web more reactive than just words. This really resonated with me. Basically, we had to re-position the picture within the container for each element’s attribute (i.e. a:hover a:visited a:active etc.)

*I apologize for shorter and shorter blog posts. Last week of a 3 week intensive managerial accounting class has gotten me sleeping sub 5 hrs every day.

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The Business of Gaming – This was taught by Brad Hargreaves, a co-founder of General Assembly.

– It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, since I thought it would be about game design or gamification, but understanding the gaming economy was fascinating nonetheless. Great live class, with great production quality! Would definitely recommend it!

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Craft Coffee Project: So far we’ve had a difficult time coordinating. Today we finally came to the conclusion that we’d have to synthesize a series of insights and surveys into one short and sweet deliverable along with a short presentation.

Problems:

Lack of communication between everyone.

Some people leave right after class…having nothing to do after class the first week set precedent saying that it was over after that. We need guidance and someone to tell everyone that this is a program where we have to stay until 5-6pm and work on the project after class. Thus far I feel like a few people take this project very seriously and some people just don’t care. Maybe it’s just all poor communication.

Regardless, initial efforts are being made to putting together break into sub-divisions,  target websites for survey, systems of communication, standards of reporting, etc.

Tough Times with a new team. We are all still in the forming stages of team development…I don’t think we all know each other’s name by heart yet, but professional excel regardless of circumstances, so we will excel.

Awesome Part – Beginning to get a feel for everyone in the program. Making great friends!

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