The only way I can work is if everything is a joke

Nelly lyrics from "Hot In Herre"

You know what would be really funny?

If I changed the lyrics to “California” by Phantom Planet and sang it horribly over the PA to over 2000 people for my high school student council campaign, just to see if we would win (we did)

If I had my own DJ night at my university’s bar, just to see if anyone would come (they did)

If I bought and fixed up this bike and sold it for 3 times what I bought it for, just to see if anyone would buy it (they did)

If I made a landing page for a fake startup company just to see if anyone would sign up (they did)

So this weekend I cold called a restaurant about getting feedback for Shift SMS.  And the only way that I could actually do it was to do it as a joke – with my friend Benji watching on Google Hangout.  More on that later.

If you know me in real life, I’m a really big standup comedy fan.  I love that shit.  I think at the core of standup is risk, or more specifically, the risk that you’re going to bomb.  To be rejected because you’re so bad that you’ve actually caused a visceral reaction in another person’s body that they want you to know that you’re a failure by boo-ing the shit out of you.  And that factor is probably the main reason that standup is interesting to watch, and why it’s on my bucket list of something to do before I die.

But you know what I imagine happens 99% of the time?  Nothing.

People not really laughing, and then politely clapping at the end of your set, giving you the show of respect that you’re supposed to give to every single person that has ever stepped on a stage, ever.  They didn’t even hate you enough to boo you off the stage.  They didn’t really feel anything enough to do anything.  And that’s what I discovered also happens in life as well.  The worst case scenario almost NEVER happens.  The semi-okay/subpar scenario happens all the time.  Most of our lives is composed of people politely clapping and not really giving a shit.

So why do I look at everything as a joke?  In my heart of hearts, I’m scared to be taken seriously.  I’m crippled by fear on an hourly basis.  It’s fucking scary shit to really put yourself out there in a vulnerable position.  And that’s where the joke part comes in.  If I can frame it to myself that everything actually is kind of a joke in the end, it removes myself from the blame and the judgement.  If it fails, I just tell everyone it was a joke all along.  People will probably react with polite clapping.  I can handle polite clapping.

So what would you do if you knew everyone was going to politely clap?  Would you take more risks with your work or your art?  Would you be saying or doing what you really thought instead of self-censoring yourself because you thought they would boo your effort?  What would you do if you knew that people were not going to give a shit anyway?

So I cold called a restaurant yesterday.  I was inspired by this amazing video from Gary V (internet marketing superstar) and basically followed the exact same script.

I picked a great restaurant that I know is “hip and with it” aka probably can use a computer and I called them during the day when they were closed.  Someone picked up.  I gave him the 60 second pitch about Shift SMS, he expressed some interest and he gave me the contact of who to talk to in a very polite manner.  Then the phone call ended.  Then I screamed, jumped into my bed for joy, slammed my closet door and shouted “YEET”, and then proceeded to talk to Benji again over Google Hangout, who witnessed the entire thing.

Is this a win?  I don’t know.  But everyone seems to be clapping politely.

 

 

 

Validating A Business That Doesn’t Exist Yet Part 1: Design

feetup

As some of you know, one of the pet projects that I’m working on while I’m unemployed is Shift SMS.  Shift SMS is simple staff scheduling software that allows your employees to coordinate shift changes via SMS.

When a staff member can’t make it to a shift, they just text Shift SMS.  Shift SMS will message all available employees to cover that shift.  When an available employee wants to take the shift they can just text Shift SMS back and then the change is automatically made to the staff calendar. Or that’s what I’d like it to be.

The idea for Shift SMS came about in a really odd way.  I had a friend that works at a restaurant who was complaining to me that they had to pick up a shift from one of their coworkers at the very last minute.  At the same time, another friend was spitballing startup ideas with me that I found way too pie-in-the-sky, and in an effort to bring him down to earth I suggested staff scheduling with SMS.

The more I thought about the idea for Shift SMS, the more I started to like it.  During university, I worked in a retail store and I remember seeing my manager standing in front of the computer for hours trying to come up with a staff schedule.  At first, I just thought that my manager wasn’t technical and didn’t have much to do, but I soon realized that organizing people in a schedule is actually a huge pain in the ass.  I did some customer development while getting coffee on the idea of Shift SMS and found out that a lot of businesses actually have this problem.

Originally, I was in contact with someone on Odesk about actually building out the software for a small amount of money.  I’m a big proponent of outsourcing work (in theory) but I’ve never actually gone and done it.  For Shift SMS, this was my thought process:

Pros:

  • It’s cheaper than finding someone locally.
  • The MVP (minimum viable product) could be done quickly and I could go out and try and sell it.
  • It would be a good learning experience.
  • I’ve heard a lot of good things about outsourcing development from people like Tim Ferriss and Pat Flynn
  • Once the software was built, I wouldn’t have an excuse to not go for the startup dream.

Cons:

  • I’d have to pay up front for a product that I’m not sure that anyone would buy.
  • I’ve heard horrible things about outsourcing programming from a lot of other people.
  • The person wanted to program using PHP (using a LAMP stack), but I was really adamant about using Ruby on Rails to build it at the time.
  • Felt like I was using Odesk as an excuse to not find a technical cofounder because I wasn’t confident in selling the idea.

In the end, the cons won out.  It wasn’t entirely about the money, as much as it was about the fear that I wouldn’t do anything with it when it was finished.  So I’ve made the decision to validate the idea before I put any real investment into the development of the software.  This means I’m basically marketing this company as if it was real until I get enough interest (as judged by email signups, mostly) and then I’ll build.

Design

shiftsms landing page

Website:

I am 100% confident that if you went to the Shift SMS website right now, you would think it was a real startup.  Seriously.  It’s all thanks to a CSS framework called Bootstrap.  Simply put, Bootstrap is like a piece of code that makes everything looks decent enough for almost every occasion (A special thanks to Carlos from Blacktie.co for his free Bootstrap theme).  The image of the hand was provided by a design agency that does app mockups, and the screenshot was made with an iOS 7 screenshot generator.  The copy on the landing page took about 2 days to write and edit, and the blog was a WordPress install with a customized version of the Flato theme.

Logo:

logo

When I started my social media profiles (which I’ll talk about in the next post), I realized that I really needed a logo.  I didn’t need it to be groundbreaking, or change the world.  I just needed some sort of graphical representation of the company.  If I got the company up and running, I could always change that later.  So I went with literally the most basic concept and whipped it up in Adobe Illustrator in about 10 minutes.

Here’s how:

  1. Draw a square with rounded edges (through sheer experimentation, I used a 30 px radius on the corners).
  2. Draw a triangle.
  3. Join the shapes.
  4. Write “shift” in the middle using the font “Montserrat” which is all the rage with the kids these days.
  5. Save as transparent PNG.

Done!

Overall, it’s been a lot of fun coming up with the concept and hacking together a site that looks like something that’s legit.  In my next post, I’ll talk about the marketing plan for Shift SMS.

In the mean time, if you could follow @shiftsmsco on Twitter and Like Us on Facebook, that would really help with the experiment!

 

 

 

Spec work: Wayve

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the /r/startups subreddit and seeing a lot of cool startups.  Wayve, a sports app, was asking for an opinion on their landing page.  I decided to do a mock one that I thought was better.  What do you think?

Original:

wayve original

 

 

My version:


wayve-landing-page-mockup

 

Which one do you like better?

 

Meetings Are An Inverted U chart

meetings

I think if you were to map out your perception of meetings over the course of your life, is and/or most likely will be an inverted U chart.  Here’s the life cycle.

  1. Youthful Innocence: OMG THERE’S FREE FOOD LET’S HAVE A MEETING EVERY DAY!
  2. Young Professional: Wow, I have a lot of meetings every week.
  3. Professional: These meetings are killing me!  How am I supposed to get any work done!?
  4. Young Manager: It’s really hard to keep track of what everyone is doing.  Let’s have a meeting.
  5. Manager: WHY WASN’T I INVITED TO THIS MEETING?
  6. Senior manager: We’re having this meeting because it seems like you guys are not having effective meetings.  This meeting will help you plan out future meetings.

Most of this blog post is my fear of facing my own obsolescence but man, I really hate meetings.  I really do.

 

 

How I did customer development while getting a coffee

Customer development while getting a coffee

I’m currently working on validating a SMS staff scheduling webapp called Shift SMS that lets managers push their calendars via SMS but also allow their staff to coordinate any changes on their own.  Shameless plug, please sign up for the e-mail list for the latest updates!

Today, I went to a local coffee spot called Manic Coffee when it was quiet and actually walked into their manager talking to their staff about their schedule.  What are the odds!  I immediately introduced myself and asked about their process when it comes to creating a staff schedule.  Here’s what I found:

What I already knew

  • They used paper
  • Their staff calendar was pretty consistent (a norm for places with less than 5 or 6 staff members)
  • Price sensitivity was high – they mentioned another app that cost $20 dollars with relative disgust
  • They knew of other apps which implies they might have tried to look for a solution in the past (great!) or they were pitched before (not that great)

What surprised me

  • They didn’t think that paper or excel was the best solution (great!)
  • They just didn’t think this was a problem that needed to be solved, even though staff changes were frequent enough to be a pain.
  • They asked if I worked in the service industry before I explained why I was asking (which makes this seem like a common pain point)

Overall, pretty interesting takeaways to go with my coffee.

 

There’s more to life than the Unicorn Club

The poolhall’s a great equalizer. In the poolhall, nobody cares how old you are, how young you are, what color your skin is or how much money you’ve got in your pocket… It’s about how you move.

-Intro scene to Poolhall Junkies

To be perfectly honest, I am going to be biased in post.  Not just like the Chomsky “news filters” biased where the bias is hidden in supposed objectivity, but just straight up biased.  I’m just gonna say it right upfront so there’s no hint or sense that I’m trying to hide anything from the reader.

I don’t think you need an MBA.

I don’t.  I really really don’t.  I believe the stereotype in this article that I’m currently enraged with, which is as follows:

By now, most in the startup community are well aware of the pervasive opinion that it’s best for wannabe tech entrepreneurs to bypass the MBA — not to mention years of climbing the corporate ladder — to get their hands dirty right away. After all, the thinking goes, the sooner you fail, the sooner you can start to succeed. Building a startup from scratch, winding it up and letting it go is the new MBA. Business school, meanwhile, has been relegated to the second tier, a place where math-oriented overachievers who don’t know what to do with their lives go to put off the real world.

I 100% believe this as true and I don’t really see myself changing my mind about it.

Now, here’s the part where I get enraged:

Despite popular perception, it turns out, when it comes to mega-successful startups — members of what Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures terms the Unicorn Club — the hoodie-wearing college-dropout CEO comes as a freak occurrence… The overwhelming majority of successful startup founders attended selective universities for undergrad, graduate school or both. More than two-thirds of the billionaire startup founder list attended a Top 10 school.

That seems like a pretty clear statement of fact.  Here’s some statistics, and da da da da, education is important, da da da da.  So why am I enraged?

Because there’s more to life than the Unicorn Club (1 Billion dollars+ companies).

The reason that I love the tech startup scene is because even if you look at it from the most cynical point of view, it’s the closest to a meritocracy as you can get in modern day capitalism.  Sure, you might not have funding, the connections, the mentorship, etc.  But hey, you have a chance to build something great and to be handsomely rewarded for it.

And I strongly believe that it’s a false assumption that success is defined by building a company that’s worth more than a billion dollars.  I think it’s completely dismissive to look at the Whatsapp and Facebooks of the world and say, “if you didn’t build something this big, you’re a failure”.

Go forth, build, and forget the unicorn.

“Only a handful of people in the world that can tell the difference between you and me”

Here are 2 websites:

Website 1

Website 2

If we went and asked 100 random people which site they liked more, what do you think would be the “like” ratio between website 1 and website 2?

50/50? 60/40? 70/30?

Now, what if I told you that website 1 was developed by what I’m sure is a fantastic digital agency for approximately $25,000 and website 2 is a generic Themeforest theme that costs $13.

How would you feel?

Just like the clip from Good Will Hunting, one the greatest movies ever, there’s only a handful of people in the world that will really know the difference between the two sites.  Seriously.  But more importantly, if you’re not in the tech world, why would you even need to know?

Much like how IKEA dominates the furniture market with stuff that’s “good enough”, will cheap web development dominate  the future?  With sites like Themeforest and Odesk, you can get extremely low cost development done depending on how technically savvy you are, and how technically advanced your product is.

What value will the digital agencies of the future have to bring in order to stay alive when a pretty-damn-reasonable website theme costs less than a 20 piece McNugget meal from McDonalds?

 

 

 

My first paid gig

As inspired by the latest post by the always amazing Jason Fried from the Signal Vs Noise blog, I’ve decided to dig up my very first commercial gig that I’ve ever done.

A little back story.  To this day, I think the most profitable class I’ve ever taken at Simon Fraser was the one that taught me how to use Adobe InDesign (the course number somehow escapes me at this moment).  Without that course, I wouldn’t have gotten my internship at Blo, which turned into my job at Blo, which without that opportunity, I would be no where near where I am now.

Anyways, during my last year in university my friend Pooya had introduced me to a guy who needed a logo and business card designed for his new company.   It was supposed to be a very minimalist and “cool” logo for a door company.  After a couple of days of sketching and messing around in Adobe Illustrator (which to this day I still have no idea how to really use), I ended up with this:

modoorn

 

Total cost: 40 dollars. (Ca ching!)

 

 

The Death of the Company Blog

Imagine if you will, standing in the center of Penn Station (or your preferred hub of transportation) in the middle of the busiest time of the year.   A blur of people are zooming by, every single one rushing to get home to the comfort of their own home, to see their loved ones, or just relax from another long day at the office.  And for a split second, a face in the sea of hundreds from across the room catches your eye.  Just a flicker of light in your retina was all that needed to capture your attention, and it feels so familiar, even if you’ve only seen it for the first time.

Now imagine that was a blog headline (Ha! Gotcha!)

All dramatics aside, I seriously think that 37 Signals gets me.  Like, as a human being.  I randomly saw this article on their Signal Vs. Noise blog titled “When culture turns into policy” and their graphic hit me like Mike Tyson’s punch to the solar plexus.

1208-Culture-vs-Policy

I’ve been in multiple jobs where writing a blog was part of the description, and I have nothing against the concept of writing for a blog.  But what I do have a problem with is the churning process of “social media content”.  If you want to invest in having a blog, then great! But if a company literally says “hey, you got an hour – write a blog about x,y and z”, then the content is guaranteed to be awful.

It seems senseless to write a blog to make your company seem “cool” instead of actually just doing cool stuff.  Why force your coworkers to an after work gathering instead of just building the type of work environment where friendships would flourish any way?

Let’s just cut the bullshit.