I took a look at the sites nominated for the Crunchies Best Design award; most of the nominated sites seemed to be relatively simple and nondescript. Netvibes has a fairly complex UI, but it's not overly cluttered.
I think that's a good thing. I'm not a UI or usability person, but I sometimes obsess over the user interface. I like clean, uncluttered designs. In fact, I like white. I like plenty of white space. I like a very focused and simple user interface.
Here are the Crunchie Best Design nominees:
Rant. Brad Feld posted a rant by Janet Stites on his blog. While I don’t agree with some of the things she says, I do feel her pain. Entrepreneurship can be difficult at times, particularly when you have to feed and care for a family. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that it’s an individual’s choice to have a family and to be an entrepreneur.
Lesson learned. I really enjoyed David Cohen’s interview with Cliff Shaw. It’s one of those posts that I’ve read several times because it’s full of good wisdom and insight from an experienced entrepreneur.
Get Venture. I discovered the Get Venture site via Ask the VC. Get Venture provides a bunch of good information about VC funding.
This morning on NPR. I heard about an interesting study by the Cass Business School (London) that found that entrepreneurs are five times more likely to suffer from dyslexia than the average UK citizen. It's an interesting article that I think has broader implications about the entrepreneurial psyche. What's also funny is that the very first sentence of the study uses the word "then" when it should be "than."
For the first time, new research shows that entrepreneurs are five times more likely to suffer from dyslexia then your average UK citizen and this has major implications for this Government’s key aim of creating a more entrepreneurial British society through initiatives such as this week’s National Enterprise week.
The research carried out by Simfonec, a science research centre based at Cass Business School, found that 20% of entrepreneurs (business owners employing at least one person) studied were dyslexic whereas employed managers (those who supervise at least one person) reflected the UK national dyslexia incidence level of 4%.
The research also found that 70% of dyslexic entrepreneurs who participated in the second, more in depth stage of the research, did not succeed at school. Researcher and Director of Simfonec, Dr Julie Logan notes that some of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson, Sir Alan Sugar, Anita Roddick and Sir Norman Foster allegedly suffer from dyslexia and says this research not only links dyslexia and entrepreneurship for the first time but it also has fundamental implications about how entrepreneurship should be fostered.
Lately, I've been trying to make better use of my time. I'm making some headway, but I have a long way to go. About a year ago, I started reading David Allen's book titled "Getting Things Done," but I only read about half of the book and never tried to implement his "GTD" system. I've started reading the book again, from the beginning, and I'm going to give it another shot. I've got to improve my time management.
In addition to the GTD book, I found a good video on time management. Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who is dying of pancreatic cancer, recently gave a talk about time management. Randy doesn't provide a rigorous system for time management, but he does have a lot of hints and tips. It's a good discussion about time management from a man who doesn't have much more time.
Eric Sink is writing a series of blog entries where he compares C# and Java development (language and IDEs). The series is titled “From C# to Java” and he currently has five parts written.
For better or worse, I generally tend to write my middle tier code in object hierarchies with plenty of collection classes for the “many” side of object relationships. I like to provide a framework that’s easy to navigate and easy to understand within the context of a given domain. I think object hierarchies provide a good framework for UI developers or any consumers of the middle tier.
Anyway, I love generics because it allows me to build object hierarchies very quickly with a lot less code than was required prior to generics.
Andy Sack has a brief, but interesting post titled, "Is there such a thing as a part time entrepreneur?"
I make my living doing contract work; I don't really consider myself to be an entrepreneur (yet) because I define an entrepreneur as someone who does something innovative, at least to some degree. Doing contract work is not innovative and it does not scale. Therefore, I consider myself to be a small business person rather than an entrepreneur. But, I'm hoping to change my plight very soon.
In answer to Andy's question, I don't really have an answer. I think it's possible to be a part time entrepreneur for a short period of time, but I also think it's almost impossible to be a part time entrepreneur and really grow a viable business.
I know how difficult it can be to get a business off the ground with scarce resources. And, I also know that it's a special kind of living hell when you have to work on someone else's stuff while trying to do your own thing. If at all possible, I think it's best to be a full time entrepreneur rather than to try to hedge your bets with a "day job."
For whatever reason, it seems like a good time to step back and assess all of the entrepreneurial things Heather and I have done over the past eight years (which includes seven absolutely fantastic years of marriage and two wonderful little boys).
First, I’ve listed, in roughly chronological order, many of the entrepreneurial things we’ve done over the years. Then, I created my own little report card. The report card isn’t very good, but I think it’s good enough for Heather and I to do a little self assessment. The point of the exercise is to step back, look at what we’re doing, and then, with any luck, keep the good stuff and improve on the not so good stuff.
This is a long post and I decided not to provide a jump after this warning, so beware.
Stuff We’ve Done
Scubalicious. We started the Scubalicious website to document our scuba diving adventures and to provide information about great dive sites. The site was created in 1999; it was really a blog, but I don’t recall anyone was using the term “blog” back then. We didn’t have a CMS; Heather maintained the site using static html.
Although we’d discussed turning Scubalicious into a business, it was actually more of a hobby. I thought I’d mention Scubalicious because it was the first thing we'd done together (although it was mostly Heather’s effort) and we did considered the business aspects of the site, so that must count for something.
I believe the Scubalicious site was live for about three years; however, it was rarely updated after the first year.
Lenfis (Law Enforcement Information Systems). Lenfis was a web application that Heather built for law enforcement. I was the one who suggested she try developing the application as a hosted application that law enforcement agencies could purchase using the subscription model (occasionally I’m forward thinking).
Heather created Lenfis in 2001. Lenfis was created before there was much mention of hosted applications (it was well before SalesForce was released). Lenfis was ahead of it’s time and it was hard to convince people that hosted application would work well. We actually had a booth at a TAC (i.e. SWAT) conference in Orlando. Lenfis seemed to generate a lot of interest, but no sales.
Lenfis slowly faded away into our dead pool.
POTTS (Police Officer Training Tracking System). This is another application that was developed by Heather. It’s a desktop application and is currently in use by the Tallahassee Police Department. Heather never very seriously pursued selling the application to other law enforcement agencies.
Conservancy Software Group (CSG). Heather started CSG as a sole proprietorship for her consulting work. Heather did several projects under the CSG name.
Duey Software. This was another of Heather’s sole proprietorships for consulting work, although I don’t think any consulting work was ever done under the “Duey Software” name. But, I still have a polo shirt that says, “Duey Software, We Do Software.”
Item Banking (my market analysis). This was never a product or a company; it was just a market analysis. I mention it because it was my first really thoughtful foray into the possibilities of starting a software product company.
Item banking software is software that maintains a library of test questions for exams of all types. With item banking software, you can create and grade exams and rate the effectiveness of test questions. It’s a niche market that I was drawn to because I knew something about item banking and it’s kind of an esoteric niche market.
Over several months, I did an in-depth analysis of the item banking market. I came to the conclusion that I could fill a void in the market at the high end of the market, but it would take at least two years of full time work to create a product that would fit high-end needs. I was working full time and we had one little boy who was about one year old at the time; I correctly came to the conclusion that I didn’t have time to build a high end product.
Innovux, Inc. Heather and I decided to go ahead and incorporate our software business. The decision came after a lot of debate on my part. I was afraid of failure and the consequences of failure, but fortunately, Heather was supportive and almost literally had to kick me in the ass so that I’d take the plunge. I’m glad she did.
When we founded the company, we did it with the understanding that we wanted to become a product company, not a custom software development shop or an IT staffing firm. However, we did think that we could do custom projects and staffing as necessary to help build the company. We quickly found out how difficult it is to do custom projects and/or staffing with state agencies (state government is the largest part of Tallahassee’s economy). We made a decision not to pursue any IT staffing opportunities because of the low margins and precarious nature of the business (good decision and probably worthy of another post).
Innovux is the company that we use to do all of our various entrepreneurial activities. Currently, most of our income comes from contract work, but we’re hoping to change that soon.
2Ruffians. 2Ruffians was yet another one of Heather’s efforts. 2Ruffians provided us with a way to separate our “normal” Innovux business from the law enforcement software that Heather was working on. I was insistent about separating the law enforcement stuff because I didn’t want Innovux to look as if we were heading in many different directions (which we were). Looking back, that was a stupid concern on my part.
FeedGadget. FeedGadget was going to be an ad-hoc RSS feed creation tool. I wanted to develop a desktop application that would allow the user to add any information to an RSS feed and immediately publish the feed.
FeedGadget has moved on to our dead pool. I spent a lot of time developing FeedGadget, but the more I worked on it and the more I looked around at the various things going on, the more I felt like it would probably not be a product that many people would use. I think I was correct in that assessment.
One of the big mistakes I made with FeedGadget was attempting to develop a relatively large, feature complete product prior to getting any feedback and input from potential users and customers or mentors. That’s a hard lesson to learn (and to sometimes re-learn).
Locker Monkey. Locker Monkey was a hosted application developed by Heather to securely store personal information such as credit card numbers (in case of lost or stolen credit cards) and other sensitive information. It never really went anywhere and is in our dead pool.
Georneys. Geoneys is a web application that can be used to help find lost children. The application is in beta and we’re currently seeking input from users about ways to change and improve the Georneys.
Georneys has been hugely fun for me and Heather to develop. We used Georneys to apply to TechStars and, although we were not selected for TechStars, I think we had the time of our lives during the process of building the application, applying and pursuing TechStars and gaining a mentor (David Cohen).
Georneys is one of our on-going projects. I have no idea how it will turn out in the end. One of the problems I see with Georneys is that it doesn’t seem to reduce the “friction” of helping parents find a lost child. But, with some tweaks and changes, it might become a very useful and much needed product/service.
I think Georneys has really helped us to become more refined as entrepreneurs. And, we discovered a great entrepreneurial community in Boulder, Colorado. We’ve decided to move there; we’re just waiting on our house to sell.
ListrBlistr. ListrBlistr is a Facebook application. It’s a “to do” list that Heather created so she could learn how to develop Facebook applications.
FevrBlistr. FevrBlistr is a widget that Heather is creating so she can try her hand at widget development.
The Report Card
Below is my assessment of our (Heather and I) entrepreneurial abilities. The assessment categories probably suck (I just made it up as I went along), but I think I’ve captured many of the things that are important.
Entrepreneurship: A- We’ve successfully started a company (Innovux) and we’re able to support ourselves via our tiny company. We’ve tried a number of things and we’re constantly learning about creating and building a successful software company. The reason I gave us an A- and not an A is because we haven’t yet realized our goal of deriving most of our income from a software product rather than contract work.
Execution: B+ Heather does a great job of execution when it comes to getting started and building an application. I don’t do nearly as good a job of execution as Heather does. I’m more of a thinker and Heather is more of a “doer,” so together we make a good combination. However, we haven’t executed well when it comes to marketing type stuff; things like getting and responding to customer feedback about our products and services.
Marketing: C Like I stated above, we haven’t done a good job of marketing. I don’t mean sales, I mean things like getting feedback and building a product that the customer wants needs and will use. We need to work on this, or we need to round-out our team with someone who is good at it. Regardless, I think we’re both aware of the marketing void and we’re working to improve the situation.
Flexiblity: A I think we’ve proved to be flexible and willing to change, but, we may be doing this to a fault. Instead of refining a product or service, we often become disillusioned by the lack of overwhelming consumer response and move on to fun stuff like developing a new product.
Focus/Becoming the Best: C+ We’ve shown pretty good focus with Georneys, but I think we need to be willing to dig deeper and find out what customers need and make changes to provide those features. We need to be the best at something.
I’m sure there are better and more relevant assessment categories, but I see a clear theme in my assessment; we need to actively seek feedback early on in our development process and continue the feedback process as we build our product/service. Hopefully, Heather will post a parallel entry to this one to describe her assessments of our strengths and weaknesses.