Since I last blogged…

Just looked at my last blog post and saw the date was Apr 9, 2010. That’s almost  9 quarters. Since I last blogged, here are some of the things I’ve done and learned about myself:

  • Shut down my first startup
  • Got a job at LinkedIn in the mobile team
  • Helped rewrite LinkedIn’s mobile server from the ground up in node.js
  • Learned Clojure (and love it)
  • Went from SW Eng to Eng Manager (again)
  • Got a ton of experience running (and troubleshooting) servers at internet scale
  • Learned that internet companies go much, much faster than other types of software companies
  • Learned that some of management advice I’ve been giving in Management Revolution doesn’t apply when companies move really fast
  • Found that under stress, I get angry (you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry)
  • Found that I really like writing software and I really like being in a leadership role
  • Found that I seem to have a knack for winding up in leadership roles even when I don’t seek them out (or even want them at times)
  • Found that I like the role of “ronin warrior” than samurai
  • Found that if I drink too much tea and not enough coffee, I get too mellow
  • Found that after two years, there’s still not a good tool for managing groups of people across multiple projects
  • Selling to enterprise customers sucks
  • Getting individuals to try a product is much easier than getting a group to try a product
  • It’s impossible to convince someone to change how they work
  • I love my iPhone thousands of times more than my Android.
  • I want to try starting another company

A game I play to focus

I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique for the past few months and have found it extremely effective for helping me focus.

What you do is set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on doing one and only one task during that time. You keep working on it until you’re done. You don’t get up to make some tea. You don’t check your email. You don’t go to the bathroom. You just sit in your chair and force yourself to work.

The first couple of times you get very anxious. After a while it gets fun. You’ll be amazed at how much you can do this way.

One caveat: I’ve found that 25 minutes is too short when I’m debugging. I get very irritated when the timer goes off and I’m in the middle of troubleshooting. On the other hand, you do need something to keep you from chasing a bug fruitlessly for the next 4 hours. The best solution is to use a longer time period and force yourself to stop and take a break. 50 minutes is a good duration for this (at least for me).

BTW: The game I like to play is when I hear my email client announce a new email, I ignore it — I win; the distraction loses. I know it’s not much of a game, but at least I always win 🙂

P.S. The timer I use is Minuteur.

Listened to Eric Ries’ e-Corner Talk – Guess It’s Time to Pivot

A few months ago, Eric Ries gave a talk as part of Stanford’s e-corner series (“e” stands for entrepreneur). I remember listening to the first part of his talk, but for some reason I never finished it. I finally ran across it again, so I decided to listen to the whole thing. I’m glad I did.

He described a whole range of lessons learned from the various startups he’s been part of (in fact his blog is called Lessons Learned). One lesson that I found particularly relevant to me was that all successful startups “pivot”. When a startup introduces a product to a set of potential customers, they usually learn that some of their assumptions about the market were wrong. Customers will let the founders know this by saying things along the lines of “Well this is an interesting product, but what would be really useful would be X”. This feature may only be tangentially relevant to your current product. However, if several people ask for X, there might be something there. A pivot is re-orienting your product so it can do X or building a new product that does X in a viable way. You keep one foot in your current product and “pivot” to place your other foot in the new product. If you make a series of pivots based on customer feedback, you will home in on what your customers will buy.

While this sounds easy, it’s actually very hard, in practice, for an entrepreneur to do. After all, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a problem and building a solution to it. When you hear someone say your product is “interesting” and ask for X, your first reaction is to dismiss this idea out of hand. You may be right; you may be wrong. It’s hard to tell. Maybe your product is too far ahead of the market (e.g., WebTV, Newton). Maybe you’ve created a disruptive technology that has to find its niche first (e.g., 2.5″ hard drives in laptops). In any case, when several people ask for X after you’ve shown them your product, perhaps it’s time to listen.

Time for Lakeway to Pivot

For the past few years, we’ve been driving very hard at developing Frontier. It’s a beautiful application that addresses key management problems that, before Frontier, have defied solution. However, for the past two years, whenever I show Frontier to engineering executives, they always seem to ask for X. After listening to Eric’s talk, I’ve thinking more seriously about how X and Frontier could live together. I think I’ve come up with something that could work. I guess it’s time to pivot and see what happens…

P.S. No, I’m not going to tell you what X is 🙂

Met with a VC for coaching last week

The SDForum (which stands for “Software Development Forum — not San Diego Forum 🙂 ) has a nice program where you can meet with a VC for 30 minutes, not to pitch, but to get some advice 1-1. I went to a session last week on Sand Hill Road and thought I might share the advice I got.

Rino: How do I find customers in enough pain to try Frontier?

VC: Target potential customers more. Find customers that are similar to your current customers. Ask your current customers how they market themselves and look there. Have e-mail and phone versions of your hook and elevator pitch. Be aggressive with e-mail.

Rino: What do you mean by aggressive?

VC: Keep e-mailing people every couple of weeks. Don’t stop until they ask you to.

Rino: We’ve got a lot of depth on the software, technical and UI side, but we don’t have anyone with Marketing or Sales experience. Should we be trying to find someone to join our team?

VC: Not at this stage. Your first goal is to find a set of core customers. This is something you can do without a sales person. You need to go out and target your customers very precisely. Figure out who would benefit the most from your product. Understand the value proposition that you’re pitching.

Rino: Our product represents a paradigm shift in the way people manage projects and engineering teams. Do you have any advice on how we might find people who are willing to try something different with a tremendous upside — the people that Steve Blank calls “Earlyvangelists”?

VC: You need to outline exactly what a customer needs to change in order to use your tool. Write this down explicitly. The bigger the change, the harder the sell. If you can find a way to have the tool adapt to the way they do business right now, that’s probably your best angle.

Looking forward to learning Scala

Some people learn one programming language and stick with it forever.

I’m not one of them. I really enjoy learning new programming languages. When you learn different languages you learn different ways of approaching programming problems. When a new language is conceived, the language designer has captured techniques and methodologies that have worked well for them and are, in some sense, sharing them with you.

Each programming language promotes a particular perspective or “world view”. Each language is capable of expressing concepts in different ways. In fact, some concepts may not even be expressible in a given language. Depending on the type of problem you’re trying to solve, one language may be better than another in the sense that it makes easy what you need to solve. It’s a wonderful opportunity to broaden your perspective on problem solving and analysis.

I haven’t had the time to learn a new language in a while, so I’m looking forward to learning Scala. The first I heard of it was when Dave Thomas blogged that Twitter should move from Ruby to Scala to help it scale better (they did). We’ll see if we should move any if Frontier over to Scala (in particular, our scheduling engine). Maybe we’ll write our next product in Scala. Who knows. In any case, it’ll be fun to learn something new. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Nice presentation on creativity by @jted

Did you catch the nice presentation on creativity by Jason Theodor on slideshare today? If not, here it is:

It’s nice to see someone put so much thought and reflection into something. It’s like a doctoral dissertation on creativity. Lots of great insight here — probably a decade’s worth — presented effectively and delightfully. Super job, Jason!

Entrepreneurs are a funny bunch

Whenever I first meet an entrepreneur, they seem full of confidence and optimism. After I introduce myself as a fellow entrpreneur, the ridiculousness of that pretense falls away.

All entrepreneurs are unsure of what will happen next. We’re on this rollercoaster filled with anxiety. We take things personally, but we try not to show it. We believe in what we’re doing, but missteps give us pause. We’re an odd mix of possibility and uncertainty, conviction and doubt –never sure if we’re being persistent or just plain stubborn.

Only time will tell if we’re right. I think the trick is lasting long enough to see if we are 🙂