Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Know Anyone with a RALF?

I'm constantly amazed by people that have can have a conversation with me but hear something totally different from what I am saying. I can spot them pretty quickly now. All I have to do is start talking about a topic that concerns someone other than the person I'm talking to and SNAP! Immediately their face or voice changes.

After careful research, I've discovered how they do it. They each own a RALF (Reflective Audio Listening Filter). It's a device they have installed into their ears that reflects their own words and thoughts back them the instant it senses audio that doesn't match the content of the wearer's brain. It's an amazing technology that is packaged so small, you can't even see if someone is wearing one. Oh, but I can give you the indicators of a RALF user:
  • If a person asks you a question, but doesn't let you finish your answer; he's got a RALF
  • If a person goes glassy-eyed during your conversation until you mention her; she's got a RALF
  • If a person can always connect a tragic world event mentioned in a conversation to a not-so-tragic event in his life; he's got a RALF
  • If a person can't get through a conversation without talking about herself; she's got a RALF
RALFs can't be too expensive, I've run into dozens of people that own one. RALFs must be really easy to use too, because I know at least two people that can't work a TV remote, but have fully functional RALFs.

Sorry, you may not be able to have a RALF installed. It causes a severe allergic reaction in people that actually care more about others than themselves.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Your Job!

HATE. I don't like the word or the emotion. It dredges up ugly images and even uglier feelings in me. Because of this, I work hard not to hate anything or anyone.

I HATE my job.

Plain and simple. I am physically sick of doing what I do. It used to be fun when I first helped start this company. The view darkened when we grew to a point where my partners and I saw different paths for the future of our software shop. Then it was a little brighter when I spun off a to put some space between me and my partners, but that ended very badly with them firing me. I sold my stock back to them and washed my hands of the place.

Two years later, I came back because the business was in tough financial shape (and my stock payments in jeopardy). Apologies were shared and I was given the role of being in control of all the product development to help get the company on track again. It was weird working as an employee at a company I formerly owned, but I got over it. Now four years later, things have gone way downhill. I'm talking about swimming-in-raw-sewage-while-management-juggles-hand-grenades type downhill. It ain't pretty. I've tried to keep my rants down to a minimum, but that's like throwing up in your mouth and swallowing.

On the positive side, all this aggravation is keeping me focused on quickly being successful at my new start-up. It can't happen too soon. Every day I want to run down the hall into my former partner's office and do some Ballmer-esque chair throwing to get his attention while I shout, "This is no way to run a freakin' software company!!!" I'd probably add comments about removing heads from dark places and other hateful rants. It turns my stomach and I'm annoyed that I let it go this far. I shouldn't hate what I do, instead I should have made a move like this a year ago. Unfortunately that goes in the shoulda-woulda-coulda bucket and I don't have the history-changing ability of Marty McFly. I also can't quit just yet so I'll just have to avoid going postal until my alternate cash flow is somewhat robust.

The irony is that I'm the one always preaching to others that they need to be passionate about what they do. Don't settle for a paycheck. Don't work at a place that makes you want to rush home and down a bottle of vodka to balance out the day. Yet, here I am doing exactly what I've told my kids not to do.

Luckily I haven't gone off the deep end (totally). I still have a soft spot for this company. I want to see it do well and I even want my former partners to succeed. They would need to see exactly where they've gone wrong and have a clear vision of where this company needs to go. I don't hold much hope for that happening though. It's hard to visualize the future when your primary view is the inside of your colon.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Brick Walls Cause Serious Swelling

I have two nasty welts right now. Okay, so they're not physical manifestations, but I am in real pain.

Weekends are my productive periods. I don't always have contiguous hours during the week to invest in my new venture because I still have a real job. It's incredibly painful when I hit a wall that stops me from doing what I want to do. I had plans for this weekend. I was going to quickly finish implementing an enhanced save routine for my application (by end of evening on Friday), take my newly designed company logo and get a first version of my web site running (half a day on Saturday) and round out the weekend by adding at least one of the two remaining features in my program. By Monday morning I was going to have a nearly feature complete program and a website.

CRASH! My first wall was a bug in my code. I blew most of the weekend on it until I figured out what to ask of the gurus that hang out on Apple's cocoa-dev mailing list. Luckily these people are well-versed in helping Cocoa newbies like me and I had a solution posted for me within minutes.

SLAM!!! The second hit had to do with my company logo. I've outsourced the creation of this logo and spent a huge budget of $150 (huge is obviously a relative term) on it. The group I have doing it may end up giving me a wonderful logo, but my first two rounds with the process have not been as on target as I wanted. I get four revisions for my big bucks, so I'll reserve final judgment until I get to the end of the process. I'll give out the name of the website if they do a good job.

I know the logo is not critical for the success of the company, so I am trying to keep it in perspective. I'd just like to fit the look of my website around the look of the logo, which means, I didn't do anything on the website this weekend.

The good news is that I'm back to making progress on the program. I'm also a bit more confident about my understanding of the Cocoa Frameworks after (correctly) responding to a poster on the Apple list. It's good to give as well as take knowledge.

So after stepping back a few paces, I can see the walls are more like tall curbs and I've merely stubbed my ego a couple of times. I'll survive to continue to fight the good fight.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

False Evidence Appearing Real

FEAR. Nasty stuff happens when I let it into my head. I start going down a negative road littered with potholes the size of Hummers. As the calendar flips closer and closer to my planned launch date for my first software product, I get increasingly nervous that my release will be as successful as setting sail in a ship made of bowling balls.

There's no logic behind this thought process and certainly no evidence to support my fear, but I'm drowning in it anyway. I get buoyed up when I read about software success stories like Delicious Library but then immediately sink thinking my product is just not as sexy. That sends me to that bad place where passionate people get tangled in murky waters of seaweed and are never heard from again. It's not happening all the time, just during occasional moments of panic.

I'll try to explain the feeling. It's like that growing anxiety you feel when you're driving down the highway looking for a rest stop and you finally spot one. As you drive down the exit, the pain in your bladder jumps up a notch. Then as you are walking towards the bathroom you're thinking, "Boy I'm here just in time" only to be frozen in your tracks by the RESTROOM CLOSED FOR CLEANING sign. Now you're left frantically searching for a thicket of trees wishing you hadn't seen this rest area because the problem wasn't this urgent yet on the highway. It's the anticipation of the release that makes your body tense up.

The trick, for me, is to not think about the potential problems and instead keep focused on what is real. I can imagine all sorts of disastrous results, freak out and drop what I'm doing right now because I think I'm the Amazing Kreskin and know the future. Frankly, I don't know what will happen when I open my virtual doors for business. I do know that if I quit now, I will have failed. There's a famous quote from Wayne Gretsky where he says, "I make about 30 percent of the shots I take on goal, but I miss 100 percent of the shots I don't take."

Yes, I am trying to talk myself out of wetting my pants!

As I said, there's no good reason for my fear of failing. This can only be better than my current job (a middle management paper pusher). The worst thing that can happen is that not enough people buy my first product and I have to stay doing what I'm doing for a while longer until I build more marketable software. It's not that bad. It's only been the last couple of years that the pressure to get off this road has intensifying. It's not painful enough that I can't go a few more exits.

Except--I have spotted a rest stop and it looks pretty good to me. I'm all ready to go; and if denied, my fear is that I won't make it back on the highway.

The reality today is that I have created software in the past that people have loved. There's no reason why this story won't have a happy ending. Any worries or fears are based on an imaginary sign denying my success. I need to enjoy the ride and deal with what's real.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Location, Location, Location...

What's that old adage: The three most important factors for the success of your business are location, location, location. Since my business is computer software, my location is a platform or operating system. Picking a location is an important decision. I've picked Mac OS X as mine.

Yeah, I hear you shouting, "But Windows has the majority of the market share!" And that is true. I started writing software before personal computers were popular but just missed having to deal with punch cards. I learned to code on mainframes and minicomputers—some even using a popular OS for the day called UNIX. I got my feet wet with PCs when I was asked to write software on the TRS-80 Model I (affectionately known as the Trash 80) and the Apple ][. My favorite was a hot new platform called CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers). Then came PC-DOS and MS-DOS. I wrote software on whatever people owned.

My computing world changed when I first saw a Macintosh in January, 1984. The crisp square pixels on the screen and interactive graphics were different than anything else out there. It even made its precursor, the Lisa, look clunky. I bought one of the first ones out and have owned Macs ever since. Around the mid 80's I did some development on the Mac platform and even released a fairly popular—meaning dozens of copies delivered via bulletin board systems (BBS)—shareware application called Evolution (transformed plain text into columnar data—high tech for the time). Unfortunately, my work was mostly on DOS computers so to bring home the bacon I downgraded my development.

I've been writing Windows software for around 14 years and in that time I've become less and less a fan of Microsoft. Windows is a programming nightmare. It's a hodgepodge of technologies and no fun any more. I spend more time fighting quirks in Windows than I do creating features for my products. So, 25 years later I'm back to where I started: writing code for UNIX. This time though it has a clean, graphical interface and runs on a Macintosh.

The bottom line is: You have to love what you do. I love helping people by giving them tools to make their lives better and I love making those products on the Mac. Now if enough people love my products, I'll be able to get this business off the ground.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Enough Mistakes?

Have I made enough mistakes to put this company over the top? In other words: have I learned enough from my previous flops and semi-flops to do this one right? It's hard for me to live with my mistakes—I'm a recovered perfectionist. I replay my past gaffes in my head all the time. I know I should just learn from them and let them go, but this quiet little voice chants, "If only you hadn't done that." To appease that head whisper, I'm trying to avoid my most recent screw-ups: partners and priorities.

Partners—in general—aren't bad, because they can balance you out. By nature, entrepreneurs are optimists. We think we can alter the moon's orbit if that will help us launch a product. I've read that every entrepreneur should partner with a pessimist: preferably processing payroll and payables (do I get alliteration bonus points?). Too bad partners can also get on each other's last nerve and see totally different futures for the company. It can get (and has gotten) really nasty at times. The last four times, I've struggled with partner-related mistakes. So to paraphrase Mel Brooks (who spoofed a classic): Partners? I don't need no stinkin' partners!

My second biggest mistake in my last venture was my priorities: I built more infrastructure than I needed for the product I had created. I could have sworn I needed a dozen offices and a 200 SF data center to get my off the ground. Of course I had funding "just around the corner" so my priorities were perfectly in line, right? Stupid optimist! This time my overhead is low and my product is priority. I know I'll still make mistakes, but after doing this for 25 years, I'm motivated enough to recover from them quickly—and that's not just the optimist talking.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Entrepreneurial Seduction

I'm not a virgin: I'm engaged in my fifth seduction. I've been wined and dined by the alluring world of start-ups many times. At the tender (and relatively ignorant) age of 19, I fell for that old line, "Want to start a business together?" That ruined me. I couldn't remain faithful to any other business after that.

Sure there were years when I toyed with the idea of shacking up with Corporate America, but something was always lacking. It's like being chauffeured around in a Lincoln Town Car--yeah the ride is nice, but what's the point? You're tucked away in the back seat. Where's the exhilaration of flooring it on the freeway on-ramp to try to squeeze into that tiny opening in the fast lane? There's no ability to decide to detour around traffic, no visuals to veer from construction and no inspiration to take the road less traveled. It's a passive relationship that gets you from point A to point B. I need to experience the road first hand.

So here I am blogging (I am a blog virgin so be gentle with me) about my latest start-up experience. I’m building (another) software company, but this time it's sans partners. The process is very exciting, I hope reading about it will be somewhat so.