Another Milestone Moment

This week we had our 6th release of Grouvia Beta.  This release marked another major milestone for us – all the 1.0 features are implemented.

That’s not to say they are all implemented perfectly, or even completely.  We still have some missing pieces and a few hundred bugs.

But I’m just sayin’…

For the next two and a half weeks we have to focus very clearly on launching http://www.  This means we will…

  1. FIX BUGS.
  2. Work on the SEO strategy.
  3. Fix more bugs.
  4. Post as many free ads and links as possible.
  5. Test bug fixes.
  6. Improve the site’s marketing copy and landing pages.
  7. Fix more bugs.
  8. Convert the static  marketing pages to Drupal content.
  9. Fix… etc.
  10. Build demos and how-to articles.
  11. LAUNCH.

I’m torn between having one more bug fix release to beta before the production launch.  But honestly I just want this thing in production.

I mean, Facebook has tons of bugs, and people keep using it!

I’m really excited.  We’re turning a corner.  And getting to the next phase is always fun.

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Development Issues Delay Launch

I hate to say it but we missed our first launch deadline and won’t be launching for a couple more weeks.

The issue has been development but – as much as I would like to – I can’t place 100% blame on the developers.

Grouvia has a lot of bugs and I refuse to launch a sub-part product. I know I only get one chance with my target audience and the level of quality I want just isn’t there yet.

Grouvia has a lot of bugs and the developers haven’t been able to fix them.  They’ll say it’s fixed, we retest… and it’s not fixed.  Worse, we retest these elusive bug fixes and we find more bugs.

Granted, the vast majority of the bugs are minor.  The major bugs have been fixed, or fixed to the point where the remaining issue is tolerable enough to be downgraded.

But there are still too many bugs for us to launch.

I’ve concluded that the best explanation for the development problems are communications issues compounded by language.  I do believe these developers have the experience and skills to do the work.  However, many things point to communication issues as the main reason we are having the problems we’re having…

  • Often the implementation of a particular feature does not meet the requirements.  Actually it’s not often, it’s usually.
  • Details are missed.  A feature will be implemented but the nuances and logic details aren’t there.  For example, the private events were implemented without any way to invite participants.  It was in the requirements, but they didn’t put it in.  Details are not just nice-to-have.
  • The developers make assumptions instead of asking questions.  If they don’t fully understand something, they will make their own decision about how something should work, instead of asking for clarification.
  • The technology is driving the features.  If the developer finds that the technology does not support the feature properly, he will change the feature to match the technology.  For example, the messaging feature was changed to match the abilities of the standard Drupal messaging module. This isn’t what we wanted.

I know that many developers work like this.  I have been in this field long enough to have seen this before, lots of times.  But I’ve always been in a corporate environment where I can call a 2-day-long meeting in a conference room somewhere with American-English speaking developers, analysts, testers, and team leaders and hash out the details.

I don’t have that luxury now.  These developers are halfway across the world and our meetings take place over an unreliable Skype connection at 7:00 in the morning.  We have a daily 2-hour window to work together, sometimes a little more if they agree to work late or if I can get up earlier.

But I’m also paying about a third (maybe less?) of what I would have paid for an American company to do the project.  You get what you pay for.  I knew that going in.

Delaying the Beta launch was disappointing but it was the right thing to do and I know we will have a better product because of the delay. I’ll keep you posted.

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Begging for Users

A few weeks ago I got a connection with the director of an historical society in the town where my sister lives.  According to their home page they were looking for someone to build their new web site.

Aha!  I thought.  Grouvia is a solution they might want to look at, given that it’s specifically built for these types of groups.

So I sent them an email with an overview of how I could help.  Given my background I could easily build them a nice web site for a good price if that’s what they wanted.  So I offered this options as well.

The director emailed me and we set up a conference call.  The day of the call he canceled.  We set up another one, and he canceled that one.  We rescheduled again.  He just canceled that one also and we’ve rescheduled it for next week.

So far I have already put about 2 hours of my time into trying to get this customer and I haven’t even spoken to him yet.  What I really would like is to understand what their goals are for their site, and determine if Grouvia would be a good fit.  Building a custom web site for them wouldn’t be bad.  It’s not our core business, but we’re a startup, it’s income, and I know he’d ultimately be happy with our work.

Eventually Grouvia will sell itself.  However, I am starting to think that this Begging Process Begging Process is one of the things we will need to do to get early adopter groups to put their sites on Grouvia.  I know this really is marketing – a combination of digital public relations, outreach, blogging, micro-blogging, networking in the physical world and getting the word out there in as many different venues as is possible.  But sometimes I just feel like I’m begging.

These early groups are the ones who will give us the best feedback on Grouvia’s features, help weed out the leftover bugs, and most importantly, provide us with testimonials,  references and case studies.  That is why spending all this time trying to get these early customers is worth it.  Each rescheduled meeting helps me develop my patience, gives me additional time to revise what I want to say, and brings us closer to an actual launch date after which there will *really* be something to sell.

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Same as Markus, Only Better

About a year ago I read an article about a man from Vancouver named Markus Frind.  Chances are you’ve heard of him.

His story struck a major chord with me that I will never forget.  Markus is one of the reasons I am doing what I am doing today.

To be fair, there are many entrepreneurs and marketing geniuses who have inspired me, but Markus’s story is unique in terms of what I got from it.

Markus Frind created a dating web site called plentyoffish.com.

Apparently he was a jobless slacker and decided to learn ASP to help get a job.  To learn ASP he needed a project to work on, so he created plentyoffish.com.  In three weeks.  All by himself.

He thought it was good so he published it, and as he tells it, the money pretty much started rolling in.  (I’m skipping over all sorts of details here, but keep in mind I read this a year ago and this is how I remember it.)

But the thing I remember most was something Markus said that gave me some insight into the way his arrogant mind works.  After the site had been up and running for a while, his customers started complaining about the site’s functionality.  They said it was ugly, the photos were distorted, and they wanted new features.

So, while Markus romped around with his girlfriend, raking in the dough and working only an hour a day, he completely ignored his users.

The most interesting point here is that he was doing it on purpose.  He had no intention of changing the site, fixing the distorted photos, or adding new features.

His reasoning?  The site was making him lots of money so why change it and possibly put that at risk.  In other words, his income was more important than his stupid users.

O.   M.   G.

I am almost embarrassed to say that I was inspired by his ability to jump into something new, build it by himself, publish it, market it, and manage its growth.  However, I utterly detest his complete disregard for quality at the expense of his customers.  It makes the hairs of my professional ethics stand up on end.

Yet here I am a year later, still thinking about Markus Frind.  Now I’m even talking about him.

The point of this post is that sometimes you get your inspiration from the most unlikely places.  Take it from wherever you can get it, and then take massive action and do what you think is right.

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Ten Reasons Why Baby Boomers Make Great Entrepreneurs

I read both Inc. and Entrepreneur Magazines every month, cover to cover. I also keep up with several popular startup-related online discussions and blogs. Clearly a new “age of entrepreneurism” has been gaining strength for about a year, primarily in reaction to the lack of available employment. The word on the street is “this is a good time to start a new business” and for the most part I’ve found this to be true.

The focus on these entrepreneurs, however, has been highly skewed to a young generation of 20-somethings. For example, I read an article in Inc. recently about a company called Y Combinator which is essentially an aggressive startup incubator in (where else) Silicon Valley. It provides seed money, office space, equipment, and mentoring to about 40 new businesses a year. This is an interesting, even admirable, mission for a company to have. Y Combinator takes a small equity stake in the startup, and ultimately gets it to the point where it has something to sell. It then helps get VC money, or leads for possible acquisition. Some of these startups have been purchased for millions within a year after launch. There was a two-page spread containing a photo of the Y Combinator founder, Paul Graham, and a dozen or so of his “favorite” past startup founders, all young men. Not a single woman and not a single entrepreneur over 30 (Ok maybe there was one). I won’t even mention the somewhat-creepy similarity to a certain famous painting about a supper from 2,000 years ago.

Until this morning I had no idea what my post today would be about, since nothing that happened this week was really worthy of an even remotely interesting blog post. And then I read this article in the Baltimore Sun about Baby Boomer Entrepreneurs. I so enjoyed reading this article, that I decided to develop a list of reasons why a more senior, experienced person would have a good chance of succeeding at a startup.

Top Ten Reasons Why Baby Boomers Make Great Entrepreneurs

  1. Baby boomers have solid business-related skills, honed over many years of performing increasingly complex tasks, probably in several different companies.
  2. They have good coping skills and have developed thicker skins and better strategies for dealing with difficult people and situations.
  3. They have good credit, having owned a few homes, several cars, and put kids through college. This will make it somewhat easier for them to get a business loan if needed.
  4. Baby boomers have more personal financial resources, having built up cash reserves, investment accounts, pension funds, and possibly real estate equity. All these assets can be used or borrowed against.
  5. Many of these folks are either retired or facing retirement from their current jobs, but they don’t want to stop working. They have time and the ability to pay their living expenses independent of their business profits (or initial lack thereof).
  6. They have a large circle of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances among whom they can either find investors or get referrals for potential investors.
  7. That same network will help spread the word about the new business and generate prospects.
  8. Baby boomers generally have well-developed communication skills and can articulate their business goals and objectives better, both verbally and in writing.
  9. They are generally well-read and well-informed, giving them a good sense of current trends and economics. This provides a good stage from which to launch a viable product or service.
  10. People with more experience have a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, how to leverage their skills, and where to go to fill in the gaps.
  11. (Bonus Reason: They can get their kids to work for free, and they have access to an endless supply of interns with their friends’ kids.)

Personally I’m on the younger end of the baby boomer train, having been born at the end of 1960. I started my first business in 1998 when I was 38. Now, 10+ years later, I am starting my second full-time business, and have since compounded my experience to such a degree that I feel well-equipped to handle the upcoming bumps and bruises I am sure to get with this new venture. Imagine where I’ll be in *another* 10 years.

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16 hour days? No problem!

As I was winding down my last project at Verizon this past March, in preparation for starting my new company I was doing a lot of research on startups. I was reading books, magazines, blogs, anything I could get my hands on. This helped me get geared up and stay motivated at the same time I was feeling a little sad as I was leaving a great group of people I had worked with for many years.

One thing that kept coming up in my reading was that successful entrepreneurs work a LOT of hours and don’t get much sleep. A 60-80 hour workweek seemed to be the norm, with 4-6 hours of sleep each night. I thought to myself, “I can’t work that many hours, that’s crazy, I would burn out. And I need more sleep…” Etc. With all the things I had to worry about, that was one of the thoughts that really scared me. How can I make this project successful without having to put in ultra-long days for months and months on end with barely enough sleep?

Now it’s four months later, and I’ve been working 12-16 hours a day during the week, and at least 10+ hours on the weekends. I am not burned out, nowhere near it. I’m loving it. Every night I go to bed with a smile, thinking about all the things I accomplished that day. I get about 6 hours of sleep (I get in some extra on weekends), and every morning I wake up and immediately start thinking about what I’m going to do that day to keep the momentum going. Every problem I solve, every item I cross off the to do list, every page of requirements documentation I write, gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment. I am building something unique and valuable and worthy of my time. The sense of pride and achievement I feel every day gives me enough energy and optimism to keep me going and make me want to get up and do it again the next day, and the next. And the next.

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A New Kind of Garden

I used to spend a lot of time in my garden. When we bought our last home, in Connecticut, it had basically nothing in terms of a landscape. By the time we left, eight years later, I had built up a pretty nice set of gardens if I do say so myself.

Lisa's Garden In CTI spent almost every weekend in the yard digging, planting, weeding, mulching, moving things around, trimming, dividing, fertilizing, and everything else. It was truly a labor of love. I also spent a lot of time just LOOKING at the different plantings. During the spring and summer I walked around the house twice a day just looking at what had changed since yesterday. The garden looks different in the morning than it does in the afternoon — it is constantly changing and never, ever boring. The New England winter covered the landscape with snow but even then it still had a certain beauty and mystery to it.

Where I live now I don’t spend much time in my garden. I have one but it doesn’t feel like mine. It’s also fairly low maintenance (although the weeds don’t pull themselves unfortunately). My garden doesn’t call to me. Now my business calls to me. Grouvia is my new garden, I am constantly planting seeds, fertilizing, nurturing, inspecting, pulling out stuff I don’t want, looking for ways to make it look better, feel better, grow faster. Like a garden it takes a little bit of money and a lot of hard work. I believe it has the potential to ultimately reward me like my old garden did. It is a labor of love.

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