Redundancy as Efficiency

Developers think they’re the most efficient people on the planet. The Walmarts of humanity.

“Never do the same thing twice” says the mantra.

But last week I bought a 2nd wardrobe for the place I live at in San Fran. The same v-necks, shorts, Vans, and boxers I’m used to wearing around NYC.

“Never pack twice” says the mantra.

Guess I’m a developer now.

Competition

Haters will punch holes in your idea saying “there’s too much competition.” What they really mean is you won’t be the only one doing X.

But competition is healthy.

Competition posits you aren’t crazy, that consumers are buying whatever you’re selling. And that’s a good thing.

Successful competitors, therefore, are the best proof of concept.

What we don’t always consider, however, are 2 types of competition:

  1. Direct
  2. Indirect

One might say Dunkin’ Donuts is a direct competitor to Starbucks because they inhabit the same block, hover the same price points, and roast identical shit.

That same person may also argue that Keurig K-Cups are an indirect competitor because the product is self-serve, tastes different, and has a significantly lower price point.

But price and proximity and materials don’t determine the type of competition, because competition isn’t defined by businesses doing the same thing or businesses doing it better.

Competition, rather, is competing for the same dollar.

If Dunkin’ sells 500 calorie pastries across the street from Starbucks touting a 175 calorie offering, the consumers who choose Dunkin’ are not the same consumers choosing the low-calorie option at Starbucks. That’s indirect competition.

Similarly, if you fall in love with Keurig you might invest in a better machine (perhaps even one at your office) instead of buying prepared coffee at Starbucks. That’s direct competition.

This introduces a key component of competition: context. So competition is defined by the unique relationship of the buyer and the seller, per transaction.

The indirect competitor on Monday becomes the direct competitor on Tuesday. The consumer who drinks Starbucks on Wednesday may sip K-Cups Thursday.

Competition, then, is validating, fierce and dynamic. But it is certainly not “too much.”

Let the haters know they’re mistaken.

Recruitment is Retention

Walk into the Bay Area’s hottest startups and what do you see?

Exposed brick. Ping pong. A kegerator.

And that’s cool. No really, it’s f’ing awesome. It’s part of why I love working at startups.

Yet the underlying premise of these seemingly foolish, productivity-sucking devices is actually not foolish at all.

Companies who treat employees well, keep them. And retention is critical to a startup’s success.

But where startups miss the mark is in thinking that retention is a reactionary strategy instead of a preventive one.

To illustrate, let’s take a quick peek at the United States military:

We have the largest volunteer army in the world, but it wasn’t always this way. Conscription (known as the draft) played a huge role in our victories against the Germans in World Wars and even ourselves in the Civil War. But it didn’t come without consequences like deserters and government bribes.

For example, Muhammad Ali refused to fight in Vietnam and mysteriously had a 5-year prison sentence overturned by the Supreme Court. Nowadays, however, “retention remains at historically high levels… some soldiers are now completing their third and fourth tours.”

And this is powerful information.

When people believe in your vision and want to work with you to achieve it, retention is baked into the job.

As for the ping-pong tables?

That’s recruitment.

How to Get a Publisher’s Attention

Once upon a time I wrote a book. It’s terrible, but it helped me land a job at my first tech startup.

Eighteen months later, I’m considering a project that would blow my last effort out of the proverbial water — a new book.

Inspired by the likes of Gladwell, Fisher, Graham, and Christensen, I intend to bite off more than I can chew with an ambitious research project about markets.

I have a theory that markets implode and explode. A friend calls it “moving towards and away” from each other. But more on that later.

What’s more interesting is how I began my quest 3 months ago after seeing this blog post by Brad Feld, announcing his new publishing company FG Press.

March 2, 2014

I reach out to FG Press on their contact form.

March 3

I get a warm response, am asked for available chat times.

March 21

First call is scheduled but principal is a no show.

April 4

Second call is schedule and principal is again a no show.

May 1

After no correspondence for weeks, I post this on Quora:

quora-post

Hours Later I get this:
fg-press-appointment

(Their calendars don’t work, but their Google Alerts do.)

So we reschedule. Here’s how that turned out:

May 14

Third scheduled call is postponed.

May 16

Fourth scheduled call, principal is a no show. Later that day I’m told I was being “pinged the whole time, and no response.”

Which can’t be true because I was waiting patiently with 3 book outlines, ready to rock.

May 30

Today I updated my Quora answer:

quora-post-update

Then I used credits to promote the answer to 200 unsuspecting folks:

quora-credits

Within seconds I was getting traction:

quora-post-promoted

Then even better traction:

quora-notification

“This is pretty cool” I thought.

So I did it again:

quora-promote-again

Suffice to say, I think I made a dent.

quora-post-stats

Entrepreneurship is a birth defect

I didn’t do a lot of things growing up:

  • Little league
  • College applications
  • Neutrogena face wash

But I did explore commerce.

Here are some projects I started while everyone else smoked weed.

1. Mylar Designs

In college I started a pin-back button merchandise company. The startup equipment and raw materials were $1,000+ and I didn’t have that because I drank too much. So I mocked up a design and sold $5,000 to one customer in a 20 minute meeting, which took 2 emails and 3 days to set up.

I used the check to finance the LLC, open a business checking account, and purchase the equipment and materials. I think ~$2,500 was left over. Cue: profit from nothing.

Read about how I sold it after graduation here.


2. Christmas tree removal

In high school I got grounded a lot. One time during Christmas my car was taken away so I had a girl drive me around (on a date) to distribute flyers for Christmas tree removal.

I got my car back around Christmas and the week following I made several hundred bucks taking neighbors’ trees to a recycling center. They paid upon arrival so gas was covered before I had to fill up.

Get the details here. This also made me a Reddit rockstar here.


3. Selling candy to babies

In middle school I took all the candy canes off my Christmas tree and sold them to classmates. I used that money to buy more and repeat.

See my 2003 edition P&L report here and funny reactions here.


4. Popsicles

In elementary school I made $0.75 – $3 /week allowance, pending my grade. This simply would not finance my Pokémon addiction.

With a couple weeks’ allowance I purchased a 120-pack popsicle kit from the grocery store. You know, the long juice pouches that freeze overnight.

I set up shop at my neighborhood pool, just beside the entrance. I think there was a regulation against selling inside the pool area, raising my barriers to entry significantly.

To offset my lack of visibility I started pitching “Do you want to buy something?” to families as they approached the gate. This garnered all kinds of attention, good and bad.

At 25 cents a pop (pun intended) it took just 8 unit sales to break-even. I can’t remember how much I netted total but it went straight to M&M Toys (now defunct) at Venture Mall (now a mini Spanish Harlem).

If only I knew Pokémon cards were a depreciating asset…


Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle, not a decision.