“Up and to the right” -- Three Steps to Consistent Growth

 

There's a scene early in Groundhog Day when the host where Bill Murray's character is staying says something about the weather to him, and he launches into a whole meteorological discussion that he would do on TV, and the person just stares at him. Then he says:

Did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chitchat?

"Chit Chat," she says, awkwardly for both of them.

 

"Up and to the right"

When you are a CEO, and someone asks you how things are going at your company, you never are sure if they are just making chit-chat, or if they are really interested in the metrics of your business.

I suppose I could have asked which one it was, but taking the lesson from that scene, I always thought that would seem awkward, so I always just said: “Up and to the right!”

I guess I could have just said “Up!” given that we’re all marching at the same pace to the right on the spreadsheet of life, but “Up and to the right” seemed more conversational and worked for both sets of people asking. At least I thought it did.

Groundhog-day

When someone was actually asking about the health of the business, they were always glad to hear "up and to the right."

Anyone who’s been around business for any length of time knows that to have 20 positive quarters in a row is hard. Really hard.

And so it was. It was the one thing I thought about more than any other: How to make sure we would grow, and keep on growing. All. The. Time.

And grow we did.

After five years of leading a company that grew every single quarter, I decided to step away, and now BlogMutt has a new CEO.

 

It's still all about growth

So, what am I doing now?

I'm still thinking about growth, all the time. 

Also, I'm very glad that I thought about how I want to grow in my own life, and that I wrote it down and published it.

The top thing on my list was to be an Entrepreneur in Residence. A guy I know saw that, and one thing lead to another and now I'm happy to say that I am a version of an EIR at CableLabs/UpRamp. It's an amazing opportunity, and I'm learning a ton and feel like I'm contributing to the world of cable and broadband in some meaningful ways, helping an established industry think about growth.

(My biggest contribution for CableLabs is not getting to define once and for all exactly what is a startup... but it's up there!)

I'm also doing a couple of other things that I'll write about more later, including helping a great friend grow a business that could actually put a dent in the opioid crisis.

I'm also mentoring some new startups, and have a few other projects going, including one where I'm analyzing some data for my pals at BlogMutt. (REALLY interesting findings percolating there, and I'll share them here, of course, once that's ready to go.)

In addition to that, I've also started doing some executive coaching for CEOs who are trying to grow faster and do more with the hours that they have.

Out of that coaching work has come a new opportunity: Helping launch a new kind of adventure. What I love about it is that it allows me to pay very particular attention to top-line growth.

 

Steps to Consistent Growth

The idea is simple: While techniques for growth are pretty well established, it can be difficult for operating CEOs to focus on those techniques every day. Once the realities of daily operations set in, it's quite difficult to have the foresight, focus, and courage to ignore what's going on in the business on a daily basis, and do what needs to be done for growing the company in the future.

There's an analogous situation in the public arena that I wrote about recently. In short: The future has no lobbyist. The status quo does have a lobbyist, and so things typically remain the same.

It's the same thing even in small companies. Employees are focused on the tasks at hand, but there's nobody who has the job of representing the unknown future.

Well, if that's your job, and you know that you aren't at your maximum and the organization you lead is not growing as much as it could, I might have an answer for you.

The answer is the 10X Growth Club.

(That's what we're calling it for the moment. Not sure if the name will stick.)

You can read much more about it on the site, but in short we are going to make sure that everyone involved is going to do three things:

  1. Set really aggressive, specific, structured goals for growth in a business for 18 months from now, basically by the end of 2018. We will work with you to find the right goals specific to your business.
  2. In a structured way, read the best thinking on growth, and apply it rigorously.
  3. As a group of peers with a lead facilitator, keep each other accountable to reach our individual goals. (This will be much different than other peer groups you may know about. See the site for more on that.)

So, there you have it: Three steps to consistent growth.

You may be thinking that you are already doing your own version of that, and maybe you are, but are you getting the results you think are possible?

Do you see a clear path to 20 positive quarters in a row? How about four?

If not, maybe you'll want to join us Thursday night.

If you aren't in Denver, or if you don't want to join a club, any club, (I get that, but would tell you to get over yourself) or if you are reading this too late... Just follow those three steps on your own, including getting into a group of peers with a leader who's been through those battles. 

Join us?

If you are in a spot where you'd like to see more consistent growth, I hope you'll consider joining us on the evening of Thursday, July 13th. Write to me to get an invite link.

If you know someone who is leading an organization, and wants to grow, I hope you'll send this post or the 10X site to that person.

Thanks very much in advance.


Up and to the right,
I remain,

-Scott Yates


Brad Feld Patent Office? Most indubitably!

I've been following Brad Feld's observations about the patent system for years now. I find myself mostly agreeing with him, even though I filed for and was awarded a patent for my first company, back in the day.

I've thought about starting Patent Holders Against Patents, but I'm a bit busy with BlogMutt these days. Also, I don't want to be known as the PHAP guy. 

PHAP PHAP PHAP.

But then I saw my chance to do my part. A US Senator, Michael Bennet, went on the interwebs to try to collect opinions about what name should grace the new US Patent Office in Denver. Now, I actually think this new office is a good thing. The Patent system needs smart people working inside of it, and we have lots of smart folks here in Colorado.

(By the way, patents do have their place, especially in our history. Lincoln said that a patent system was a big part of what helped the union win the Civil War. His theory was that inventors wanted to develop new technology for the side where they thought they could make money from their inventions.) 

(And for a nexus of presidents and patents trivia, the first one to name the only US President to hold a patent gets a coffee from me. Just put the name in the comments below, and be as honest as you can about if you googled it or not.)

But the idea of naming the building for Brad makes sense for lots of reasons.

  • Colorado has a rich history of ironic naming. Remember that the Alferd Packer grill was originally an epithet because the food tasted a bit too... familiar. Now there's a bust of the "man-eatin' sonofabitch" in the foyer, making him look positively regal.
  • Come to think of it, Feld has a certain resemblance to Packer. Brad feld and alferd packer
  • Feld himself has his own rich history of getting his name in places where much deep thinking is done.
  • The idea of naming a Patent office after a patent opponent would be much like our nation's history of naming airports after people who died in airplane crashes -- though I'm pretty sure that Denver International Airport is not named for John Denver.
  • This whole thing reminds me of the song Gonna Put My Face on a Nuclear Bomb, but I'm not sure why.
  • And most importantly: It may prompt some kind of actual discussion about how the Patent system should evolve.

Now, I'm not crazy. There's zero chance this will actually happen. I think the Feds will be too timid to even name it after Nikola Tesla, even though Colorado played a critical part in the science behind every single act of plugging a cord into a wall to get electricity to a device.

The fact that Tesla feuded with Edison should help his case, but probably won't. The fact that he was probably gay, well, that could go either way. AC/DC. The fact that the coolest entrepreneur on the planet these days recognized his genius when naming his car company will probably hurt, as GM, et. al. seem to use the government to thwart actual competition.

Pueblo native David Packer would be a good choice, except that it pisses me off that I have to pay more per ounce for ink than I do for 30-year-old Scotch.

Woz would be another great choice, but it seems unlikely after his ignominious exit from the University of Colorado. (The story I heard, which may be apocryphal, is that he hacked the regents computer system so when the workers came in one Monday morning all the printers had run out of paper exhausted from printing expletives all weekend.)

So, in the great spirit of the internets, I encourage you to do the needful: vote for Brad Feld's name to be inscribed on the USPTO office in Denver, Colorado.

 

 


Shameless self-promotion

This blog is typically an erudite repository of the most profound thoughts... or something.

Right now I just want to put a post up with some links to cool things going on in the world of Scott Yates, partially for self-promotion and partially so all the links are in one spot.

First, the business writing service I co-founded was selected to appear at VCIR. When you see the list of presenting companies, well, it's quite an honor indeed.

Second, I made my second appearance on 9News, the best station in Denver forever.

Blogmutt-9news

The first appearance went well, also, but now it seems like a thing so I wanted to post this here to let you know that if you have a tech startup, do feel free to contact me using the contact info on this blog to suggest other companies that I should take a look at on 9News.

Thanks!


Trophies For All!

I've tried, I have.

I've tried extending opportunities to these Millennials. I dish it up for them, and all they have to do is a little bit of work and…

Disappointment. Every time. 

A little background: I run a blog writing service. We write blogs for businesses. Those businesses are run by people who are just too busy to write their own blog posts.

I thought when I started this that we'd have two great sources of freelance writers to help do that writing: stay-at-home moms and recent grads. The moms, I figured, have a spare hour every now and again and they are smart and some of them are good writers. They just lack an opportunity to write for pay. Zillions of them write for no pay on their own blogs, and that's all fine, but in general those are only read by the people they are already friends with.

That part has worked out very well. Many of our best writers are busy moms who make time for Blogmutt customers.

The other category is college kids, or recent college grads. They, right now, are either working at a coffee shop, or not working at all and either way living in their parents' basements.

I've been there. When I graduated the economy sucked and journalism jobs were hard to find, but you could always find work somewhere and I ended up at the Durango Herald and had some of the best times of my life.

While the Herald is still there, the reality is that the entry-level jobs for writers are far fewer percentage-wise than they have been in generations. I know there's lots of writing being done, but my job at the Herald was "Staff Writer." How many jobs with that title are out there today? Not many.

So I figured that these young Americans would be interested in writing work. Our pay is right in line with the industry, and it would be a lot better than spending all day asking people if they want room for cream. Maybe they could even make enough to move out of their parents' house, get a place of their own.

I really did try to reach out. I would get myself an invitation to go speak to college students anywhere I could, and recently got what I thought would be a perfect invitation to a class specifically designed to help graduating seniors from what for now is still known as the J-school to find work after they graduate.

The class had 35 students. I started by showing them this Ira Glass video. It's so good.

 

I then talked to them about the big idea in that video, that the most important thing is to work hard, to produce a body of work and to work regularly. As I looked around the room, I got a bunch of blank stares.

So I used the standard technique for engaging an audience, I started asking them questions. "Do any of you have anything lined up for after you graduate?"

After an uncomfortable silence, one of them asked, "You mean… a job?"

"I don't want to put boundaries on it," I said. "A job, an internship. Going into the Peace Corps. Anything in the works for after you graduate in a couple of months?"

More awkward silence. 

I then pointed to one of them. "How about you?"

"Well, I hear there's lots of jobs in San Francisco, but my parents keep telling me that I'll get free room and board if I move back home to Minnesota."

So, out of this class of 35 people -- people who went to college to study writing, need experience in writing, and don't have anything at all lined up -- guess how many of them signed up to be writers? One. One guy was brave enough to apply. I put him into the system straight away. After a week he wrote one post. One. The writing was fine, the customer liked it. Nothing glamorous. The posts we write at Blogmutt remind me of the "briefs" I wrote every day when I worked at the Durango Herald. Nothing groundbreaking, just work.

But work, it appears, is not what Millennials do. I'm not alone in discovering this, by the way. I've had this conversation recently with a lawyer, a CPA, a cell phone exec, and others. They all say the same thing: I asked a new associate to do something recently and they told me "no." They told me they had volleyball or something. When I was their age I never said no. 

This connected an important thread for me. I live by Wash Park and every weekday evening I see zillions of people in their 20s hanging out playing volleyball, drinking, having a grand old time. I've often wondered why there didn't use to be so many people hanging out in the park, especially people in their 20s. When this lawyer friend told me that about the associate who left work to play volleyball, it suddenly became clear: It used to be that young people worked. There was a time we were called "Yuppies" and that was short for Young Urban Professionals. There's nothing professional about the Millennials, so the term has just faded away. 

Look, I don't have anything against volleyball. You want to be a professional volleyball player, that's great. Play all the time. If you want to be a writer you should be writing.

Now… I don't want to be scrooge. It's great that people can have some fun with friends, but you get good at the things you do. Read Malcolm Gladwell. If you spend a lot of time hanging out with friends doing nothing, that's what you'll get good at.

I don't totally blame Millennials. It was your parents who gave you a trophy for finishing fifth out of six teams in your soccer league. They are the ones who came to school every couple of days dropping hints about how brilliant you were. They were the ones who helicoptered over you. They are the ones who offer you free room and board if you move back home. 

I was talking about this with a friend recently and heard about an office where parents regularly show up with their children to demand more for their children. This was not a middle or high school, or even a college office. This was the graduate job counseling office of a law school. These kids earn a law degree and still they have their mommies and daddies come with them to demand more from school because they deserve it because they are special! Is it the kids' fault for bringing those parents along, or is it the parents fault for going? Hey, there's plenty of blame to go around.

It was your parents who voted for Baby Boomer presidents (Clinton and GWB) who were just like them and those turned out to be the two worst presidents we've had since…

Yes, that's an interesting question. Since… I think, a similar pair in Wilson and Harding. Those were the ones, along with people of their generation, who were so self-absorbed and incompetent that they led us into the stupid first World War, left a screwed up Europe and eventually led us into the Great Depression. You know who got us out of the Great Depression and saved us from tyranny around the world? Well, now we call them the Greatest Generation. They don't like that title much. You know how they did all they did? There are still a few of them around, and they'll tell you if you ask them. They won't say they saved the world. What they will tell you is that all they did was work and work hard and work all the time and then work some more. 

They did such a good job that they built America into this amazing powerhouse that could put a man on the moon, build the world's biggest and strongest middle class, survive Vietnam and Watergate. The only thing that they didn't do a great job on… was raising kids. Most of those kids were OK, but some of them were the classic Baby Boomers, the ones who wanted to take over because they had better hair. The classic Baby Boomers, I would say were Clinton and George W. Bush. And just like Wilson and Harding they were so self-absorbed and incompetent that they wrecked the economy and got us into another crappy war: the War on Terror. (Not taking anything away from the supremely awesome troops.)

Now before you say Clinton was not bad because the economy did so well while he was president, and we had peace, may I point out that he had many chances to get Bin Laden, and missed them all. He had a chance to stop the Enrons of the world, and didn't. The economy grew, but much of that growth was fueled by people cheating, and it was headed downhill at a pretty good clip when he was wrapping up. 

But it sure did seem like things were going well with the economy for a while there under Clinton... so much so that your parents thought they wouldn't really have to work that hard, and that's a value that you picked up on. It turns out that the most important formative years of childhood that most affect your attitudes about money come when you are about 10-11 years old.

Do the math. If you are 24 right now it means that you were 10-11 in 1999, right when the economy was the most frothy. You "learned" that if you just have a good business plan -- Pet Food On The Internet! -- you could make a zillion dollars. 

Well, you learned wrong. What you learned is the stuff that screwed us up. Luckily it's not going to get too bad. We're not going to let it. Who are we? We're Generation X, and we are a lot like the X Men. There aren't as many of us as there are of you, but we can do these amazing things that you simply can't do.

First thing we did was elect a non-Boomer president. Politics aside, that last election was between a borderline Gen Xer and a borderline member of the Greatest Generation. Both parties rejected the classic Boomers who were the early favorites.

Can you imagine if that election had been between Boomers John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani? <shudder>

Once the primaries were over, those that read about McCain learned that he's all Boomer in his views about how special he is because… well, you know, because he is. For me, the 2008 election was less about politics than it was about generations. 

Luckily the economy is now getting fixed, for real this time. And it's Gen X that's doing the fixing. Xers like Sheryl Sandberg and Sergy Brin. Xers like Brad Feld, Adeo Ressi, and Dave McClure. Xers like Jim Reiner and Ruth Bremmer

Boomers were all intent on replacing "The Man" with themselves because they really know how to change the world because they trust their gut. Xers ignore "The Man" and just go out and change the world. This is well laid out in the excellent X Saves the World, really the only book I've seen that lays out the case for how Gen X is quietly keeping the whole nation from a giant suck-fest that it would be if the Boomers and their Millennial offspring were left in charge.

The Boomers sure aren't going to save the world, for as much as they talk about it. It's us, we're going to save it by just showing up and working hard every day.

And as for you Millennials, well, Stop Whining! We're sick of you telling us about how you need to find your work meaningful. We're sick of you telling us about how you want balance. We're sick of you telling us that you can't work Thursday after 4 p.m. because you have your Ironic Polo Club. We're sick of you working somewhere for six weeks and then asking when you will be taking over as management. We're sick of it all.

And you know what we can't wait for? One point in time. That point will come when you realize that you are expendable. Right now you think that you should have all the things that come with hard work, and you should have them because you've always had them. (Soccer trophies!) You just don't want to do the work. 

But here's the rude awakening that's coming: The next generation. Our kids. My son comes downstairs every morning and finds me working, and he often falls asleep to the sound of my typing. He's started two businesses, and he's 8. We sit and watch Shark Tank together and he has a dead-on sense of which businesses will get an offer, and which will not. He has dreams about my current business, Blogmutt, in which he's solving business problems.

That's right. In his sleep he's better than you are awake.

And he's not alone. An 11-year-old relative of mine recently asked me if I was sad about Whitney Houston, "Because she's from the 1900s, like you."

Pause, and take that in for a moment. "The. 1900s. … Like. You."

She's not from the 1900s, she's from this century. She'll see you, born the 1980s or 90s as being essentially the same as the Xers born in the 60s and 70s. We'll all be lumped in together, and so you know how she'll judge us? 

By our work.

Have you invented Google? No. Then get back to work! 

Now, sure, you will say that Millennials can work. Look at Instagram. Yes. Let's do. Those are not whiney kids, those are people who are smart and work hard. They said it themselves: They saw the "wantrepreneurs"  all around them going to parties, hanging out around incubators playing video games, reading every story on TechCrunch and commenting on all the stories about how stupid an idea was and how unworthy it was of TechCrunch coverage. What were the Instagram guys doing while the Millennials sat around talking about changing the world? They were working. Solving problems. Focussing not on themselves but on their users. 

Now, you may be asking how I can write such incendiary things. Three reasons:

BenS_SFR-18268
First, I'm not worried about any Millennials reading this. If it's longer than a tweet, they can't handle reading it anyway and so they didn't make it this far. If they did read this far it's probably because they are one of the exceptions that are so amazing in part because they stand out so dramatically. Millennials like the "boys" pictured above working 14-hour days on an organic vegetable farm, or writers like Téa Obreht who taught herself English by watching bootlegged Disney movies and wrote every day for as long as she can remember. There are even a few entrepreneurs who show promise.

Second, Even if they did read this far they aren't able to do anything about it. It's like that scene from Bull Durham where Kevin Costner challenges the hot young pitcher to throw the ball right at his chest. The pitcher says he'll kill him, but Costner knows the guy won't come close. He doesn't, either.

Lastly, Let's say there's one Millennial out there who's read this far, is outraged at what I say, and decides that he or she needs to prove me wrong, so that person goes to sign up as a Blogmutt writer and writes 100s of great posts for dozens of different Blogmutt clients. 

Boy, that would really shut me up.

 


Blogmutt is everywhere!

Blogmutt - button only
This is the blog for my personal life, but because my personal life these days is pretty much all Blogmutt all the time (with the support and encouragement of my wonderful wife and super son) I'm going to share some news about the best blog writing service on four paws!

The first is that Blogmutt will be presenting at the Angel Capital Summit this coming Thursday. If you happen to be in Denver and are interested in coming by, please let me know. It should be plenty of fun. I'll be talking up Blogmutt, of course, but also the Founder Institute, which is gearing up for a fabulous third session in Denver this summer. It should be just as good as the first one, or the second one.

That pitch from Blogmutt will come on the heels of a flurry of activity on our profile on Angel.co, where Blogmutt was a "trending topic."

But I'm writing today mainly to put in one place three guest posts published recently in three different places.

All three are part of our thus-far relatively low key way of getting the word out about Blogmutt, and it seems to be working. We continue to grow about 10-15 percent per month in paying customers, in part because our current customers seem to stick with us month after month.

The first of the three was a blog post that was inspired by a tweet about the difference between social media tactics and social media strategy. The basic premise is that there's a difference between landscape architecture and good lawn mowing, and similarly there's a difference between social media strategy and social media execution.

It wasn’t that long ago that it was kind of a thing if you hired a lawn service. “Oh! Look at Mr. Fancy Pants, too busy to mow his own lawn!” That thinking is now as widespread as eating TV dinners while watching Dallas. People get help with their lawn because they’d rather spend their precious time with their family instead of cursing at the lawnmower.

Now you’ll notice, most people don’t yank out their grass and put in plastic, as noted above, they just hire someone who’s good at mowing grass, they pay them a fair price, and call it done.

I loved writing that if only because it allowed me to link to a post that I refer to every couple of weeks, the Cult of Done. Love it.

The second post was the culmination of months of back-and-forth, but that turned out OK. When I first proposed a guest post for the Startup America Partnership it was still hosted on a long and unwieldy domain. They switched to the slick: s.co, and then the Blogmutt post appeared. In that one I got to practice a little bit of contained schizophrenia, urging startups to "Go it alone!" and "Do NOT go it alone!" Thanks so much to the Startup America team for including that blog post.

The third post was truly satisfying in one key way. We keep talking about the power of crowdsourcing, so we got to sing the praises of crowdsourcing right on Crowdsourcing.org. The way this was more satisfying than the others was that we got to practice what we preach and the leading writer (using our internal point system) at Blogmutt wrote this story for us. Here's a clip from the post, written by the amazing Ruth Bremer:

As a writer in the Blogmutt crowd — or “pack,” as we like to say around here — I win too. The crowdsourcing model provides a unique opportunity to do something I enjoy and improve my skills without giving up flexibility. I just don’t have room in my life for a bunch of tight deadlines and external pressure. Blogmutt gives me the chance to gain paid writing experience on my own schedule.

With a wide variety of clients to choose from, I get to learn and write about all sorts of interesting topics — but since I’m part of a crowd, I know that if I can’t come up with something for a particular client one week, another writer will step up to do it. I can also take time off without giving it a second thought. I write only as much as I want, but as it turns out, that’s quite a lot. My biggest problem now is carving out time to write more blog posts. Because the other “win” about writing for Blogmutt is that it’s just really, really fun.

When I tell non-writers that the writers really enjoy Blogmutt, the response is sometimes disbelief. But I am a writer and if I wasn't so darn busy running a company, I'd really enjoy working in just the environment that Ruth describes.

I enjoy writing, but I'm also really enjoying creating a place where writers get to just write and do nothing else, and where customers can get blogging done! 

Speaking of "done."


How to deal with mean people: use their brains against them

This morning I read this great post from James Altrucher in which he describes dealing with crappy people. 

He's entertaining, as always, but also struck a chord with me because I got into it recently on an internet forum. Some people said some crappy, wrong, mean things about my new baby, Blogmutt. I let them get to me. James describes exactly what happened to me:

I got into the mud and played with pigs.

As I mentioned in the article, “How to Deal with Crappy People” and “The Crappy People FAQ”when you get into the mud with pigs, you get dirty and the pigs get happy.

So I got very dirty. What does that mean? Did I really get mud on me?

No, I got a ton of bad energy on me. All over the Internet people spew their negativity. I want to be positive. You can’t be positive if you are around negative people all the time.

But I also realized something even more interesting about the way that I made the mean people act crappy. I pretty much told them to do it. Here's how:

I started off this particular forum saying something like, "You may hate this idea, but let's talk about it." It's an idea I have to admit that I completely stole that from Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy, when he wrote about ways to tax the rich. That technique works really well in person, or in the pages of the Wall St. Journal if written by a fabulously witty guy.

It does not work well on the internet because it basically invites people to hate the idea and the one who presented the idea.

So in my particular case the internet commenters took that as an invitation, and started attacking. I got into the mud and started defending. Mud everywhere. Ugly.

I then took what I thought was a good healthy step back, and said that the forum was degrading in a way that was much like the scene from West Wing when Josh Lyman gets attacked.

 

I pointed out that the clip makes the people on the internet look bad, but it made Josh look even worse, and so I apologized for my part in the debate going downhill, and thought that after that brilliant move the folks on this forum would realize their own modest mistakes and we could elevate the conversation.

Notsomuch.

Instead the worst offenders on that particular forum started acting MORE like the "mumu-wearing Parliament-chain-smoking leader" and tried to enact more control and make everyone more riled up.

The really amazing thing was that I still didn't learn the lesson. 

I kept mucking about in the mud. I tried to walk away, disengage some, and I did, but it kept bubbling up and after a couple of weeks, in a weak moment, I went in and described the mud-slingers as acting like Charlie Sheen. I said that they had gone completely round the bend, and then declared themselves "Winning!"

I don't know why I thought that would help. It didn't. It only made them act that much more bizarre.

Charlie-Sheens-Personal-Style-Its-Winning

Then, finally, I figured it out, and it kills me that I didn't figure it out earlier.

I was telling them what to do.

I was implanting instructions for how to behave into their brains, and didn't even know that I was doing it.

I should have, and here's why:

In a previous life, I was a writer and then for a time I was a writing consultant. Also, I've been fascinated by the modern advances in understanding how the brain works.

Those two things came together when I would use a part of the two-day intensive class that I taught about writing, and talk about the idea of anchoring.

In short, it's absurdly easy to get someone to latch on to a concept. You just have to implant it, and it's not all that hard to do it.

Jonah Lehrer's book How We Decide has this example: Take any group of people and divide them in half. Give half a piece of paper that says, "About how many people live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin? Just for reference, the population of Chicago is about 3 million." Then give the other half a piece of paper that says, "About how many people live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin? Just for reference, the population of Green Bay is about 100,000."

You can use those exact words. I just copied that off the handout that I used when I did this with a conference room full of people.

What happens is that the Chicago group will have an answer that averages around 1 million, and the Green Bay group will have an answer that averages around 300,000. (Correct answer, by the way, is about 600,000.)

This really works. It's shocking. It works even if you ask people immediately before if they think it will work on them and they answer no.

(By the way, I even did this for a group of employees of the US Census Bureau -- in the headquarters building in Suitland, Maryland -- with the exact same results I got everywhere else I tried it.)

So now my trick with internet forums is very simple. "Thanks for your insightful opinions!" 

And if you'd like to comment on this post, well, you can't. Sorry. I just don't have time to engage "the internet" here, but you are welcome to make some insightful opinions on Twitter or Facebook or whatever. I'm sure they will add a positive contribution to the conversation.

(See what I did there?)


Management (and other) lessons from the movies

The best scene in Moneyball is not in the trailers, is not available (yet) online, and isn't even in the first version of the screenplay or the book.

But it's the scene that years from now will be shown in management classes and will inspire generations of those who try new things.

Sports movies are often described as motivational, usually because there's some stirring speech given by a coach before the player goes out and does something miraculous. That's great… I've loved plenty of those movies, but they don't hold much intrinsic value because most of us are not the kind of freaks of nature that can see a round ball hurling toward us at 90 MPH and use a round bat to hit the ball real far the other way, even if we do get a motivational speech just before.

The best single scene for management types from any movie before Moneyball, I think, is this one:

 



So what's the scene in Moneyball that ranks right up there with that one from Apollo 13? It's near the end, when Billy Beane is talking to the owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry.

That scene is not on YouTube, and isn't in the original script, as I mentioned, so I don't have the exact quotes here. I do know that it's not just fiction, however, because Henry reportedly told the screenwriters about the scene later, and Beane agreed that it was a better recollection of what was said. 

In it's essence, Henry says that what Beane has done is nothing short of revolutionizing the game. He knows the numbers cold. Beane knows them, too, of course, but says that "baseball" doesn't like it. 

Henry's response is the pinnacle of the movie, "The first one through the wall always gets bloody." He says that what Beane is doing is bringing real change and people who are comfortable with the way things have been are naturally going to resist the change. 

It's an important lesson for me. I'm co-founder of a company that's disruptive. It won't get as much attention, but it could end up having more of a direct positive effect on the lives of more people. I mean, if the As beat the Sox or the Sox beat the As, it doesn't give writers something new and meaningful to do. Blogmutt does.

Luckily for me the Blogmutt customers like what we are doing and the writers like doing the writing. There are some writers who are comfortable with the way things are right now in the world, however, and are resisting the changes coming. I think that comes out in subtle ways by the very writers who are covering our blog writing service. It seems we get more love from a Robot Dinosaur than from some writers.

I hope that I learn both sides of the lesson, that I'm one who's comfortable creating some discomfort. And on the flip side, I hope that I'm not one who tries to "bloody" the first one through the wall, no matter what that wall is.

I mean, my background is in writing, and I could easily be one who casts stones at guys trying to build a business that relies on writers without paying them nearly as much as a reporter at the New York Times makes. If I were still writing full time I hope I would be able to recognize that Blogmutt is creating a new market for writing, that the customers of Blogmutt are not the kinds of businesses that have ever hired writers before. I hope I'd see that in an era when there are only rotten opportunities for writers to get legitimate writing work, Blogmutt is a hugely positive big-picture change for writers everywhere.

And so I need to watch myself that I'm not critical of other new ideas just because they are new.

Here's one, for instance: Scientists want to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild. The modification? That the mosquitoes will produce offspring that will self-destruct.

My first reaction is that self-destructing organisms released into the wild is a stunningly bad idea.

But maybe I'm just being one of those critics, one of those who only wants to put up walls in front of something new.

On second thought, however… no. This is a post about learning lessons from movies, and I've seen enough movies where experiments like this go haywire to know that genetically modified self-destructing organisms are just a bad bad bad idea.

Just the thought of that is too much. The only antidote?

 

A bit of sweet music from Moneyball. One minute and seven seconds that can just about break your heart. Sort of like baseball itself.


The TechCrunch Also Rises

I've loved reading TechCrunch for the last few years. Just loved it. It's had a vibrancy and a visceral sort of honesty that's made it something you just couldn't take your eyes off of.

And I also soaked it in because I knew the magic couldn't last.

I know, I've been there.

Paris-1920sNot everyone gets to have a chance to live in a Paris-in-the-20s kind of time. If it's real, the myth of it becomes larger than life. Hell, there are now college courses about the original one. The people who were in it revelled in it, but they were so young that they didn't know that it couldn't last. They went on to great fame, but there was always that looking back.

That thing that happened, though, really was positive for the world, not just for those who sat at that table drinking coffee. Without Paris in the 20s, readers of novels in English would have remained stuck with nothing to read but Edith Wharton novels about struggles with upper crust society conventions. Without that group of writers, literature would have been one long run of masterpiece theatre. Gag.

I'm not sure if there was another such moment until the 1960s at the New York Herald Tribune, which is where Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Charles Portis, Nat Hentoff, Gloria Steinem, Langston Hughes, Nora Ephron and others who would go on to remake journalism all got their start. Of course, the Herald Tribune couldn't last. I wonder if part of the reason readers liked it so much then was that they knew they were watching a bright-burning flame that can not be sustained.

It pales, of course, but my chance at mythological Paris in the 20s was SPY Magazine in the 1980s. I was young, so I didn't really fully appreciate how great of a thing I was in the middle of. I only realized it later, constantly wondering why I didn't have editors as erudite as Kurt Andersen, or larger than life like Graydon Carter. Why didn't I have publishers as forward thinking as Tom Phillips, or coworkers as talented as... OK, if I start naming all the names this post will grow too long.

SPY in those days, just as with the others, really did make the world better. Nearly everyone who worked there has gone on to do great things in journalism, television, media and more. TV shows like the Simpsons and the Daily Show have had SPY staffers making it better. Before blogs, it wasn't easy to make fun of Donald Trump or tell the story behind the story with Big Journalism. Now it happens all the time. Part of that is the technology, but part of it, I think, is the ice that was broken by SPY. Just like with Paris in the 20s, and the Herald Tribune, SPY made the world better, but just couldn't last.

And so now it is with TechCrunch, which is now without a doubt the zeitgeist leader of blogs and tech journalism. Was, anyway. The moment is now gone.

Just because of momentum, TechCrunch will certainly keep publishing, but the fire has now died out. I had hope that the magic might stick around after AOL gobbled up TechCrunch, but the events of the last couple days make it clear that's just not going to happen. 

Paul Carr certainly saw this coming. His post about the events is pure Paul. It's clear. It shows what went on behind the scenes. It's brilliantly written. And I can't help but read it and think that Paul knows better than anyone that the gig is up.

I expect we'll see great things from the TechCrunch gang for many years to come, and I expect journalism will never be the same because of what TechCrunch did. Journalism and the internet will be better, but the next thing won't be some TechCrunch competitor nipping around right now, it will be something really amazing that nobody really saw coming until suddenly it will be gone, too.

I'll be looking for it, though. Change comes faster these days, so maybe it won't be too far off.

Thanks for the great times, TechCrunch. You've earned your spot in history.


Now is the August of our Discontent

I invite you to sit back and relax as you read this post, probably the only one you'll read all summer that ties together the U.S. economy, Richard III, New York tabloids, neuroscience, venture capital and crowdsourcing.

OK, not just this summer. Ever.

I just won't have time to do that in a few sentences, however. Pascal-like I only have time to write about this at length.

So grab a cold drink, prop up your feet, and join me if you like.

The kernel of this post started with a simple Facebook post after a lovely evening of corn on the cob, ice cream on the deck, and relaxing with the family:

Scott Yates fb post


 Just a lovely summer evening out there. Seems to happen every August: life seems so wonderful within the family and the world goes nusto -- the stock market goes screwy, some youths somewhere go all nuts (London's turn this year) and politicians become especially unsavory. I wish summer could last longer for us, but the world could use a good rain shower and some adult supervision.

I got a big response to that, which got me thinking -- using the parlance of the day -- that I might "unpack" that notion a bit here.

Let's start with the one everyone knows about, the stock market.

First, the NY Post put it best, the stock market was going up and down like a hooker's drawers.

New-York-Post-Cover-1312990193

What's going on with the market? I have no idea, but I have a hunch, however, that part of the problem is that all the grownups on Wall Street are on vacation, and a bunch of kids got a little carried away with themselves.

If that's the case, wouldn't we have seen this kind of thing happen in August before? Probably, and it turns out that's exactly what has happened. (Read this hilarious post about that.)

Of course, the market was also wacky because of the uncertainty created by the debt-ceiling shenanigans. My old boss, Kurt Andersen, is exactly right when he says that our politics these days is suffering from some kind of autoimmune disorder where the body mistakenly attacks itself.

All of those August events led some notable folks to start talking about something very much on my mind these days, investments in startup companies. I won't link to those posts, because I'm going to slam them now by pointing out simply that it's always easy to forecast doom.

What I didn't read anywhere was this: If the stock market sucks as a place to keep money, wouldn't that help startups and other alternative investments? I mean, only those with tinfoil hats are suggesting that you should take all your money out of the markets and put it in gold. You'd have to be exceptionally bad at math to keep it in a bank. Wouldn't all that money do better investing in something that actually has a chance to grow? Not to get preachy, but they'd be also be able to invest in the one thing that everyone says is the best way to create new jobs. I understand there's more risk, but with risk comes...

Ahh nevermind. Let's move on.

The good news for startups is that smart investors understand that market fluctuations are materially irrelevant to what they do. George Zachary made the case very clearly in a single tweet

No matter what happens with public markets, my CRV partners & I will still be actively funding early stage founders pursuing the bold.

Adeo Ressi made the case, properly I think, that this is actually a time when we should have some cautious optimism. Brad Feld and Seth Levine of the Foundry group both made essentially the same case as Zachary and Ressi, but they did it in their own inimitable style, Brad saying "ignore the dow" and Seth with a long, reasoned post full of words like "numerator" and "capital efficiency."

The bottom line for all of them was the same bottom line I got reading about why love is the opposite of underwear: Do what you love so much that it doesn't get boring, and have grit about sticking with it. VCs and neuroscientists agree!

And so does the writer of this excellent story: "A Few Thousand Reasons to Be Optimistic."

Now, I know you are on the edge of your seat, wondering what all this has to do with Richard III. 

The prognosticators who came out and said that the market volatility signaled the end of all investments in startups were, I think, essentially emulating Shakespeare in saying: "Now is the winter of our discontent." (One of them, whom I still respect a great deal, actually said "winter is coming.")

What they didn't do, however, was read the next line.

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York

You see that? What Richard is saying there is that the winter is now made into a glorious summer by the son (sun).

The doom-and-gloomers are missing that. They want you to believe that things will be bad bad bad.

This is something that was not lost, by the way, on Steinbeck when he wrote The Winter of our Discontent. That book centers on a man who worked hard, had strong ethics, but then let his ethics slip so that he could make a buck and get ahead. It was a cautionary tale that we've seen played out in everything from Glengarry Glen Ross and Bonfire of the Vanities through Gordon Gekko and right up to The Social Network.

Some people learn from these kinds of stories what not to do, and some learn the upside down lesson that if they cheat, if they worry about superficial gains, if they wear a hoody and tell people that a billion dollars is cool, that somehow they will get ahead. Those people might for a while, too, but for the world winter is a good thing because that hoody just isn't enough to get you through a winter.

Here's how this became concrete for me just yesterday.

Just by way of background, I'm the CEO of a startup that uses a crowd of writers to help businesses do the blogging that they don't have the time or ability to do themselves. We sometimes get criticized because we don't pay writers very much. As a former journalist, author and writing instructor, this pains me. I want writers to do well. I understand that for many aspiring writers, there are just no good opportunities to write professionally.

Blogmutt now has paying customers and a crowd of writers working for them. I sent a note congratulating one of the writers yesterday because in a single day she wrote awesome posts for four different customers ranging from a super high tech website to a local boutique retail store. She's never been a paid writer before, but she is now. She wrote back and told me that she would like to donate the money she's earned to Water for People.

I really just about cried. Why? First because it's such a great idea and it will be so wonderful to be able to help out some deserving non-profits. But I was also moved to tears because it confirmed what we've been saying all along: that there is a group of very talented writers out there who would love an opportunity to write something real, something that will be helpful to real people, and get a foot in the door of writing professionally.

I have to admit that I've perhaps spent a bit too much of the last few months getting too close to the world of the kid in the hoody talking about how a billion dollars is cool. I participated in a kind of beauty pageant for startups, I "took meetings" and I talked about valuations for Blogmutt with some pretty exuberant numbers given that at that point we didn't have any customers.

We are still technically fundraising. We are still taking those meetings and we certainly would love to have some more money in the bank. We'd also love to have the connection to real leaders in our world that comes in an unparalleled way with a real investment. But now that we have customers we are realizing firsthand the truism that the best kind of investment is a customer paying for something that provides value. We have those customers now, and we have freelance writers who enjoy writing for those customers.

Our plan is that the warmth radiating from delighted customers and writers will make a glorious summer out of whatever winter comes our way.

A glorious summer. Not the August zaniness, just the ice cream gloriouisness.

Mmmmmmm. Ice cream.


CRM Pipeline for Beta List Tracking

This blog is not for my usual followers (Hi, Mom!). This is just the handiest place to put this tool. This will only be useful for startup companies with a beta invite list. I looked around a lot and none of the Customer Relationship Management tools work for what I needed, which is to track the people who've signed up to be early "beta" customers or users of a new product.

(In my case that's Blogmutt.)

So, in true start-up fashion, I built one. Here it is:

 

Feel free to use this and download it here. The rub is that you can't just save a copy and then start using it, you have to download it as Excel and then upload it back into Google Docs. (I suppose you could just use it in Excel, but... Ewww.) If someone knows a way to get around that with Google Docs, let me know.

I have to give major props here to the team at BetaLi.st. They are the ones who did the heavy lifting of making it possible for anyone to quickly launch an excellent beta list signup tool. My spreadsheet is just a way of taking the results of that and turning it into a CRM pipeline. If Salesforce.com didn't suck so much, and one of the promising new entries in the world of online CRM would add this feature -- I'm looking at you, Capsule -- I wouldn't have had to do this, but here we are. Luckily, in this crazy world, just about anyone can suddenly become a niche CRM venture.

So, feel free to use this, and if you feel compelled by the universe and decorum to give some credit, give it to Blogmutt, the best blog writing service on four legs. Woof!


A Pull Carr TechCrunch Homage Loosely Related to Blogmutt

Blogmutt (the company I'm starting with longtime partner Wade Green) has studiously avoided seeking too much attention just yet. With no PR effort at all we currently have more beta test customers than we can handle, and more sign up every day for our closed invite list.

Foundershowcase Soon, though, we're going to be getting some coverage, as I'll be on stage at the Founder Showcase. Reporters signed up to be there, and the organizers had to change venues to accommodate demand from them and others, so it's going to be hard to keep Blogmutt a secret.

I don't know if we'll win. We did get more votes than any of the 63 companies that applied, so based on that alone we might even be the favorites. (That's bad luck, now that I think about it. This is an underdog kind of crowd. Luckily, we are a company named for a mutt, so the underdog-lovers will want to at least sniff our butt.) [Insert panting noise here.]

No matter what happens, there's likely to be some coverage, and I was a reporter long enough to know that the more I try to manage the coverage, the more I'll be frustrated with how the coverage comes out. Indeed if I had a PR person right now I'm quite sure they would insist that I not run this blog post, which is part of the perverse pleasure I'm getting from writing it.

I can't help but think about coverage, though. The reality for Blogmutt is that the best place for coverage would be the Costco Magazine. But we have a ways to go until we are ready for that, so for now I just daydream.

I read TechCrunch every day, and have for years (thought not as closely as this computer!) Anyway, I think a story there would be fun.  I thought about trying to make that happen, for instance, by issuing a press release with an embargo, just so TechCrunch would break all the PR rules and run with it anyway. 

Meh. 

I thought about hosting a secret dinner in San Francisco and making it clear that everyone from TechCrunch was barred from the meeting.

Better. But still "meh."

Blogmutt is based on the idea of writing, so for fun I decided to write up a story as if it appeared on TechCrunch written by one of the writers. But which one? I considered Sarah Lacy, but it would be perverse for me to sprinkle in references to the baby in my belly and international travel. I considered MG, but I couldn't figure out how to work in enough Apple fanboy references, or somehow rant (justifiably) about cable and SMS fees. Jason, Erick, AlexiaLeena and the others are better known for the content of what they dig up then the way they write it.

So that left only one choice: Paul Carr. He's such a distinctive writer, and yet the challenge here is that he so rarely does stories about new companies. Even Arrington, flush with cash after his sale and six years later, writes more here's-a-new-company stories then Paul.

Paul's specialty is writing… well, stories like this, complete with periods on the outside of the quotation marks:

 

NSFW: Why You're a Duffer if You Write for Blogmutt (And Why I'll Tell So Many People To Do It Anyway)

By Fake Paul Carr

I love writing books, it's my favourite activity, but it comes with a sidecar of baggage that I never know what to do with. Amoung these is the inevitable questions from aspiring writers wanting to know what they should do to become a writer just like me.

(I am indeed a writer and you can tell because I sprinkle everything I write with completely whorish announcements such as this: The Upgrade is now available here in the UK, or here with free worldwide shipping.)

The part I love about writing is the sitting in a hotel room at three a.m. composing words about me living my life. It's a tad self-obsessed, yes, but it's what I am.

So imagine that, say, I meet a woman whilst flying or attending some function. She's a decent enough sort, perhaps she did quite well in college meaning both that she did a right proper job with her class work in English Literature, and that she met a spectacular bloke who had the misfortune of being exceptionally skilled at something highly valued in the workplace. I'm thinking something financial that is completely lost on me, or perhaps something making it possible for Exxon/Shell/Whatever to make 0.000001 shillings more per barrel of oil, thus making this bloke so much money that his wife really shouldn't work, and instead should have the job of making sure that their lovely offspring shall never know a moment of want.

Now the children of this woman are, let's say, 8 and 10. This woman is right busy with all the things that you might expect, but she's got an eye on the fact that her job essentially expires about a decade hence and she -- the bright shining star on her campus not so long ago -- will be left without much of a purpose whilst still in possession of a majority of her faculties.

Have that woman fixed in your mind. OK, now imagine that woman asks me what she should do to become a writer just like me. My only answer and the thing that I like as not might say makes me sound like a complete wanker: "I suggest that you leave your husband and children and do nothing but write all day every day for years. It's the only way you might be able to become a writer of any substance whatsoever".

You can see why it is that I try to avoid these conversations. 

Paul-bosom I'd so much more fancy signing the buxom cleavage of an adoring admirer and then retire to my hotel for more writing and perhaps a bit of watching weirdly anachronistic perks on the telly. 

But really, back to that woman. Consider her other options. She could spend the odd bits of time that she has writing a blog for herself. Along with the unwashed masses she'll drop pebbles into the ocean of words out there and cause not a ripple.

She could also consider writing for one of the content farms. This would be far worse, in my view. Her work would get reviewed by the mouth-breathers who aren't talented enough to get a proper journalism job. She might actually write something worthwhile, but the sods who work for the farm will reject it because that's their chance to do what soul-crushing editors have done through the ages. They have a bizarre job in the first place, reviewing writing that's written on the odd hope that someone searching for the 2,472,834th most searched-for phrase on the 'net will click the story written to appear just for that phrase. Dante's circles can't quite imagine something so horid.

Blogmutt-150 So now comes onto the scene this Blogmutt, with the particularly American fascination for animals. (Did the founders name it that hoping to get invited to the party thrown each year by SurveyMonkey and attended by TheBlogFrog, MailChimp, SeatHound and the rest?)

Blogmutt, which debuts in less than a fortnight at the Founder Showcase, is doing something so insidiously evil that I find myself with a kind of fond admiration. What's so evil? They are offering to that woman a chance to write blog posts and get paid not much, but an amount that is agreed to ahead of time and seems fair all around. That's not the evil bit, I don't give a jot if she wants to write blog posts because she happens to be a competent writer and the blokes who run the business with a blog can't string two words together, which appears to be the point of the whole endeavour.

No, the evil bit is that Blogmutt plans on rewarding the writers with badges, awards and the kind of digital ephemera served with such brutal efficiency by Zynga and the others. Writers are so firmly entrenched at the bottom of any normal social circle that, in general, we latch obsessively onto any dollops of affirmation that might slip our way. Now matter how derivative, or dull, any praise for our writing is cause for an immediate hit of the refresh button in a way that would make any heroin dealer recoil in horror. That's the fucking evil part of Blogmutt's plan. They are supplying crack to an army of pierced urban swots in hoodies. Fucking evil, that.

And yet it's exactly what I'll tell any callow aspiring writer who dares ask me for advice on becoming a real writer. I'll be the one hooking them up with their first dime bag, and from there I'll just hope they stay home writing away, waiting for another hit. I'll feel so superior to them in every way.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to refresh my Amazon page to check for any new customer reviews.

[Anyone interested in actual information about Blogmutt can check out the Frequently Barked Questions, our blog, sign up for the beta on our home page, or feel free to contact us for more.]


What's the right length for a blog post?

I've been fascinated for years by the concept of form when it comes to works that appear creative.

Like all callow reporters fresh from J-school, I had a mind to upset the applecart and write in totally new ways.

That didn't last long.

I started using some of the standard forms of journalism early on for two reasons.

One is that I read The New Journalism and then basically everything else that Tom Wolfe ever wrote. I've written in this space about how Facebook is like the newest form of New Journalism, but this was something different. My writing took on the forms of journalism that had gone on before me because it worked. Wolfe was the first to point out that the "new" journalism was really the exact same writing of Dickens and many others.

The second reason I started using the forms of journalism was that I discovered they were forms for a reason, and the way in which words get written can follow a form, and still sing. What matters most is that the content is compelling, and then after that the words must just do the job of getting the compelling bits into the craniums of the readers.

For example?

No less than Bob Woodward recently wrote a tic-tock, a story that is not breaking news, but goes back to recount an event in chronological order. Publishers turn to this kind of story quite often when the news isn't new, but is so compelling that they want to run the story again a few days later. It may contain some new tidbits, but it's really not news. In the chronological style, however, it clicks right along like a clock. But how to end such a story? Well, you need a "kicker," a quote that's so delicious, so authentic, and so encapsulating that you want to make sure every reader sees it.

When I'm consulting on communication topics, I always tell people that documents, paragraphs and sentences all have two strong spots: the beginning and the end. The start of a story is crucial for sure, but the kicker can help you walk away with real understanding.

Bob Woodward knows better than to screw around with that form, so at the end of his tic-tock on the Osama bin Laden story he ends with a quote from President Obama. "We donated a $60 million helicopter to this operation. Could we not afford to buy a tape measure?"

Yes. Just so.

There are plenty of other forms. The form of a story reporting on scientific discoveries gets used all the time, primarily because the people doing the writing have no freaking clue what it is they are writing about, so they fall back on the standard ways. That's what makes this satire so spot-on.

Sports stories have their own form, so much so that a couple of clever coders came up with a way to generate an AP-style baseball story just by entering the box score of a game

There's a form to good screenplays, too. I wrote here about movies that seem like they are all over the map and yet when looked at up close they indeed follow classic forms of three-act screenplays. Following a form does not mean giving up on creativity.

The other reason, by the way, that writers use forms is time. I remember struggling, on deadline, with a late-night crime story when working on the late, great New York Newsday. Someone came over to ask how it was going (maybe Peg Tyre?) and said, "Look, this is a cop story. First graf: What happened. Second graf: Where's the body. Third graf: Your best quote. Then just fill in details and quotes until you get to nine inches. 

(Translation: graf=paragraph. inches=column inches in the paper. It never really works out to measure it that way because the columns always changed, so basically an "inch" was about 30 words. Also, there's always a body in the crime story. It's either in "fair condition" or "recovering at home" or "awaiting toxicology reports" etc.)

Why all this about forms for me right now?

Two reasons.

One is that I'm currently raising investment for my newest business, Blogmutt. When I put together a deck for my first business, MyTrafficNews, I wanted to break the mold and do something really different. With the second business I pushed some boundaries, but mostly stuck to the script. With this one, I'm following the form. I've seen a few different forms, including this one that's a MadLib for the one-sentence description, and this one for the overall slide deck. Garage.com says I should have 10 slides, I have 10 slides.

I'm coaching some companies right now that are headed to the Colorado Capitol Conference, and mostly I just tell them the same thing: Be creative, but be creative within the form of a slide deck that follows the form of a pitch deck. And I also tell them to just cut words.

The second reason I'm thinking about forms is also blogmutt. We will be asking a crowd of writers to come up with blog posts for small and niche business blogs. The pay won't be fantastic, but it should rival or exceed what spec writing jobs on the internet pay. It will certainly exceed what most bloggers make on most blogs -- that is: zero. I'm expecting that we'll have quite a few writers who perhaps studied English in college but have never been able to write professionally, and they just want to make some extra money for scrapbooking, fantasy baseball, or maybe to pay bills if they do really well. We'll be helping those writers to understand the form of a classic blog post. Some writers who want to work with blogmutt may want to try some fancy stuff and alter the very form of a typical blog post.

They can do that, but just not for Blogmutt. That's why even though I'm writing lots of posts for the Blogmutt blog these days, those posts in general follow the form of a helpful blog post.

It's only over here, on sco.tt, that I babble on about everything from Bob Woodward to a slide deck. This is my personal blog, and that's just what this is all about.

So, the answer to the question, "What's the right length for a blog post?" is that it's exactly long enough to do what you want the post to do. What do you want your posts to do?

What did this post do? Several things, even though there's not much form here…

Sorry about that, but thanks for reading anyway!


Big Day for The Future of Water and for BlogMutt

Today is the official publication day for the book I wrote for the American Water Works Association and Steve Maxwell: The Future of Water.

Today is also the day we are starting a poll to help us find a new logo for the company I founded with Wade Green: BlogMutt.

Amazon almost ruined the whole thing!

It turns out that a disturbingly large part of my life is tied up with Amazon right now. I don't make a percentage of sales for the book, so I'm not super obsessed with checking sales stats on Amazon, but I've made a living as a writer or writing consultant for a long time, so being on Amazon is a big deal for me.

Amazon.com was actually fine. I was only worried about it because Amazon Web Services went down yesterday. I knew that because of the other big part of my life today: BlogMutt. We are super early in the process of launching BlogMutt, so early that we only really have a couple of things right now, including a logo that Wade and I designed, and a beta sign-up form.

Because the internet is cool, we didn't have to make our own sign-up form, we let the inventive team at betali.st do it. Because that team didn't want to have to provision their own server and go through all those headaches, they signed up for Amazon Web Services. We are also developing in part on a site called "heroku" and that site, too, went down. (It's up today, with a promise of being "rock solid.")

A zillion newish web companies use Amazon's cloud, lured in by Amazon's message. In short, Amazon says that it got so good at cloud computing running Amazon.com that it wants to sell that ability. Small companies can tell themselves that they are getting the same kind of reliability that Amazon has for itself.

It turns out that while all animals are equal, some animals are a bit more equal. The cloud that Amazon sells to others is not quite as equal as the cloud it uses to sell stuff.

For me, if I had to choose, I would have rather seen my own book site unavailable on the date the book goes on sale and be able to keep going with BlogMutt. That way maybe people would wait on buying the book until they can do so in person at the Denver Press Club on May 5. That way I'd get to see those people and say thanks. Today is the publication day, what's sometimes known as "The calm before the calm."

(As a small side-note: I'm surprised that nobody in the dead tree press or even a blog that I can find have pointed out that the cloud problem hurt the cloud customers, but not Amazon.com itself. It was my first question, and I wasn't alone. Brad Feld asked, and so far I'm the only one who answered. One other even smaller side note... Whenever there's a widespread internet outage, Skynet jokes are sure to follow, especially when it happens on Judgement Day. I was relieved when Quora did not come back from its Amazon-induced nap to ask only one question: "Where is Sarah Connor?")

The good news is that the internet seems to have worked through it's funk. Also, it's Good Friday, the middle of Passover, the day after Skynet did not attack us and Earth Day. It's also the day that Alfalfa's reopens in Boulder, so now you can get this song stuck in your head the way it's been stuck in my head all day:

"Alfalfa's" by Leftover Salmon by fullpedal

So it seems like a good of a day as any to launch our logo survey for BlogMutt.

We will launch the site itself soon enough, but for the logo I need your help. Our logo has served us well in our nascent stages. We made this one ourselves using a picture of the Yates family dog, Professor Beuregard Thibodeaux Tagalong "Buddy" Yates the 122nd. (Quinn, now 7, thought the "122nd" made his name sound better.) Anyway, the logo now is cute, but we need something more professional that will look good on coffee mugs and other tchotchkes, as well as on a smart phone, etc. So take a quick look here and let me know what you think:

(If there is no graphic with a bunch of logos above these words, there's some glitch. Click here to take the poll, it's one page with eight choices.)

Thank you very much for taking that poll, and thanks for reading. Spring is here!


Scott Yates year-end wrapup

A quick post with some odds and ends for an end to an odd year...

  • With Steve Maxwell, I finished writing the manuscript for The Future of Water, which will be published in the Spring by the American Water Works Association. Look for much more on that here, and let me know if you want to come to the party!
  • I'm a huge fan of Brad Feld. He's a hugely successful founder, and now investor. I've been a successful founder, but haven't yet got to start investing in other companies. Someday soon, I hope. He often blogs about all the books he reads, and now he's teaching himself a programming language. Sometimes I wonder how he does it all, and then I remember that in addition to just being smart, he doesn't have kids. That difference became stark for me because right while he's learning Python, I'm learning a programming language, too. It's just that I'm learning NXT, the language that programs the LEGO Mindstorms robots.
  • The robot was a gift from my son, who asked me a day later if he could have the robot if I died. I wasn't sure how I should respond to that. Anyway, if I die in some suspicious way, make sure my son has a rock-solid alibi.
  • I had a rough go of it getting the software working, and had my first rotten experience with Lego. Turns out I had a bad disc and the software isn't available online (I know, right!?!?) so I took just the disc to the store to swap it. They told me I needed to come back with the whole set. So I schlep out there a second time with the whole set, and they give me -- you guessed it -- just the disc. Anyway, if you have any hints about learning that NXT language, let me know.
  • One last note related to my son... He's been enjoying his club house most of this winter. Only now, when it's below 10 degrees outside, is it too cold. It doesn't have a front door, so, we'll probably head over to the best place in Denver for used doors, Bud's Warehouse. If you haven't been to Bud's you should check it out. Amazing place, a great story, and one of the true gems of Denver.
  • Second Saturday Science, my attempt to have a fun activity for the family with some learning thrown in, is still on ice. It was lots of fun, and the gang at the Wash Park Whole Foods was very helpful, but I just ran out of time. If you have questions or interest in that, just let me know. The funniest thing about doing that for me was this: Friends of mine could never keep straight what Saturday of the month we had the event. The lesson I learned is that even if you put a message in the very name of your venture, the message may not get through.
  • I'll be waiting once again for the Denver Public Schools calendar for next school year to get approved by the board. Until then, the current calendar has all the weird and wacky days off provided in a format that is useable. This is the No. 1 way that people find this blog through Google: looking for the DPS calendar.
  • I've started doing some consulting and training about writing through the Murawski Group. It's been a real honor to work with this group, especially the namesake Tom Murawski. Tom's been improving writing for thousands of people all over the world for years now, but he still delights in clear writing. I'm proud of my small part in encouraging Tom to enter a poetry contest put on by the National Punctuation Day website, and he won! Here's his delicious haiku:

Time to eat Grandma!
Save her with a comma, or
She's yours to savor.

  • One last note: With my longtime collaborator Wade Green, I'm exploring a business that will help small businesses create the blog content that they need in this Googly world. If you have, or know of, a small business that has a blog and would be willing to let us run some tests, contact me directly. Thanks.

If you are a friend, and somehow you didn't get the Yates Family Christmas Card by email, the fault is entirely mine. Please contact me so I can get you on that list.

And to friends now and friends yet to be, here's my wish for you and yours to have a wonderful 2011.


Denver Public Schools (DPS) Calendar update

I just finished updating the DPS calendar for next school year.

This year they actually released it at a reasonable time, and didn't wait until well into February (after most summer camps require a deposit) to let us know when school would start.

I do this each year for myself, not wanting to refer to the ridiculously obtuse official calendar. (Do green-and-black checkerboards mean early release and blue octagons mean assessment day, or is it the other way around?) Last year I figured it could help a lot of other parents, so that's why I post it here on my blog. If there's something I can do to make it more useful, please let me know.


Greatest Day of Sco.tt's Life!

I'm spending much of the day at the DemoGala event in downtown Denver. I'll be reporting on it for the Examiner soon enough, but I first have to say that this is the greatest day in the life of Sco.tt.

No, not my life, my domain's life. 

You see, I have a card with the domain on it, and that's it. The picture you see above is the whole image on the card. Kind of a minimalist thing that I thought was kind of cool. Turns out that for most people... not so much. They just look at it, and then look at me. Some people are genuinely annoyed.

But not the people at this all-technical event today. They all love it.

The best reaction so far came from the incomparable Adeo Ressi. He's the guy behind two of the great ideas of the last few years: TheFunded and the Founder Institute. He and I have communicated about another potential project a few times, but today was the first time we'd met in person. When he had to go off to speak, he asked for my card. I handed it to him and he said it was the greatest card he'd ever seen. "This makes it worth the trip to Denver!"

Then he went to speak and I went off to a different session hosted by Examiner COO Dave Schafer. Why? Because I said I would, and because Schafer and I long ago toiled side-by-side at an actual newspaper printed on real paper. It was actually an excellent panel with Matt Cohen of OneSpot, Boulder and BDNT's own Robert Reich from OneRiot and the very impressive Lisa Stone of BlogHer. (I'm a sucker for journalists turned entrepreneurs.)

Anyway, one of my spies (I have them everywhere!) told me that Adeo held up my card during his speech, and said it was great, and then he called me a jack-ass because I didn't come to his speech.

To be called a jack-ass by Ressi. Man, if that's not awesome I don't know what is.


The New New New Technology Examiner, Peaches and Crowdsourcing. Confused Yet?

Sometimes I just can't help myself...

This morning I'm cruising through my blogs, and I read a great post by Nate Silver about some very fishy survey results about Oklahoma students.

I've been meaning to write in this space about how I'm now the new "new technology" Examiner over on Examiner.com, but I haven't.

So, do I compose a nice post here, introducing my work over there? No, I gotta go mixing things up and helping Nate solve the problem of not having enough data to show that the survey results are bogus. How? Using crowdsourcing, something I've been reading a lot about lately.

Totally confused? Yes, sorry, I understand. I'd sit down and write a post explaining it all, but I really want to get to the Farmer's Market before they run out of peaches. I'll have much more in the coming days, but at least now you have some explanation of why I wrote on Examiner.com this morning that we could use Crowdsourcing to prove that Oklahomans are not that dumb.