Could it be that we are all the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere, and the internet has landed on our shores?
I know this may seem like a stretch, but consider:
At first the Europeans who came over didn’t really mean any harm. They weren’t really even expecting anyone to be here, and they didn’t know that here was here.
And in general they didn’t start just killing people, not at the start. They kind of needed the native people to help them survive.
So it is with the internet and with social media. It wouldn’t be able to grow and mutate if it just started killing people right off the bat. There’d be way more alarm if people started dying as soon as they tried using Google.
One of the central thesis that Jia Tolentino talked about with Ezra Klein is something I'd never really had clearly in my head before, and I'm still struggling with it, but it's essentially the idea that the “winners” in the current internet economy are the ones that most successfully allow each individual to become attached to the online version of themselves.
That’s super clear with Facebook and Twitter, of course, but even is a common thread with the others:
Apple from its earliest days told people that it knew you were secretly Pablo Picasso, or whomever, and that with the right machine you could make that clear. And without the iPhone, there would be no selfie.
Amazon isn't just about getting you books faster, it’s about making you a star, and providing all the stuff that you deserve as a star, and even anticipating what you might want. That's the treatment that stars get.
And Google is about making sure that you feel heard. When you search for something, you get just what you are searching for. It knows what that is because it so helpfully tracks everything you do and then makes predictions from that. It’s why privacy advocates are having such a hard time getting people outraged — most people like it when someone is interested in them, even when they know that interest is pecuniary. What do they care?
While the Europeans that came over did lots of actual killing, either directly or indirectly with Small Pox or the introduction of guns, etc., the thing that most completely killed off the spirit of the people here was an idea, the idea that land could be owned.
The tribes that lived here, in general, operated under the idea that the land can't be owned in the same way that sunlight or air can't be bought or sold. It was all a gift, to be treated as such.
Once the idea of owning land took hold, it was just a matter of time before the native way of life would be all but erased.
Reading that book about Red Cloud, visiting Pine Ridge and Standing Rock, I have limitless respect for the tribal members among us today. But I think even the two tribal members who were just elected to congress would say that one of the main points of the Tribes today is to remind us all of a time when people had respect for the land, and for the sweep of history.
One of those two is a 35th-generation (!) New Mexican, Deb Haaland. And when she was sworn in and saw Sharice Davids, the other woman who makes up the sum total of all the Native American women ever elected to Congress, all she could do was cry, and share a hug. (And then, in perhaps one of the most genuine moments ever on the floor of the House, used her younger colleague’s scarf to wipe away tears.)
Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, the first Native-American women to ever serve in Congress, share a moment after being officially sworn in: pic.twitter.com/acIRC5hX20
What struck me most about that moment, and the reason it tied together so much with what Tolentino is talking about, is that Haaland was being totally herself and in that moment as it happened. She wasn't putting on a show. She wasn't acting out the part of the person being emotional, she was just being herself right then and right there.
How rare is that these days?
Not just for members of Congress, but for everyone. We seem to all have been infected with the idea that the persona of ourselves that exists on the internet is the same thing as our actual selves. That's the dangerous idea, the one that — like land ownership for the native peoples — will be the one that dooms us.
The canary in the coal mine here is teenagers, who have grown up completely online. In an affluent society when all outward structures of resilience would seem to be stronger than ever, teens are ending their own lives at a rate that’s growing alarmingly quickly.
This is the warning, the one that seems to me to be coming down from the elders, and also from those like Tolentino who are much younger than me and can see the pernicious nature of the all-online culture from the inside.
The warning is that the most dangerous thing is not using the internet, but letting the idea take hold that the person who we are on the internet is the same as the person who we are in the real world. We are not.
So, what do we do to fix it? How do we avoid this massacre before it happens to us?
I don’t actually know, but I have some ideas. I’ll mull those over and try to get them here, soon, or maybe I'll just get off the damn internet and read another book from a local bookseller and have actual conversations with some people in person and not worry about how that conversation will translate into a tweet. At least I’ll try.
One year from right now on Dec. 18, 2015, I'm going to either be in line, or in a theater watching the new Star Wars movie.
It might easy to think that this is just a movie. It's not.
I think that it's going to be a harbinger of a great new era.
Why? Well, the last time Star Wars started, the world just got better. You couldn't really buy a computer in 1976, but in 1977 the Apple II, the Atari 2600, and the Comodore PET went on sale.
Also in 1977 the Space Shuttle began test flights, the first phone calls were carried on a fiber optic cable. The the first TCP/IP pings went through on what they called then the ARPAnet in November of that year, the same day as the first flight of the Concorde from New York City.
Also, I turned 12 that year. I was born in January of 1965, the first month after the Baby Boom so I was technically a member of what would later be known as Gen X. The Boomers dominated in 1977, but it was the Xers who made the world suck less over the next 30 years. Then we got the Millennials (don't get me started) but the group of kids actually born after the year 1999 seem to be showing the same understated but significant progress of Gen X.
We don't know what technological marvels will be released in 2015, but we do now have a whole generation of kids who don't know the magic of anticipation of a good Star Wars movie. The last time a generation grew up with Star Wars, the whole world became almost magical, as if it was guided by some all-powerful force.
Need more proof?
Funk that Star Wars got us out of
Great Recession, Afghanistan
Crappy dystopian scifi we don't have to pay attention to any more
Scary disease that was going to kill us all
Notable cars before
Aztec, Cadilac ATS
Notable cars after
Porsche 928, BMW 7 series
Protesters that faded away
Occupy (Fill in the blank)
Hobbit version not as good as the book released the year before.
When we dream, if we flap our arms, we fly away. That's a uesfull thing to remember so that if you experience something, and you aren't sure that it is really happening -- or if it's a dream -- you can just flap your arms. If you don't fly away, it really is happening.
I've been flapping my arms a lot lately.
It started during the college football game to determine the national champions. There were two different stories that required flapping of arms. The first is well-chronicled, the Notre Dame player who's dead girlfriend turned out to be fictional. That story didn't make sense for so many people because everyone knows that football players can get whatever girl they want, right?
That leads us to the second story from that same game. A tee-vee announcer, trying to fill time in a lopsided game, said that the girlfriend of the wining side's quarterback was attractive, and that if you want to get the pretty girls it helps to be a great football player.
His logic was unassailable, and yet he became a national joke, had to apologize, and may well retire after this "incident."
I was reminded of a conversation I had with my son once a couple of years back. He asked me why they still had a king and queen in the Netherlands. I told him that I just didn't know. He said that maybe it was so that girls would like the country more.
Pretty good theory, I thought.
Look, we don't have a monarchy in this country, but clearly we need something to fill that void. Why do you think the girlfriend of the football player was "crowned" Miss Alabama and wears a tiara? Why do you think Alabama was "crowned" as the national champions? The announcer was simply stating the obvious, making clear what everyone with eyeballs was thinking.
And for that he was excoriated? Time to flap my arms. Not flying.
Remember Ron Paul? The guy who ran a bill every year he was in congress to get the US out of the United Nations? He's the guy who used a groundswell of support and money (most of it via RonPaul.com) to run for president, and poll at a remarkably high percentage, only to be cynically closed out of the Republican party, which seems intent on making as many self-destructive decisions as possible. That's not flap-your-arms stuff, that's politics.
No, the news that grabbed my attention is that Ron Paul, now retired, has discovered that the internet is important, and he wants to control the domain RonPaul.com. Who does control it? People who liked him when he ran for president, but don't like him enough to just give him the domain. They want to sell it to him for a healthy price. What does Ron Paul do? Files a grievance with... wait for it... The United Nations.
Flap flap flap. Still here.
Todd Helton -- who pretty much won the lottery of life as a franchise baseball player -- got busted for a DUI. My sister is a flight attendant, and she got to work a Rockies flight once. She said the players were all a little grab-handy and suggestive, but the one total gentleman and great guy was Todd Helton, so he gets a lot of leeway in my book. Still, why was Todd going out driving at 2:30 a.m. to a qwicky mart? To buy lottery tickets.
Flap flap flap. Flap flap flap. Still here.
Those who've been keeping up on the news understand that the US Government really can kill whomever it wants whenever and wherever it wants. The current drone debate makes that clear, and yet somehow President Obama gets a pass on that one.
The more I read about laws that make it illegal for anyone to "exceed authorized access" to a computer, it's clear that if some prosecutor somewhere wants an Aaron Swartz or a Bradley Manning locked up or dead, they can do so with impunity.
So it doesn't surprise me too much when the government decides to arrest and charge anyone, really. Recently then they arrested a 67-year-old guy who likes to grow his hair long. Why? For suggesting that some followers of his should go and cut the hair of other people who like to grow their hair long. Fifteen years he got for that. I'm not saying I'm a fan, but 15 years? Not one drop of blood spilled, and he gets what for him is a life sentence?
Swartz, by the way, died facing charges that he was taking theses available at major university libraries and making them available to others. He didn't do any hacking to do that, he just used a regular log-in.
Some actual hacker broke into the email account of a former president. That hacker hasn't been caught, that we know of, He may well be dead by now for all we know. But we do see via his work that President Bush, (43) -- the one accused of water-boarding governmental detainees -- has taken up painting and created two self-portraits, both of them while bathing.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Have you seen the great Google Zeitgeist? It's a remarkable look at the trends in search over the previous year.
Why is it called the "Zeitgeist"? Because it's a great word that sums up the somewhat subtle notion that is more encompassing than "trends" and more lithe than "analytics."
I'm convinced, however, that Google would call that page, "Google aggregation of billions of queries people typed into Google search using data from multiple sources, including Insights for Search and internal data tools" and not Google Zeitgeist if not for one man: Kurt Andersen.
Andersen has been capturing the Zeitgeist better than anyone for the last 25 years or so, most famously in Spy Magazine as he did here.
It's a great story, I recommend purchasing the magazine if you can still find it, or reading it in the "reader" function on Safari to minimize all the junk that Time throws up to make it hard to read.
The story is informative without being dull, global yet personal. It perfectly encapsulates the zeitgeist, and because it's written by Andersen, even encapsulates the word.
So 2011 was unlike any year since 1968 — but more consequential because more protesters have more skin in the game. Their protests weren't part of a countercultural pageant, as in '68, and rapidly morphed into full-fledged rebellions, bringing down regimes and immediately changing the course of history. It was, in other words, unlike anything in any of our lifetimes, probably unlike any year since 1848, when one street protest in Paris blossomed into a three-day revolution that turned a monarchy into a republican democracy and then — within weeks, thanks in part to new technologies (telegraphy, railroads, rotary printing presses) — inspired an unstoppable cascade of protest and insurrection in Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Milan, Venice and dozens of other places across Europe, as well as a huge peaceful demonstration of democratic solidarity in New York that marched down Broadway and occupied a public park a few blocks north of Wall Street. How perfect that the German word Zeitgeist was transplanted into English in that unprecedented, uncanny year of insurrection.
So really, stop whatever you are doing and go read the story.
The business I founded with Wade Green, Blogmutt, is going very well. We have customers who like what they are getting, the writers like writing... It's all just going well.
So well that there's lots for me to do, and I seem to not have time to blog as much as I'd like. This was a real problem for Blogmutt, which is founded on the idea that blogging is important for business. Luckily we had a solution: Blogmutt! The Blogmutt writers are now doing a great job of writing posts about Blogmutt. (If that doesn't make any sense, click here.)
But we say right in our FAQ that Blogmutt is not for everyone. Blogmutt can't be called on to write posts for blogs that are personal... Like this one.
So it's up to me.
I thought that perhaps there'd be a way that I could write more posts if I had something to help me save time, and that prompted me to remember the passage I'm going to insert below. I'd link to it, but it seems to exist nowhere on the internet because book publishers still haven't figured out what the internet really is.
The passage is from the Tom Wolfe book In Our Time, which Amazon shows -- improbably -- as being available as a new book. It was published in 1980, and is Wolfe's collection of words and drawings about the 1970s. It's dated now in references, of course, but the writing holds up remarkably well.
Someone somewhere will write about how the iPad is the 2010s version of the digital calculator. Until then, here's Wolfe:
The Digital Calculator This marvelous machine was the 1970s' most notable contribution to the impressive list of time-and-labor-saving devices that have made it possible for Americans, since the Second World War, to waste time in job lots and get less and less done--with sleekness and precision of style. The time you can waste (I speak from experience) going chuk chuk, chuk on your calculator and watching the little numbers go dancing across the black window--all the while feeling that you are living life at top speed--is breathtaking. Earlier additions to the list: the direct-dial long-distance telephone, the Xerox machine, the in-office computer, the jet airliner (not to mention the Concorde). The jet airliner, for example, encourages you to drop everything, hop on a plane, and go to Los Angeles, or wherever, at a moment's notice. Later on you can't understand how the better part of a week got shot. In light of my own not exactly staggering literary output, I have become interested in the life of Blazac. I am convinced that the reason this genius was so productive--he published at least sixty books between the ages of thirty and fifty-one--was that he enjoyed no time- or labor-saving aids whatsoever, not even a typewriter. He dropped nothing and went nowhere on a moment's notice, not even to Maisons-Laffitte, which was twelve miles from Paris. He didn't ring up anybody in Brittany, much less London. He either wrote a note by hand or said the hell with it. There is a time-&-labor-saving device.
By the way, I recommend, for full effect, that you read it again out loud, your voice rising with each line, until by the end you are shouting and pounding your fist on the table.
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.
Not 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 theeventsof 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.
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.
I went looking for this list, and couldn't find it, so I decided that I needed to make it. Here are what I see as the best movies that play with your mind and an overall sense of reality while you are watching them.
I'm including it without going down the rabbit warren of time-traveling movies. How? Easy. The plot of Time Bandits marched forward in one straight line. The things that happened each night to the main character indeed happened all through history, but it never changed the movie's timeline. See the difference? Remember the last Star Trek movie? Answer me this: By the end, did Kirk know his father? You can't really answer, can you? That's because the timeline of the main characters got tinkered with. That's why those movies in general don't fit on this list because the movies on my list play with reality without violating the time-space continuum.
Not included because I say they violated rules of the movies on that list:
The Usual Suspects
What each of those movies did was violate the rules of the accepted movie-going experience. For instance in The Usual Suspects, the movie presented flashbacks that were not flashbacks, but were instead creations of the main character. As inventive as all the others on the first list were, they never violated the rules that we that movie watchers have come to rely on through the years.
Memento, for example, didn't violate any rules of the movies, it just fiddled with the structure of the timeline of the plot in a clever way. Memento was of course written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the man behind Inception. He said that he first had the idea for Inception while working on Memento, and that makes sense given how Memento both respected and tinkered with the rules of film at the same time.
(Notable for not being on the list is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I left it off for this reason: It just wasn't a very good movie. It's important to have some emotional connection to the characters. Without that, it doesn't matter how clever a movie is.)
As I mentioned, I was inspired to get this list onto the internet because I couldn't believe it didn't exist before, but two other things motivated me as well.
First was Roger Ebert's review of Inception. "'Inception' does a difficult thing. It is wholly original, cut from new cloth, and yet structured with action movie basics so it feels like it makes more sense than (quite possibly) it does. ... Christopher Nolan reinvented 'Batman." This time he isn't reinventing anything. Yet few directors will attempt to recycle 'Inception.' I think when Nolan left the labyrinth, he threw away the map."
I agree with Ebert that it will be impossible to recycle Inception, but I'm hoping that Hollywood will allow others who want to write totally original screenplays and then get them made into movies. If the genre of films that are truly creative grows, that's a good thing.
Taken together, both of those posts get me hoping that a whole new generation of filmmakers get inspired to create movies that take advantage of how much the ball has been moved forward with Inception.
Oh, one more thing, having nothing to do with anything, but I couldn't resist.
Consider these pictures in this order:
Those of you that had teenage crushes crushed... Sorry.
I actually knew that sign. My wife's family is in Pasadena, and I've driven under that sign many times, and I remember thinking that it didn't seem like it followed Federal Interstate Highway sign standards. I never said anything, thinking California maybe had its own rules. I also didn't want her family to think I was a total traffic nerd.
Now the truth is out: The sign was non-conforming!!!!
Anyway, even though CalTrans knew about the citizen's modification, they didn't do anything about it because they knew that his fix made the sign better. When they finally fixed the sign themselves, they essentially incorporated his modification.
That guy had guts.
I was able to get one sign changed on the Interstate Highway system back in 2004, but I did it the old-fashioned way: lobbying Colorado's DOT to do the work for me.
At the time, I was operating MyTrafficNews, and a bunch of readers wrote in to tell me that a new and nearly constant traffic jam we were reporting about was not the fault of traffic, it was the fault of a sign. The story was that at the end of one highway a new sign gave people a choice of going north or south, but the sign telling people to exit on the right was to the left of the sign telling people to exit to the left. The result was drivers trying to merge suddenly at the last second when the realized they were in the wrong lane.
CDOT, to their credit, had a crew fix the sign within a week or so of our campaign.
We had lots of fun with signs at MyTrafficNews. When a truck hit one of those Variable Message Signs, leaving it dangling and threatening -- as we wrote at the time -- to turn a Pontiac into a pancake, we jumped to action. First, we did our best to alert people, as the sign that was designed to help traffic instead made traffic horrible for half the city for an entire day. ("Don't these signs take a Hippocratic oath?" we wrote at the time.)
Then, we wondered what the sign would say if it could make its own message on that day. In haiku.
All signs looking down Gridlock is all around me I must blame myself
It's true, I'm essentially a stay-at-home dad, and what's weird is how busy I am. Most of the things I'm doing are open to the public, at least on-line, so join me for any or all of it. I know you are busy, too, but it's like they say, "If you need a job done, give it to a busy person."
The first was a big hit, check out the photos on the site for more. We're expecting a similar crowd of kids for this month's event, so we will not be in the community room this time, we'll be right out in the cafe area. If you have kids from around 6 to around 12, c'mon by. It's a lot of fun.
This is a great new company doing something that is great now, and will get even better.
Remember how comments on blogs looked about the same for years, and how they didn't really interact with people in the modern, socially connected world? Then IntenseDebate came along and made the comments make more sense, and connected the commenters to their real-world profile, etc.
Well, you know how forums on blogs have looked the same for years, and how they don't really interact with people in the modern, socially connected world?
You catch on quick! You guessed it, the BlogFrog team has developed an easy way for bloggers to plug a fantastic forum into any blog, and maybe even make a little extra money on it in the process. They've already gotten some great traction with that most discerning of internet groups: the Mommy Bloggers. Keep an eye on BlogFrog, I know I will.
It's been a while since I was a full-time reporter, but I've been attending a few events lately for this blog, but also for my Examiner reports on New Technology and on Google Wave. It's something that's quite comfortable for me to do: walking up and asking questions, and trying to write something coherent about it.
The difference these days is that with the Internet as cool as it is, you can actually create things instead of just writing about them. Case in point is that just last week I wrote about how Wave could be integrated into a conference, and today I contacted the chief Defrag Confrencista to ask permission, he said yes, and a few minutes later I had launched the DefragCon Wave. (You need to already be in Wave to see that. Sorry.)
Wave is still in its infancy, but it's fun to try it out. If you are on Wave, be sure to contact me in that brave new world. My username is "scodtt" (like Sco.tt with a "d" for the dot.)
You can click the link now, but wait until you see the new one, it will be much better. Really the best way to keep up with Bud's until the change is to check their Twitter account. This in some ways is the best twitter account I follow because the information they get about new merchandise is so handy, if I happen to be looking for what they get in.
Lastly, but bestly, I'm spending time being a husband and a father. Kathy is busy keeping the world safe for arts in education, so I end up picking up a lot more of the time with our son, but that's just getting to be more and more fun every day.
So, if I'm not as in touch, or I'm not keeping my Facebook page quite as up-to-date, now you'll know why.
Do keep in touch with me, however, especially if there's something I can do for you. These days we all need to count on our friends more than ever.
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.
If he had started in 1961, the year that Barack Obama, Douglas Rushkoff, Chris Anderson and Douglas Coupland were born, then he might have had a case. I mean Coupland literally wrote the book on Generation X.
But in the same year were born
Julia Louis-Dreyfus -- famous only because of the completely boomer-centric Seinfeld
George Stephanopoulos -- famous because of one of the first Boomer president, the appropriately narcissistic Bill Clinton
It's not that I don't like fireworks, it's just that I can't see why everyone else does like them.
I mean, they are kind of cool from the perspective of fire and explosions and pretty colors, etc. And nobody has more love for our country than me of the history of the Declaration of Independence, the patriots at Fort McHenry, and all of the others before that and since.
Fireworks have no narrative arc, no plot twists, nothing.
Last evening we went to the fireworks Rockies game, and got discounted tickets because they had an obstructed view of the fireworks. During the singing of the National Anthem, the crews cleverly shot off one firework that exploded just as we all sung "Bombs bursting in air."
That was perfect. I enjoyed the fireworks as a form of punctuation.
So when my son said he wanted to go home after we sang the song about the peanuts and cracker jacks, I said, "You bet, I think we've seen enough fireworks already this evening."
I'm a big fan of Jefferson, I enjoy reading the Declaration of Independence every year. It's hard to imagine writing anything that could have such an influence on the world, and still be so easy to read and enjoyable.
But after the US was independent, and after Jefferson became president, I get the feeling that if he had solitaire on his computer, he might have been playing that some.
Basically there are lots of ways for companies to save money and make money by using the wisdom of the crowds to solve problems, come up with new ideas, and spread the word. That's great for companies, so why can't it be great for a person?
Here are the ground rules: You, the internet, can tell me anything that I will do, as long as it is not against the law. Also, my family is off limits, so if you tell me that I need to go have an affair with Chuck's sister, well, I'm not going to do it, even if she totally does look like Wonder Woman.
So, by this time next year I'll make a full report on what you, the Internet, has told me to do.
I shouldn't pick on this poor guy. Lord knows that there have been plenty of times that I've only seen a word, never heard it pronounced, and didn't know how to pronounce it.
Nah, I should make fun of him. When that happens to me if I don't know is I ask someone the correct pronunciation, or look it up. I did this recently with "inchoate." I did that just so I'd use it properly in conversation; I think if I was going to speak on a video available on the World Wide Web I'd really check out any word I wasn't sure of.
So, you don't have to watch all this video, which is otherwise essentially information-free infotainment, but do watch up to the pretty boy try to use the word "hyperbole" at about 1:01 in.
Maybe this guy needs to turn this into a thing -- the day after the Superbowl host a HyperBowl giving out awards for those able to generate the most hype out of a campaign with some obvious exaggerations.
By way of Rod Dreher I just read, well... skimmed, a post about what from our post-1950 culture will survive 200 years from now.
It's an interesting intellectual idea, but the guy that Rod linked to droned on forever and nominated a bunch of stuff that sounds like some sort of weird Currents State of the Arts Review 100-level class at a private college somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
There really is only one answer to that question: Tom Wolfe. He is much derided now, just as Charles Dickens was much derided in his day, but no one person illustrates what our society is going through more clearly than Wolfe. I'm already looking forward to his book about Miami, and schoolchildren who bio-download that work just after Tale of Two Cities in the year 2208 will enjoy it, too.
I hate to appear to be a Luddite, but I'm just going to say no to cloned meat. I'll leave it to others to make all the scientific arguments, etc. My argument is based more on the notion that is perhaps best to eat better by having a bit more connection and association with what we eat.
The argument was made very well in The Crunchy Conservative. The point that the author made in that book was that it is NOT conservative to have federal regulations built around maximizing profits of the biggest food corporations.
The downside of this, of course, is that we'll have to pay more for our food, but I suppose if we don't buy 64-ounce single-serving sodas and eat perhaps more food that we cook ourselves rather than have it cooked and frozen for us into a bland cardboard-like substance.
Two interesting posts from two kings of blogging that are only related in my mind around the theme of learning.
First is Fred Wilson, a VC writing about "scar tissue." He read about Hillary talking about her scar tissue from all the battles she's lost, and he relates that to the world of investing, saying essentially that he prefers investing in people who have failed at some venture in the past -- as long as they learned the lessons they needed to learn from the experience.
And then Mike Arrington wrote an amazingly thoughtful post about companies that failed in the last bubble. I will not do the post justice by trying to summarize, but essentially Arrington points out a fascinating dichotomy. On the one hand those who learned lessons in the last bubble may be too timid to try really new things now. On the other side is that people may make easily avoidable mistakes by not learning from what happened. Great innovation, however, only comes from bold actions.
Clearly there's no perfect answer.
One thing is clear, though: None of us can change who we are and where we have been. If you lived through the last crash, or if you didn't, you still need to do something every day.
It's possible to learn from the mistakes of others, and it's also possible to have made mistakes and not learn anything and go forward making them over and over.
I recently read something that's just stuck with me: Really successful people are different in that they've failed more because they've tried so many more things.
But allow me to throw one other thought into the mix:
Let's just say that I wanted to get a big job at a big company. Part of the accepted wisdom is that I would never want to do that, that I could never work in such an environment. There's probably a grain of truth in that, but lets say that I could set that to the side and get excited about the goals of a large corporation, and would enter that organization in a position that would be interesting. The pay would be great, I wouldn't have to worry that I'm taking all the risk, and when I went on my paid vacation I could leave the job at the job, and not think about it constantly, the way I do now.
Let's say that could happen. Here's the problem: It would NEVER happen. Never.
Why? Because I would feel stifled the first time I had to fill out a form to get a box of paperclips, or whatever?
Well, maybe, but it wouldn't matter, because I would never get that job. It just wouldn't happen.
For all the talk from big business about how they need to be more entrepreneurial, bla bla bla, they really all like their gig exactly the way it is. Nobody working within any large corporation is going to hire someone who will come in and upset the apple cart.
"Entrepreneurial" is another word for "Disruptive." Corporations will issue press releases embracing "market disruptions" but what they really mean is they want to keep doing the same thing in the same ways, and by issuing a press release the execs can feel that they have done what they need to do to react to changes in the markets.
I'm not just blowing smoke here. If you are a person who has a steady career, you should think carefully before becoming an entrepreneur. It's great, no doubt about it, but you may never be able to go back even if you want to.
(One note about this blog, it's been quiet for a bit. It will be seeing some big changes and a big announcement soon. Stay tuned!)
I never really understand why this noncompete stuff ever comes up.
When I sold MyTrafficNews to Traffic.com, I worked hard for them, and enjoyed it. When the contract was over we parted as friends. I gladly signed the non-compete.
Now I'm running another startup, but in a totally different indsutry. As much as I loved the traffic business, I'm very happy to NOT be in it any more.
That's why I don't understand when this kind of thing comes up. I would think entrepreneurs, by nature, would want to move on to a different challenge, and apply what they learned in one area to a different industry or niche that needs the same kind of new thinking.
We've seen this several times in Denver just in the last few months. Certainly newspapers are laying off around the country, but the layoffs at the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News come just after moving into a shiny new building shown here under construction (in a link that gives a clue about when Google took all those cool new street level pictures) or here for some more recent shots.
Because of Truemors, I’ve learned a lot about launching a company in these “Web 2.0” times. Here’s quick overview “by the numbers.”
0. I wrote 0 business plans for it. The plan is simple: Get a site launched in a few months, see if people like it, and sell ads and sponsorships (or not).
0. I pitched 0 venture capitalists to fund it. Life is simple when you can launch a company with a credit-card level debt.
Now, Guy will tell you that this is not the next Microsoft or Google, it's a service that may grow on its own and maybe someday some bigger organization will want to add it to a portfolio because of the user base or whatever, and so it may have a nice exit someday.
But the best part, I think, for Guy is that when people send him business plans about how they really need to have $1 million Angel Round so that the team can develop a prototype, he can look them right in the eye and say, "Why? I launched a site for $12,107.09, and within two weeks it had 315,000 hits in Google. Why do you need 82.596 TIMES the money I spent to do what you want to do?"
They better have a darn good answer to that question.
Times are good, money is flowing, and Silicon Valley sucks.
I don’t know what it is, but the same thing happened in the late nineties before the bubble burst. Lots of startups got funded that made no sense but people got excited anyway. A unique, beautiful and well executed idea was not a story worth talking about until that first round of big, eye-popping capital. People become more anxious, and more likely to snap at someone in anger or jealousy. Rumor mongering spikes, and a crucial balance is lost. It’s no longer about beautiful products and genius developers. It’s about the money and the status, and hot PR chicks and marketing departments.
I wasn't in the valley for the first one, but started MyTrafficNews by bootstrapping, and the whole dot-bomb thing actually helped us, made it possible for me to afford developers.
Now it's a bit nutso, and I am actually out looking for investors, but I'm not doing it in the midst of the insanity. I love my current startup, love the people I work with, I even love the customers -- the real live paying customers who depend on us for the tools they use every day.
I think that's the only way to avoid not only crashing when the bubble pops, but to have fun along the way.
Introspection for a blog is a good thing, and will always be part of any good blog. Old media doesn't do as much of that, they don't have to wonder what is their core purpose -- they know that their job is to deliver advertising. The good ones try to reach that goal by being interesting, etc., but that's not why they exist.
(That said, it's clear that the big papers will soon be much like sports teams, owned by people with oversized egos. The two best examples are David Geffen trying to buy the LA Times and now Rupert trying to buy the Wall St. Journal. Warren Buffett and I spotted this trend at the same time!)
A blog is different. Well, it is for all those people who aren't so nefarious as to get into pay-per-post, etc.
I've seen two great bits of introblogtion recently from two of the best.
This was certainly not a blockbuster deal, just one of dozens of deals like this that happen every week, most of them getting little or no mainstream media attention.
But, lest you think it's easy, take a look at this quote, which instantly enshrines Morin into the CreditCardVC hall of fame:
And lastly, do you have any tips for someone starting their own business?
Let’s start by saying that 95% of Americans and Canadians don’t know what an honest days work is. Most people reading this will likely say they are part of the 5% that do. Those people should ask themselves a simple question. Do you honestly work 40 or more hours per week? Remove lunch. Remove water-cooler downtime. Remove all breaks. Remove personal phone calls. Remove solitaire. If you are part of that 5%, then do it. But don’t quit your day job. Do it part-time until you can pay the bills.
If you are building a company, and you are hoping that company has a healthy exit some day, the way to do that is to focus on what it is you are doing, and do it so well that some larger exit opportunity comes along.
It's kind of Zen, but you really can't focus on the exit, you have to focus first on the task at hand. Sure you have to be smart, be well positioned for an exit, etc., but most of getting well positioned for a good exit is the same stuff you have to do to run a smart and solid business in the first place.
There's a flip side to all this, however. If you do have an exit; If your company does get bought by some larger company, the way the rules of this country work, and the way the rules of human nature work and even the way manners dictate is that after the exit, it's no longer your thing. It belongs to the ones that wrote the check. You have to just let go.
Here's an example of two otherwise fine young men screwing that up. If you don't want to click, it's the story of two guys quitting Google because -- grab your Web 2.0 Kleenx -- they weren't getting enough attention from their bosses.
So.... Alex and I quit Google on Friday.
It's no real secret that Google wasn't supporting dodgeball the way we expected. The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us - especially as we couldn't convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space. And while it was a tough decision (and really disappointing) to walk away from dodgeball, I'm actually looking forward to getting to work on other projects again.
Look, if these guys want to quit, I have no issue with that. Fine. It's the whining about not getting enough attention that rankles me. If they wanted to complain privately, I'm sure they could and some other sources could make their case in probably a much more effective way, as in this post from A VC pointing out how Google really is just a big company now. He easily could have written that post without having to link to that whiny missive.
I speak from direct experience here, as my first company was bought by bigger guys. I suppose I could have complained about something or another (though probably not as it was a great transaction.) And now that I'm out looking for investors in my next thing a connection from California through New York actually made it back to Traffic.com in Pennsylvania. The key guy there had great things to say about the whole transaction. If I had complained publicly, would I have gotten that positive back-channel feedback? I don't think so.
And worse, I'm now running a great business, one that won't be as big as YouTube or DoubleClick, but still could be a great acquisition for Google or some other big name. Knowing the bad taste left in the collective mouth of Google about this Dodgeball thing, aren't they going to be just thismuch more shy about all the deals that are less than $1.5 billion?
Look, if you didn't get the support you needed from within the acquiring company, that says more about your inability to work within the structure of a big company. If you can't succeed at that, don't blame the big company for acting like a big company, blame yourself for not being better at playing by those rules. If you just don't want to be good at it, that's fine, but don't burn those bridges... other people may still want to use them.
I know sometimes it's tempting, especially when mothers are going around cheating on board games with their own children just because the mother -- not the child -- is bored.
Michelle Hastings admits she's sometimes cheated to get through a game of Candy Land with her 5-year-old daughter, Campbell. The board game can take just too long, she said.
I've played Candy Land plenty of times with my 3-year-old son. The game doesn't take that long, and if he was bored he would just walk away, but he never does.
What does this have to do with running a business without VC? Simple: Follow the rules, don't get bored, stick with it. If that woman wants her child to learn to succeed, and not to cheat to fulfil her own need to be constantly stimulated, she needs to start right now.
Same for us: If we want our businesses to succeed, we need to behave ourselves in the way we want the business to behave; with real confidence, determination, stick-to-itness, and above all trust.
OK, maybe it's not that related, but thanks for letting me rant.
The idea, as reported, is that investors would get to write off as much as $250,000 per company -- up to $500,000 per year -- in Angel investments.
It sounds awesome, though part of me wonders if the unintended consequence will be way too many Angel investors, and too many investments going to stinky companies. The investor will have already written off the investment, so they may see any possible gain down the road as something like winning the lottery. The upshot: Who cares if they don't really understand the business model or have much faith in the founders? They were going to be writing a check to the IRS, and now they will be writing it to some startup, so how much do they care if the company they invest in is going to passionately go after a new idea?
I think it's a risk worth taking. All the good jobs are being created by startups, and it's just the way the world is going. If there are a few more dogs out there, oh well.
(One shameless plug joined with a hint of Catch 22: My company, LgDb, the Legislative Database, would be really useful to the Wall St. Journal, and any other blog writer or publisher of any kind to allow people to easily see the proposed legislation, and all of the associated links. That way people could easily read the actual bill, which is something I wanted to do after reading that Journal story, but I knew there was no easy way to do it. If the bill was in Colorado, I could do that now, but LgDb doesn't yet have Federal stuff. For that, we need an angel investment. Catch-22.)
By the way, I know that the fact that LgDb is looking for investors is not totally consistent with the idea of Credit Card VC, but as I write in the Credit Card VC manifesto, if an idea is big you shouldn't stifle it by keeping others away from helping you to grow. You can't throw a big party AND keep all your beer in the fridge.
I stumbled across Founders at Work, and was immediately entranced. Guy Kawasaki had the same reaction, and quoted some of the best bits, including this: “All the best things I did at Apple came from (a) not having money, and (b) not having done it before, ever.” That's from Woz, who founded Apple with Steve Jobs.
(I always feel a special kinship with Woz, because like me and Bob Redford, we attended CU Boulder, but did not graduate.)
Reading through the list that Guy has, it's amazing how many of the quotes have to do with NOT spending money.
Focus, determination, drive, passion -- those are the things most often talked about when it comes to success in entrepreneurial ventures. Money makes the world go 'round, but it is not the key element of success.
This is a forum for those who don't want VC. If you are funding your own startup yourself, be it with credit cards or whatever, you are in a sense your own Angel investor.
Last week I attended an event in which five companies made a pitch for an Angel investment. The driving force behind the idea was Boulder's David Cohen, who wrote about the event on his Colorado Startups blog. It was also reviewed by the mysterious 5280 Angel. I think I saw that guy in the audience, though it was hard to make him out behind the fake glasses, nose and moustache.
The audience got some play money, and got to "invest" in one or all of the five companies. My only complaint with the format was that they lined the investors up and you put the cash right in their hands. A little awkward.
I was surprised by my own reaction to the companies. If I read a story about lice, or even Genetically Modified food, I get itchy, queasy or otherwise squeamish. Two of the five were medical companies, and I thought both of them would be solid investments.
The panel of experts picked Livengood, which makes essentially a glorified cart for use in hospitals. The presenter was Dr. Livengood, I presume, and he was anything but polished, but he showed one slide of a patient in a hospital trying to take a walk surrounded by an IV pole, a walker, a nurse, and aid and a family member. He said something like, "Anyone who's ever been in or visited a hospital has seen this scene many times." Everyone in the audience nodded, in fact I think I saw the fake nose almost come off of the 5280 Angel guy. His contraption basically puts all the stuff that hangs on or near a bed in one place. They've had some customers, and those customers helped with the second version of the product, and now they just need money to build some more units and do some marketing. Great investment, I think.
The other medical one was Torii Medical, which had a great patch that basically makes a patch that holds any tube that gets stuck into your body much more securely and cleanly than tape, which hasn't advanced much in 40 years. The presenter was the weakest, making the deadly sin of reading every word on every slide in the presentation. The product, however, was awesome. Just as with the other one, it fits in the category of medical advances where they are really needed. I know PET scans and all the new drugs are all super, but there seems to have been very little advance in the more mundane things like enabling a patient to take a walk or keeping an IV tube where it's supposed to be.
The audience winner was Chaperon, which has built a tool that makes offshore coding slightly more secure. The concept is that an offshore coder would have to use this software when writing the code, and this software prevents a person from copying and pasting the code to steal it. I think this company is on to a serious problem in a big-picture way, especially as made clear in China Inc. Intellectual Property protection is a huge issue, and will be for a generation.
One of the others, Kerpoof, probably has a great chance to make money, but they are involved in something I would never put money in: figuring out new and clever ways to get advertising in front of 3- to 5-year olds. Any business plan that carves out any demographic and then tries to figure out how to get advertising in front of it is inherently foul to me, but doing it with pre-schoolers is especially opprobrious.
The other was Magic Home Entertainment, which makes a kind of a glorified iTunes interface for very high-end home audio systems. I like country music on AM radio, so I just don't get it, but that probably says more about me than about that company.
Seeing the presentations was also an important reminder that anyone running a business should be able to make the business case for their business clearly and quickly at any time. It's not just a mind-game; it's being clear about goals, which is a crucial first step to reaching them.
Credit Card VC has not exactly caught on as the buzz word of the moment, but that's OK with me. It shouldn't. You have to be nuts to start a company on credit cards and expect everything to be OK.
Still, I like "Credit Card VC" better than "Peer Production," which doesn't seem to say very much and yet seems to have some people trying to use it as though it's the accepted way to describe... something... perhaps the "movement" behind Open Source software. It comes from an academic, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Figures.
I first learned of it from an alert reader who sent me a story about some of the political ramifications of "Peer Production." If you have better things to do, and I know you do, don't read the whole thing, and for sure don't read the comments, which devolve into a miasma about the Future of Journalism.
And I'm not sure I buy into all of the political ramifications of lowering the cost of production. Maybe I'm missing something. I just think it's the way the world is going in so many ways: Cheaper, more complicated, more interconnected, more information-driven.
So, you can either sit back and ruminate on that, or you can get to work and create some cheaper solutions that are more complicated on the back end and yet they makes things easier for people on the front end and -- by the way -- those solutions are more intereconnected and information-driven.
So, use whatever buzz words you want, but if you really want to change the world, you've got some work to do, and blogging about buzz words doesn't count. Not even for me, so back to work I go.
Michael Arrington does an excellent job, as he always does, of being honest and open about the stuff that other people are only honest about in private. Kudos to him for that post.
I'm a huge fan of Guy Kawasaki, and I wonder if he will be able to talk about this mess in his blog. More likely, as Arrington points out, he not want to foul the waters. I'm sure his lawyers are telling him to keep quiet, and there's a reason that lawyers get paid what they do, so he'll probably listen to them and keep quiet.
Clearly not all VCs are the same, but one way to avoid getting fired from your own company is to never use a VC in the first place. Any ethical VC will tell you the same thing.
A VC is talking about the importance of saying no. Sure, of course. A VC eats "no" for breakfast and poops it all day long. That's what VCs do.
The discussion from that post gets into the need for startups to say no to customer requests, which is different than a VC saying no to a pitch, but it's the same answer. I'm not sure I agree with the idea that you should reflexively say no to customer requests. I mean, if you are trying to sell something then the customers are the experts on what it is they are buying. If they won't buy it, then why wouldn't you change to have it do what they want?
But those are not the "nos" that concern us here in the CreditCardVC community. We say no to VC before they can say no to us!
The most important no, however, is saying no to spending. We just had some good publicity over at LgDb.com, and with it came a raft of people wanting to sell us all kinds of doodads.
I'm trying to sell a new thing, too, so I'm sympathetic to the people trying to make a buck off someone who was just in the paper. My job, however, is to have more checks coming in, and fewer checks going out. Saying no is the only way to keep that balance.
OK, Apple, nee Apple Computers, announced a phone that looks so awesome, I'm seriously bummed that I have to wait six months for it.
It's clear that the gang at Apple has put all their effort into making the best phone possible. Some marketing will flow out of that, but it will be easy, basically telling people, "Hey, why not own the best phone possible?" Not too tough of a message.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is doing whatever it can to make you look at anything other than their products, going so far as to send you into outerspace. From there, I suppose, even Microsoft products look good.
And compared to the new iPhone, the Zune looks really silly.
The core meme of this blog is a bit unusual, if only because it goes against the grain of so much of the conventional wisdom.
So when there's an exception, it jumps out.
I just today came across this blog post from the amazing gang at 37Signals.com. I missed it first time around, but they included it in their year-end wrap-up. The entry is a critique of an article from a Money Magazine imprint called "Business 2.0" that shows how to build a "bullet-proof startup." 37Signals correctly points out that following the advice would not make you bullet-proof, but instead is more akin to shooting a bullet right through the startup.
They don't go quite as far as I do in this blog; they say there's no reason to spend $20M to get to be a $20M company, and that makes all kinds of sense. They don't say you should startup a company using your credit cards. You'd have to be nuts to advocate that.
I would like to say one thing here that the blog item did not say: Part of the reason it's more possible than ever to build a new idea on the web for less money than ever before is Ruby on Rails, a web application framework that comes from ... 37 Signals. These guys are so good that they didn't even feel the need to pat themselves on the back for being a core part of why it is that the "Business 2.0" pabulum is so wrong, and so dated.
They didn't pat themselves on the back, but I will. Good job 37 Signals!
This can take many forms. Some of them don't count. For instance, if you tell an old college buddy about it, and he says it sounds like a great idea, and then changes the topic and talks about sports, it doesn't count. If he wants to talk about it for a while, and says, "Good luck with that, man!" it still doesn't count.
If he says, "Awesome, man, you're going to be the next Bill Gates." that is actually a sign that you need new old college buddies.
If he says, "Hey, I love that idea. Can I quit my job and come to work for you with no pay for the first six months?" that counts. Anything short of that does not count.
Also important is feedback in public from someone with nothing to gain or lose one way or another based on what they say. That is, getting a positive mention on the aforementioned college buddy's MySpace page does not count.
I've been hesitant in this space to write too much about my current project because I fear that potential customers will see LgDb as undercapitalized and therefore somehow not trustworthy. But that probably doesn't matter that much. Either LgDb will become the most-used site for state-level legislative information, or it won't. Either LgDb will save them an hour or so of mind-numbing busy work every day, or it won't. Either it will help an association make a meaningful web page, or it won't. I think it will in all cases, which is why I shouldn't worry so much about perceptions of perceptions.
But I want to say in this space that I'm pretty psyched about our first bit of external validation from a serious and respected blog: ColoradoStartups.com. David is usually pretty gentle with his subjects, but is willing to -- correctly I've found -- point out in his helpful way a seriously flawed business model or a glaring technical glitch or user-interface problem.
For LgDb, however, he had a positive, felicitous, and succinct summary. He even increased my base price by $45, which I see as a sign more of his perceived value in the product than a sign of his note-taking skills from a month-old conversation. ;-)
In any case, it sure is better then telling me I'll be the next Bill Gates, so I'm excited for the write-up, and thankful to David.
And I'm looking forward to getting through the holidays so that people will focus on business again and I'll get some more of the best external validation of all: paying customers.
OK, I hate to admit it, but I'm getting a bit wobbly. I'm all alone out there right now and the wolves are howling.
It would be so nice to cuddle up in the warm embrace of some VC, or even an angel. With a name like "angel" how could I go wrong?
I'm even deeper right now in the situation than I was when I wrote the manifesto. I'm scraping by, trying to pay more than just the minimums but looking at some much bigger bills in the next couple of months.
What's going to keep me solid? Well, it changes from day to day. Yesterday it was finding a couple of sites that encouraged me, I'll have more on those soon.
Today it is the fact that I got some great confirmation from a customer -- a real live paying customer -- in the form of a check and also some encouragement about how precisely we are solving a huge problem that she knows she's going to have in January. Unfortunately not everyone is able to project forward to January, so I know the phone will be ringing then.
But for now, it's quiet.
OK, time for me to get some marketing stuff done. You go back to work, too!
The more I think about this drug analogy for credit cards, the more apt it seems.
Sure, credit cards are legal, and the credit card companies -- just like drug dealers -- do whatever they can to get you what you want, but they never really come out and say it.
Think of the typical credit card ads on TV: They seem to promote mostly the idea that they are not as bad as all the other credit cards. The new Discover ads show scissors everywhere cutting up cards. The Capitol One spots display the terror of using cards, cards other than Capitol One anyway.
So, why is it OK for me to parade around here saying that using credit cards is a good idea? Well, because it is. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it's the worst way to start up a new company, except for all of the others.
VCs want your first born.
Angels are typically people who had one good idea, and now have enough cash on hand to help you out, except that they're going to be hanging around all the time telling you about how their one good idea was really good, and you should be more like that.
SBA: Banks with even more paperwork, that sounds like a good idea.
Family: Personally, I like Thanksgiving dinner, and want to keep it that way.
So, if you have followed my rules, then go out and get some credit cards and live the American Dream.
The job of an entrepreneur is not clear, there are no defined job descriptions, or whatever.
But boiled down, your job is to worry about everything, and then act on the things that are the most worrying.
So, when do you do that worrying. For me, it bunches up on Sunday nights. I've spend a blissful day or two with my family, and then all the worries come creeping up, making it impossible to get to sleep.
OK, it's a bunch of psycho-babble, but I find it to be true.
What's interesting to me is that a TV station did this story, and yet TV stations have their worst programming on Sunday nights late. I can't tell you the number of times I've been unable to fall asleep Sunday night and then was stuck watching some bad sports interview show, infomercial or other crap. I suppose it's good, because it reminds me that TV doesn't help anyway, and I should really go dig up an old WSJ and read that instead.
I realized I should be clear about one thing before someone takes this the wrong way: Do NOT get in over your head with unsubstantiated hopes.
If you have a solid business plan, really solid, and you have some certainty that you will be out of credit card debt in six months or less, then it does make sense for you to use the cards, the no-interest balance transfers, etc.
If however you are just holding onto a dream that even though you have no revenue and no customers in the pipeline but somehow Google is going to find out about how cool you are and call you up and offer a gazillion dollars, well, look, I think you should get a job delivering pizza to make sure you can pay off your cards soon.
Do not take up drumming! You know the difference between a large pizza and a drummer? The pizza can feed a family of four.
Look, here's a good rule of thumb: If your current revenue is enough to cover the credit card minimums and your other fixed monthly expenses, and you have customers in the pipeline that will mean you can pay off the cards before the special rate expires, then you should be OK. If you are taking out new cards to pay the minimum payment on other cards, you need to stop right now, go get a job, and keep your dream going on nights and weekends.
This place, I hope, will be a home for people like me: entrepreneurs starting their own high-tech company. Maybe -- like me -- you aren't doing this for the first time.
And while it may be a big idea, you are financing it yourself... maybe with some retirement money, maybe with the proceeds from your last sale, maybe and probably most commonly from that Uniquely American method of the Credit Cards.
I went looking for a place for people like me, and couldn't find one. There are zillions of sites out there for startups looking for VC or Angel investors. If that's what you want, you won't find that here.
There are also lots of small business sites, helping people decide, for instance, if they should use a broker to help them purchase a dry cleaner; if they should open their own concept sandwich shop or buy into a franchise. This is not that site, either.
No, this is for the entrepreneur who sees clearly "the business." You know the product inside out, you know what the marketing plan is, you have a good idea of the cash flow. You may not have written out a whole business plan, but if you had a spare 20 hours you could. It's probably web-based, and certainly high-tech.
Even 5 years ago there's no way you could have done this business on your credit cards.
* Coders wanted too much money and moved too slowly.
* The problem you are solving didn't really exist, or if it did the tools to solve it weren't around.
* You didn't have the confidence that comes from surviving the dot-bomb era more or less in tact.
So, now you have a vision of a product that really will revolutionize your niche; that's awesome!
What else do you have?
* An executive office (that accepts the cards, sweet!) or a basement office.
* Some coders working, billing you on paypal (pay them with the card, too... sweet!) and some other workers typing or transcribing or something from Madras or whatever. (You tried the Indian coder thing until you realized they all suck.)
* Some marketing stuff you made digitally; read: cheap.
Maybe you have to go to a trade show, but the show, the hotel, even the cabbies these days take the plastic.
The customers are in the pipeline, but not here in force just yet. A couple months more, maybe six, they'll be beating down the door, and you won't have time for any of this crud.
But right now it's all you. It's your job to keep all those minimums paid, keep the coders on track, keep the marketing up. And there comes a moment when you feel so all alone, so completely isolated with customers not calling you back so there's plenty of space on your voip to have vendors calling you for payment. It's right at that moment that you want to throw out your plan, write up a quick couple of pages and send it off to Guy Kawasaki or maybe Union Square Ventures and have them take care of all your needs, and be your friend to boot. You just want someone to share your burden.
I'm there for you, man. I've been right there. I've been so tempted to submit that plan, go start hanging out with all those smart guys. But I'm telling you, don't do it. You and me, we'll stick together, and get this thing done.
Why? I'll tell you why. It is your dream. Selling your dream is like selling a child.
I've been through the whole cycle now. When it's time to sell, you'll know it. It's like sending a kid to college, it's time for the kid, and it's time for the parent. But not now, when the kid is needing a fresh diaper and a walk or 30 around the living room to be put back to sleep.
Right now you have nothing but bills and a dream. Go to a VC or Angel now and it's like sending your kid to college when he's 3 years old.
Look, VCs will talk a good game about how they just want to help you realize your dream, but if that's so then why do they get half of your dream? What is half a dream, anyway?
I'm clearly over-generalizing here. There are lots of ideas that really do need lots of cash and lots of good advice, and for that, there's VC and all the rest. But remember, for every youtube, there are hundreds of others that get funded and then die in a pile of resentment, legal documents and animus. A few of them move forward a round or two, changing along the way until nobody knows what the heck the dream was in the first place, and everyone walks away feeling... well not really anything. Kind of like the feeling after your sophomore year viewed a few years later. "Was that the year we made that great trip to the lake? No? Well, crap, I know I did something cool that year."
So, that leaves you all alone with your credit cards and nobody else.
Until now. Now you've got me, and I have you, too. Thanks for stopping by. Leave me a note, I'd love to hear about what you are doing.