Unemployment Rate For You

I seem to be in a mood to attack the New York Times today...

A million people have been linking to this gee-whiz graphic about the unemployment rate.

I don't think that's actually useful. I think all it does is make people feel better or worse about themselves while killing a couple minutes looking at some eye candy.

So, here, for you, with the help of the always talented Peter Jones, is a guide that is actually useful, and will not kill a bunch of your time today:

What is the unemployment rate for you?

In These Frugal Times: The Fruugalist

This is going to be huge.F-logo-square

A good friend just started a new email newsletter and site called The Frugalist.

The idea is simple: A daily email to help those who used to have plenty of money with a new resource to help them save some money.

But it's more than that. As it says on the gorgeous site, it's about "Less Spending. More Living." You can tell from the first issue that came out today that the idea is more about helping people deal with this new reality;  not just saving money but figuring life all out without much money.

I've been honored to volunteer helping the amazing site designer Evelyn Wilder get her idea for this thing going, along with the ever-talented Kathy Yates and "the other" Scott.

If there was ever a right time and a right place for something, it's The Fruugalist right now.

Sign up now so you can tell people that you were one of the first to be on the list when Oprah is talking about it and there are zillions of subscribers.

Another Credit Card VC adopter

I know I'm linking to Guy twice in a row, but his latest post makes it clear that he fully groks the Credit Card VC ethos:

By the Numbers: How I built a Web 2.0, User-Generated Content, Citizen Journalism, Long-Tail, Social Media Site for $12,107.09

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.

PRrrrs like a kitty

My real background -- what I did for a living for a decade before I started my first company -- was journalism. And then my first company was pretty tied to the news; it operated inside a TV station so I worked in that environment every day for five years.

So the whole notion of PR is second nature to me.

Anyone who's read any of this blog could probably figure out where I stand on the notion of hiring a PR agency. But it didn't really occur to be to write about it here until I saw this post in Guy Kawasaki's blog:

Nobody knows if Charlemagne could read because an advisor always read aloud for him. It was considered humbling for the king to do anything himself. The same fears drive the most captivating, articulate entrepreneurs to hire publicists. Who wants to risk looking like a fool? As a result, hardly anyone in technology ever tries to talk to a journalist by herself—except Guy, of course.

The writer, Glenn Kelman, goes on to give 10 reasons that you should not hire a PR agency. I have plenty of friends in PR, and I even help in a small way with the PRJobsList here in Denver.

That said, I have to tell you that if my current company gets to $100M in sales, we still won't hire an agency.

Why? The few shining examples in which agencies do a good job are outweighed by the 90 percent that do a job that could easily be done in-house, or the 5 percent that make things worse. This campaign that seems to be in favor of the Unabomber is the latest in a long line of examples.

So read that list, every one of his 10 points is exactly right. Nothing bummed me out as a reporter more than doing a story that was doing the bidding of a flak. Make a reporter's day, and just give him or her a call. You'll both love it.

First-Name basis

I heard that Cher and Madonna are friends. They're on a first-name basis.

Over at my day job, the worlds best legislative database, we struggle sometime with our name, which can be hard to prounounce.

It'd be nice in some ways to go out and spend 30 Large on some consultant to come up with a great name, but that's not the Credit Card VC way.

Luckily there are some great (free) naming resources out there, and some of them don't even take themselves too seriously.

Natural Structures

Spiritual Ancestors of Credit Card VC

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.

Say yes to saying no

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.

Fellow believers

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!

Free Your TV; Do not pay for cable!

Part of the Credit Card VC ethos, of course, is not spending money in the first place. That's the thin thread I'm using to insert this meme into this blog.

One way to save a small pile of money every month and also save a bit of your sanity is to cut off your cable company. Now, I'm not talking about figuring out a way to get cable, and not pay for it, that would be wrong; the moral equivalent of downloading music without paying for it. Really, though, you shouldn't have cable. If you have time to sit around and watch the Game Show Network, you are not spending the time you should be spending on your business.

This will not make you a Luddite. Indeed you can cut off cable, and the dish, and still be something of a video snob.

Here's how:

  1. Buy an HDTV. The prices have come down enough, it's time to do it.

  2. Get the rabbit ears antenna recommended for that TV. Do not go overboard and get one of those big ones from Radio Shack and kill yourself up on your roof.

  3. Put the rabbit ears as high as you can inside your house, if you can put it in an attic, that's best.

  4. Go to AntennaWeb.org and figure out which direction to point your antenna.

  5. In checking that out, you'll realize that you get a lot of stations, more than enough for the times when you do need to veg out.

  6. OK, here's bit that allows you to be a video snob: The signal broadcast by your local stations is essentially uncompressed, meaning that you will get better picture quality from that little rabbit-ears antenna than you would from cable or a dish! That's right, the stations send out the whole picture over the air, but the carriers take that signal and smash it down so it will fit in the pipe with all the other channels. So when you are watching that amazing snowcone catch that almost helped the Mets into the world series, you will be able to see every seam on the ball better than your brethren watching on cable.

OK, I know I haven't been at this blog long, and I've already referred to Mark Cuban's blog a couple of times, but now I'm going to do it again. He recently asked "How do you get people to see a movie without spending a fortune on advertising?" He got a zillion responses. I didn't read them all, but in my mind it's easy: Work harder to get more Little Miss Sunshines made.

So, he didn't ask, but here's my suggestion for how to get a lot more traction for his HDNet: Broadcast it over the air.

Here in Denver we have all the big networks broadcasting in HD, as they must under federal mandate. But we also have a bunch of smaller ones, Christian broadcasters, even shopping networks. If they can get a broadcast license, so could HDNet. It would be a great publicity play for the Maverick to do an end-around on the cable and dish providers. Combined with the fact that he could tout his ability to send true uncompressed HD images and the market penetration the HD sets have reached, well, this would be a huge win for him.

So, Mark, what do I want for this million-dollar idea? Only that you start in Denver as a test market.