New Technology – March 3rd – Screen Capture

Screen Capture

I often want to capture a screenshot of the website I am displaying and then save it as an image to send to someone else to view. I used to do this by hitting the “print screen” button, opening up a graphic design program (such as Photoshop or Paint), pasting the clipboard into the program and then saving it as an image. Then I found a much easier way to do this. Google makes an extension tool for Chrome called “Screen Capture” which can be downloaded here. This tool allows you to capture the entire page or a custom section of the page and save it as a .png file.

There is a tool for Firefox as well which can be downloaded here.

New Technology – Feb 24th – MyRegistry.com

 myregistry

Cool internet tool of the week – MyRegistry.com.  One of the more fun parts of wedding planning is registering for gifts…except it’s actually not that fun to take the time to walk through a store and be limited by the selection of that physical store.   Myregistry.com lets you setup an online registry where you can add gifts from any site.  They have an easy to use “Add to MyRegistry” button that you can install to your browser and quickly add any item you find online.

New Technology – Feb 17th

kayak

This week’s tech tool is Kayak.com – travel deals site.  Kayak is awesome for three reasons:

  1. Finds the best deals (actually aggregates searches of all other flight search sites such as Priceline, Travelocity, Orbitz).
  2. Allows you to setup price alerts – Email me daily reports on my trip or alert me when the price of my flight from LEX -> SFO goes under $400.
  3. Mobile app is pretty slick.

I plan to use Kayak for all my travel plans from now on.

Always Learning – new technology challenge every week

I’m a believer in continuous learning.  It’s one of the reasons I believe college is overrated (a finite education period doesn’t seem all that useful in a world where you can fall behind in a blink of the eye).  In addition to continuous learning, I believe in experiential learning (learning by doing).   Simple example, if you want to learn how to play basketball go play some basketball.  You’ll learn a little by reading a book about basketball, but you’ll learn a lot more by actually doing it.  The same goes for programming, construction work, running a business, or pretty much anything.

About a month ago I was in TX for our family Christmas.  I noticed something interesting among the group – most of the learning was being experienced by the older family members and the teaching was coming from the younger family members.   I literally watched my 11 year old cousin teach my 50 year old uncle how to use his iPhone.  My little brother was teaching my parents how to use the video camera.  And another cousin was teaching my grandparents how to connect to the wifi on their new iPad.  This was intriguing to me on many levels.

I thought about how backwards (and cool) it would have seemed if my grandma was teaching her grandkids something new about technology.  I developed a goal that when I’m a grandparent to stay on top of technology to the point where I can at least teach my grandkids something new about the technology of their time.  Maybe not know more than them, but at least know a few things they don’t.

In an effort to accomplish my goal I am trying to instill continuous and experiential learning into my every day life.  I plan to learn a new piece of technology every week and post it on this blog.  It can be something very simple, but must benefit me in some way.

Here are a few things I learned in 2012 that would qualify:

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1. Waze – A better navigation app than maps on the iPhone.  Also includes reporting of traffic jams, accidents, and police.

2. Boomerang – Gmail plugin that lets you send email at a later time.  Comes in handy when you are writing messages late at night and don’t want the recipient to see your odd work schedule.

3. Rapportive – Gmail plugin that shows you everyhing about your contacts.  It pulls info from their LinkedIn, Facebook, and other online profiles.

4. Flux – It makes the color of your monitor display adapt to the time of day, warm at night, cold during the day.  It’s supposed to help you sleep better.

5. Audible – Not a new service by any means, but I just started using it in 2012.  I don’t like to read, but I don’t mind listening.  I read about 10 times as many books in 2012 as I did in 2011 thanks to audio books.

6. Shutterfly – Turn your photos into books or cards.  It’s really easy to use and makes a great gift.

7. Venmo – Pay your friends from your phone.  It’s simple.  Takes about 5 minutes to setup and can change the way you think about money (literally)

8. Posterous – Makes micro blogging a cinch.  Came in handy for my picture a day project.

9. Postagram – I’m terrible at sending thank you cards or anything by snail mail.  This app allows you to deliver a postcard from your phone and include a picture for $1.

10. Trello – A collaborative todo list tool.  I mostly use it on my laptop, but there is also a mobile app.  Great for sharing todo lists and managing small projects.

Failing (in order) to Succeed

I hate losing.  I hate it.  I hate losing more than I love winning.

I think I know how Billy Beane felt when he said that as he tried to change the game of baseball with math theory and new school “sabermetrics”.

If you are one of the 3 people that read my personal blog, then you know that earlier this year I wrote about my top 6 goals for 2012.  One of them was to win state cup.  Today, my soccer team lost in the semi finals of state cup 3-2.  We were the better team.  We controlled game, out shot our opponent 20-6.  We actually played one of the best games we’d played all season.  We had beat this team in a friendly match 3-0 last season, but anyone that follows soccer knows that the better team doesn’t always win.  In soccer, more than any other sport, a team can control and dominate a game, but still walk away with a loss.

When you lose, I think it’s natural that the first thing for you to do is to come up with reasons “why” it went wrong. Even as I write this post I can’t help but to come up with a list of things we could or should have done differently.  We should have man marked the kid that scored all 3 of their goals.  We should played an easier schedule leading up to state cup.  If we only would have finished on our opportunities.  If only we wouldn’t have lost 2 of our key players this season.

I don’t think making this list is a bad thing, I just think you need to come up with action items and lessons learned.

failure dashboard At Awesome Inc we have a board in the break room called the failure dashboard.  It’s includes a collection of all the major failures that we (and our tenant companies) experience.  The purpose of the failure dashboard is to encourage people to go big and be ok with failure.  We want people to be ok with failure, because it often leads to massive successes.

I love sports because they teach you life lessons. Lessons that can be translated into school, work, and running your own business.  Losing is no exception. Sports teach you lessons like – to be a winner you have to experience failure and adversity along the way.  You only hear about the success stories of an athlete, but the truth is they failed a lot along the way.  Winners get back up after getting knocked down.

Just read this quote from Michael Jordan,

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

After our loss today, I told the team two things:

1. I’m proud of them for working hard this season and doing everything they needed to do to prepare themselves to win a state cup.

2. Not hitting your goals feels sucky…but remember that feeling and use it as motivation to work even harder in the future.  Work so hard that you’ll never have to experience this feeling again.

I think that’s what truly separates winners from losers.  It’s not decided by one match, one day on the job, one school test, or any single event.  It’s decided by what happens after you fail.  Everyone ends up with something on the failure dashboard.  The sign of a genuine winner though is their ability to learn from that failure and use it as motivation to win next time.  A lot of the time you have to fail first in order to succeed.

This sucky feeling I have right now probably isn’t going to go away anytime soon.  But that’s ok.  I’ll be using it to prepare even better for next time.  And whoever that opponent is next time…I’ll save them a spot on the failure dashboard.

Remove yourself from the outcome

About a year ago I attended a service at Southland where my minister gave a talk about removing yourself from the outcome.  “Do everything you can, do your best, and then trust that God will control the outcome and it will be according to his plan.”

There is a verse in Matthew that has stuck with me since I was a kid.  Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you.”

I find this is incredibly challenging.  As someone who is extremely competitive and very result oriented, I am rarely at peace when I don’t achieve the outcome I have in mind.  I beat myself up when I lose a co-ed indoor soccer game.  When my company loses a sale to a competitor, I can’t help but to analyze what went wrong.  When the soccer team I coach loses a game, it can ruin my week.

So how can someone as competitive as myself be content with removing myself with the outcome.  Well, the verse doesn’t say, “Don’t worry about trying hard.  Actually, don’t try at all.  The outcome is already decided and all you need will be given to you.”

You still need to do everything within your power to prepare, perform your best when given the opportunity, and take advantage of every chance you get.  The purpose of removing yourself from the outcome is to place your trust in something bigger than you and know that you really don’t have that much control in the grand scheme of things.

I haven’t perfected this.  I may never have it all the way figured out.  However, on the rare occasion when I am able to remove myself from the outcome and simply trust that my best will be enough, I feel much more at peace with whatever outcome arrives.

My top 6 goals for 2012

In no particular order, below are my top six goals for 2012…I tried to make all of these goals SMART goals (thanks to my mentor: Lou Allegra).

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Relevant

Time Bound

 1.     Start or accelerate 20 companies – More on this goal in a future blog post.  The basics – Awesome Inc will help start or accelerate 20 companies in 2012.

Deadline: Dec 31st

Awesome Inc

 2.      APAX Software continues to be profitable – APAX is the engine that drives a lot of my other activities. I’ve been very proud of this company and my team’s ability to run it efficiently and profitably over the past two years. Succeeding at this goal is critical to my ability to continue many of the other entrepreneurial activities I’m involved in.

Deadline: Dec 31st

APAX Software

3.       Win State Cup – The team I coach, Lexington FC Premier 99 Boys, has a team goal of winning state cup this year.  In my mind we are the frontrunner, but have some obstacles to overcome – including: discipline issues, the loss of one of our top players to a recent family relocation, and a very difficult schedule leading up to state cup that could be demoralizing if not managed properly.

Deadline: June 3rd

LFC 99 Boys

4.       One trip per month – My girlfriend loves to travel.  I don’t hate it, but traveled a ton in 2011 and don’t believe that waiting in airports, missing layovers, and not having access to my home refrigerator is all that it’s cracked up to be.  This goal could be interpreted as an upper limit as much as a lower.  That said, I am looking forward to taking some exciting trips this year including my first trip to Winter Park Ski Resort in CO.

Deadline: Dec 31st

Brian’s 2011 travel

2011 travel map

5.       Read Proverbs – My minister challenged me with this tonight.  He said that he sets a New Year’s Resolution every year to become wiser.  And since Proverbs was written by King Solomon, arguably the wisest man to ever live, my minister rereads Proverbs several times over each year.  I’d also like to be wiser, so I’ll take him up on the challenge.

Deadline: April 1st

6.      BuildingLayer Funded – My latest startup is using indoor maps to improve customer experience and operational efficiency.  We made great progress in 2011, and in order to keep the needle moving we need to raise a 500K round of financing.  We have almost half of this round committed, so fingers crossed we’ll knock this out by the midway point this year.

Deadline: June 1st

Disclaimer on this goal: This goal could be removed from the list if we decide we don’t need to be a funded venture…which is a possibility.

BuildingLayer

Techstars is Awesome

Entrepreneurial Communities, How to pitch a VC, Customer Development.  These were a few of the topics that were discussed at the Techstars Network Conference in Las Vegas last weekend.  This was a gold mine, for an entrepreneur in his 20’s (since I turn 30 this week, I’m using that phrase excessively).

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I plan to write separate posts on each of the topics above, but this post is about how Techstars is building a dynasty among startup accelerators while simultaneously lifting up accelerators nationwide.

In early 2011 Techstars decided to launch theTechstars Network – a group of independently owned and operated accelerator programs from around the globe.  The network currently has about 35 programs participating. Not only is this network great for all of the participating programs, it has placed Techstars at the center of the accelerator space.

David Cohen, founder of Techstars says this about the network,

“Over the next 3 years, the TechStars Network will ensure that 5,000 successful and experienced entrepreneurs and investors will mentor and support 6,000 promising young entrepreneurs, increasing their success rate tenfold and creating 25,000 new jobs by 2015 and a sustained engine for growing these figures over time.”

David Cohen

I believe that the Techstars Network will accomplish all of that, as well as the following:

  • Increase deal flow for all programs in the network – this helps all programs.
  • Bring the overall quality of participating programs up significantly – this helps entrepreneurs.
  • Secure Techstars place as the “Stanford” of accelerators for startup entrepreneurs – this helps Techstars.

So, that makes it a win, win, win, right?  Ok, so maybe it’s more like win, win more, and win the most, respectively for programs, entrepreneurs, and Techstars.  But, how can you argue with a program that is benefiting all parties.  It’s brilliant.  And to be honest, Techstars is doing plenty of other things right to be the number one accelerator.

As a participant of an accelerator (Betaspring, Providence, RI) this past summer, I’ve already witnessed some of the benefits of the network first hand.  When my team started the application process, we went straight to the list of Techstars Network programs to decide where we wanted to apply. This essentially gave programs that weren’t on this list a huge disadvantage. And, with the exception of Y Combinator, we didn’t even consider applying to any accelerators that weren’t in the Techstars Network.

brad feld One benefit to the network that was not in place at the time we applied was the Universal Application Process.  Teams can now apply at accelerato.rs and fill out one application for all the accelerators to which they wish to apply.  The application process allows for accelerators (even ones that aren’t a part of the Techstars Network) to accept a standard set of accelerator application questions and even add custom questions if desired.  The Universal Application is an initiative supported by the Kaufman Foundation, which will use aggregate data from applications for statistical purposes.  Individual application information is private to the accelerator that owns the application.  I would encourage all accelerators to use this application process as it saves entrepreneurs tons of time (our most valuable resource) and includes some great tools for acceptance selection.

I’m excited about all of the good that the Techstars Network will do for startups.  I clearly remember one quote that David Cohen made at the event, “If it’s good for the entrepreneur, then we support it”.  I genuinely believe that about David and Techstars.  I’d like to thank them and every other initiative that is helping startup entrepreneurs across the globe.

Becoming an entrepreneur. Again. And again.

About four years ago I had a meeting with Dr. Todd about a business idea.  During that meeting, I discussed with him two options I had as I finished my graduate degree from UK.  Down one path was a steady programming job, a solid income, and all the comfort that comes with a safe career choice.  Down the other path was launching my own software company.  No clear sight of a paycheck, an extremely blurred vision of my future, and no real clue on where to even start.  He gave me advice in that meeting that had a lasting effect.  He said, “Brian, do you want to try to start your own business or not?  Because you can always get a job in a year or two if that doesn’t work out.  You may not always be able to start your own business.”

That quote influenced me to make a series of decisions that led to where I am today.  I basically interpreted that as “Go big today…play it safe tomorrow”.  I decided that day to run my business full time.  I recruited two of my engineering friends (one being my brother) to run my software company, APAX Software.  Within two years we were doing over a million in revenue and had 20+ employees.  Through the success of APAX, I was given another opportunity and therefore another decision to make about how to reinvest my share of our profits.  I reflected on his advice again and thought, “I can play it safe and enjoy this situation of moderate success…or I can go big again and try to leverage this success and start something even riskier.”  My conclusion – I can always play it safe in a year or two.

The outcome of that conclusion is Awesome Inc.  I reinvested all of my money into building Awesome Inc.  It’s been a roller coaster of an experience, including several instances of not only almost closing the doors of Awesome Inc, but I also nearly lost my original software company from lack of focus on it.  I’ve spent countless nights working until 2, 3, or 4:00 am down at Awesome Inc putting sweat and tears into our passion and mission that is – to help other entrepreneurs do what they are passionate about and support themselves and the people around them.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  A few of the highlights have been – launching the KY Entrepreneur HOF  (hearing stories from John Y. Brown, Pearse Lyons, Dr. Todd, & Davis Marksbury), building a high tech startup culture of communities and events that include Startup Weekend, a series of mobile technology conferences that have featured speakers from Facebook, Yahoo!, PayPal, and AT&T (brands that would normally have no reason to step foot in KY), and a monthly pitch contest that gives away $500 to the winner of each event.  Most importantly, we’ve assisted in the launch of dozens of companies including our most successful and highest potential startup, AwesomeTouch.

This leads to another crossroads that I faced as recently as a few months ago.  I had finally built Awesome Inc to a sustainable break even state (we weren’t paying ourselves anything, but we could at least cover the rent and the staff it took to run it).  My software company was back on track and has been profitable for 15 of the last 17 months.  About this time, Nick Such and the AwesomeTouch team were starting to gain significant traction.  We had three paying customers on reasonable sized contracts and a couple of very large opportunities in the healthcare space that were interested in purchasing our solution.  We knew we needed some investment to take it to the next level.  So we started applying to the top seed stage accelerators around the world.  If you aren’t familiar with a seed stage accelerator, it is kind of like grad school for entrepreneurs.  It’s generally a 3 month boot camp that is intended to accelerate your startup to the next inflection point, often leading to investment.  Not long after applying we were accepted into a program in Providence, RI called Betaspring (read the story here).

Another decision had to be made – continue making a moderate to strong impact on Lexington with the initiatives at Awesome Inc or go all out again and potentially risk losing the foundation I’d built for the past four years.  This time, the decision wasn’t as difficult…I can play it safe in a couple years, right?  Nick and I decided pretty quickly that we had to do this.  We had to do it to excel AwesomeTouch to the level it needed to be at.  We had to do it to put Awesome Inc on the national map, and we had to take the chance of winning really big for Lexington and UK to be able to point to our company as a success story that would encourage others to follow in our footsteps.

…And now we’re back in Lexington.  AwesomeTouch launched another company, Buildinglayer (an even more ambitious endeavor).  Nick, founder of AwesomeTouch & Buildinglayer, had to decide between creating ‘google maps for indoors’ (the basic premise of Buildinglayer) or going to Standford to get his MBA…guess what he chose?  Having the confidence, the nerve, or the naivety to think that you can create a better opportunity than the one you currently have is a huge part of being an entrepreneur.  In fact, it’s necessary.  The question is, how often will make that decision in your life, in your company…or when the opportunity to solve a problem in the world by creating a company, comes along?  My answer, I hope, is ‘every time’.

Please tell me no

I recently reached out to Paul Graham to inquire about speaking at a mobile tech conference Awesome Inc is hosting called mobileX.  For those who don’t know, Paul Graham is the founder of Y-Combinator.  He’s like the Chris Berman (ESPN) of sports, but for tech startups.  Some call him the Godfather.  Ok, I’m probably putting him on way more of a pedestal than I should, but he is on our wall of rockstars at Awesome Inc.Paul Graham - wall picHe responded within 24 hours with this note:

“Sorry, I’m so busy with YC that I am trying to avoid almost all events, –pg”

Sweet! He told me no!  This is great news.  Now I can move onto to trying to find another speaker.  He didn’t tell me, maybe.  He didn’t tell me he’d think about it.  He didn’t tell me to go jump through some unnecessary hoops and then he’d get back with me.  He knew the answer and very politely told me he couldn’t do it.

just say no If only this happened more often. Let’s take another every day example from my life.  I play indoor soccer and usually the poor soul that is left organizing the team.  This means ensuring that we have enough players show up to each game.  Every week I send out texts to the entire team asking if they can make it or not.
Getting a quick response is as likely as getting my girlfriend to “quickly” leave the mall. I could swear that sometimes you’d think people are so hesitant to tell me they can’t make it that it’s like they are delivering the news that my grandmother has passed away.  Just tell me no, people!  Tell me no right away and I can find a sub.  But most of the times I find out at game time they can’t make it so we’re stuck shorthanded.  This behavior is common with friends, business partners, employees, mentors and customers.

I remember trying to raise a round of investment a year-and-a-half ago. Every investor we would pitch to would tell us they loved our idea and were “probably” in. At the end of each meeting they would ask us to draw up financial projections, learn how to use business planning software tools, or hold numerous additional meetings. We had one investor spend an entire meeting teaching us about all the different types of term sheets! Seriously! My company was a mobile tech startup. You want me to become an expert on term sheets and then you’ll invest? Of course, he didn’t invest and by the next meeting he didn’t even bring up the importance of term sheets, even though we had researched them extensively. We had other investors tell us they would “definitely” do something with us. A week later, they wouldn’t return our phone calls. The point is – I don’t mind learning business planning software or learning about term sheets, but let’s be honest, these are hoops that you are having me jump through to see that I can execute. And I only want to prove to you that I can execute if you are sincerely interested. If you don’t plan to invest in the first place, please don’t waste my time and just tell me no right away…or at least as soon as you know the answer is no.