Saturday, December 29, 2007

focus on money rather than novelty

I realized something recently; In Science, Inventing and Engineering, we look for and celebrate what is novel, ingenious and revolutionary. In Technology, Consumers and as geeks, we search for and laud what has the coolest features.

For an entrepreneur, the focus should be... "what makes money?" The twain may never meet.

Perhaps this explains companies that make pots of money doing dull, boring, primitive work. It might also explain why so many innovative startups fail.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Simple idea suggestion for Google - make Android available for the desktop


Android is Google's new baby - an open mobile development platform.

As developers, we are developing applications for android, running them in a cell phone emulator which looks like a cell phone on the desktop screen.

But most of these applications are better tested - by the market - if they can be distributed and run as independent applications on the desktop. Just as Java is, today.

This is the key piece that is lacking from Google: the means to distribute and run Android on the desktop (keeping the basic screen, but getting rid of the silly cell phone buttons).

An interesting thought: Can it leverage off the vast base of Java runtimes already installed?

When installing, the Dalvik virtual engine from Google would have to run instead of the one from Sun.

Will this make Sun angry? Perhaps. However here is one scenario bound to make Sun happy. Since Android is simply Java 1.5, it could exist as libraries and run on the JVM - for the desktop version only.

How will an Android application be distributed? Ideally, as a Java Web Start application. This will allow updating of the libraries within the Java framework.

Either way, this will go a long way to making us developers feel more secure; that we are not developing vaporware. (see this article also, containing a remark from juwo :) )

Updated: (3/25/2008)
If the Android platform runs on both the desktop and on the mobile phone, then there are significant benefits:
It will be seamless for users and developers. Users will have the same
familiar look and feel across mobile and desktop. Developers wont have to develop two versions. For Google, it may be the biggest win of all - increasing clout on the desktop.

Friday, August 24, 2007

My Status Report Template

I have a status report by week and updated daily in a simple text file. It rolls over, day by day. It should work for small startups. Strangely enough, the defects/bug list is integrated into it. Is there a better method you would recommend?
--------------------
juwo status - 4-26_31-07

0) Work planned for today

1) Work accomplished

2) Work planned for tomorrow

3) Issues/concerns

4) Longer Term

[for example]
1. Milestone - get users
Assumptions
- effective demos that show benefit and how easy it is to use.
- explain how it benefits them.
Tasks
- control FLV video
- youtube video clip about juwo
- google widgets

A) New Functionality or Ideas
a) Necessary
b) Nice To Have

B) Refactoring for Improvement

C) Deployment

D) Defects

E) Cannot reproduce these defects

F) Resolved (updated each week)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How does one break out of the customer-investor-team-product conundrum?


I have found it to be worse than catch-22, a pyramid.


We are starting at one or more apexes and building to a third, which we then use as a base to conquer the fourth peak. If we do, we are a successful company. Then we start growing the pyramid outward or moving up in scale to become hugely successful.

But potential partners (team) will not show more than an interest without investor money to pay their salaries and paying customers or at least users to validate the concept. Investors want to see users. None (especially users) are interested in a product that is not complete and slick. To produce it, one needs partners. Even going it alone to get the product leg in place, one needs investment to pay the bills.

But many pyramids were built, and many are the successful startups that create meaningful products - not simply dot-coms that are flipped for $millions.

I can feel your bored gaze while you think: Sell Your Idea To The Right People.
Assuming this is the answer, what concrete steps can I do to 'sell'; and to the right people?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

On the stress of being an Entrepreneur

Just noticed these thoughts written by me, a year ago. On the stress of being an Entrepreneur.

June 2006.

Stress.
- Trying to find partners who will also see the dream.
- Getting beta clients.
- Having to do everything - and things I have no expertise in.

and also this:

Someone politely asked me how I was and I replied, "overworked, unpaid,overstressed, but fulfilled".

Saturday, May 12, 2007

You will succeed when you execute Powerful Advice

We think of advice as a suggested course of action coming from other people, from our environment. However we are most often our own advisors - we talk to ourselves before we reach a decision.

People think that the Decision is important; rather, it is the advice that precedes it.

We judge advice. It comes in four flavors: Neutral, Bad, Good, and Powerful.

Let us consider advice that is executed to reach a desirable outcome.

Neutral Advice is outside our taste buds. It is yet to be evaluated even if it is in our field of view; is floating outside of our zone. It can turn into Good, Bad, or Powerful.

Bad Advice is inappropriate and causes failure. We know it too well to dwell on it further.

Good Advice is wisdom, or wise rules. Good advice can turn out to be bad advice.

Powerful Advice is appropriate advice or "right" advice. When executed, it causes a multiplier effect. Fits exactly for our situation, fits exactly for our ability to execute. Aligns favorably with future events. Fills our sails to push us to Victory. You will succeed when you execute Powerful Advice.

For example: President Roosevelt received Powerful Advice from his advisors when they told him to risk devoting precious resources to develop the atomic bomb. From the American point of view, the war was over in days - but more importantly, America and other nuclear powers became dominant and unassailable from that point onwards, even today. Hitler ignore the same advice from Von Weizs├Ącker, his scientist.

Powerful Advice is always judged to be Good in hindsight. Good Advice if inappropriate, can turn out Bad and is not always Powerful. Neutral Advice can turn into Powerful Advice.

For example: President Bush was advised to go it alone in Iraq after they swept through in 19 days. The huge oil fields would free America forever from dependency on the Arab world. It was Good Advice, but inappropriate. So became Bad Advice. My advice was (in a rubbished letter to the local Editor but with no one to listen), turn it over to the United Nations so they would enlist muslim nations as peace keepers. End of Insurgency. This was from observing India's eerily similar and failed adventure in Sri Lanka in the 1980s - which resulted in Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's assasination by a suicide bomber. It was likely appropriate advice and so may even have been powerful - if executed.

From my earlier lament: Good Advice is a storehouse of wisdom. Individual or Collective. Our minds try to make sense of the past and try to function in the present to maximise selfish survival and prosperity by generating rules. These rules are based upon our experiences, education, upbringing, beliefs etc. Good Advice is simply rules and patterns extrapolating into the future. Because the future is unpredictable, so Good Advice may not always be right.

Powerful Advice is hard to recognize and is not the domain of the clever, educated, or even successful. Ordinary people may possess it at times.

For example: Wilma was a poor, black girl with polio, growing up in segregated America in the 1950s.She could not walk without braces until age 11. Good Advice would have told her to find fulfillment in the Arts or to be content with her lot in life. However from accounts, she watched her sister run on the track, and Powerful Advice within her, told her to run, too. Wilma Rudolph won the title of the "World's Fastest Woman" and became the first American woman to win 3 gold medals in the Olympics.

So, what are your thoughts on how to recognise and sieze Powerful Advice?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The exasperating problem with advice

the right advice when executed well

can turn around a company
can prosper you
can diagnose a disease correctly
can prevent mishaps
can save lives
can better communities and organizations and even nations

but how to tell if it's the right advice except from hindsight?

the right advice doesnt always wear a suit, nor dresses up in the right educational degrees and qualifications.
the bearer may be clumsy, tattered, unintelligent, stupid to all.
the bearer may even be a failure.
may be experienced, or not at all.
on the other hand, being clumsy, unintelligent, tattered and uneducated, may be just that - and wrong too!

carefully analysed advice proffered up by a brilliant mind may be just as stupid if it lacks a key perspective or insight.
the right advice is crowned 'good advice', only in hindsight.
Before the final bell, the rest are mere hopefuls and pretenders.

talk is cheap, advice easy to offer.
an advisor without "skin in the game" (personal investment at risk), is just opinionating to puff up his ego; blowing smoke circles from his cigar into the face of a young inexperienced sap.

with so many newspapers, magazines, cheaper publishing, the internet and blogs (including this!), everyone is a pundit. Pretenders all?

advice that is general, "get lots of users for your beta product", or truisms like, "hire the brightest" or even "implement [current management or technical fad here]" will always be easy to dish out. But specific tailored advice on how to "get lots of users" takes effort, wisdom and thinking - and may in the end - be wrong.

right advice = powerful advice.

In the meantime, we are simply confused with this over-abundance.

Can you hedge your bets with advice - take some of this and some of the other? That may dilute your executing and lead to failure.

My current explanation: our minds try to make sense of the past and try to function in the present to maximise selfish survival and prosperity by generating rules and patterns. These rules are based upon our experiences, education, upbringing, beliefs etc. Advice is simply rules extrapolating to the future. The future is unpredictable (why?). So advice may not always be right.

(Why is the future unpredictable? Is there any link with Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle - or is it simply the large number of interacting variables?).

what are your thoughts about how to recognize the right advice?

Friday, May 4, 2007

Ideas are Worthless? Wrong! Ideas can solve problems



Some Venture Capitalists (VCs) and investors are keen to promote the idea that Ideas are Worthless. (for example, see Graham or Kawasaki)

Officially, this is so that they (investors in general) do not have to sign Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA) because they see many ideas and don't want to have their hands tied.

It is true also that many of the ideas they do see are indeed worthless, and an unobvious twist to a worthless idea can make it valuable. So we dont want the originator of the worthless idea to profit from the valuable twist.

Sometimes though, I also wonder if it is because they do not want to be held liable for any leaks, unintentional or deliberate.

For instance, if they have funded a startup which is working on the same problem, or in an overlapping area, then the temptation to 'help' their own venture by divulging the secrets of the outsider, is probably overwhelming.

By definition, you can only 'steal' something if it has worth and does not belong to you.

An idea is a seed; many ideas have to be discovered and implemented along the way for it to grow up. The initial fertilisation is essential, but differentiation into organs, the "other ideas along the way" must come along.

I know how true this was for juwo. In May 2005 when I decided to implement a prototype fulltime, I fully expected the initial seed - "skip to the important parts of an audio lecture" - to be done within one month. So I told my wife, "two months!" to manage expectations, and went to work.

It took me a full 10-12 months of fulltime work (60 hour weeks at a minimum) and 3 iterations to implement juwo. Perhaps I am really slow, or as I hold true, a saying I since developed - The Invention is in the Prototyping. In other words, no one could have seen the full concept of juwo at the outset. The journey had to be undertaken.

Well, what if I had implemented only the original scope (to meet my deadline)? Answer: the concept would have been stillborn. It would have remained an embryo.

But suppose, a team is trying to solve the same problems as juwo has solved. How long would it take them now? I am reluctant to write this. All they have to do is to play with juwo and figure out the key concepts. Which is why, I was fearful to release it for another year; until I found that no one will likely bother with it until it is successful.

Another example.

We replaced our dishwasher recently. The earlier model was only 4 years old and was put in by the builder of the house. However it did not wash dishes clean. This is because there was one rotating arm and one spindle that sprayed water on dishes that were placed in two racks. So dishes in the top rack often had sediment on them because dishes in the lower rack often blocked the spray. In other words the dishwasher would wash only dishes that were already cleaned by hand, and if there were only a few dishes loaded - and even then, took 1.5 hours to do it.

So this was a real problem for any dishwasher manufacturer.
When we shopped recently, I observed that all the models we saw, had done away with the spindle, and introduced 3 rotating arms - that would sandwich the 2 racks. This enables all 4 surfaces to be covered.

A simple solution in hindsight. But apparently, many models of dishwashers were manufactured, probably billions of dollars spent until someone had a bright idea to solve the problem. And then what happened? Apparently all the manufacturers copied or stole the solution. To avoid patent lawsuits, they all likely came up with variations on the same theme.

Conclusion: An idea can make all the difference.

Friday, April 20, 2007

juwo beta is released

Exhilarated? No.
Tired. Very.
Released it with the demos. Announced it on the YCombinator newsgroup.

Was roasted - scathing feedback, but some of it was really good, and which I promptly implemented.
Disappointed? Yes. I dont know if anyone even watched a demo - they were simply commenting on the website.

Friday, April 6, 2007

How to make your software easier to use?

"juwo, in its present state, is not easy to use". I have heard this enough times that I am taking it very seriously. I have been thinking about this everyday because I really need to make juwo, easier to use if anyone is to use it!
(If you need a demo or wish to run it and give me suggestions, feel free to email me. Anil AT juwo DOT com).

The KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle is useful, however you also need to balance it with Einstein's dictum: "Make it as simple as possible, but no simpler".
This thought popped into my head yesterday as I was pondering how to make juwo easier to use.
My dog KC, has 4 legs. To make it simpler, one could cut out (ok, ok, not literally!) two legs. After all, many mammals, birds etc have two.
Would that be better, or worse?




important principle:

understand and identify the core concept before attempting to strip off layers you think are unnecessary.

Any suggestions? (on juwo!)

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Our Plan B

- release juwo/NP on Cnet with 'donate' button and 'feedback' button

- do (task0, task1, task2, task3,task4,task5,task6) in parallel

task0:
if(has enough user base caught on free version?)
then
implement Viewer/Editor
charge $5 to upgrade to Editor
endif

task1:
get multimedia content juwo-ed.
save the juwo on server
publicize the juwo some

task3:
for each feedback from user
do
sieve, prioritise and put on TODO list
done

task4:
for each $ from user
- allocate, save and spend

task5:
use customers to sell prospective business partners
if(enough revenue)
quit day job

task6:
implement task(s) on TODO list

Friday, March 30, 2007

The new startup. young-old teams

'I wish I had the boy' the old man said aloud. 'To help me and to see this'
(The Old Man and the Sea)


Sorry but I am on a roll here! I am going to blog this idea when I finish some stuff on juwo. I think this can potentially be an answer to the peculiar employment problems in the software industry.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A better business model for incubators - innovation by collaboration? (orphanage vs. foster parenting)

My employer (he is an entrepreneur himself with a bootstrapped and established startup) is interested in my product, juwo (or so he says he will be, when his business stabilizes - and I dont know when).

I am applying to YCombinator. Since I have not found a cofounder - a serious disadvantage, I am wondering if I should list him as a cofounder - my boss is quite willing. He said so.

But then it struck me. What if an established company were to consider prototyping an idea. Starting a Startup for the purpose of launching a new product. They wouldnt mind giving up 6% - of the new company. What better avenue than something like YC? With all the connections, guidance and advice - much better than doing it in-house.

Is this unfair?

I am sure YC too would prefer this since the risk is greatly reduced. An established company can shoulder the gruntwork and paperwork.

Or instead of looking at is as abuse, could this be a new business model for tech-savvy VCs and gurus?

For example, companies could send their teams to Silicon Valley for 3 months to build a prototype, overseen by YCombinator or Wozniak, Godin etc. (lets call it 'Cubator'). They would even pay living expenses for their own teams and give up 6%.
This is a win-win situation for all! The gurus get to 'advise' a larger number of projects thus ensuring success, putting their eggs in many baskets.

To put it another way, incubators like YCombinator are running an orphanage; get a batch of orphans, grow them and then release them into the world. The 'Cubator' way calls for them to become foster parents. Look after them for short periods, and then release them back to their parents.

Companies will have to pick nicknames to protect confidentiality - but they will have to accept that their idea will be known among the teams - the collaborative part.

Questions: How is this different from the traditional incubators? Will the traditional startups with only founders plus an idea be the losers? Will this 'Cubator' spawn a new burst of innovation by collaboration?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

idea-team matchmaking. The shore is crowded; get into the boats!

'I worked the deep wells for a week, and did nothing', the man
thought. (The Old Man and the Sea)


With that random quote from Hemmingway to give my post respectability :)
let me begin.

A few days ago, Subbu, a former coworker called and we chatted. He still works at the cellular telco. Subbu told me that someone wrote a test simulator for Wireless Local Number Portability or WLNP and it has become the industry standard; that the telco had purchased it. (Background: when you switch cellphone carriers, you retain your old number. The new carrier must receive the phone number and subscriber details from the old carrier. This is usually done through a Corba or XML interface).

As a struggling, burning out, entrepreneur, my first thought was, "What a stupid idea!". My next thought was, "What a great idea!". It seemed stupid because when the client part of a server is being written, a server stub must be tested against - to simulate the server. Usually the worst programmer in the team gets tasked to write this because it is throwaway code and doesnt really do anything. Unimpressive.

However... when you have different companies that must test together and they are actual competitors where one has persuaded a customer to switch e.g. from Verizon to Sprint, then the testing issues become testy. (think of wife and ex-girlfriend communicating!).
So the simulator is a great solution to the problem. It does not take much brains to write one, but the point of being an entrepreneur is not to dazzle people with your brilliance. It is simply to sense where there is pain and to write something, even stolid, that will reliably ease the pain.

But what does this have to do with my post?

When I look at the list of companies that are being funded nowadays, there is a sameness to them. for example, a cursory look at a few of the companies YCombinator funded
http://ycombinator.com/faq.html with their taglines:

Kiko - online calendar
Loopt - find your friends fast
ClickFacts - software for Internet advertising to prevent 'click fraud'.
Thinkature - online whiteboarding
Likebetter - ? (had fun playing it but couldnt figure it out)
Buxfer - track your money online
Pollground - online surveys
Wufoo - online HTML forms
...

The founders are undoubtedly highly intelligent, talented, young and hard-working. However one cannot help getting the feeling that the ideas they have developed have come from their consumer experiences. Online, music/video, checkbook, advertising. Even the names are 2 syllable! (like juwo, but I coined it in 1994 before the dot-com era). Look at what famed Fred Wilson (of Union Square Ventures) has funded...

In other words, the shore is getting crowded. Too many fishermen clumped together trying to catch the little guppies near the shore. Time to get into the boats and go out to the deep waters where the marlin, dolphin and sharks are.

Now back to the main thread.

I am sure there are many workers, managers, secretaries, programmers, janitors in dull and boring industries who have noticed some specific pain in the areas where they work. they even have jotted down something they think is a solution. But they dont know what to do with them. They cannot implement them. Even less incentive to pass them along for free.

Ideas are closer to earth than dreams, but they need executors to make that final connection with earth. With intelligence, youth, talent, energy and knowledge.

Can we come up with a site that will perform matchmaking for these two? What does the originator of the idea get? a 2% stake in equity as advisor. What do the teams get? a deep water idea that just might grow into a whale.

So an online, 2 syllable, matchmaker for ideas and teams (and if you implement this idea, I fully expect my 2% share!).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

co-founder match making?

I see many people searching for cofounders.
Here is a nascent idea that I just had. May be stale, I dont know (I am embarrassed to write something down without more than a perfunctory google search):

As part of signup at YCombinator, FounderFinder and other entrepreneur sites, ask a large number of direct questions. The answer should be a simple yes/no.

Do you have a prototype? Y/N

Do you have a large number of contacts in the domain? Y/N

Are you easy to get along with? Y/N

Is it a web app?

Do you already know VCs? Y/N

and so on...

  1. Then you can use some kind of mathematical function to come up with a match-making arrangement.

    So for example, if I answer

    Y N N Y Y N N Y N

    And John is

    N Y Y Y Y N N Y N

    And Joe is

    N N N Y Y N N Y N

    Then John is closer to my profile.

    On the other hand, I can specify that I am looking for

    N Y N N Y N N Y N

    and then be pushed to the profiles of those people.

  2. Another thing (I find cool):

    During signup, I should pick my questions from a bucket, and in the order that is important to me. So the above can actually be a binary number! Or it can be a vector.

    So then we can now make comparisons.

  3. One can come up with so-called "personality" types and the quantitative number associated with them.

    Then a person browsing can ask:
    Show me all entrepreneurs within a 'personality vector distance' of 2 from type E.

The vectors rather than numbers are now a self-assessment. We can have mutual-assessment numbers where these 'scores' become dynamic. This is not a am-i-hot-or-not rating scale from 1 to 10, but a measure of how close you are to a 'type' in vector space. For example, the Bill Gates type =(4,5,12,6).

There can be online 'dates' or interviews where potential cofounders assess each other using the same questions as guidelines. these meetings take place via Instant Messenger chat - or if in the same city, a face-to-face meeting.

The more 'dates' or interviews you have, the more other people can assess you and presumably, the more accurate your score. The mutual rating scores would have to be combined in some way.

Is this just an application of vector spaces?

Friday, March 2, 2007

I need your advice! Startup Failing. Should I simply release the product?

I need your advice! Startup Failing.
Should I simply release the product?
(See my last post on where I am.

What is juwo?
A "Swiss Army knife" piece of software that gives more power to consumers to structure audio, video and text as a bullet list, to more easily index and annotate them, and to share the lists with others. Its benefits extend to multimedia as related to more enriching broadcasts, collaboration and organizing.

In October 2005, when the initial prototype was finished, nothing came close to juwo. Now, I find several, with quite a few of the same features. It still has an advantage - the concept is still unique and (In My Humble Opinion), powerful. It has many potential applications and uses.

The more I delay, the more likely someone else will catch up and move ahead. And then it will really be wasted breath, sweat, years, money.

Potential competitors: dabble.com, veotag.com, supcast, abazab, wiki, click.tv, podcasts, filenotes organizer, Media Matrix.
Sure, there's overlap. I have done a competitive analysis matrix, and feel that juwo has its own niche. It can be a useful tool for the layperson.

The problem is: It took me 12 months, full-time, to iterate through and develop a prototype, plus another 6 months to unsuccessfully try and build a business.
I calculate that, conservatively, $120K was sunk into this. How?
Cash used up + missed regular salary = $120K.
All of my Savings. Will I lose all this if I give it away?

I needed about 2 months of full-time effort to do thefollowing
  • to make it more user friendly (help wizards etc) as people said it wasn't.
  • support other media players (right now, only Windows Media Player supported).

But even so, I lack co-founders, customers and investors.

Now I have a job, and can barely do it on the weekends.
Should I just release what I have?

So I am thinking of adding a legal disclaimer screen, and a feedback form and then releasing it.


However, here is the conundrum:

I am sure potential competitors will download it and perhaps copy any concepts they didnt think of.

But on the other hand, I have always been profoundly impressed by those who follow this saying, "Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again".


Is it lose-lose?

How can I make it Win-Win? (get some money out of it).

P.S. I can share a percentage of any profit from juwo - for a certain time eg. 1 year with those who will help out with concrete help.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Has juwo failed or how can it turn around?

May 2005 till May 2006, two iterations of prototyping.
May-December 2006, one further iteration and then trying to find business partners, investors, customers. All failed.
Money ran out. Jan 2007, took a job.

I recently dissolved the advisor group. Advisors are a fixture of startups. Advice is nice, but I much prefer effort - because Talk is Easy but Effort shows Commitment.
Here was my email to them:


I wanted to update you on what has happened with juwo.Since our only advisor meeting in June 2006, I have tried very hard todevelopjuwo/Nodepad into a beta product, get a beta customer(s), business partners so that investors could be
approached and the business built.
I explored probably 20 income/customer opportunities, and about 13 potential business partners.I could not do it all
single handed and I found it to be a catch-22 situation.
Potential partners would not show more than an interest without investor money to pay their salaries and paying customers to validate juwo technology.
Investors are not interested in investing in a product before
launch.
Investors want to see users. None (especially users) are interested in a product that is not complete and slick. To produce it, one needs partners. Even going it alone to get the product leg in place, one needs investment to pay the bills.
I needed to do some more revamping of juwo to make it user friendly and work with media players besides Windows. It would have taken about 2 months more.
However, I ran through my savings completely and have taken a job since.
My current employer has a successful startup in the small
wireless provider area.I showed him a demo to see if there was a potential to juwo becoming another line of his business. It seemed he was interested and initially appeared to move inthat direction, but has since said he "is interested but it is low on his priority list... areality of our business". This has been the typical scenario.
Hence, I am dissolving the informal advisor group. I shall continue product development on theweekends and still explore ways to bootstrap juwo - as long as I believe it has potential.

Please continue to maintain confidentiality of any juwo documents,demos, software,tech secrets, ideas etc.
Again, I want to thank you for your time,
advice and the ways in which you have tried to help get juwo off the ground.
I wish you all the best.
sincerely,

Anil Philip

juwo LLC