Monthly Archives: January 2012

SSP 129 with Michael from Nozbe

Bob and I released Startup Success Podcast #129 yesterday, featuring an interview with Michael Sliwinski from Nozbe. Nozbe is a web app to help you implement the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology introduced by David Allen.

I met Michael at the 2011 Business of Software conference. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, he’s just a great guy. His passion for GTD and his product is infectious, and he is very generous toward other startup founders as well (he’s making a point to cheer me on, in fact).

The key point that I take away from Michael is not to get too carried away with Customer Development, marketing, and Lean Startup – it’s a reasonable strategy to to build a product you’re passionate about and keep at it until other people fall in love with it, too.

Software I love: Audacity, Levelator, and GoldWave

I’m catching up on a lot of podcast production at the moment. My tools of choice are

I love these tools, and I simply wanted to give them a shout-out, since I depend on them so much. If you have no interest in audio editing or podcast production techniques, you can safely leave it at that and skip the rest of this post …

Currently, I record using an external mixer and digital recorder (I’ll detail that in a later post). Then I process the audio using Audacity’s noise filter (removes hiss really well) and GoldWave’s noise gate (a compressor/expander setting that I tweaked to remove background typing and breathing). After that, I run the result through Levelator, which is like a smart compressor/maximizer. That whole process takes about 30 minutes for processing, but it’s mindless. You can get pretty good quality by avoiding the first two steps and just running it through Levelator, but I find that the extra effort of each step worth it.

Once I have the audio processed, I listen to it in audacity and delete any particularly egregious ums, ahs, and pauses. I used to spend a tiny but noticeable bit of extra effort to make myself sound less stupid (perk of doing the production), but I’m getting over that. I edit two separate tracks, but I mix down to mono – my assumption is that the resulting audio file is smaller, but I should double-check that, since it usually sounds slightly better with a tiny bit of stereo separation.

A podcast consists of several files stitched together. I have separate audio files for opening, closing, and transitions. I use a simple file naming scheme (01 opening, 02 intro, etc.) to make sure all the files for a given podcast are in the right order. Then I use GoldWave to merge the files. I could do that in Audacity, but it’s more automated in GoldWave. I save the result as a .WAV and then use GoldWave to convert it to an .mp3. I manually edit the .mp3 properties in Windows explorer. That’s probably somewhat error-prone – I should automate that with a PowerShell script or something.

There is probably a better way to do this whole process, but this way works – and I have great appreciation for the people who make all these pieces of software. Audacity is free. GoldWave is shareware. Levelator is donationware. Check ‘em out.

Our strengths are our weaknesses

Think of your strengths, and then think of your weaknesses – aren’t they often two sides of the same coin?

One of my strengths is the ability to string words together. I can get up in front of people and talk about almost anything. Same with writing. This is definitely a useful skill, a strength.

The flip side is that I sometimes talk without saying anything. I can spew hot air with the best of them. Not good. This affects the quality of my work and my personal relationships.

I’m working to remove the bullshit from my speaking and writing. I’m speaking less and listening more. When I write – whether it’s an email, article, or blog post – I’m pausing first to ask, “What’s my point?” So although I’m writing more frequently, I’m making an effort to be more concise and insightful.

What about you – do you agree with my assertion that strengths and weaknesses are often different manifestations of the same personal qualities? Have you had success accentuating the positive while eliminating the negative?

Learning from kids

My 8-year-old son Gus had his second competitive gymnastics meet this morning. As we were leaving the venue to head home, I asked him if he had fun, and he gave me an emphatic “Oh yeah!”

Gus knows what’s important – he’s doing gymnastics because he absolutely loves it. Because he has some natural ability and a good body type for the sport, there’s nothing to prevent him from succeeding at it. But because he LOVES it, he works his tail off at it and continues to improve. To the outside observer, success FOLLOWS enjoyment of the sport, but to him, success EQUALS enjoyment.

As a proud papa, it’s fun to see him enjoying a sport and getting good at it, and I’m learning a lot, too. I’m impressed with everyone I’ve met in the sport. I like his coaches, and I get along very well with the other parents on his team. I’ve also been very impressed with the attitude of sportsmanship I see embodied by all the coaches and other gymnasts I’ve seen at his first two meets (and the prior “practice” meet). There was a kid in Gus’s rotation today who was the only one on his team. Gus’s 6-member team adopted him, and he had plenty of kids to share high fives with. This is a great sport.

I’ve made the decision never to “coach” Gus myself. Obviously, I could encourage him to keep his legs together better on a certain skill, or I could incentivize him to keep improving his scores. I don’t want to do that. It’s so cool to see Gus motivating himself – it would be less cool if he were doing something to please me. He has good coaches. My job is to cheer for him.

I can also film him and show him the video. That way, he’s coaching himself. I ask him questions, and it’s truly interesting to me. At lunch after the meet, I asked him if he feels pressure or if he just does it. He says he just does it. Interesting. It sure looks pressure-packed, but maybe that comes later.

Gus faced a little adversity today. He got off to a great start, doing an excellent pommel routine and earning a 14.9 (scoring is on a 16-point scale – all the kids do the same routines with some opportunities for bonuses). That turned out to be good for his first podium finish, a 3rd place! After a solid rings routine and a really good vault, he was on his way to an exceptional parallel bars routine when he did a swing handstand that went too far, and he fell, right before the dismount. He got back on and finished the routine but didn’t get a good score for him.

I was really interested to see his reaction. He cared, obviously, but he wasn’t devastated. He ate a Clif bar before the next rotation and tried to regain his focus. He had a significant bobble on high bar that showed his confidence wasn’t fully back. He had another bobble on floor, but then he finished strong with a fine roundoff-back-handspring, a skill he added last week. His all-around score was lower than the last meet, but it was great to see how well he could handle adversity. I wasn’t sure what he’d say when I asked him if he had fun afterword, so I was thrilled to hear his enthusiastic “Oh yeah!” Clearly, he knows what’s important.

I think I’m going to learn a thing or two from this kid.

Bit by bit

I passed 1,000 twitter followers today, and while it’s an arbitrary milestone of very minor importance, I couldn’t help but feel pleased about it. More is better, right?

In reality, there’s nothing particularly interesting or significant about having 1,000 followers. There are people I admire/don’t admire who have 0, and there are people I admire/don’t admire who have millions. Because of the nature of my job, my friends tend to have more followers than I do. If I worried about having a ton of followers, I’d be down on myself. I’m not particularly worried about it.

There is something I find interesting about watching my twitter followers grow, though – it happens gradually, bit by bit. There are so many aspects of my life where I try to complete something all at once. Growing a following doesn’t seem to work that way. If I stop tweeting, the number of followers remains stagnant. If I tweet regularly, then the number goes up, a little at a time. The important thing is to focus on the input (tweeting regularly in this case) and trust that the outcome (getting more followers) will happen.

Blogging is even more interesting. I’ve committed to writing more frequently this year. I started a Startup 101 column in Visual Studio Magazine that’s going to compel me to write at least one high-quality article a month. I’m trying to blog a LOT more frequently this year (this is 7 days in a row!) – I’m trusting Seth Godin’s advice that in order to become a better writer, I have to write. According to Seth, if I write frequently, I’ll get a little better every day.

At the moment, my 8-year-old son Gus is watching a movie in the other room while doing “circles” on the mushroom he got for Christmas. Just a few months ago, he could barely do a single circle. Then he got up to 3, then 5, then 8 … now he sometimes can do 20 (although his coach wants him to improve his form by keeping his legs together better). It’s a bit-by-bit kind of skill. Gus loves doing it, so he does it constantly, and he gets slightly better every day.

Growing up as a musician, I’ve spent a great deal of my life focusing on bit-by-bit skill growth, but somewhere along the line I started focusing more on all-at-once kinds of things. It feels good to get back to bit-by-bit growth and learning.

What kinds of bit-by-bit things are you working on these days?

State of the podcast

Bob and I released our first podcast of 2012 yesterday, show 128. In this show, we continue our tradition of making predictions (and reviewing our predictions from last year). We also discuss some of the goals we are working on for 2012.

Our podcast means a lot to me, and I want to make it better. We’ve tried various things, but it’s hard. The bottom line is that improving a show like this takes a lot of work. A lot of the ideas we try don’t work (or sometimes we don’t try an idea long enough for it to stick).

What HAS worked is that we get great guests. We’re going to keep doing that.

One thing I’ve dropped the ball on personally is the production schedule. We’ve experimented with paying someone else to edit the audio, but I don’t have budget for that right now, and I actually kind of enjoy doing it – I just need to be more consistent with scheduling. I get busy and things fall behind.

Right now we have FIVE good interviews recorded waiting to be turned into shows. First I miss a production deadline, then it gets magnified when I have to push up another show for scheduling reasons (e.g., I had to get the Anlock show published as quickly as possible because it impacted my work, and I wanted Brad Feld’s marriage interview to be our holiday show – and then this week is our annual New Year’s show). I’ve got good interviews from OCTOBER sitting on the shelf. That’s insulting to our guests, and it’s simply unacceptable. I’m sorry for that – I will fix it.

Also, we’re going to be more critical about the guests we book. We primarily want to talk with startup founders – actual startup successes – so we’re not going to talk with salespeople or evangelists unless they have a product of enormous immediate interest to other startups. We’ll still have other guests from time to time, but we’ll be very specific about the benefit they provide to startups.

We’re working to figure out a way for listeners to get more value out of the shows we’ve already done. When I can get budget, we’ll get transcriptions made so that topics will start being found from search engines. Bob is working on the WordPress site itself to make content more discoverable for specific topics (e.g., Lean Startup, Bootstrapping, Marketing, etc.). We want to make it easier for people to find a show that will be useful for specific situations.

If you’re a regular or occasional listener – thanks so much for your support. Feel free to email Bob or me with feedback at any time. We’ll keep working to make the show better.

Startup 101

I’ve started a new writing project – a Startup 101 column for Visual Studio Magazine. My goal is to introduce programmers to basic startup concepts and highlight other useful resources for entrepreneurs.

The inaugural installment went live yesterday, summarizing Lean Startup for developers. Initial reviews have been positive, so it looks as though I’ll keep at it. Please read it, tweet it, tell your friends, and send me some feedback!

Running Every Day

The Thursday after Thanksgiving, I was planning to run with my Uncle Frank at Riverside Park, as I often do. Frank is my best running buddy. We started running together about six years ago at our family reunion. Frank always ran about 7 miles from my grandma’s cabin to the shore of Lake Michigan, and that year, I finally decided to join him. We started running regularly after that and became very close. He’s very important to me.

But on Wednesday, November 30, I got a call from Frank telling me he wouldn’t be able to run the next day. He was having a hard time completing sentences, so he handed the phone to his wife, my Aunt Betty, who explained that Frank was at the hospital to investigate the cause of his sudden speech problem. They had already found a mass in his head but didn’t know what it was.

This was shocking to me, because Frank is one of the healthiest people I know. He’s 68, but when we run, he has to slow down for me, 26 years his junior. After I got off the phone and cried a bit, I thought about what I could do for Frank. Since he’s my best running buddy and can’t run right now, I decided I would run every day until he could run with me again.

Frank went into surgery the next day, and they removed (most of) a grade 4 brain tumor. He was home within a couple of days, and I saw him shortly after. He was doing great – laughing, being himself and praising Jesus with all his heart. Frank is handling everything as well as he possibly can, and his faith allows him to accept any outcome with remarkable peace. I find his strength inspiring.

Frank and Betty hosted the BIG family party at their house New Year’s Eve, and he looked great. He wanted to wait until after the holidays before undergoing chemo and radiation, but he’ll start that within the next day or two. Brain cancer is a nasty one, but apparently the mass has not grown back, which is positive.

I’m praying for you every day, Frank, and my prayer is to run. I hope you can join me again soon.

New gear

It was 18 degrees F for my morning run today. Last year I said I wasn’t going to run below 20 anymore, but then I got new running gear for Christmas. The most important was some compression shorts to protect my nether regions, but with the combination of everything, I was toasty warm – even had to worry about being a bit too warm and sweating too much toward the end. I’m pretty sure I could run down to 10 with this gear now. Paula even got me YakTrax, so I’m looking forward to the next slippery sidewalk day.

Sometimes gear really does make the difference. If there’s something you really want to do but think you can’t – is it because you are lacking some essential gear? Does that gear exist? Can you afford it? Seem like important questions to me.

What does the mobile web mean for apps?

I love apps, I really do. Windows Phone recently passed the 50,000 apps mark, and there will be an app marketplace built into Windows 8 as well. I recently interviewed the guys from Anlock, who talked about what a boon marketplaces are for startups, and I suspect I’ll be talking to more app developers in the same vein.

Then in late December, ESPN updated their mobile website. If you have a relatively current smartphone, go visit it now. It’s simply amazing. ESPN has a Windows Phone 7 app, but I see no need to install it now. I have the website pinned to my start menu, and I visit it quite frequently to read stories and check stores. It’s very app-like – it has nice big, touchable links that feel like buttons. It just works. An native app might be able to improve the experience slightly but not by much.

Clearly HTML5 and the rise of good browsers on smart phones enables this kind of experience. What does it mean for startups? When will you favor a mobile website instead of building an app? When will you favor apps?