Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Unhappy Being a Self-Employed Entrepreneur? Get Some Employees

According to a new study from Finland, entrepreneurs with employees rate themselves happier than any other self-employed person. However, despite being the happiest of the self-employed people, an entrepreneur's happiness is only equal to the happiness of a salaried worker.

At this point, I'll remind you that this study is from Finland. You know, one of those Scandinavian countries that offer six week vacations, free education, free quality health-care. A place where being a wage slave is probably pretty nice.

If you did the same study in the U.S., I suspect the salaried worker would rate much lower on the happiness scale than the entrepreneur.

So Does Having Employees Make an Entrepreneur Happier?

Yes, and no. Employees control the speed of the emotional rollercoaster that is a startup.

Employees will surprise you with amazing insights and contributions, and then the next week miss two crucial deadlines. You just to have to roll with it. Unfortunately, unlike the typical entrepreneur, employees have lives outside of work that can sap their productivity. Illness, relationship problems, etc. And the entrepreneur can't control that.

I really hate having to deal with the fact that no matter what happens, no one will be as driven as me to see our company succeed. It's a tough thing to handle. Running a Fortune 500 company must be hell. Just knowing that 20% or more of your workers are just there to collect a paycheck and play solitaire would infuriate me.

But boy, when things are firing on all cylinders, employees are the greatest thing in the world. A united front against the world. Being surrounded by people who share your vision, your goal, your stock option plan, is a wonderful thing.

So do employees make you happier? Well, creating a company is like sex, it's more fun to do it with others, then by yourself in your bedroom. So yes, but some employees like to leave marks.

A Final Note

Farmers were the most unhappy self-employed people. It makes sense, they have to rely on God for their productivity, I just have to rely on freelance developers.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Networking at SFBeta/OnMyList: A Case Study in User Unpredictability

On Tuesday, I finally went to my first official networking event, SFBeta. A batch of freshly baked companies demo their wares to a horde of spring roll chomping tech geeks. Powerset, the buzzable company du jour was showing their stuff so it may have been more crowded than usual. Who knows.

All I know is that I had no idea why I was going. I'm not trying to raise money. I generally find organized networking to be stifling. And it's always a sausage fest. Always. But I went all the same.

So as I sat there sipping my water on a bar stool, surveying the crowd of short guys with bad haircuts and blazers and little yellow founder badges(which sadly, describes me perfectly), I searched for a purpose. Then I hit upon it, I'd pretend to be Mike Moritz and try and find a single company worthy of investment. Which for me means a company with an idea that actually going to affect millions of people for the better and fundamentally change how they interact with the world. Oh, and make over a billion in revenue by year 5.

Case Study - OnMyList: Users Do Whatever the Hell They Want

OnMyList is not one of those companies. However, they do offer a useful case study. The lesson: how you think the user is going to use the product is not going to be how the product is used. It's a fundamental lesson that every startup has to learn.

OnMyList started as a simple way to create lists online and share them with others. The intention was that if you wanted to create, say, a grocery list, and share it with you roommates online, you could. (i.e. very practical stuff)

Of course, the users had other ideas. People have been using OnMyList to create random pop culture inspired musing, such as, "10 reasons why Paris Hilton is a skank", or "the hottest personal sex blogs", or "Things Men have Yelled to Me While Walking in Oakland".

So there it is in a nutshell, a product transforms from utility to self-expression completely independent of the company. And as it usually the case, the change will probably result in the company succeeding. After all, there's at least six other companies doing online to-do list, but OnMyList appears to be the only Flickr for lists...well...so far.

I hope for their success. The founders were supernice, and even offered me a t-shirt, and not one of those Hanes hairshirt. American Apparel, baby. The quality stuff.

So as you may have guessed, I did not find a company that set my checkbook ablaze. I was pretty underwhelmed. But as Teck Chia, serial entrepreneur and overall great guy, told me and OnMyList proved, you never know what's going to succeed, so you might as well take a bunch of small risks. After all, today's shared list app might be tomorrow's enterprise CMS.

Monday, July 16, 2007

How to Be More Likeable - President Lyndon Johnson's Get-Along Guide

In my never-ending quest to become perfect, I stumbled across the rules that former President Lyndon Johnson used to become more likeable. The rules served him well, he's often considered the most effective Senate leader ever, and the most popular. Enjoy.

1. Be An Old-Shoe Person. Johnson believed that you should try to be as familiar to a person as a pair of their old shoes. Focus on making other people feel comfortable being around you, and they'll find your company relaxing and enjoyable. The rules that follow are all techniques that will help you achieve old-shoeness.

2. Get Rid Of Your Scratchy Features. Face it, we all have annoying habits. For me, it's my constant need to be funny. For the rest of you people, it's your complete lack of a sense of humor. See you probably didn't get that joke. First, you have to figure out your negative traits. Ask a close friend, they'll have a whole bunch to share. Then you have to stop your yourself whenever you notice yourself doing it. Some examples: dominating conversation, argumentative, judgmental, prone to interrupting, arrogance, quick to anger, self-righteous.

3. Remember People’s Names. Remembering someone's name indicates to them that you actually care about who they are. Think about how many times you been at a party talking to someone you know could care less about you. Personally, it fills me with disgust. The trick is to repeat their name back to them to make sure you get it right, and then use it a couple of times in the conversation to cement the memory. If the name is unfamiliar, i.e. foreign or one of those weird hippie names, ask them to write it down. Tell them why. There's no shame in being a bad speller.

4. Cultivate The Quality Of Being Interesting. Being truly interesting. It means shutting up and letting the other person talk. The less you talk, the more interesting the other person will find you. It doesn't make sense, but it's true. People like to talk about themselves more then any other topic. Ask a couple of open-ended questions, sit back and listen. Possible questions: why did you decide to move here? How did you know that you wanted to do that for living? What's brings you to the party?

5. Practice Liking People Until You Genuinely Do. I'll be honest, I hate people. In general, I think as a species humans are ignorant and petty. And yet, I can't think of anybody I've met that I don't like. I can find something I like in just about anybody. And so can you. But you may have to look pretty hard. It helps to understand that when someone has some unattractive traits that those traits are usually due to stress, unhappiness, or poor breeding. Knowing that makes it easier to forgive them. It really does.

6. Never Miss A Chance To Praise. Be honest. Don't blow smoke. Insincere praise is worthless and transparent. However, if you're on the lookout, you'll find all kinds of legitimate reasons to praise people. By showing appreciation for the people around you, you can avoid the trap of taking them for granted.

7. Give Spiritual Strength To People And They’ll Give Genuine Affection Back. Be supportive. For most people, life is hard. We all have dreams, aspirations, hope. Don't be the person who is always finding reasons why other will fail, even if you believe that true. Change your mind. After all, who says you know everything. Instead, find ways to help, even if only through words of encouragement. Who knows, your kind words may be the nourishment that leads someone to the next great innovation or the love of their love or a fulfilling career.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Don't Read This Blog!

I mean it. Just unsubscribe.

You'll be happier, more productive, and have more free time.

I've realized that like most Americans, I have become obese...with information. My head is full of facts that I thought might be relevant some day. Except that day never comes. And if it did come, I would have forgotten what I was supposed to remember anyway.

I was following over 300 blogs. I was a feed fattie. I spent around 3 hours a day reading blog feeds in my trusty Google Reader. 3 hours! That's moronic. A huge waste of a human life. Sorry Scobleizer, but it's true.

But like any addict, I thought I needed that information. When I first moved out to San Francisco, I was desperate to gain as much knowledge as possible about the tech industry. At meetings, I wanted to have a deeper grasp of the industry then anyone in the room. And to be honest that kind of knowledge does impress people which makes it harder to let go of.

Ultimately though, impressing people with my knowledge is not worth 21 hours a week of my time. Now, I'll have to rely on jokes about relationships, airplane food and the wacky differences between how white and black people drive.

I'm still subscribed to 77 blog feeds. Mostly friends and competitors. And Techcrunch. And Marc Andreessen, because he's still new to the blogging thing and hasn't run out of interesting things to say, yet.

My biggest regret was dropping Lifehacker, I think Gina Trapani is a fantastic blogger. But honestly, is there anything more unproductive than reading a daily blog about improving your productivity?

I thank three people for this revelation:
Tim Ferris - author of the 4 Hour Work Week. Applying Pareto's 80/20 rule to your life is wise indeed.
Aaron Schwartz - who despite cofounding Reddit, a news aggregator site, believes that reading the news is a waste of time.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb - author of the Black Swan (best book I've read this year) who has been trading stock options and I'm certain other exotic instruments successfully without glancing at a newspaper in 20+ years.


Here's my advice if you can't kick the addiction:

1. Use another blog as a filter. For tech related crap, Scobleizer catches anything of interest anyway - let him do the world. If you're into virtual worlds, MMOs, and games in general, just read Raph Koster, he posts everything of interest. Believe me, I followed the virtual world space extremely closely for the last six months and Raph never missed anything important and fairly promptly as well.

2. Choose only one tech industry source. They all cover the same stuff and usually the same way. Pick one. I chose Techcrunch. Eventually, I'll be brave enough to drop it.

3. Read friend's blogs. They don't post frequently enough for it to be a timesink.

4. Only check you feed reader once a day, or even better once a week. I'll give Tim Ferris credit for that advice. He calls it batching. The idea is that you'll waste less time doing a task in one solid block of time, then constantly changing tasks. Believe em, there isn't anything happening in the blogosphere that so urgent that you can't miss a day, or a week, or a month.

5. If you use Google Reader, use Google Trends to see what you're REALLY reading and drop the feeds you only partially read.

Well dear reader, it was nice knowing you. I'll still be here writing. For your sake, I hope you stop reading.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tenuki: Changing Direction

For all of you tracking the progress of Tenuki, you'll notice that I've been mute on the subject. I've always been cagey about what exactly we're doing, mainly out of typical startup paranoia.

Well, I hate doing things out of fear. I think it's stupid and short-sighted, and results in bad decisions. So I'm vowing to be more forthright about what we're doing.

What We Were Doing

First of all, we abandoned our original plan to build a MMO centered around casual gaming. We still think it's a great opportunity, and we wish the other companies in the space all the best, especially Three Rings who we like and respect immensely.

Why? We couldn't do it without raising lots of money. We were looking at eight million dollars in funding before we saw the first dollar of revenue. In the current funding environment, that's a ridiculous sum. Everybody else is out raising $250,000 to $500,00 in their first round. We were shooting for 1 million-1.5 million to get to private beta. And since neither John nor I ever was a Senior VP at an online games company, it was going to be a long, hard road to raise that money.

So instead of playing salmon and fighting upstream, we took the advice of the many others who've been down this road before and we scaled back our ambitions. And as a result, we've unearthed many other tasty opportunities. Our current focus is the first of those opportunities, one we know we can launch for zero dollars and within a month or so. Fortunately, much of the technology we had been building was already suited to this purpose.

What We Are Doing

We're building a cross-site multi-player flash game platform. We're enabling players on any gaming site to play against players on any other gaming site. Why? Because it's annoying to find a multi-player game on some site that only has three active players. It's why I stopped playing multi-player flash games on miniclip. You could never find anyone with whom to play.

We're solving that problem. And we'll see where that goes.

One thing I've learned about startups is that the only thing you get from making plans is plans. Make the product, then figure it out. If that one doesn't work, build another one. Repeat as necessary. If that sounds like good advice, I'm sure I stole it from Paul Graham or Marc Andreessen.

The philosophy behind Tenuki has always been make it easy for people to play games together online. It's the reason John and I started down the startup path, and we're elated to still be on it. It's a great path to be on, and if you haven't got on it yet, you should. You won't regret it.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Customizable Simpsons Avatar

Feeling super-lazy today. Here's me if I was a Simpsons' character. Add an imaginary yawn bubble for accuracy.