Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Five Networking Tips from the "Secrets of Silicon Valley's Master Networkers" - Courtesy of Auren Hoffman

For anyone who doesn't know, Auren Hoffman is Silicon Valley's uber-networker, though he doesn't like to be known as an uber-networker, so giving a talk called "Secrets of Silicon Valley's Master Networkers" may have been counterproductive for him. He's also CEO of Rapleaf, an online reputation system for online buyers and sellers, kind of a Better Business Bureau for individuals.

Auren is seriously connected. Everybody I've met in San Francisco's tech scene knows Auren. I'm sure that I'll eventually know Auren, too, whether I like it or not. Fortunately, he appears to be a very good guy.

I'm not going to cover everything from his talk, just the stuff I found most relevant. If you want more, he's posted the slides from the presentation on his blog. so without further ado...

Auren Hoffman's Networking Secrets

Help People.
Auren believes that the best way to make connections with other people is to help them. He's a big believer in karma, the idea that good things that you do will come back to you later on. Of course, a belief in karma is necessary for the CEO of a company whose product requires people to take reputation seriously.

My cynical take: When you help someone, they feel indebted to you. In general, people hate to feel indebted to anyone. As a result, they'll try and pay back that favor as soon as possible.

Find your unique value. You need to know how you can help someone if you're going to be offering your assistance. Simply put, what are you an expert in? Auren offered the example of a woman whose passion for dogs resulting in her becoming the go-to person for people looking to buy new pets. As a result, she found power brokers in the Valley cold-calling her for dog advice. Obviously, everyone out here in the Valley is a technology expert, so the key is to identify your other non-techie skills.

Spend time doing what you like and you'll meet valuable contacts. Out in the Valley/San Francisco, I know this is true. If you live in Peoria, IL, you're probably out of luck. For example, if you're into kite-surfing, you'll probably run into Google founder, Sergey Brin. I agree with Auren, you'll actually connect people on a personal level if you're both passionate about the same thing. Auren claims that he doesn't even attend networking events.

Unfortunately, if you enjoy sitting in your house all day in front of your computer you're unlikely to meet anyone, well...unless you're playing World of Warcraft. Joi Ito wrote an article about how Warcraft is the new golf, i.e. the place for high-powered networking.

Respond to emails within 24 hours. Start doing this today. If Steve Ballmer can do it, so can you. Not only will it help you with your networking, but it'll help you stay productive. I've read that nothing ages you faster than the stress of having an unfinished task hanging over your head. I think this applies to unanswered emails, as well. I always feel exceptionally awkward about replying to messages or phone calls after more than a week has passed, it's akin to the stress of calling a new girl for the first time, a roiling in the stomach.

I was talking to a CEO of another internet company a couple nights ago, and we both agreed that we had missed opportunities from not staying on top of our emails.

Spend time maintaining connections, not just building them. This point is directly connected to the last one. Auren points out, and I believe it's true, that maintaining relationships is much harder that creating new ones. Never rely on the other person to contact you, you have to be the one sending that "I haven't heard from you in month" email. Someone in audience, suggested sending out a New Year's Eve newsletter to all your contacts as a way of keeping in touch. I actually do this, but I find that after a brief flurry of email, all the connections go dark again until the next year.

The truth is that you could easily spend every day emailing or calling contacts and have no time for anything else. My advice is to prioritize your contacts to highlight the ones that are most important in the short-term and contact them more frequently. Sure, this probably means that your best friend from high school is going to get neglected, but they'll forgive you. The head of acquisitions of Google will just write you off.


Basically, one can sum up Auren's advice like this: be a good, interesting, happy, diligent, and thoughtful person.

Yep, it's going to be hard for me, too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How Much Money do You need to Create an MMO?

As the resident financial projection guy at Tenuki, I have spent a lot more time than I'd like thinking about this question. Weeks, in fact. And now, just as I have finally refined my development budget to silky smooth perfection, Brian "Psychochild" Green posts a pretty accurate accounting of the numbers for the development phase of an MMO (at least if you have a small, tight team of programmers). If he would have posted this in December he could have saved me from a Christmas Eve sitting at my parent's kitchen table poring over spreadsheets. On the plus side, Santa brought me an HP 12c financial calculator.

BTW, Brian also edited a very good book on the business of game development. Eventually, I'll review it here, but then again I say that about all the books I read.

Friday, April 13, 2007

You Know You're An Early Adopter when... can use your firstname as your username.

While Bret is not the most common name (thank god, my name isn't Mike, Matt, or Om), I've been able to use it at every site I've signed up for in the last two weeks.

I guess another sign that you're an early adopter is when you make an in-joke about TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and GigaOm and expect other people to get it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Indie MMO Game Developer's Conference on Video

The Indie MMO Game Developer's Conference starts on Thursday (oops, I meant Friday), but Minnesota. Yeah, I'm not going either. But if you are interested enough to shell out 99 bucks, Last Straw Productions will be making videos of all the conference sessions available online to anyone who registered, even if they didn't actually attend (or should I say, especially if they didn't attend).

Which reminds me, I have two free audio recordings of session I missed at the GDC that I haven't ordered yet, any recommendations?

(via GameBiz Daily)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Kaneva Review w/ virtual world screenshots

Not my review, I never acquired enough Kaneva points, or whatever they call them, to earn my way into the virtual world. However, an MIT researcher got a special invite and captured some screenshots along with his first impressions of the virtual world. The interesting thing to me about Kaneva is that (currently) it's only an indoor world. I think limiting the world is a good idea. Part of the problem with Second Life is that is too large, resulting in vast empty spaces that hold no interest for the audience.

However, Kaneva makes a different design choice that I think is problematic. They make you go to a mall to buy things for your apartment. In the review, the researcher goes to buy picture frames for his apartment and has to walk around the mall to find the shop that sells picture frames. I would have given up after about two seconds, but then again I buy everything online. Doesn't it make more sense to give your user the option to buy stuff for his or her apartment while he or she is in the apartment? Why make it hard to buy stuff? That just seems short-sighted.

Kaneva, and maybe every virtual world, makes the mistake of assuming that the key feature of virtual worlds to be exact replication of physical space, and our experience of moving through it. Second Life's original credo was no teleporting, because they wanted users to experience the virtual world as they would the real world. They changed that stance, I'm assuming because users got tired of walking for ten minutes to get to somewhere interesting. In fact, Slurls were developed by third-party developers so that Second Lifers could avoid travel through Second Life altogether(well, maybe that wasn't the intent, but it is the result. A Slurl is a link on a webpage that when clicked takes you directly to a location in Second Life.

I think it's a huge mistake to attempt to make virtual worlds into direct analogues of the real world. Traversing space in the real world is unavoidable. In a virtual world, it is optional. We developers would be wise to remember that.

I have a lot more to say about this subject but I'll reserve it for another post, when it's not 3AM. :)


Friday, April 6, 2007

Atari enters the Virtual World fray?

First, Sony announces Playstation Home, basically virtual apartments for Playstation owners that can be decorated with virtual items.

Now, Atari announces that they have something in the works that 10x better than Playstation Home. Details are sparse at the moment, but everybody's favorite buzzwords, "user-generated content" was being bandied about.

Of course, Three Rings already has a world built around user-generated content in closed alpha, called Whirled. I'm still waiting for my invite.

I'm not a news organization, but I'll be following this story.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Fun with Advergames

I've been spending most of my days looking at advergames. I was surprised by the amount of creativity (and production value) I found in a medium that most people dismiss as corporate hackery.

Check out this game. Definitely recommended if you're a fan of the eighties.

Tenuki Update - GDC. Milestone reached! John Rocks!

When I first pitched John (co-founder) on the idea of a blog, he feared that it'd be lame and boring.
Then I explained to him that I'd be blogging the story of Tenuki. But since we're in stealth mode, he felt that I wouldn't be able to talk about all the interesting stuff we're doing, so again boring and lame blog he feared.

Then I wrote a protoblog in Word: twenty entries (most not published) to prove that the blog would be interesting. And he said, it's not boring and lame enough! Mainly because I have a tendency to swear and make sarcastic remarks about our competitors, the government, our close friends, etc.

So I stripped out all the offending comments. Well, most of them anyway and the blog was born.

Looking back over the blog, I've noticed that I haven't been devoting much time to the day-to-day workings of Tenuki. That's bad. After all, that's what this blog is supposed to be about.

So here's what happened in March in the life of Tenuki.

John and I went to the Game Developers' Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. Being a miser about cash flow, I refused to pay the four thousand dollars that it would have cost us both to attend. However, recognizing how valuable the conference could be for us, I started begging for passes. Neil Kirby, one of the speakers at the GDC and all around awesome guy offered me the following advice:

I have got to hand it to you for the "never hurts to ask" attitude. At first I laughed out loud (very glad that I'd finished my morning tea). I do actually wish you the best of luck. I don't have a pass to give away. I did have a pass to give away see but it has been awarded.

Here are some real ways to get into GDC without taking the financial spear to the chest and simply paying for it:

1) Be a speaker. My personal favorite, it gets you a Giga pass and puts you next to some of the coolest people in the industry. The speaker/VIP party rocks like nothing else. And you can get papers published this way too.

2) Win a scholarship. Good if you are a student.

3) Volunteer to be a Conference Associate. The deadline for this is way over but the old URL is This is hard work, but the price is hard to beat. I know a number of people who do the CA thing because it fits their nearly-non-existent budget. I once said to my late friend Eric, "always be nice to the CAs, they could be your boss next year." He replied, "Boss? They could be your producer!" This was actually the case for him. To be a CA, you have to be able to work hard and keep a pleasant attitude, even if the people around you are not compelled to have a pleasant attitude. See to see how the CA staff can get caught in the middle. If you can't do the "with a good attitude under pressure" part, please, do NOT pollute the ranks of the CA staff. I turn in rude, sexist, un-helpful CAs to the two guys who run the whole CA staff. I also, when I can,!
point out to those same guys when I see a CA exceed my expectations. Good CA staff members get to be CAs year after year. Bad CAs tend to never make the cut again. As a speaker, I know that my session could live or die based on whether a CA can get something done for me [this has happened more than once]. They are "I can help" and "I don't know how, but we can make that happen" kind of people.
John and I ended up volunteering to be Conference Associates, hoping that missing the application deadline wouldn't be a factor. Fortunately, Tim Brengle and Ian MacKenzie, the guys in charge of the CA program let us in just two days before the conference. If you ever plan to be a CA, you'll learn to appreciate Tim and Ian. They're great organizers and really nice people for whom to work.

John and I sat in on as many sessions as we could. Being a neophyte to the games industry, I soaked up every piece of information I could get. John, meanwhile, ran into old friends - John's been in the industry awhile - and pitched them on our company. Thankfully, they were intrigued by Tenuki. They were especially intrigued by what John had accomplished technically in the last couple months. Since I'm not a programmer, I'll admit that sometimes I underappreciate John's skills. Believe me, it's validating to hear other engineers speak with admiration about what John's accomplished. It's like hearing cheerleaders talk about how hot they think your girlfriend is.

I networked some myself. By far, the most interesting guy I met was Bob, a director at Newegg. Met him during lunch, and he gave me enormous insight on the entire mobile space.

Unfortunately, a flu bug was floating around the conference and it took out John, his fiancee, and myself for the good part of the week following the conference.

Nonetheless, we were still able to reach a major milestone, courtesy of John's coding skills. I won't say what at the moment, because I feel like being mysterious/annoying.

What was I doing during that time, you ask? What all startup CEOs do? Gnawing my fingers in terror as I saw competitors rise from every quarter. Trying to suss out their strengths and weaknesses. Figuring out how to position ourselves in the marketplace in response to the new arrivals. Reworking the pitch to incorporate new information. Meeting with smart people to get advice. Emailing lawyers about patents and such. Writing this blog and sucking down tons of feeds with my giant cup of tea. Approaching people who I'd like to learn from who have never met me. Avoiding the five ideas I have each day for other companies that I could start by diligently recording them in a notebook and forgetting about them. Cursing myself every day for not being more productive. And wishing Michael Arrington would notice me. :)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The 8--Bit Tie: Perfect Accessory for the Young Gaming Executive

If Mario had an meeting with investors, this is what he'd be wearing.

Buy it from Thinkgeek.

Monday, April 2, 2007

How to REALLY Negotiate a Term Sheet: Venture Hacks

I love the Internet. Really smart people with direct experience of issues offer free advice to anyone who cares to read their blog. A couple of experienced entrepreneurs recently started a blog called Venture Hacks. The first few posts are about the strategy surrounding board seats. Honestly, I hadn't given board composition any serious thought, so their posts were a wakeup call.

An excerpt:

Whether you negotiate a proportional or investor-leaning board, your term sheet will probably state that the CEO of the company must fill one of the common board seats. This may seem reasonable. One of the founders is probably the CEO and you were going to elect him to the board anyway.

Don’t accept this term. The investors are looking several moves ahead of you.