Dec 2 2010

Follow the Startup, Attempt 3

You may recall my first attempt to blog about what I was doing on a daily basis (relating to starting Rocket Whale) failed miserably. In fact you probably don’t even remember the first attempt because it was so short. You can even scroll down to read about the changes I was making for my second attempt at follow the startup. Well, we’re at our third and probably not final attempt. I’m switching my Rocket Whale tweets over to the official Rocket Whale Twitter Account and I’m even going to retweet (man I hate saying “tweet”) everything to get us up to date. I’m sure a company blog will come at some point but I’m gonna go ahead and decide that it’s more important that we start making something so we have a product to talk about. Oh, and in case you’re wondering why I’m doing this, it’s because twitter doesn’t track search history past a week or so. That means if you search on twitter for #rktwhl, you only get about 3 or 4 updates. Lame.

Nov 19 2010

Web App Technology List

I created a list of all of the technologies I’ve researched in the last two months regarding the building of web applications. I figured I’d put it on the old interwebs for anyone else out there that’s getting started with a web app and wants to see it all in one place. If you have an addition, put it in the comments and I’ll update the list!

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Nov 11 2010

Follow the Startup

Clearly I have not been doing what I said I would do, which is to post regular updates about what I’m accomplishing and learning relating to the start of Rocket Whale. I think this is because, for me, writing a blog entry is an arduous process. In my opinion, I’m a pretty good copywriter, but it takes me FOREVER. Some people can sit down and bang out a blog post in 15 minutes. I, on the other hand, retype sentences, reorganize things and reread everything over and over again. This makes a 2 paragraph blog post about what I’m doing on a daily or semi-daily basis a seemingly insurmountable task. Blog posts need to be perfect the first time so that they’re great when they pop up on your RSS reader. I also recognize that some day potential investors, employees, customers and employers might come to this site to read my thoughts, so I don’t want this to be a collection of poorly written blather.

For these reasons, I’m moving my startup thoughts over to Twitter. Each day, I’ll post something I’ve accomplished, something new that I’ve learned, an interesting link or something else. I might even post more than once per day (OMG). This will motivate me to get things done and I’m hoping that other entrepreneurs will be able to find it and follow the progression from a one-guy startup to a $million company. I’ll be using my regular Twitter handle, tom_odea, but I’ll add the hashtag #rktwhl to each post. Not only will this let you filter out my other nonsense but as we add employees it will organize everyone’s tweets into one place.

Finally I’ve discovered a practical use for Twitter. So go follow Tom O’Dea right now!

Oct 28 2010

Set up Linux (and more) for Ruby on Rails

I’ve decided that a great way for me to motivate myself to get my new business going will be to post regular updates about what I’m doing and accomplishing. One of the problems I’ve been encountering as a new business owner who is without an actual product (yet) is that I can easily give off the impression that I’m a crazy inventor guy with an idea that just needs a) your money or b) your time to develop my product for nothing. Since neither of those expectations are true, and since giving anyone the impression that I’m an inventor is a death sentence for a legitimate conversation, I will be designing and creating the front end of my product (a web application). Even more importantly, I can show it to potential customers for some oh-so-important market feedback.

Rather than coding normal HTML and CSS with Notepad++, I’ve decided to actually get into a real development environment. It will help me avoid rework in the future, and also give me more insight into how my developer is doing things. The more I know about the technical side, the better CEO I can be. Since Windows is a poor development environment for Ruby on Rails (which I discovered quickly), I had to set up some sort of Linux box to get moving. This is a problem because I haven’t used Unix in over 10 years (if you don’t count editing an htaccess file). The other problem is that my iTunes keeps playing every terrible song in my music library.

This is a tutorial for creating the development environment I’ve chosen. It consists of Ubuntu 10.4, RVM (Ruby Version Manager), RubyGems, Ruby 1.9.2 (and 1.8.7), Rails 3.0.1, git, github, haml/sass, sqlite (though I won’t be creating a database right now), java and finally RubyMine for text editing. I tried tons of different text editors, and RubyMine was the best, though technically it’s an IDE and not a text editor. It has built-in haml/sass/scss highlighting and more, and has a nice GUI that this Windows-user needs. I hope to explore Compass/Bluepoint for the CSS portion but that will be another time! Here’s the machine I’m setting it up on:

  • HP dv6t laptop with Windows 7 64-bit, Intel Core i7 and 4GB RAM
  • Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000 and Logitech diNovo wireless keyboard for notebooks
  • nVidia geForce GT 230M with a Dell ST2410b display attached via HDMI
  • I also have an HP LaserJet P1006 printer attached

As far as disclaimers go, I need to admit that I don’t particularly understand everything that is happening when I type the commands I describe below. As I said, I haven’t used UNIX in 10 years. If some of these things are explained wrong or anyone wants to enlighten me, please feel free to do so in the comments and I’ll update the tutorial!

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Sep 20 2010

The Soda Pop Stop

Love small business? Then you’ll love this video. The pure happiness and passion that John Nese (the owner) has for his business is something to be envious of.

Buy some at

Sep 10 2010

How to Negotiate: 2 Book Recaps

I recently read 2 different negotiation books: Bargaining for Advantage and Getting to Yes.  I read BfA first but I think if you are going to read both, you should do so in the opposite order. I found that GtY did a better job at giving practical advice for everyday negotiating and communicating, whereas BfA was a more about different strategies and tactics to use. I’d characterize BfA as a more advanced book with tactics that should be used once you feel comfortable using the basic principles outlined in GtY. Though I recommend both books, read GtY if you’re going to pick just one. As a reminder, this is a book recap, not a review. Without further delay…

Getting to Yes

The underlying principle behind Getting to Yes is that negotiations should be a cooperative problem-solving process with the goal of finding the best solution for the mutual gain of both parties. It then outlines several strategies for getting there, with other useful information included for when the other party doesn’t see it that way. Here are the main strategies discussed:

Establish Criteria

Creating an objective standard in which to judge things against helps create an environment of cooperative problem-solving. The standard can be something that: you decide together (we want Italian food within 10 miles), already exists (standard govt. building codes), is based on past behavior (my last oil change was $X) or is based on market standards (the Kelly Blue Book value of a car). The key is to frame each issue as a joint search for an objective criteria you can agree on. Negotiating and agreeing upon criteria leads to fair agreements almost every time.

Separate the People from the Problem

The main idea here is to remember that, ideally, you are 2 (or more) parties that are working together towards the best agreement for your mutual gain. This section of the book discusses many points, but the main thing to remember is that we’re all just people and relationships are a very important part of the negotiation process.

Concentrate on Interests, not Positions

Ask a lot of questions, and listen for the answers. Most people won’t come out and just tell you what their real interests are. They’re usually buried under a bunch of positions. It’s the “why” hidden behind the “what”. Your job is to figure out why the other party has taken a certain position. This is the fastest path to finding mutual gain. Example: A guy wants $1000 for his car and is firm on the price. You ask why and find out it’s so he can buy a new TV. Well you happen to have a friend that can get a TV at a 20% employee discount. So you pay $800 for the car and your friend helps him get the TV he wants at a discount, and you take your friend out for some beers as a thank you. Everybody wins, and none of it happens if you didn’t take the time to find out why the guy was so firm at $1000.

Improve your BATNA or Adjust the Leverage Equation

BATNA is your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. The better your BATNA, the more leverage you have when negotiating. Even if you don’t tell the other party, you’ll FEEL better. An easy example is getting another job offer to help negotiate your first one. BATNA also can go the other way. By bombing a country, you’re effectively worsening their BATNA to force them to negotiate. Yes, war is a negotiation tactic aimed at reducing the other side’s leverage.

The last important item I took away from the book is a technique for how to state your position on something. Always give the reasoning first! Once you state your position, the other party is thinking of a reply or is busy being affected emotionally by your position. They are not listening to your reasons. I think this advice applies very well for all communication. Whenever you need to say anything with a qualifier or you want to give your reasoning for something, do it up front. People will actually hear and process what you have to say and will be much more able to understand where you’re coming from when it comes time to say the thing you want to say.

Overall, I highly recommend that everyone should read Getting to Yes. You negotiate something almost every day! Wouldn’t it be better if everyone treated it as cooperative problem-solving?

Bargaining for Advantage

First off, there are 4 + 1 key habits to good negotiators:

  1. The willingness to prepare
  2. The confidence to set high expectations
  3. The patience to listen
  4. A commitment to personal integrity

The “+1″ is the ability to see the other side’s point of view, which is mainly achieved by listening and asking thoughtful questions. This point was discussed in Getting to Yes as well and is something that people often easily forget. Instead of thinking of the next thing to say, just listen. I have personally found this advice to be essentially a requirement on the improv stage.

Each person has their own personal negotiating style, and each situation has its own negotiation type. In some cases, preserving the relationship is more important than “winning”. Being able to recognize your negotiation style and the type of negotiation you are in is crucial to your preparation. You’re going to negotiate differently with your spouse than with a used car salesman.

The last big takeaway from the book is that information is king. Ask questions. The more information you have about the other side (their wants, their needs, etc.) the better off you are. Stop focusing on what you want and focus on what THEY want. That’s when you can really discover their true interests, and you may find they line up with yours a lot better than you had thought. Conversely, if you are in a competitive situation (divorce, house sale, market transaction), you want to hold as much information as you can. This seems pretty obvious when you think about it!

Overall, I feel like I’ve learned a lot from the combination of both books. Now it’s up to me to put the techniques into practice!

Sep 8 2010

A Trip to the Caribbean

I had never been to the Caribbean before, but a beach vacation with the lady was in order and what better beaches can you find than in St. Croix and St. Thomas? Well, if you know, I’d be happy to check them out and do a comparison for you.  We decided on the USVI because flights weren’t outlandish, they’re close and they offer a variety of activities. Yes, lying on a beach all day is great, but St. Croix also has kayaking, a “rainforest”, historical towns and more.

Going in August during hurricane season has its pros and cons. There was nobody else at the condo we were at, so we basically had a private beach we could snorkel off of. Unfortunately, this also meant that a lot of restaurants were closed or had limited hours. I think I’d take the trade-off again, as it kind of felt like we had the island to ourselves. Between the two, I preferred St. Croix as it is more laid-back, less built up, and I’m not in the market for gold, expensive jewelry, a watch or alcohol. Well, maybe a little alcohol but I didn’t feel the need to stock up for the flight home as I’m fairly certain that they sell my brand of cheap <fill in the blank> here in Atlanta.

Overall, both islands are VERY American, so we didn’t exactly get a ton of culture in. That just means our next trip will have to be somewhere crazier! Enough chit-chat, I’ll let the pictures explain the rest…

Buck Island Panorama

Buck Island, St. Croix. We sailed here and went snorkeling. Click for a bigger size!

Seabreeze Condo View

The view from our condo, including our "private" beach.

Sunset at the Seabreeze Condo, St. Croix

Sunset at the Seabreeze Condo, St. Croix

Piña Colada in Paradise

Can't chill out on a Caribbean beach without a Piña Colada in hand.

Baobab Tree, St. Croix, USVI

Baobab Tree, St. Croix

Mountain Goats

It was raining so I had my hand on top of the camera. Deal with it.

Pelican in Frederiksted

Have you ever seen a pelican before? Me neither.

Hermit Crab, St. Croix Rainforest

We hiked to an old lighthouse on St. Croix and almost stepped on this big guy!

Northwest St. Croix

Here's a view from the lighthouse lookout of the west end of northern St. Croix.

St. Croix Horseback Riding

Rode in on a horse? Indeed we did.

St. Thomas Iguana Guy

Completely normal guy with his iguana in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

Gary the Green Iguana

Gary the Green Iguana

Turtle Chasing, Buck Island, St. Thomas

Get back here, turtle! I have some green ooze for you.

Turtle Power!

We went to a place called "Turtle Cove" at Buck Island (the St. Thomas one). Lot's of turtles! Didn't see any as big as the ones in Australia, though.

Jul 22 2010

The Power of Focus

The breakup of The Pickles anti-dynasty in the spring of 2010 was a devastating/euphoric event for many of us. Though I’m happy to not be managing a team of misfits, I still love playing the game. The thought of playing an old man’s game like softball just didn’t sit well with me, so I decided to retire. However, The Spikes had some injuries and they called me out of retirement to join them in their Sunday 25+ league. And funnily enough, through 4 games, I’m doing alright. I’ve got a slash line (verbiage courtesy of Off Base Percentage) of .385/.500/.538 to go with 5 runs and 5 steals. Now, 4 games is an absurdly small sample size for baseball and at this point my stats could tank with 1 bad game, but I also FEEL like I’m a better player. I got to thinking about why and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about focus.

You see, as manager of The Pickles, I not only had normal managerial duties such as setting the offensive and defensive lineups, making pitching changes and managing the personalities of 8-12 other idiots aside from myself, but there was also the list of Pickle-exclusive issues:

  • People showing up late or not at all with no notice, even when they said they’d be there
  • Having to bug people for money 3/4 of the way through the season
  • Considering shuffling the lineup because more than one player is hungover or still drunk
  • Breaking up fights between opponents and our rapscallion replacement players
  • Making sure nobody hurts their arm during pre-game Emanski bucket tossing practice
  • Setting up and participating in a pre-game slam dunk contest on a Fischer-Price hoop
  • I think you get the idea…

So now when I’m in the outfield I don’t need to worry about whether I need to pull our starter, who has walked 4 people this inning and has yet to record an out due to at least 3 errors, in favor of someone else who, though not tired, has arm trouble and clearly has no business being a pitcher in a baseball game (this would be me). This has given me the ability to focus on defense, my next at-bat and how I’m going to get on base. The simple ability to focus on what I’m currently doing has vastly improved my play (though this post will certainly jinx that). This got me to thinking about my time at 3DScanCo and LDI.

Throughout my experience in the 3D scanning world, the leaders of my company (including myself) consistently had trouble with focus. We oftentimes got stuck working IN the business when we should have been working ON it. This is easy to do when in a money crunch or when it feels like you’re the only one who can do a task. The key is to recognize those situations and work on a way to change things. Delegate. Do one thing at a time. Find good people you trust to do the other work and leave them alone to do it. Sounds like easy advice to follow and it is – until something goes wrong. When that happens, will you recognize your loss of focus and turn things around? It will be harder than you think.

You see, the difficult part is not doing the things I talked about above (delegation, etc.). The difficult part has to do with mindshare. Those rare free moments, like when I’m standing in the outfield waiting for a pitch, need to be devoted to thinking about what you WANT to be thinking about, not what you NEED to be thinking about. If you delegate a task to someone yet continue to think and worry about it, you haven’t accomplished a thing. Likewise, if you’re wasting your most creative thinking moments, like when you’re in the shower or on the crapper, on things that are menial, unimportant or outside of what you’d like to be focused on then consider it a good sign that a change needs to be made.