Jun 17 2011

The PC to Mac Switch

I bought a Mac (used) a few weeks ago to use for work because developing anything but asp.net on Windows is a train wreck and my Linux desktop computer is really slow and shitty. I needed a Macbook Pro so I bought a used one off a friend. Last week was my first week using a Mac full-time since the late 90s, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

First, and most importantly, I find the Mac experience to be equal to the Windows experience. Some things are better, some are worse. They are different, but equal. I have found the same to be true after switching to an Android phone after using an iPhone for 2+ years.

Things that I like:

  • The keyboard glows.
  • The multi-touch touchpad is pretty slick, although I much prefer a mouse (with 2 buttons).
  • The magnetic power plug is brilliant.
  • Obviously, for development, it’s great. This alone is why I own a Mactop.
  • Exposé is great for switching between windows.
  • Navigating through things with just the keyboard is much better.
  • Great battery life and it’s smaller and lighter than my comparable Windows laptop.

Things that annoy the crap out of me:

  • A standard installation of the Mac OS does not include the ability to maximize windows in any program. Overall, window management/arrangement/sizing sucks.
  • CTRL + ENTER in Chrome doesn’t do what it does in Windows.
  • Every program’s menu bar being the same thing. This is more annoying when using multiple monitors, but maybe it’s something I need to get used to.
  • I HATE how Photoshop has no minimize button and there is no Photoshop “desktop.” This infuriates me and is a terrible user experience.
  • Chrome won’t reopen my previously open tabs on startup for some reason.
  • I can’t cut and paste files in Finder.
  • I can’t open Finder with a keyboard shortcut like I can Windows Explorer (Windows + E).
  • It only has 2 USB ports (but at least they work).

Hopefully some of these annoying things go away over time!

Jan 30 2011

Start Atlanta Wrap Up

This weekend I went to StartAtlanta 2011 and participated in starting a new company. The premise is that you join a team and start a company Friday night and hopefully have something to launch and demo by Sunday night. Since Rocket Whale is already building my idea for a startup that you can feasibly launch in a weekend (Use the List), I went with the intention of participating on another team. And participate I did!

Our team was centered around the idea of one-question surveys. Everyone hates getting a link to a 10+ question survey. But send them one question with a choice of answers and they’ll likely answer. Overall I think our team did a pretty good job. I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get further and actually have a usable application up and running for the demo, but we got very close and I’m confident that the crew will have something working within a week or two. I did the design and HTML/CSS for the app and “threw it over the wall” to the developer guys to code up. You can see my design and sign up to be notified when the site goes live at the web site: http://ask1question.com. I look forward to seeing where it all goes!

Here’s a rundown of some of my favorite ideas (most of these have completely different designs that I imagine will be unveiled on their live sites soon):

  • TripLingo was the crowd favorite of all of the participants. They had a slick site design and got very far along, including a web app and a mobile app. Cool idea whose value was much more evident once the app was demoed.
  • Connect Me is a facebook dating/matchmaking app that has the same fun feel of hotornot.com. The app shows you pictures of 2 friends and you decide whether or not you think they’d be a good match. If you do, the app sends them both some type of introduction. I’m looking forward to seeing it live!
  • Reach Me Later is a fantastic idea that I found myself wanting during my drive home. Right now, it’s targeted towards teens and parents as it was inspired by the death of a teen who was texting while driving. It’s a mobile app that basically shuts your phone’s texting off and auto-replies with a message that says, “I’m driving, I’ll respond later.” Parents get a text when their kid turns the service on and there are analytics built in so parents can see if their kids are using it and if they’re texting while driving. If I had a bunch of money I would try to invest in them now!
  • Minglle had some technical difficulties during their demo and it didn’t really work, but the idea was interesting. Plus it was presented by a live, human version of Bill Gates’ mug shot. It’s a mobile app where you can say where you are and who you want to meet. If there are any matches at your location, the service sends you both a message to see if you actually want to meet. If you do, you can chat over their service to actually meet up. Sounds creepy for social events but would be a great app for networking.
  • Last, I want to give a shout-out to Karol’s team: Mark it 8 Dude. They were making a bowling app where you can take a picture of your score with your phone and it automatically tracks your scores (and how well you do vs. how many beers you’ve had). Karol got a big reaction from the crowd when he demoed his OCR (Optical Character Recognition) so congratulations to him!

I want to say thanks to the team at StartAtlanta for organizing everything. The food selection was awesome and the entire event was run very smoothly. I honestly can’t think of any big issues, so kudos to Jason Ardell and the rest of the StartAtlanta team. And also to ATDC for hosting it!

I think my only real disappointment was that it took so long for our developers to get on the same page and environment so that they could actually start writing code (Saturday evening). I think it was a factor of us having a larger team with guys from all different backgrounds (asp.net, django/python, ruby/rails, windows/mac/linux, etc.). Our team was probably too big and we would’ve done much better with 2-3 developers all in sync rather than the 6-7 that we had. We were also too ambitious with our use of HAML/SCSS, as not everyone knew it and it made the conversion of my static HTML/CSS to dynamic content even more intensive. Maybe next year the StartAtlanta organizers can figure out a way for team leaders to choose their technologies and for developers to be organized by similar skills.

Even with the difficulties, I’m proud of what we accomplished (and what I accomplished) and I know that given another couple hours to tighten things up, we would’ve been in contention for the crowd favorite!

Final thanks go to the One Question team, especially Jon for the One Question idea and to Sean for his plethora of design help!

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!

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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 www.sodapopstop.com.

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!