Oct 272013
 

A friend of mine recently asked, “What do you find the same about raising a baby and building a company?” To be honest, the question caught me off guard. It felt like a question I should easily be able to answer, but I kept struggling to come up with a decent response. Each is a time sink and will destroy your sleep, but saying “you get busy” or “they’re both hard” felt like lousy responses. There is definitely a process of learning involved in both fatherhood and entrepreneurship, but to me, they are still very different. Figuring out what works for your child takes a bit of trial-and-error, but the general practices are well known and eventually things fall into place — even if it means having to try over and over, or waiting until your baby gets older and matures. Our first child has been a crazy challenge, but given that we as humans owe our entire existence to cave people, I’d say that parenting is still a relatively intuitive practice and hard to completely screw up. Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, does not come quite as naturally. It’s a process of learning that requires you to challenge, and potentially disregard, what you thought you knew. You have to question everything, and you’ll often find yourself on a lonely island on which everybody is questioning you. Even with the right methodology, knowledge, and passion, you might just be at the wrong place at the wrong time. In other words: babies [...]

Jun 302013
 

If you have heard about the book The 4-Hour Workweek then you probably know who Tim Ferriss is. You might also know about his other books: The 4-Hour Chef and The 4-Hour Body. Entrepreneurship, cooking, and physical health are three very different topics. From the outside, some folks might look at Tim’s books — at least the latter two — and assume they are gimmicks. After listening to a relatively recent Mixergy interview of Tim, I no longer have any doubt: Tim is brilliant. And he is legit. Tim’s interview is one of the best Mixergy interviews I’ve listened to. Since it was supposed to be about his new book, and my wife Varsha and I often think of ourselves as amateur chefs, I had lined it up for a road trip together to Charleston. Although the interview barely covered the book itself, Varsha and I were in stunned silence soaking it in. There were a number of huge take-aways from the interview, but there is one that has stuck in my mind more than any other; it’s the secret of how Tim is, time and time again, able to master anything. We’re not all born superstars The most obvious and intuitive approach to becoming better at something is to imitate the best. To most of us, this means copying the superstars. For example, if you want to become a better golfer, you might try to mimic Tiger Woods. If you want to be an Olympic swimmer, why look any [...]

Apr 102013
 
E-file an 83(b) election

If there is one thing a startup founder needs to know about the tax code, it’s the 83(b) election. An 83(b) election essentially allows a founder to recognize income on the stock at the time it is awarded (which generally means zero income) versus at the time the stock vests (which, if things go well, could be a substantial amount of income). Discussion about the 83(b) election comes up quite frequently in startup circles, and most everyone knows that the election must be made within 30 days of the stock purchase date. That said, people often forget to mention that you also need to include the 83(b) in your annual tax filing. I recently completely my personal tax return with my wife, and was ready to e-file, when I got stuck with the question: How do I e-file an 83(b) election? Can TurboTax e-file an 83(b) election? I now have the answer, but first a little background: I used Turbotax Home & Business to fill out our taxes this year and did not see any call outs for the 83(b) election. Given that I have zero income to report from the stock purchase (again, this is the point of the election!) I wasn’t too concerned about missing a number in the income section. Rather, I was nervous about e-filing knowing that the 83(b) election was supposed to be included with my return. I was hoping that there was some way to electronically replace the need to include a copy of the [...]

Feb 242013
 

It takes a fair sized ego to become an entrepreneur. You have to believe that you are capable of accomplishing something that most never dare to try and very few achieve. In many ways, stubborn self-confidence is a necessary personality trait because so much of entrepreneurship is about perseverance. That said, I’ve come to believe in a greater truth: in the grand scheme of things, we as entrepreneurs simply don’t know anything. Yes, we must swallow our egos and admit it. Entrepreneurship is a constant state of learning. It’s not that we are not skilled in our respective craft (e.g. engineering, marketing, etc) or that we aren’t subject matter experts in our problem domain. Rather, building a business from the ground up involves so many other internal and external factors that it is virtually impossible to have all of the answers from the start. For example, you might be… …a genius product designer, but… Is what you think is important also important to the customer? How much does the customer even care about the technology itself? What really separates you from competitive solutions? Will your customers see it the same way? Which product capabilities are really nice and interesting, and which ones actually impact your ability to acquire customers? Do you need a user interface to start selling? What about a real backend? What does your customer need in the product despite what they think they want? What key ingredient is missing from your product that nobody is talking about? [...]

Jan 312013
 

I absolutely crave hearing the back story of how an entrepreneur built his or her company. For this reason, I am a huge fan of Andrew Warner’s Mixergy. Now that I have a daily 20+ minute commute to our office in Durham, I’ve been trying to catch up on the archive of Mixergy episodes. Not only do I find each founder’s story fascinating, but there is often an “aha moment” or two that really stick out. I thought I would start recording those here as a catalog I can refer to in the future. I’ve spent a bit of time these past few months reaching out to journalists (mostly cold) and trying to drum up some “free” exposure for the company. I’ve had a couple of hits — including a nice article in InformationWeek, as well as exposure in a few key industry publications — but, by in large, it has been a time consuming and draining effort. That’s why I was really excited to recently listen to Grasshopper’s David Hauser talk about his approach to PR in a Mixergy interview from about 18 months ago. To me, one of the hardest things about “organic” PR is the concept of building a relationship with a journalist. It sounds simple but how exactly do you do that well? The most obvious thing to do is comment on their articles and try  to engage them on Twitter. But doesn’t everybody do that? And how do you avoid coming off like you are [...]

Jan 192013
 
What a crying baby taught us about customer value

Not long after our son Dilan was born, my wife downloaded a free iPhone app from the App Store called White Noise Box. It’s an incredibly simply app: there are 5 different images you can tap that each play a specific variant of white noise. For example, tap the image of rain for soft white noise, or tap the image of water rapids for more harsh white noise. Tap again and the white noise stops. About 8 weeks in, I asked my wife, “If Noise Box was a paid app, how much would you be willing to pay?” Her answer: “Thousands.” OK, so realistically speaking, I would spend a Saturday learning Objective-C and hissing into a microphone if I thought my wife was really about to drop a couple Gs on an iPhone app. Nonetheless, her response is instructive. Despite the fact that the app is nothing more than a couple of images and .wav files, the value of the app is immense. Why? For the longest time, the harsh white noise of water rapids was the only thing that would calm our excessively challenging newborn. We could change his diaper, swaddle him, sway him, sing to him, and fall to our knees begging for mercy to no avail. Tap the image on White Noise Box, however, and instant calm. It still works like magic 80% of the time. For an entrepreneur, customer value is one of the most critical concepts to understand. It doesn’t matter whether it takes a [...]

Dec 312012
 
Two lies I was told as a new father

Nearly three months ago, my wife gave birth to an incredible baby boy named Dilan. One of the great things about becoming a new parent is that there is an abundance of people you can turn to for advice. After all, 6+ billion children didn’t just appear out of nowhere! Unfortunately, despite all of the tips we were equipped with, our first several weeks with Dilan turned out to be exceptionally rough. In fact, there were two key pieces of advice that I now realize sent us totally in the wrong direction. Now, it is probably a bit unfair to refer to the advice we received as “lies” because it was surely well-intended (and truth be told, we are extremely grateful for almost all of the tips and suggestions we were given!). I am calling it out, though, because it was advice that we heard very consistently and yet it was fundamentally flawed. Also, I realize that every baby is different, but hopefully this helps some other parents out there. “You can’t overfeed your baby.” Wrong. I can’t tell you how many people explicitly said this to us, including nurses, lactation consultants, doulas, and pediatricians. It turns out that virtually all of the advice a new mom receives in regards to breastfeeding is based on the assumption that breastfeeding will be impossible. Fortunately for us, Dilan figured out how to breastfeed rather quickly and is really darn good at it. The boy was born to eat. The problem is that we [...]

Dec 122012
 

A strange thing happened last Thursday, December 6th. I missed my two year anniversary. My wife didn’t notice either. And now that I realize it… I feel great. Yes, two years ago I quit my job at IBM to venture out to “become an entrepreneur”. I still remember how crazy (and crazy short) that first year was on my own. There was a tremendous amount of pressure, confusion, and insecurity. Despite all of that, my goal in that first year was to establish some sort of direction. I wanted to lay a path forward to prove that leaving my day job was not just a temporary experiment; it was a fundamental change in the way I would lead my life. The fact that December 6th passed by this year without hardly a notice is a fantastic sign. It means that I was successful in my 2011 goal. I am no longer counting the days “without a real job”. Instead, what once seemed crazy is now my normal; I absolutely can’t imagine having spent 2012 doing anything else. My company, ArchiveSocial, has made tremendous progress over the course of this past year. I made my first hire and brought the product to the market, and we now have a significant number of customers who enthusiastically believe in our solution. There is, of course, a lot more that I can share about my business experiences this year, but I’ll leave that for another set of blog posts (and yes, I’m serious about [...]

Nov 222012
 

268 days. That’s 8 months and 25 days. And that’s how long it’s been since I lasted updated this blog. Since December 2010, I’ve written a whopping 7 posts.  Let’s not even mention how long it has been since I updated my other blog. And here I am — like the stereotypical Internet blogger — about to act like an expert on something I know very little about. OK. So maybe rather than pretending that I have expertise to share, I am going to treat this more like an experiment: I am going to keep up with this blog by writing at least a few posts (2+) a month. Here’s how I think I can make it happen: Keep it short. Really short. This means sharing just a few thoughts on a very specific topic. Carve out no more than 20 minutes to write a post. Although I don’t think I could possibly be busier with all of the things going on in my life (startup + newborn), I can surely find 20 minutes here and there. Being busy, in itself, is never an excuse for anything. Stop waiting for something earth shattering to write about. Just write. I’ve realized that my biggest problem with blogging is that I keep trying to find something “important enough” and unique to share with the world. Inevitably, those types of posts are much more complicated and painful to write… and end up not being very important or unique anyway. Starting a company, and [...]

Feb 282012
 
How I met Randi Zuckerberg

Last night I had the opportunity to meet Randi Zuckerberg: former Marketing Director at Facebook, recent appointee to the United Nations Global Entrepreneurs Council, and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Social Media. And, oh yeah, she is also Mark Zuckerberg’s sister. Truth be told, meeting Randi was an opportunity available to anyone in the Triangle. She was in town to accept the 2012 Woman of Achievement Award from Meredith College. A missed opportunity, for some The event was hosted on campus at Meredith College and completely open to the public. I arrived about 25 minutes early and was surprised to find myself being able to choose between a seat on either the first or second row, both of which were completely open. Fortunately by 7pm, when the event was scheduled was to start, the small auditorium was mostly filled. Randi was pleased to see a large audience of young women — something she is unaccustomed to finding in the typical tech circles. It truly was a fantastic opportunity to hear directly from one of the most important figures (female or not)  in the world’s social media and startup ecosystems. Sadly, I could tell that representation from the Triangle’s own startup ecosystem was largely absent. I am not sure why this event flew under the radar but I will certainly take a share of the blame. I heard about the opportunity several weeks ago and failed to do my part to spread the word. Local news organizations [...]