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 […]

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 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 […]

Dec 062011
 

Today is officially the one-year anniversary since I left my day job in order to start a company. Wow. What a year. First off, I can confirm that working on a startup is like living in a time warp. This was easily the shortest year of my professional life. It is funny thinking back how much time I thought I was going to have without my day job “in the way”. Heck, I even thought I would have enough time to keep up with this blog (I’m still working on that!). It is a very strange feeling to know that you’ve worked so hard and been through so much, and yet have barely gotten started. To that extent, it is worth acknowledging that starting a business from the ground up is truly hard. This is as expected but, having been through it for a year now, I must admit that it is a very different kind of “hard”. On one hand, you have to literally create something from nothing; you start with no concrete direction, no momentum, and virtually no resources. On the other hand, it is painfully obvious that the world is full of opportunity and it is up to you to make the most of it. The odds are completely stacked against you and yet there are infinite ways to try to cheat them. So how did things go this past year? In short: as well as I could have hoped. I learned an incredible amount about myself, […]

Dec 272010
 

It is  hard to believe that it has already been three weeks since I left my day job. Although I have yet to start on what I would consider to be my real startup, these past few weeks have been really busy. I’ve been working on an existing project, my email-to-Twitter service, and trying to figure out how to maximize revenue without continuing to spend a disproportionate amount of effort developing and maintaining the service (this is both fun and frustrating).  Now that I am on “Christmas vacation” (mandated by the big boss), I thought I would take a moment to reflect on a few things I’ve learned during my first few weeks as a full-time entrepreneur: It’s tempting to move too fast My last day as a full-time employee was on a Monday and I immediately hit the ground running on Tuesday. Since then I’ve been trying to move at a break-neck speed. There is an enormous sense of urgency and I’m now able to move fast without other commitments or distractions in the way.  Sounds great, right? The problem is that it is really easy to get sucked into task after task and feeling like you can’t waste time by doing anything else. Should I  take 30 minutes to catch up on RSS feeds and my Twitter stream? No way. Take a shower and eat lunch? Maybe later. Can I just stop and think? Ah, when I have more time. Obviously, this is not the most effective mode of […]

Dec 062010
 

More than six years ago, I graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Computer Science and took a job at IBM. Today is my last day. So where am I going next? Good question… When I was twelve years old, I came home from school one day and decided I wanted to create a video game. I found an application on our home computer called QBASIC and discovered that I could use it to program my game. After a few hours of looking at the built-in help file and scouring the list of commands, I had my first program. Over the next few years, I had an insatiable desire to create. I programmed everything from a 3D basketball shoot-out game to a utility that allowed you to copy large files using multiple floppy disks. I even created my own version of Microsoft Windows (minus the actual operating system) complete with a start menu, control panel, built-in screensavers, and the ability to install other applications. At this point you should be picturing a little Indian boy with nerdy glasses and a fuzzy mustache. Yes – there was something that kept me glued to that computer. It wasn’t simply the satisfaction of being able to program; it was the opportunity to figure things out and turn ideas into reality. And somehow, over the years, I’ve lost touch with that. Now don’t get me wrong: These past 6 years of working at IBM were extremely valuable. Working at a large company provided […]