Dec 19 2010

Introduction and 2010 in Review For My Startup

Dusty

Hi, I’m Dusty Candland, husband, father, software developer, and entrepreneur. And now, blogger for Our Startup Story! I’m going to be sharing my experiences starting up and working with startups.

I started working full time for myself this year. I did have one large client ready to start work, so I wasn’t starting completely from scratch. I like building web applications and being a part of growing businesses. With that in mind, I decided my target clients would be other startups with web based technology of some kind. I help these clients build out their web applications. Anyway, here’s a look at where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Some thoughts about how this year has gone.

My target clients, startups, can be a hard target. Most don’t have a ton of money lying around and want to make sure they are spending it wisely. Plus they can be hard to find.

Selling is hard. Especially when talking to people is hard. I need to get better at that, and I have been, but I have a ways to go. My first step was to just get to events and talk to the people there. It seems crazy when writing this, but I really have to try to be extroverted.

I’ve found keeping my focus is harder on my own, partly because I don’t have a set schedule or place to work. Also, partly because there is a ton of stuff that I’m interested in. I’ve recently heard a good tip about time boxing tasks and sticking to it, I’m going to give that a try for a while.

I’ve mostly been going this alone, I have advisers that help a ton, but no one to help keep focus and motivation on a daily basis. I really think that is key, but I’ve also found that finding partners is a hard task. I thought working at a co-working space would help me feel connected and social, but I’m not so sure now.

Some thoughts about next year.

I’ve outlined some specific offerings for startups that I think will help show value to prospects. Offering open ended custom software development is good, but too large and scary for many.

I have to get better at talking with and meeting people. I need to find a ToastMasters club and just get over my fears of public speaking. That’s going to be a top goal for this next year. This is critical to the success of any startup, I know it, however, doing it is what matters. Suggestions welcome.

I’ve tried to keep some time set aside for working on my own projects. I plan to keep doing this and think it’s critical to keeping sharp and up to date with technology.

I want to help grow the startup community in Denver. There is an awesome community in Boulder and I think there should be an awesome community in Denver as well. I hope to help get it there.

I hope you’ve found this review interesting and maybe helpful! If you want to learn more about me or my company checkout my web application consulting site and my software development blog. I’ll be contributing here once or twice a month.


Dec 24 2008

Andrew Westberg – The Implementer

Andrew

Everybody is an Entrepreneur.  Just sit down and ask your family the next gathering what great ideas they have and you’ll collect at least 10.  For most people, the disconnect is in the actual implementation…the follow-through…the actual doing.  Having an entrepreneurial spirit is easy.  Having the guts to actually implement something is hard.

I wrote my first program when I was 9 years old.  The computer was an IBM 286 screaming along at 12 mHz with an entire megabyte of RAM.  I coded up a screensaver in MS-DOS 3.x using the GW-Basic programming language and a manual that came with the computer.  It didn’t do much.  It just flashed my name in random colors over the entire screen.  Somewhere in the midst of that ego-stroking exercise my love for writing software was born.

My first foray into starting a business came a few years later in 8th grade.  My school had just started a Wee Deliver program.  This was a USPS program where your school does a post-office simulation at the school.  Kids can write letters to their classmates and have them delivered the next day.  What most saw as a school-sanctioned way to pass notes, I saw as an opportunity.  I printed out order forms for “Andy’s Candies” and mailed them out to quite a few people in the school.  It wasn’t long before my mail-order candy service was in full swing.  I’d go to the candy store in the mall and stock up on the 10-cent items and turn around and sell them for 25.  It would have worked out great, but unfortunately I didn’t have much willpower and kept eating into my profits…literally.

In highschool, I had a really great teacher for my programming classes.  Tom Deters.  Sophomore year, I learned to code BASIC really well and Junior year I learned PASCAL from him.  He had a very structured approach to each programming assignment where we would take time to plan stuff on paper before sitting down at the computers.  Most of my classmates would sit down at the computers the first day of the two-day assignment and then fill in the planning worksheet later.  I found that if I followed his technique and planned really well, I could get the worksheet done the first day and still finish coding before everybody else on day two.  Even though my development tools have gotten better (whiteboarding, mindmapping, mockups, etc…) the basic techniques have stuck with me.

Now that I knew some PASCAL I partnered with my dad and his Westberg Consulting business to write two computer programs called Phasor Professional and Diplex Professional.  A Phasor is an electronic circuit that sits between an AM Radio transmitter and the radio towers.  It allows a signal to be directionalized.  A Diplexer circuit allows two radio stations to share the same tower.  By selling this software to AM Radio engineers and consultants, it helped pay my way through college.

I busted my hump during college and managed to get out in 3 years.  During this time, I learned C++ Windows development.  I re-wrote both Phasor and Diplex as C++ MFC applications.

After school, I went to work at Caterpillar for 7 years.  I learned Java during this time and was even awarded a patent for one application I wrote.

While still working at Caterpillar, I started a partnership along with my cousin called Midwest Helicam.  We used a large RC helicopter to snap aerial digital photography.  We gave it our best shot, but in the end the idea crashed and burned…literally.  The business plan probably wasn’t very realistic.  We severely under budgeted the amount of maintenance we’d have to do to keep ourselves in the air.  We also overestimated our ability to bring in paying customers without doing much marketing.  The idea was fairly solid, but I think we lacked on the implementation side.  I learned quite a bit about starting and running a business through this endeavor.

I really appreciated the stability that a large company like Caterpillar offered my growing family, but the corporate bureaucracy and red-tape really started to get to me.  I did some job interviews, and turned in my notice thinking I’d take the offer.  I didn’t feel like spending a ton of time writing an elegant resignation so I cheated and used a template from i-resign.com .

As I was finishing out my time at Cat and telling one of our software suppliers that I wouldn’t be able to work with him anymore because I was taking another job, he looked me straight in the eye and said…why didn’t you send me a resume?

The man was Dave Bigelow from Simplified Logic.  He has a soft spot for entrepreneurial type of people and mentoring them to success.  Long story short, we worked it out where I could start my own company, but still have fairly consistent consulting work.

Since starting Swift Mako software, I’ve consulted on a number of Simplified Logic projects as well as new development for Westberg Consulting on a project called WCAP.

I think there is a large number of entrepreneurial type of people out there who love the “startup” phase, but lose interest in seeing things through to the end.  They move on to the next big thing instead of plugging away and doing the difficult and sometimes boring things to make a project or business successful.  I like to push myself to be more than this type of entrepreneur.  I like to be the implementer.  The one who gets things done and sees things through to the end.

What will the future of Swift Mako Software bring?  Not quite sure yet.  I have one idea in the pipeline involving both some embedded hardware device design along with the software to make it work.  We’ll just have to see where the future takes us.


Dec 19 2008

John Wilker – The Impatient Entrepreneur

John

I’m John, Tom’s business partner in 360|Conferences.

As a kid, I had visions of running my own company. It was a company that made robots; robots of all kinds. I was the CEO, and I had lots of robots. It was an awesome fantasy life I had, started in the 3rd grade, died as I went into college.

Turns out, I’m not very engineeringly inclined, or rather I’m not the Uber genius I fancied myself. I fancied myself a theoretical engineer, turns out you have to do the other stuff before you get to start dreaming up new things. I changed my major during the summer before my freshman year to Computer Science.

The story goes a bit sideways for a few years. I flunked out of UCI’s computer science program, and since they didn’t offer business as an undergrad, I dropped out.

I got a job as a computer tech (Screw Turner), and that was ok. I coulda seen myself doing it for a while, until my boss informed me I’d be taking over as purchasing department. I had never bought anything other than things for myself before, so it was a new experience. I liked it. It was fun, wheeling and dealing with vendors for a better price, riding the edge of what we could charge and what we couldn’t.

That same boss, about a year later came back again, telling me that our hardware business wasn’t really doing as much as he’d like, and I’d be a web developer starting Monday. Turns out, even though I flunked out of school learning to be a programmer, I was pretty good at it in practice.

For the next 10 years, the closest to being an entrepreneur I came was incorporating myself for my consulting business, to help out on my taxes. I never imagined I’d do a startup. I’m not patient, and frankly I thought I didn’t have any ideas to start up with, and I had no funds.

Guess I was wrong.

I’m not a big business book reader. Most are crap written from the perspective of the successful. It’s easy to throw out “I was lucky, I worked hard, this that and the other” when you’re rich,  successful and don’t really have a clear clue how you got there, but someone offered you money to tell your story.

I spent some time reading the Rich Dad books. Same thing, what works for one, doesn’t make it a gold standard to be put into a book, but the business press is funny like that.

One of the few business books that really resonated with me was In the Company of Giants (so much so that Tom and I tried to pitch a sequel, and lame publishers never “got it” despite the success of the first, oh well), mainly because some of them were completely honest, admitting that they were in the right place at the right time. That means a lot to me.

Tom and I met while working for Ameriquest Mortgage. Yeah the one that destroyed the home financing industry. Our first run at a company was a product to make restaurant waits not suck, and work better. He fired me, and our friendship almost came to a complete end.

We salvaged our friendship and went on with life. I moved to Denver, Tom to San Jose.

I was telling him about a conference I had attended and how much it had sucked, we were talking about whether or not to attend another large conference that generally is not very meaty and not much ROI learning wise. Then it occurred to us to have a conference that we would want to attend, one that I could afford as an indie developer, and one that actually had awesome sessions, that weren’t at all aimed at marketing. 360|Flex was born.

Tom tends to be more ‘blue sky’ than me, thinking we should be free, barcamp style. I was able to convince him that free is not a model that works, ever, unless you’re Google. Ted, Tom and I settled on a price, location, etc and off we went.

The first 360|Flex was an outstanding success, and Tom and I realized we liked doing it. We liked the feeling of community, we liked being surrounded by so many cool people.

We formed a company, and kicked Ted out :) It wasn’t personal, Ted rocks, but we knew that we couldn’t ever do a Microsoft or Java Conference with an Adobe evangelist as a partner.

Here’s where the impatience comes in. We’ve been doing 360|Flex for 2 years now, as part time jobs, which were really full time jobs on top of our paying full time jobs. It was exhausting. Tom thinks that’s how company’s should be, I don’t. I’m sure there’ll be posts on this later. I’m firmly of the opinion that you work to your obligations. If you’ve got a mortgage, car payment, etc, you do what you have to do to meet those obligations. If you’ve got a job that meets those, then the other job is just a hobby, and since we haven’t yet drawn a salary: 360|Conferences was a hobby. A very time consuming, and expensive (for me as an indie consultant having to take time off projects and such) hobby.

That’s finally changing! Tom is going indie, and I’ve got a Full time job that endorses my conference company activities. Tom will be working on the conference in a more full time capacity and consulting to fill the gaps. I expect (hope) that sometime in 09 I’ll be joining him, and 360|Conferences will be a full fledged, salary paying company. Tom likes to say we’re in the black. That’s easy if you don’t pay your founders. However we’re now getting to a place where we’ve paid ourselves a little, which ROCKS!

We’re also growing finally, adding another event to our roster, and even contemplating looking at Angel money to get us through the critical mass we need to go full time and really conquer the event space.

Wish us luck.


Dec 19 2008

Tom Ortega – The Eventual Entrepreneur

Tom

It’s taken me far too long to become an entrepreneur.  How long?  It was 1986 and I was roughly 11.  I walked onto the playground, went straight to my best friends and said, “I’m gonna be a successful businessman when I grow up.”  To which, they said, “Doing what?” I was stumped.  “I don’t know.  I just know it’s going to be successful.”  From that day forward, that was fact to me in my mind.  It wasn’t a “I hope to someday” or a “I wonder if…” it was a matter of inevitability.  So, I did what any rational person would do, I started prepping.

My dad taught me something very important a few years earlier.  He said, “Whatever you want to know, there’s a book on it.  Go find it and read it.  You’ll get all the answers you want.” It made sense to me then, and still makes sense to me now.  I can’t remember what my first business book was or when I read it.  I wish I could though, that’d be sweet.  I can’t really remember because I’ve read a few hundred over my life time.  No, I ain’t bragging.  I’m just laying out the facts, so you can determine my street cred.  The way I saw it was like this:  “If I’m going to be a successful business person someday, I better learn how to do it.” And like pops said, the only way to do that was through books or so I thought.

In 6th grade, another thing happened.  My mom took me shopping at Sears.  She bought me a pimp outfit.  (She still has the picture of me in it, I’ll see if I can dig it up and post it.)  On the drive home, she said, “I can’t really afford to buy you the kind of clothes you want.  If you’re going to want certain clothes, you’ll need to make money and buy them yourself.”  Therefore, I got to work.  I never had an allowance.  I always worked to make my money.  I mowed lawns, babysat, worked at the school snack bar, and even had a stint at Chuck E. Cheese.

I went to college for a year.  It was a private university (UPS in Tacoma, WA).  I was paying over $20K a year for that school.  It didn’t make sense to me.  “Let’s see.  I can pay $20K a year or I can go to work and surely make at least $20K a year.”  So I dropped out and started working for the man in January 1995.

For 13 years, I worked for over 10 different companies.  From the first job to my latest job, I did the same thing.  I analyzed the heck out of each company.  I looked at what they did good and what they did bad.  I watched their mistakes and learned from them.  I pondered on what I’d do differently if I were in charge.  Again, I did all this for the sake of applying to my own business someday.

I’ve dabbled in business (my own businesses) over those same 13 years.  Most of those were not very serious though and never made it past the idea stage.  It wasn’t until October of 2006 that I finally ran with an idea.  John and I, with some help from Ted Patrick, agreed to do an all Flex Conference.  This meant that I was going to be funnelling a lot of money and not wanting to put it all in my personal account, I tell John: “We need to incorporate.” We did and in February of 2007.  360|Conferences was born.

For the first 2 years of it’s life, the conference business took a backseat as my part-time job.  In those two years though, it went from being in the red to being in the black.  (Look for a post from me on how I think this is the way most people should start a biz.)  Times are getting tough economically though and if I’m going to make this business succeed, it’s going to need to not be my PT gig anymore.  Therefore, in early 2009, I’ll be making the move to Queen Creek, Arizona.  360|Conferences will become my primary focus, while side projects will become my PT gig to help pay the bills.

I’m going to do some posts on what I’ve learned in the past two years: the good, the bad and the ugly.  John may or may not do that, you’ll have to read his posts to find out.  After I clear out the closet a bit, I’ll start detailing our little conference business as it enters the toddler years.  I’m sure there’ll be some stumbles along the way, but that’s business (and part of being a toddler).  It’s the downs that make the highs so rewarding..

I hope you’ll join me along the journey.  Thanks for reading.


Dec 19 2008

Jeffry Houser – The Perpetual Entrepreneur

Jeffry

Hi, everyone.  I’m Jeffry Houser and I’m a technical entrepreneur.  In high school, I mowed lawns for a neighbor.  At the time, I had no idea that could be construed as an Entrepreneurship beginning.

In college, I started selling live import CDs (AKA Bootlegs) on the Internet.  This was before the web was the e-commerce haven it is today.  At the time, selling stuff on the Internet meant posting to Usenet and having people snail mail us a check.   I didn’t think this was a business either; I was just looking for a way to make some extra cash.  Myself and a friend pooled our money together and placed a bulk order with a supplier in Germany then we sold stuff over the Internet.  My friend was the financier and I was the labor.  We split profits 50/50.  It was nice to have some extra spending cash for a poor college student and I still have some of the unsold merchandise in my collection today.

Then I graduated from college with a computer science degree and got a “real” job for a few years.  I worked as the “IT Guy” in a business to business consulting firm.  My boss would sell clients on these incredibly insane things and it was my job to figure out how to implement them.  I was in heaven.  I wasn’t even old enough to drink, yet I had already accomplished more than I ever dreamed I could.  This is more depressing than it sounds.  Then the hours started to grate on me and I drifted towards burn out. After a particularly good pizza one afternoon, I gave my two weeks notice.

This led to the founding of DotComIt, the IT consulting firm which has been my bread and butter for more than 9 years.  If I have one piece of advice, it is do not ever start a business this way.  I had no plan, nominal savings, and no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  I just got lucky.  The company I left hired me a week later.  I went to a local User Group meeting and got a client.  A different user group got me a different client.  Then I got another client, and another.

All of a sudden, I was writing books paper weights for Osborne McGraw-Hill.  Then I was speaking at User Groups and Conferences all over the US.  Without doing anything business-like on my part; word of mouth kept me busy.  It wasn’t all fun and games though.  I had one client go out of business owing me a big chunk of change.  I had many issues collecting payments; and a lot of clients would renegotiate invoices when it came time to pay.  It seemed with every project, I would modify my contract terms and/or internal procedures.  These days I am known for being especially meticulous on doing “due diligence’ as a business owner.

Along the way I was in 2 serious bands; a band is a business too.  I also started a company named “Web Pages for Bands” (guess what that company did?).  I had this crazy idea to create a way for independent musicians to easily sell mp3s on their web site.  The idea was fantastic (see iTunes, Amazon MP3, CDBaby, and plenty of others), but the business crashed and burned.  I was making too much money consulting and didn’t devote enough time to getting it off the ground.  If I was smarter about building that business, I’d be writing this from my own private island right now.  Clearly I had the right idea at the right time.  But it doesn’t matter how good your fudge is if you keep making cookies.

A couple of years ago I stopped being in bands and decided to devote my full attention to DotComIt.  At some point I decided I absolutely hate consulting.  It wasn’t always so, but I have been doing it for a real long time.  I needed to decide what I really wanted to do with my life.  I loved writing and helping other developers.  Can someone create a business based solely on that?  I think so!

I started The Flex Show, a podcast for Flex Developers.  When you do have a moniker like “Producer of The Flex Show” next to your name, no one questions your ability to work with the technology, so it was a bit easier to bring on consulting jobs.  But, I didn’t want to bring on consulting jobs; I wanted to convince people to pay me to produce these episodes that I’m already producing for free.  Where else can you go to get a message in front of 2700 (and counting) Flex Developers?  Adobe Max, probably, but  I am pretty sure a sponsorship of the podcast would be cheaper and give you more direct exposure.

I was always intrigued by the challenges of product development and it seems like a nice change from consulting.   I’ve started working on Flextras, a line of Easy to Use Interface Design Components for Flex Developers.  This is in the uber start up stage and my launch is currently about four months late.  I’m juggling graphic designers, lawyers, a web developer, and a business coach consultant trying to pull everything together.  Building a product was the easy part.

So, at the moment I have two ‘brands’ in start up mode; and a mature consulting business that I want to shoot and bury.  I know John and Tom love business transparency.  I want to bring The Flex Show revenues up to 150K a year.  Consistent sponsorships would do that easy if we could succesfully bring sponsors on.  We’re still figuring out what works best in our format.  With Flextras, I want to generate 600K a year and have a staff of five employees.  To do that, we need to sell 160 components a month.  To keep that pace up, we’ll have to keep a steady stream of new products coming out–ideally 1 a month.

I hear having a vision is the first step in actually achieving one.


Dec 19 2008

Ben Stucki – The Inventor

Ben

Hello. My name’s Ben Stucki, and I’m building audiospike.com. It’s awesome.

First, I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m a developer, plain and simple. I’ll pass up perfectly good business opportunities because the work seems boring, and I’ll take others for free because it’s new. You see, I didn’t learn development because I was good at math (I’m horrible actually) or because the job market was promising. I learned how to develop web applications because I wanted to be an inventor when I grew up. I want to create something new. If I could, I would give it away. I think this precludes me from being an entrepreneur. I just want people to use it.

Here in the real world though, startups require planning, risk, and *gasp* revenue models, or else I don’t get to work on it long enough. For me, that meant letting the ideas settle for a year to see if they were still as exciting later and made sense as a business. Luckily for me, I also felt like I had some time before the market and technology was really ready. I wasn’t waiting idly though. To buy time for building a demo, I saved some money to float my personal expenses for 3 or 4 months. My family and I even moved into a smaller house so that it would be easier to withstand changes in income. Soon (and sooner than I expected), everything seemed ready for this startup to happen – except for me. It’s easy to focus on learning your market and planning for all that you can, but at some point you just have to jump in.

That’s where I am. I’ve done all the planning and research that you can do at home: browsing the internet and testing ideas. I’ve gained all the skills required to develop killer applications. I’ve gotten to the point where you just have to throw yourself at it and learn the hard way. I hope that through this blog you will see my wrong turns, stumbles, and falls, and learn from them.  – and if it all comes crashing down in the end, you can offer me a job. please? :-)


Dec 18 2008

Founders talking startup

Tom

The title of the post says it all.  This site is by startup founders for startup founders.  Come here to find info to hopefully help you with your start up.

There’s 4 of us blogging about 3 companies so far.  If you want to join in, email info@ourstartupstory.com and we’ll take you into consideration.

Glad you found us and hope you come back.  Stay tuned for more, including proper introductions.