Jul 29 2010

10 Mistakes made in starting up.

John

I saw this post on quicksprout, and the first one pinged right off the bat. It’s a great post of 10 common mistakes.

When I saw that #1 was “Speed” i knew I had to post something there. Tom and I argued… ok fought about speed a lot. I’m a very now now now, let’s do it now vs. wait around and do it later person. Tom is the opposite.  So is Nicole for that matter, but she’s at least open to letting me convince her I’m right :)

#3 is a good one. Hard to make work, but a good one. It’s really hard to remove emotion from the equation. A sponsor being lame, or backing out, or people abusing press passes, it hurts. It’s an affront to you, and feels like a slap in the face, and it’s hard to not do the first thing that comes to mind. But I agree it’s often (I don’t know if I’d say always) best to let logic win out.

#7 Is interesting. 360|Conferences wouldn’t exist without Tom and I. Neither of us is likely to have done it on their own. I know it wasn’t on my mind, and pretty sure it wasn’t on Tom’s. But the two of us together bootstrapped the company into 4 anchor events a year, plus a few one-off trial events etc. And not to be all horn tooty, pretty sure we’re why several others have created events. A business partner is a huge asset, but as Tom and I learned, you need to be more than just friends. You need to be on the same page. Turns out Tom and I were rarely on the same page, and only sometimes reading the same book.

The rest of the list is great, and I agree with each item. I take vacations, sometimes a weekend off, etc. I plan for just enough of tomorrow to know what I want to do the next day, but if you were to ask me what 2012 or even 2011 looked like for us, the best I’d be able to say is 4 events, a possible location. That’s it.It’s grand to plan out to 2015, but it’s the stuff in between that’s FAR more important.


Oct 29 2009

migrating from 2 to 1 is not fun or easy

John

So Tom and I are moving on from 360|Conferences, well I’m moving forward with it, Tom is moving away from it.

The move has started, we’re transitioning things over to me, that he has been in charge of, up until now.

It’s not fun. My latest “It’s all yours moment” came when I opened quickbooks for the first time. If it’s possible to have a massive coronary, while awake and aware, that’s what I experienced.

It’s not Tom’s fault, when we got started, i made it known I didn’t want to run the books. I’ve never liked “the books”. My wife runs the household books, and I barely manage at running my own bank acct and Discover card. Not for a lack of skill but more for a lack of interest.

I won’t lie the books were in a sad state. Without getting into specifics, I’ll be spending more time than I imagined getting them to a cleaned up place where I can get our new acct involved in them.

My advice, run your books yourself, you’ll be better off and it’s something every business person should learn. This is now in the “Lesson Learned” column for me.

On the upside, I think I’m taking a liking to quickbooks, as i work thru it. Who knew!


Sep 17 2009

Ups and Downs and Downs and the need for paper

John

So it’s been announced that Tom is leaving 360|Conferences after our 360|Flex Conference March 2010.

It’s definitely a sad week.

unfortunately it highlights a glaring omission in our business, a lack of written agreements and/or even mutually agreed upon definitions of things.

Sure we have the actual incorporation papers, our ownership split, but that’s it. I won’t lie and say it never occurred to me, it did, several times, and each time I either back burnered it or prioritized another expense over it (lawyers ain’t cheap). And like all things put off, it’s biting us in the butt.

I don’t foresee any Calcanis/Arrington style online bitch matches, but I’m not gonna kid myself, the next few months will be messy as Tom and I figure out what it means to work 1 partner out of the company; assets (what few there are), debts, responsibilities, etc all have to be figured out.

On my end of things I have to figure out where I’m going from here. I mean the company is going to continue to bring Flex and iPhone developers the best community conferences around, but will I do it alone? It’s no secret money is tough for Tom and I because we have 2 people to pay, and doing an event 2x a year doubles expenses, but doesn’t double income. It might make sense for 360|Conferences to be a one man show, at least for a while.

It should make for some interesting blog posts :)


Sep 2 2009

Motivation is hard

John

This is another blog post that has been sitting as an open tab in Firefox a long time. It’s a fairly important topic, at least for me. Having had motivation troubles as a consultant looking for new projects and now as a business owner trying to keep a good noise level going for my events.

Motivation is hard. I mean, it’s really hard sometimes to sit at your desk and think up your next blog post, or tweet, or phone call or whatever. It’s especially hard when you’re in a funk or not where you wan to be (in our case) sponsorship wise or attendee wise.

I’ll paste all of the points here and talk about them, but definitely hit up the original post, give them some traffic love for sure!

Let Fear Take Hold
Fear is one of the strongest motivators we have. The “fight or flight” response is dependent on feeling fear as its source. So, let fear work for you. If you’re genuinely concerned about what’s going to happen now that you’ve lost your job, and you don’t know where the money is coming from to pay the rent, you’re going to do whatever needs to be done. Issues that seemed to be obstacles before are going to fade to the background.

I learned this one from Friends actually. I don’t remember who said what to whom, but the jist was “quit your job, you’re not gonna get a better one or do what you want to do if you’re nice and safe in your current job” I totally agree. Sure you should save up, be prepared for the poorness and hardship, but nothing motivates you to succeed like having a mortgage payment due. A friend of mine pointed out that “people will live up to their obligations” so those companies that don’t offer high salaries because the can’t afford to hire the best, are creating a self-fullfilling prophecy. If you’ve got bills to pay you’ll do your damndest to pay them.

Keep the Finish Line In Sight

A lot of folks have a tendency to look at the next step, rather than the big picture. While this technique has its merits, it’s important to look up at the finish line occasionally. If you don’t, and you’re constantly focused on the day-to-day minutiae, you’ll eventually wonder why it is that you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s important to remember the payoff, because that’s what got you excited in the first place.

This one is a bit of a misleader as far as I’m concerned. Often i feel we’re not focused enough on small things, returning emails, calls, following up when we should etc. It’s great to not get bogged down, but don’t focus so much on the “business at large” that you don’t do what you need to do to keep it running.

Make It a Game
This one works wonders with little kids! If your goal is to clean up toys before bedtime, you parents know that it’s often beneficial to race your kids to see who can pick up the most toys in the shortest amount of time. The same thing works with yourself. If you’re training for a marathon, you can continually try to improve on your overall time, or your split times, or whatever. Find ways to measure yourself, and constantly try to set personal bests.

This I’ve never tried but it might be worth looking at. One of the biggest problems (to me) that Tom and I have is our distance, we rarely know what the other is doing, which either leads to duplication of effort or “are you pulling your weight” both are bad. But with a measurable goal and a time frame it might alleviate some stress. Of course there’s not much repercussion for failure, but we could figure something out.

Remove All Other Options
Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico in 1519 in order to secure lands for the Spanish crown. One of his first orders to his men was to burn the ships that they had arrived on. This was to remove any thoughts of retreat from their minds. When things were going poorly, the men didn’t have the option of thinking, “well, we can always go home”. This is a scary step, but sometimes it’s the only one that will work. For a person who wants to work for themselves, even if they have developed a substantial business on the side of their full-time employment, quitting that secure day job is a “burn the ships” moment. There isn’t anything to fall back on, and they have to succeed.

This kinda fits in with the fear thing. It’s tough, but I truly believe you’ve gotta be fully invested. I haven’t written a line of code in over a year, well that’s a lie, I’ve written a few here and there, but I’m certainly not the active coder I was. I’m fully invested; heart, soul and money into making 360|Conferences something I can draw money from. It’s a struggle, to say the least, and failure looms large, but I’ve done the part time entrepreneur thing, and know the perils

Tell Someone Else
If you have a goal you want to reach, don’t keep it to yourself. Be sure to share it with people you respect. Once you’ve publicly acknowledged it, it becomes harder to give it up. You’ve made a verbal contract in a sense with people whose opinion you care about. If you were to give up on your dream, you would lose face with them. Most folks don’t want this to happen, but because they’re scared of failure, they keep their dream to themselves. However, if you want to succeed, you’ll tell as many people as you can.

I’ve never really thought about this one. I’m not really a “This by X person” I’m much to now now now, so my goals (in my head) are usually set to just outside the time frame it took to think the idea up. I guess the one place I’ve done this is the business. When I did consulting I never really thought about it and didn’t have a goal that consulting would be my “Thing” or that I’d have other folks to source, etc. But I’ve said to many that I want 360|Conferences, to be my “job”. I want to draw salary, get up every morning and spend the next waking 10-12+ hours making it a success.

Tell Yourself Daily
Make an affirmation to yourself about your goal. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept of daily affirmations, it goes a little something like this. You write down a sentence or two that specifically details what it is you’re going to achieve. You need to make it specific, and you need to keep it short. Then, just before going to bed, first thing when you wake up, and at various set points during the day, you read your affirmation aloud to yourself.

This sounds a bit hokey to some, but it serves to keep your mind focused on what it is you’re working toward. It keeps your mind on the task at hand, even when there are many other things that are demanding your attention.

My wife once told me about the “Chicken Soup for your Soul” author taping a Million dollar bill to his ceiling, so that the first thing he saw in the morning and the last thing he saw at night was that goal. That’s awesome. I’ve know that story for a few years, and never tried anything like it. Thinking it’s time.

Recruit a Group
In the course of telling people around you about your goal, you may run into a few of them that are excited about what you’re doing. They may be so excited that they want to do something like it. If you talk to enough people, you’ll find some that have goals just like you. You can take the initiative to lead these folks into a group that supports each other in reaching each of your destinations.

By having an accountability group, you put yourself in a situation where you’re not only afraid of losing face with the other members, but you also have people available to provide ideas and brainstorm ways to keep going when you get stuck. It’s amazing the things that members of an accountability group can accomplish together.

That I’m more or less doing when and where I can. I’m being as active as possible in other groups around Denver, from Refresh, to the Adobe User Groups, and the new Cocoaheads group, and even less techy events. I think it’s important that since my focus is events, that I be involved as either an attendee or an organizer on as much as I can. I don’t however have an ‘accountability group’ as it were. I’m not sure how to get one…

Break It Up
While I said that you need to keep your eye on the prize back up in step #2, there’s nothing wrong with breaking up your big, huge, audacious goal into smaller goals along the way. If your goal is so big that it scares you, or you worry about not being able to achieve it no matter how hard you try or how many people you tell about it, this may be a good tip for you. Just break it up into chunks. The sub-goals you set for yourself should still be something you can be proud of on their own, but they should also advance you toward the main objective. By taking things in smaller doses, you won’t get easily frustrated.

This one is tricky, mainly because of the distance between Tom and I. Most days we only have about 4 hours of time when we can chat, and I never know what’s going on the other 20 hours, sometimes even those 4. So it’s hard to break things up since there’s a fundamental “If I don’t do this it won’t get done” thing. Which sucks ass. I’d rather it not be hanging over us, but it does, and there’s rarely a day goes by that something doesn’t get done that shoulda; some email never replied, some email never sent, etc. so it’s hard to break tasks up in general let alone between us.

So those are the 8 points to fight motivation troubles. I agree with most, and need to try the others, and make some work better, but i agree in general that keeping your motivation level high is hard. It’s not surprising that it’s even harder when things aren’t going well, but that’s when it’s the most important.

Do you have anything to add to this list? What tips or tricks do you have for maintaining motivation?


Jul 8 2009

How to Fail

John

I’ve been sitting on this for a bit now, meaning to write up my thoughts. I’d never heard of Tayler Davidson prior to this post, but it SO resonated with me, I downloaded the PDF, and Kindle-ized it so I could have it all the time, with notes. I’m just gonna post my thoughts on this topic, go to Taylor’s post and read all 25 lessons yourself!

Almost all 25 topics are pretty spot on.

1. Dither, dither, dither; plan, plan, plan.
Instead: Fail fast. Fire, aim, repeat.

So, so easy to do. It’s brain crack to plan and analyze and never act.

6. Focus on the long-term.
Instead: Focus on the short-term.

By virtue of our having no startup capital beyond what we brought to the table, Tom and I are pretty good at keeping the focus on the near term. It’s often said, and 100% true that without near term planning, the long term won’t ever happen.

7. Build prototypes, mockups and samples.
Instead: Start building in a format and medium as close to the finished product as possible, and iterate, iterate, iterate.

Tom and I tend to differ on this one a bit. I’m very much a throw it out there person, he’s more a plan, review, plan type. We usually meet on the middle, which works well. I totally think that it’s not who launches with the best most solid plan that matters, but who launches, listens, and learns.

10. “New, New, New!”
Instead: F*** new. What’s different? What’s better?

Yeah totally. “New, new new” is so sexy, but is a venus fly trap. It doesn’t have to be sexy, it has to be better, add value. Tom and I have seen this in the reviews we get over other events in the same space, that cater to 5k people, have massive expo areas and SWAG galore.

13. Over-promise, over-sell, under-deliver.
Instead: Over-promise, over-sell, over-deliver.

I think we do ok at this, there’s room for improvement at least in my own mind. I think we actually do more promise, under-sell, over-deliver. LOL

14. Be stubborn in the face of failure.
Instead: Be determined in the face of disbelief.

This a tough one. Failure is hard to swallow, disbelief just as much so. Sometimes it’s disbelief internal to us, sometimes it from external sources. We still think it’s possible to have a conference company that can support more than one person Full Time, and not rape attendees and sponsors. We’ve got the value down, now we just need to find the sweet spot for attendees and sponsors. Attendees get us, sponsors don’t mostly. Some do. Some really do, and see that our attendees are the core of who they’d like to talk to. Others still can’t get past “It’s just the two of you?”

17. “I know more than anyone else.”
Instead: If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re the fool.

18. A unanimous decision means we’re all right.
Instead: If everybody agrees, you’re probably all wrong.

We’re really good at never agreeing.

23. Work under “understandings”.
Instead: Create legal agreements as soon as possible.

Possibly our biggest FAIL to date (and ongoing).

24. Everything matters.
Instead: Recognize the difference between “penny-wise” and “pound-foolish”.

This one bites us a lot. Not as much as it used to, but we still focus on things that seem huge to one of us, but once complete, no one cares. It sucks to waste time like that.


Apr 15 2009

Partnerships: Business goals are not equal to personal goals

Tom

One would think that a goal of a business is simple: Serve customers and, hopefully, make money to allow you to continue doing that.  It’s true, business goals can be that simple.  However, business goals are not the same as personal goals by the business founders.

Individual goals can vary wildly from person to person in the same business.  For instance, Bill Gates did not have the same personal goals as Steve Jobs.  Heck, Steve Wozniak didn’t have the same goals as Steve Jobs.  And there in lies the topic of this post, goals of partnerships (though I think it can apply to anyone working as employer/employee or even peers).

When John and I started this business, it sorta happened by accident.  We didn’t have long term goals other than “Let’s start a business.”  The furthest long term thinking we did before the first 360|Flex was naming the company.  We chose 360|Conferences because of the thinking, “If we want to do another show besides 360|Flex, we probably should have a company name that supports that.”  We figured the “360|x” moniker would be cute and allow us unlimited growth.  That was it.  Discussion over.

Fast forward in jumps of several months.  You’ll see that discussions start to take place.  Ideas start to be shared that don’t resonate with both sides of the party.  Case in point: According to John, we’re not a business since it doesn’t pay us full time.  Whereas I think a business is something that provides a service or a product in exchange for money.

So what?  That’s just semantics and doesn’t really matter, right?  But it does, if you fast forward a few more months.  Now, we’re discussing being part-time vs full-time.  I’m think we were about a year into the biz when this discussion happened.  My goal, which I assumed was “our” goal, was to work the biz part time until it paid us enough to sorta make the jump to full time.  John’s goal, which he assumed was “our” goal, was to go full time as soon as possible.  If you look back at our earlier goal, it’s seems obvious that we’d have this difference of opinion.  Thing was though, it wasn’t obvious at the time.

Fast forward again and again, over the few years the business has been in place, we’ve had many such discussions.  Some were quirky revelations while others were heated discussions about how the other was flat out wrong.  Thing is though, these discussions and differences get old, quick.

John bought us books on partnership.  The one I got was The Partnership Charter and I really enjoyed it.  The premise of the book is how to do partnerships right.  It talks about laying things out for your potential partners before you enter the partnership.  Now for John and I, two new biz n00bs, that wouldn’t have worked out well.  We both really had no idea what we wanted from ourselves, much less our biz partner.  However, I think there was core ideas that we both had in mind prior to starting the business.

My advice would be to talk about concepts and ideas in regards to goals in business and life.  I think too many potential partners spend their time talking about ideas on what the startup should produce vs how they intend to produce the startup.


Feb 17 2009

The Power of the Partnership

John

Partnerships often suck. There I said. Tom and I often fight like an old married couple, in fact we’ve been called that by our wives, and even attendees of 360|Flex.

But I have no doubt in my mind, and have told Tom as much, that our strength is our differences, and that neither of us, could succeed without that other. Sure I don’t doubt that both of us could part company and be successes in our own right, but we’re like the wonder twins when together, an unbeatable force. We’re still interviewing for Gleek.

The number of business ideas Tom and I have bandied about are inumerable (freed, AntiMBA, more books than I can count as well), but the one that stuck was one that both of us were passionate about and could work together on. Conferences. It’s also the thing neither of us ever thought would be our ‘thing’.

I’ve tried being a software consultant (what developer hasn’t), and Tom fired me from Freed and went on his own, and well it didn’t go very far (I’m sure Tom can expand on Freed in his own post). But together we’ve not only taken the Flex Developer community by storm, but we’ve fired a warning shot across the bow of other tech conferences, putting them on notice that they cost too much, and offer too little.

What makes us work so well together is our differences; Tom is a planner, I’m not. I’m a risk taker, Tom tends to not be. I’m guided by my gut on a lot of things, and Tom likes proof/research. We balance each other out just enough so that we’re not paralyzed with “what if” but also not running off half cocked.

I think the true strength of a partnership is the same as a marriage, opposites attract. If you’re partner is on the exact same wavelength, there’s really no point in having a partner, you don’t need someone having the same thoughts as you, reinforcing each one. You need a partner that has the same goals but a different outlook, to act as a counter point.

Many business folks will poo poo the partnership, but I’m convinced that despite our differences and the shouting matches, 360Conferences, wouldn’t be what it is (or even exist) if not for the combined efforts of Tom and I.