Are you sh@#$ing me?

I won’t sh#@% on you

“Your idea is worthless; your execution is everything”: a refrain I’ve preached for years. As a coach & mentor to entrepreneurs, I must practice what I preach. Too many would-be advisors provide feedback solely on their point of view, rather than that of the market. My wife calls this “should-ing” on people: telling folks what to do without benefit of understanding their business or their market. As such, I’ve adopted the opening salvo, “How can I help you?”

“How can I help you?” is a simple phrase that provides me (and the entrepreneur) a cache of data. This phrase tells me:

  • If the founder can concisely tell me his idea, team & market [Elevator pitch]
  • What level of research the founder has done [Level of effort & commitment]
  • Who they’ve teamed with [Ability to attract others to the cause]
  • How far they’ve progressed [Technical capability]
  • Who their target market is [Customer discovery]
  • What their “issue” is [Risk assessment & market understanding]
  • Why they are pursuing the idea [Passion]

Entrepreneurs offer answers to this opening question with numerous variations. Number one the list is: “Do you think it is a good idea?” Far too many coaches simply provide an answer to this question and, even worse, they ‘should’ on entrepreneurs without facts! Unless I am the exact customer that the entrepreneur is pursuing, it doesn’t matter what I think; it matters what the market thinks.

 

My role as a coach is to provide a framework for the entrepreneur to get out there and discover if customers will pay for the idea. I cannot simply provide kudos. Having worked with hundreds of companies, I can provide historical reference and guidance on data that must be collected and analyzed in many verticals. Investors who have seen thousands of pitches have similar reference points yet still employ subject matter experts and do customer discovery during their due diligence. As it says on every prospectus: “Past results do not guarantee future performance”. Therefore, even with a framework, ensure you analyze the market.

Entrepreneurs, I implore you to seek out mentors with data sets that can advise your decisions. Do not fall into the advisory trap of seeking out “successful business people” to help. Better yet, get out and go ask your potential customers. Lots of them. As W. Edward Demming stated, “In god we trust, all others must bring data”.

Parting advice:

  • Seek many opinions, but weight & rank their value based on experience and data.

Envisioning Emerging Technology for 2012 and Beyond

Can speculation about the future of technology serve as a measuring stick for what we create today? That’s the idea behind Envisioning Technology‘s massive infographic (PDF), which maps the future of emerging technologies on a loose timeline between now and 2040.

 

 

On it you’ll find predictions about everything from artificial intelligence and robotics to geoengineering and energy. Mouse over the entries for blurbs describing them and links to more information; you won’t find much more than a Wikipedia page explanation, but that’s plenty helpful for the uninitiated.

In 30 years, it will also be a great reference for where we thought we might end up. Did we really get interplanetary Internet in 2026? Did the Mars mission happen in 2034, or much earlier? The history of technology isn’t one so much of continued progress, but of sudden, unexpected advances. Which means that the predictions here will most likely be replaced by a reality we can’t even begin to fathom today. But it’s still an inspiring vision of the future (even if you’re scared about the robot swarms in 2031).

You can download a PDF for free, or–should you want to track our progress toward artificial photosynthesis and space-based solar power by X-ing out accomplishments on your wall–purchase a poster version here.

 

By Patrick James on Very Short List

 

Profile: uValue.Co – The Marketplace for College Students

Joshua Anderson worked buying back textbooks as a senior at Syracuse University in 2011. The Marketing and Entrepreneurship major quickly realized that not only did students want to sell back their overpriced textbooks, but they also wanted to sell things in their dorm rooms and apartments that people didn’t need anymore. Realizing that so many college students had a desire to sell and make money, Josh thought of ideas for creating a college marketplace for college students to buy, sell, and rent things from one another.

 


UValue’s Website

By conducting market research and polling students, Josh was able to get the information he needed to start building his “hyper-local marketplace for college campuses.” Among this research, Josh also was thinking of names for his marketplace. Finally deciding on UValue (meaning University Value), Josh hoped that his name would capture the value his site presented for university and college students.

UValue (whose beta went live on July 30th!) now allows students to buy/sell items on their college campus. Students can buy and rent items through the online portal while transactions happen in person so there are no shipping and handling fees. Students who receive a buy or rent offer from someone can either accept or deny the request which gives users more control of who uses their goods. Right now Josh is working to fix bugs in the beta and promote the site. Josh is also looking into getting Le Moyne College to use the site, as well as New York University near his hometown. He hopes that from there, the site will spread virally.

Currently Josh is working in the Syracuse Student Sandbox with Tyler Cothren, an SU student studying computer engineering. As a software engineer, Tyler is working on UValue’s database and algorithm. Although Josh is also working with an intern, they’re still looking for talent! If you’re a front or back end developer or are a PHP wizard, contact Josh at joshua[at]uvalue[dot]co

Since UValue is still in beta after its quiet launch, only Syracuse University students can use the site. However, UValue is looking forward to a full launch in mid-September that will allow all college students to use the site. For now, follow the company on Twitter to stay up to date with UValue’s latest news.

 

Profile: Scrapsule – The Digital Scrapbook Time Capsule

This post is the first in a series profiling startup teams working in the Syracuse Student Sandbox this summer, and the companies they are creating.

“Right now, you’re all losing your memories” says Dee Cater as she pitches her startup, Scrapsule, to potential investors.

Cater, a Syracuse University graduate with a Bachelors in Advertisement Design and a Masters in Advertising, has always been an avid fan of scrapbooking. After getting married, Dee and her husband Anthony wanted to create a scrapbook to capture their memories as a newlywed couple. However, neither of the two had the time or energy to organize photos, cut them out, and paste them into a book. Also on a tight budget, they didn’t want to spend money on the materials to create a book. Dee said “Why can’t we just create scrapbooks online? All of our social media data is already out there.” and thus, Scrapsule was born.

Bringing this idea into a class at SU, Cater met Heather Rinder, who recently graduated with a degree in Magazine from the Newhouse School of Public Communications. Rinder, who fell in love with the idea of a scrapbook time capsule (hence, Scrapsule), agreed to work with Carter on starting Scrapsule. Rinder is an avid scrapbooker herself, and was familiar with photobook printing. Cater, deciding that Rinder’s talents would be a great asset to Scrapsule, agreed to continue working on Scrapsule even after the class was over.

With Scrapsule, users can go through their social media data and organize events based on searching for keywords. No longer will someone have to dig through hundreds of photos to find a picture from a vacation years ago and then reorganize them on a page of a scrapbook. By simply typing in “vacation”, “graduation”, or other keyboards, Scrapsule will organize your memories for you. While only Facebook is implemented now, the two young entrepenuers look to connect Twitter, Pinterest, Foursquare, Google +, Viddy, and Instagram into their sevice.

When asking Cater more about why Scrapsule, she argued that once our memories are online, they’re there forever. “People are producing, producing, producing…but they can’t organize it all. We’re the answer to that problem. Let us organize your memories for you.” Cater also mentioned that technology is about making things more automatic, and scrapbooking should be one of those things.

Rinder and Cater are currently looking for technical talent to help them continue working on their product. They need a developer or technical co-founder to help them develop their prototype, code their wireframes, and work with social media APIs. To get in touch with Scrapsule, email them at info@scrapsule.com. You can learn more about Scrapsule at their websiteFacebookTwitter,Pinterest, or blog.

BeerText.Us: 10 Hours of Hacking with Twilio at the Syracuse Student Sandbox Leads to Thousands of Users

This past weekend, with help from the folks at Twilio and the SyracuseStudentSandbox, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to organize a Twilio hackathon. There was one rule: Twilio had to be used for at least one feature. Everything else was fair game. The hackathon kicked off around 11 AM and ran until 9 PM. In other words, ten hours of hardcore coding, beer, and awesome people.

My friend, RossLazerowitz and I had been flirting with an idea that would allow users to send an SMS to query a database to learn more about the beers they’re drinking (i.e. descriptions, ingredients, alcohol by volume, etc). We love trying new beers, and believed a simple tool like this would be quite useful. Luckily, we stumbled across the BreweryDBAPI which allows developers to interface with a vast collection of beer data.

So myself, Ross, and Ross’s friend CarterYagemann (a talented SyracuseUniversity Computer Science student) started hacking away in an effort to develop BeerText.Us.

 

How we built it

First, I stood up our cloud infrastructure on Heroku for the Rails application, and Ross and Carter began playing around with the BreweryDB API. Once our Heroku instance was live, I started doing frontend work and stood up a client to talk to the Twilio API. Shortly there after, I was able to pull the parameters from the Body of SMS messages our Twilio number would receive. By this time, Ross and Carter had already mastered interfacing with the BreweryDB API (I mentioned they were smart dudes, right?).

Next, it was all about duct taping the way I had set up Twilio with what Ross and Carter were doing with BreweryDB. Our code was ugly. Really ugly. But it was working (sort of).

Then it was all about boundary checking and validations. This is where Carter excelled. I have a Computer Science degree, but I suck at that kind of thing. Carter is excellent, and had roughly 70% of our use cases accounted for in an hour or so. It was exciting to watch Ross and Carter collaborate on this. Ross would hack away and do testing in the IRBshell, while simultaneously maintaining a fluid dialogue with Carter regarding what needed fixing and thoughts on how to fix it.

In the final hours of the hackathon, we tightened up the front end design (thank you TwitterBootstrap), and Ross and I went back and forth making our final pushes and pulls to and from Github. Our workflow certainly wasn’t the best (we had a lot of merge conflicts, but we were able to grind through them). I’d encourage others to decide on a proper workflow before hacking away like crazed savages.

Within five minutes of the deadline, we submitted our final version of the application to the hackathon judge, JonGottfried, an extremely talented developer evangelist from Twilio.

Then what?

Well, unfortunately our BeerText.Us application didn’t win the hackathon, but we had a blast and learned a lot from the whole experience.

On Monday, we decided to submit the application to beerit (i.e. the reddit page for beer lovers [r/beer]) to get some feedback. Within minutes, we were getting thousands of hits, and making hundreds upon hundreds of SMS send/receive requests to Twilio. What was even more exciting was the feedback we were getting from users. The service had a lot of problems at first (i.e. error handling, SMSs being received out of order, duplicate responses, etc). Fortunately for us, the beerit community was quick to help us identify most of these issues and offer suggestions regarding how we should address them.

Next, we submitted the application to HackerNews. Again, we got awesome feedback from folks. Clear patterns regarding issues users were having and what they wanted to see in the service were becoming evident.

After going through all of the feedback from commenters, we pulled a late night and made a number of updates to the service. Before we went to sleep, we were confident it was much improved.

When I woke up, I went through the Twilio and Heroku logs, glanced at Google analytics, and noticed a significant dip in traffic (which was to be expected). Then, I got a call from Ross. “Dude, we’re on Lifehacker. That’s my favorite site!”

Following the Lifehacker post, traffic skyrocketed. It more than tripled what we were seeing from the beerit post at its peak. Since then, it has spread to a number of other sites, and traffic continues to rise.

Iterating as quickly as possible

As you can imagine, we battled all sorts of issues due to the traffic volume. We did our best to put out fires as quickly as possible (and learned a ridiculous amount along the way)! We really appreciate everyone’s feedback, and are excited to offer a service to users that will help them pick and choose new beers to try!

Thanks to the folks at Twilio and the Student Sandbox

 

We really owe a great deal of thanks to the folks at Twilio and the Student Sandbox for offering such an awesome opportunity to build something cool! Thanks everyone!

Sincerest thanks to JackAboutboul, our primary Twilio POC and a superstar developer evangelist!