The New Next Thing: BigLeap

I’ve been working on something with my friend and now co-founder Victor Cho. Forbes blogger sums it up nicely.

BigLeap is a platform for changemakers (someone who sees a problem or issue and is willing to act to solve or improve it) to rally help by holding a competition with a crowd-funded reward–as though they were raising funds on Kickstarter for the prize money.

The pilot test is running now, which is what Forbes talks about. A neuroscientist from Berkeley is the champion (changemaker) behind the challenge.

It’s very early in our development and we have a lot to figure out, but the basics of the app are built out and we have more challenges on the way.

What I like is that it gives us the power to focus attention on a problem and get the brightest minds around the world working on it. The games challenge reward is relatively modest at $25,000; you can imagine 500 people contributing $50 to catalyze an outcome.

But we think it can work at scale, too, with global problems like solar adoption rates. Solar power is ubiquitous in Germany; that country decided to end its dependence on potentially dangerous nuclear power and fossil fuels.

But the price per kwH is still much higher–twice as high–so the payoff for a typical homeowner in the US isn’t fast enough to inspire mass adoption.

What if someone discovered a way to double solar efficiency, while simultaneously cutting the cost of manufacturing? Imagine a world where all power is supplied by the sun–no more coal plants putting mercury into our waterways and oceans, no more gas-powered vehicles, no more nuclear meltdowns like the one in Fukushima.

How much would you give to see such a positive outcome? What if 2 million people contributed $50 toward the solar challenge?

And how many bright minds would come together to work on solving that challenge because of the promise of the outcome and the $100 million prize?

Most challenges, we think, will be more modest and more localized. In Lancaster, PA, we have an ugly public square called Lancaster Square. It doesn’t reflect the character and nature of the town or its people; it reflects the idiocy of 60’s-era “urban renewal”–ugly, linear, concrete edifices.

I’m going to be the champion in this case and start a design competition with a crowd-funded reward pool of $5,000. We can easily imagine 100 people kicking in $50 to inspire designers, architects, students, or anyone to come up with the best use of that space, or the best building concepts. I have no talent for this, but I bet we all know someone who does.

That’s the second pilot–it will help us work out the kinks, and maybe it will influence the development of that space.

So that’s the new thing. BigLeap.org It’s kind of like XPrize meets Kickstarter, if XPrize were faster moving and provided tools for anybody to be a changemaker. I’ve wondered why it takes them so long to raise prize money and why some prizes are unfunded, but I suspect it’s because they depend on grants, corporate sponsors, and maybe the internal plaque that can develop when you institutionalize an idea.

We bring the crowd to the party, and break down those barriers. I’m certain there will be copycats, but for now I’m grateful to Vic for coming to me with this idea.

It’s going to be a fun one!

Authentic Conversation

When I think through the people I know from Startup Lancaster, some strike me as authentic and open, and others as constantly posturing.

Always on.

I get that–I’ve been there. You don’t want to show that it’s hard. Things aren’t working out like you told everyone they would. You’re screwing up but if you admit it you’ll lose the last possible chance that someone might save you. You don’t know how to face people and say you’re not making it and don’t know what to do.

So you put on your little show. We’ve all done it.

Today Fred posted an interview between my old coach and longtime friend Jerry Colonna and his longtime friend (and coaching client) Jason Calacanis.

I’d also kind of not really liked Jason, and then kind of have, and then not again.   Especially after the public crap with Arrington.

But I don’t know him.

This interview changed my mind. I still don’t know him, but I really respect his authenticity here, his accomplishments, and how he views his failures. But especially his willingness to open up to Jerry in public.

You’ll see around 40 minutes in as Jerry goes into coach mode, which is more conversation than coaching, so a lot of what he’s doing is subtle.

It’s not magic. It’s just authentic conversation.

Go watch the whole thing.

Specs

When I design an app, I think about it a lot before I do anything. I might be labeled as not methodical, but this is actually a methodical approach. 
I start really wide. I think about it, talk about it, and start to write about it on paper. Then I open a text editor and develop real data models to capture some of the ideas, and then move back to paper. 
Working on paper, I often just start writing what the app should do–a bit of BDD. And then I might flip it over and design a screen, or a schematic showing the relationships between things. 
I wring that damn sponge dry. 
And then I do it again, but narrow the scope, and then again, and pay attention to flow, and then again. All on paper. 
Some of this might be second-guessing myself. Some of it is useful, but a lot of it is repetitive. It’s like I’m practicing the same lick over and over until I get it right. 
My inclination is to go from paper to code. The wisdom of my years tells me to ignore that inclination and go from paper to some sort of loose digital spec. 
I’ve never been the professional application designer, though I’ve designed a bunch of stuff. So I do things the way I do them, part of which contributes to my Sunday dread, where I know I’m delaying creating a final draft because, well, I really don’t want anyone to see the work in progress. I violate my own rules about radio silence.
So today I’m going from paper to something not. Because I’ve got a co-founder now, and he’s no slouch. He expects results!


New Startup

I was driving to an auction of a horse farm about 8 weeks ago to hopefully find something worthwhile for the community gardens, when a friend called to tell me about his idea. 

My initial and subsequent reactions were that yes, it’s a great idea, and you should really do it. But I thought the chances of him going all in were low, simply because it’s hard to launch a startup and he’s on a great career path. 
So I was happily surprised when he said he wanted to do it, and asked me to join him as co-founder. The one major criterion that I have for starting or joining something is that it has to have the potential for a big positive impact on the world; the mission has to make a difference in people’s lives. This easily meets that criterion. 
He visited Lancaster for an early brainstorming/planning session, it went well, and, well, I’m all in too. We’re bi-coastal; I’ll be in Lancaster/NYC most of the time and he’s on the West Coast. I’ll give more detail when we’re ready. 
The timeline is agressive: launching in September. We’re hiring a developer/architect to work in Lancaster, so if you know of anyone with serious skills please send them my way. If we’re smart I’ll be codeless on this 🙂

Anyway, it feels good to be working on something I really believe in again. 

Email Intro Tip: Keep it Concise

I posted this list of email tips over at Fred’s blog (which is a daily habit among a few others)

Good morning folks!  

–no more than 4 lines
–concise subject
–clear request
–details can follow if requested
 

Have a great day everyone (yes sleep is a wonderful thing)

Punt: AVC on Lead Gen

To Fred’s credit he  punts to Russell from WorkMarket. Russell’s post is a decent but incomplete list of lead-gen tactics.

Notably, he doesn’t discuss it from a strategic marketing perspective, so keep that in mind.

Also keep in mind a lot of the comments are not good advice, some from observers of sales and marketing and not from market builders.

This is one area where you want to pay attention to people like Phil Sugar, and avoid other sugar-coated platitudes. Phil knows how to carry a bag and has both the air miles and battle scars to prove it.

While you’re at it, go read the following folks about lead generation, selling, marketing, traction, etc. All were/are successful entrepreneurs:

Rejection

A friend of mine let me know that one of the VC firms they’ve been meeting with decided to pass yesterday.

That’s always tough to hear; along with the pass comes the self doubt, the temporary buzz in the brain that says “you’re not good enough”, “they don’t get it”, and “how am I going to explain this”.

You place your hopes with someone, and they let you down–that’s what it feels like. The potential date that says no, no thank you. You get that sinking feeling.

But the problem is you’ve allowed your hopes to become expectations, and have attached that to a single person, firm, date, or kickball teammate.

Rejection sucks.

But it sucks worse when you drink your own Kool Aid and expect that to be enough. The letdown is big.

Now what?

  • Raising capital is a sales process. Treat it that way. 
  • You want true believers as investors. If they passed, they weren’t true believers (yet) and you didn’t want them anyway. 
  • Yes, question yourself. Is your model right? Solid? Believable? Does the tech work? 
  • Why should a customer care? 
  • Why should an investor care? Investors are motivated by outcome first, other stuff next. 
    • What’s the outcome for them at a $10 million exit? $30 million? $200 million? 
    • How do you get there?
  • Map out your professional and social networks on a whiteboard. Or paper. Or whatever tool works for you (I find this exercise easier on a whiteboard initially). Then research who might be connected to potential investors. Go to AngelList.com, research there. Research, research, research. 
  • Expand your pool of potential investors to 100. You only need 1. Build that damn list and start working it. 
  • Don’t forget the customers. The more customers that validate your model, the more you’ve mitigated risk for investors, and the more attractive you become to them.
Finally, don’t give up. It’s just one investor, and they did you a favor. What did you learn from that? Are they willing to give an exit interview? 
You’ll get there. You just have to keep working at it. In the meantime, don’t beat yourselves up. 
You’ll get there. 

Starters & Finishers

Fred posted on Finishing today. I’ve allowed this line to stalk me for years:

“You never finish anything.”

Spoken by the VP of Engineering at ChiliSoft. Bastard. He was wrong, but right.  Right in that I don’t finish some things. Wrong in that I finish things in my own way.

Maybe it was the way I communicated things we were going to try and they were interpreted as “complete this at all costs”. Maybe not.

Some of us are starters–that’s the highest value application of our time. The best thing to do is get it rolling and then bring in specialist to do it better. That’s finishing, too; our job is to get things rolling. And keep getting new things rolling.

But when I look around the apartment, or at my github account, Russ’s damn words pop up in my head, along with that sneer, which he earned because he was a finisher.

Screw that, I’m a starter. Here’s to the Starters.

(love the half-ass lip sync)

Vision Vs. The Little Things

Vision is great and important. As I said yesterday, I’ve got piles of papers with ideas, plans, and vision of all sorts.

Vision is one of those words that’s typically taken as positive, or without qualification. Some vision is great, some is lousy, some is unrealistic (hopefully!), and some is downright wrong.

Vision’s what gets me up in the morning. And when I’m not working toward a vision, I have trouble getting up in the morning. It’s why I pass on a lot of opportunities that might be blockbuster companies, or intellectually stimulating, but lack a vision that I can embrace.

For me, that vision has to at least contribute to the greater good.

So you’ve got your vision. Now put it up there on the window sill, or hang it from the ceiling and shine a light on it, and roll up your sleeves.

It’s the little things, stupid.

When you’re an ADD entrepreneur, organization is, well, we organize differently from, say, more organized people. But we have the same amount (or more) of little things to worry about, work on, track, respond to, etc.

Building a business is about the details–the color of the logo, the tone of our voices, the tone of copy, the customer’s experience from the time they learn they need help to the time they leave your showroom.

So every day you get up to go work on the vision, walk over to it and kiss it hello or salute it or curse it, but then it’s heads down, grinding work around the details. The details are what matter.

Sweat the little things.