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July 23, 2012

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Fear and Startups

February 25, 2009

I have been thinking for a while what to write about here.  It has been a bit since I have written anything and that has contributed to some writer’s block.  Today that changed.  I was reading an article on the OC VC Blog about fear (Overcoming Fear) and thought, that’s it! Fear! It is the thing that everyone is talking about these days. It can be easily said that it is the predominant driver of most people in our current environment.

I began thinking about the fears you encounter when running a startup. The biggest is…fear of failure! Fear of failure kills more startups and delay more action then just about anything. I have encountered the nastiness of this fear and it’s ability to cause procrastination to set in with such a vengeance that everything slows to a crawl. My solution is to ignore the fear of failure. I don’t base my actions on success or failure but on passion and motivation. In reality there is no failure. Either you do something or you don’t. This leads to the next big fear…

The next biggest fear is…fear of immensity! I’ve had this fear creep in anytime I think about what I want our companies products to become. I see these beautiful applications and services all done and gleaming brightly in the sunlight, with extraordinary features that everyone is in love with, then I look at where we are…and the fear creeps in. How can our little team build this thing, were we crazy!!! You can see where this thinking leads, usually to paralysis. So I look at the little steps instead. If I can just do a little bit every day, just something to forward the cause, then something amazing happens. You step back one day and realize the immensity of what you have accomplished! There is a corollary to this fear….

The next fear is…fear of competitors! This can be as paralyzing as fear of immensity. What are they doing? They got how much funding?! Who is their new partner?!? We’ll never catch up…you see where this is going. So I ignore my competitors. Well not really ignore, I just realize that they are running their race and we are running ours. I have found over time that most competitors don’t meet my expectations. It is a common trap to believe that just because a competitor has money or connections they will actually leverage those assets successfully. It rarely occurs. So, if it rarely occurs, why worry about it or be fearful. Just build your product or service and make your customers happy. Let your competitors fear you, don’t fear them.

The next fear is…fear of loneliness. Running a startup can be very lonely. Most people don’t understand what you are trying to do. You can’t really talk to them in terms that they understand. If you work for 2 months adding something ground-breaking to your product or service and 3 AM some morning you get everything to work for the first time it’s time to celebrate!!! But who is there? Usually you and your computer. Maybe one of your partners is around, but even then they may not understand everything behind your accomplishment. Not being able to share in your success can make you feel lonely. Just the fact that you may be the only one that believes in your ultimate success can make you feel lonely. To handle this loneliness I have found that it is best to include everyone you can in your business. You talk to your girlfriend or wife about it on a regular basis, you let your friends know what is happening. Then, when you have success, you can share it. Another thing is to get out of the office. Go to a Meetup related to what you are doing, attend a conference. These things can boost your morale, make you excited about what you are doing, and get other people excited. When other people are excited about what you are doing the loneliness vanishes.

The next fear is…self-doubt. In the Web 2.0 world this is an easy one to catch. Everyone is building something or launching something new, all of the time. It used to bother me when people would say how easy it is to create a company these days. Most of the time it comes from people who have never created a startup in their lives! You will also find yourself wondering if you are in the right business, especially when that new flavor of the month comes around. I push back on this fear by remembering that I am building something to last. That it may take 3-5 years to become profitable, that it can take even longer! If I am building something to last that is profitable and takes care of the needs of my customers then there is no way that the flavor of the month, or people that don’t understand what it takes to build a business, should have any impact on me!

This all brings me to the big fear of the day…fear of the future! Everyone these days is afraid of what the future will bring. Will I get the funding I need with the economy so bad? Will my customers still continue to pay me? Will I be able to continue to pay my employees? Is everything going to collapse into ruin!!! This is were you need FAITH! This is where the Overcoming Fear article inspired me to write this. Faith is many different things to many different people. To some it is religious and spiritual, to others it is not. No matter what, faith ultimately is the belief that there is something better out there. That if we work hard and do the right thing we will survive and thrive. I have faith that I will succeed so I keeping moving forward building my company. I have faith in my family and friends, so I don’t worry about loneliness. I have faith in my abilities, so I can erase self-doubt. I have faith that my competitors aren’t as good as I fear they are. I have faith that I can overcome the immensity of my dreams. Ultimately, I have faith that I can be a success.

…but then again, we entrepreneurs are a little crazy!!!

- Doug K.


Regarding Focus

August 12, 2008

One of the big challenges being a startup is focus.  What is your business about?  It is a challenging question, especially when you have created a technology that can do all of the things that PodGlo can do.  If you focus on the wrong thing, or too many things for that matter, you can doom your business to failure.  So what do you do?  Well, you talk and listen to as many people as possible, weigh their thoughts and yours, and then choose.  Taking to long to decide the right way to move is just as bad as choosing to many things or choosing the wrong thing to focus on.  A lot of it is gut instinct based on your prior experience.  How should the user interface flow?  What technologies should you be using?  Are the servers in place enough to handle the load…for now?  What business should we get into?  What customers should you pursue?  These can all be very tough questions.  One thing is for certain though, as a company leader if do not make the decision someone else will make it for you and that someone can be an investor, a partner, your husband/wife/kids, etc.  Anyone with a vested interest in your company or you personally will be more then willing to decide.

The person who knows the business the best are the founders.  The founders are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the business so it is up to the founders to take the lead and move forward.  Sure you will make mistakes, everyone does, but you will also have great successes and you will learn a great deal along the way.  Don’t get me wrong, many people can be involved in the decision making process but my point is that you are ultimately responsible.

You may wonder why I am talking about this now.  Well, PodGlo is going through just such an evolution.  Prior to the last month or so it was all about the technology.  But now things are a changing.  It is becoming more and more about the business and what we plan to focus on and where we plan to differentiate.  Those of you who have seen the tech know it is good.   Soon you will see the business evolve around the tech and hopefully it will be just as good.  We have to pay the bills somehow after all.  So far it has been a lot of fun and I have met a lot of people I never would have before this evolution began.  These days I just keep saying to myself, “Focus, focus, focus…”.

Doug K.


Where’s It All Going?

May 19, 2008

Sorry I haven’t written in a while.  We’ve been crazy busy!  We just did a soft beta launch…which means we are controlling access and rolling out features and bug fixes almost daily while people help us test things out.  If you’re interested in helping test PodGlo then Click Here and request a Beta invite.  Mention that you came from our blog in the message section. 

We attended PodcampNYC again this year.  In fact we were a sponsor of the event.  It was great fun and we had a more mature product to show off.  My partner, Peter, and I are both technologists so sometimes we get carried away in the technology and forget that people aren’t at the same level that we are when thinking about micropodcasting.  The big thing we learned at PodcampNYC is that we need to simplify our message.  This is why when you first go to PodGlo you see, right in the middle of the screen,

“PodGlo lets you create micropodcasts {short, recorded audio thoughts} on the fly…from anywhere. It is quick, simple, and fun.”

Followed by:

You can:
  • Create micropodcasts easily using a web-based recorder or phone
  • Create audio conversations around any topic
  • Get a fully interactive PodGlo widget for your site
  • Listen and reply to micropodcasts directly from email or SMS (text message)
  • Share your micropodcasts by email, SMS (text message) or Twitter.
  • Quickly download MP3′s of micropodcasts
  • Subscribe to, play and reply from within RSS Readers (like Google Reader)

We also added a lot of Join links because it is what we want people to do the most right now.  It’s probably still a little off, I think, but we will continue to tweak the message so please feel free to leave suggestions.  Also, we are working on what I call the flow.  This is how we guide you though the site to show you how simple it is to create micropodcasts and our super-advanced widget that is fully interactive and bi-directional.

Another interesting thing that happened last week is that I used Twitter to communicate with a user in London and he helped us troubleshoot our web-based recorder.  Turns out he was using the GB (Great Britian) version of Firefox and we hadn’t taken that into account yet for our international users.  It was the first time that I am aware of that anyone has used Twitter to debug a web application/service.  How cool is that!  I can tell you the user loved it.   You could feel the excitement when we got it all working for him.

I can promise you that I will be writing here a lot more.  We are finally emerging from the heads-down, code as if nothing else matters phase into the ‘hey, customers let us help you’ phase.  Also, please don’t judge us to harshly just now on our ‘flow’.  This is a new-born baby and we are just starting to try to get up and totter about.

Talk to you all soon!

- Doug Kersten


This Is Why You Use Amazon

February 20, 2008

Amazon had an outage of Amazon’s S3 storage on Feburary 15, 2008.  The outage lasted about 2.5 hours.   This is bad news.  Anytime you rely on a services provider for a key component of your website, having that component go down means that you are out of business.  However, let’s look at Amazon’s description of what caused the problem:

 ” Here’s some additional detail about the problem we experienced earlier today.

Early this morning, at 3:30am PST, we started seeing elevated levels of authenticated requests from multiple users in one of our locations.  While we carefully monitor our overall request volumes and these remained within normal ranges, we had not been monitoring the proportion of authenticated requests.  Importantly, these cryptographic requests consume more resources per call than other request types.

Shortly before 4:00am PST, we began to see several other users significantly increase their volume of authenticated calls.  The last of these pushed the authentication service over its maximum capacity before we could complete putting new capacity in place.  In addition to processing authenticated requests, the authentication service also performs account validation on every request Amazon S3 handles.  This caused Amazon S3 to be unable to process any requests in that location, beginning at 4:31am PST.  By 6:48am PST, we had moved enough capacity online to resolve the issue.

As we said earlier today, though we’re proud of our uptime track record over the past two years with this service, any amount of downtime is unacceptable.  As part of the post mortem for this event, we have identified a set of short-term actions as well as longer term improvements.  We are taking immediate action on the following:  (a) improving our monitoring of the proportion of authenticated requests; (b) further increasing our authentication service capacity; and (c) adding additional defensive measures around the authenticated calls.  Additionally, we’ve begun work on a service health dashboard, and expect to release that shortly.

Sincerely,
The Amazon Web Services Team ” 

Link to Amazon’s response

Let’s dissect this so you can understand why I am saying that you should still use Amazon.  First, the outage was just 2.5 hours.  Considering that this impacted a large portion of the S3 service this is a very quick response time.  It shows that Amazon has the manpower and resources in place to address serious problems.  Second, they already saw the problem coming and were bringing online additional capacity before it impacted customers.  Unfortunately, the capacity could not be brought online fast enough so that customers would not see the problem.  Third, they posted notices for their customers quickly.  Unfortunately, it was on the Developer forum and not in a prominent enough place so that customers could quickly get a status.  Finally, they posted the details of their follow-up plan to keep this from happening again.  It included improving monitoring so that they can discover problems even faster, increasing capacity where authentication services failed, improving defensive measures around the effected area (rate limiting?), and setting up a dashboard so customers can more easily see what is going on.

Now let’s think of this in terms of you.  How fast could your company have solved the problem, brought new capacity online, communicated with your customers, and come up with a follow-up plan?  I can honestly say that we would have had a hard time matching this performance in-house.  Just bringing unexpected capacity online quickly is a thorny problem.  Amazon is doing what they are being paid for.  I don’t mean just providing you storage services and CPU capacity.  I mean providing you first-class support around those services.  If you think you can do a better job then leave Amazon.  If not, as I expect the majority of customers will realize, then stay.   In the end, this issue has brought to people’s attention that they need to think about disaster recovery and business continuity when doing their planning.  Then again, they should have been thinking about this already.  In the end Amazon’s problem will make the smart companies stronger companies because the smart companies will analyze where they could have done a better job and execute.

- Doug Kersten


How to make a customer angry!

January 15, 2008

Today I went to Network Solutions to lookup some new domain names to register.  I searched a bit and found one I liked.  I then went to my hosting provider to register the name since they have completely automated the process and all that I have to do is click a button to add a domain.  I have been doing this since the late 90′s.  Same process and it always worked.  This time it failed to work.  The domain I wanted had been taken by someone else within a few seconds.  Oh well, what can you do, I thought.  Until I found out who took the domain name.  It was Network Solutions.  They had registered the name and not wanted me to register the name with them, at over twice the price!  It was a holdup!  I have not been so angry at a company for a very long time.  It stung even more because Network Solutions is such a big force in the domain name business, I could feel the cold, hard steel muzzle of the gun pressing into my back.

I called Network Solutions to express my dissatisfaction and all they had for me was a lame excuse about someone else out there might take my name so instead of letting the other person take it Network Solutions took it.  What a horrible argument!  We don’t want someone else to hold you up so we are going to instead.  I have been going to Network Solutions for years, even when I wasn’t buying anything I felt that at least I was sending traffic their way.  I have recommended to others to go there also and I am sure they bought domain names from Network Solutions.

In the end, Network Solutions agreed to release the name in four to six hours.  Unfortunately, now I don’t trust them and if the name is immediately re-registered by someone my belief is that that someone is Network Solutions or someone associated with them.  The customer service rep on the phone did an excellent job with the company spin, she deserves a raise for spewing it so diligently, but even she actually said, “Don’t come back to Network Solutions and look for the name again after we release it or it will be registered again by us.”

Imagine that, a customer service rep telling a customer not to come back…amazing!

I won’t be going back to Network Solutions again, nor will I be recommending the site to others when they ask me how to register a domain name as long as this policy is in place.  Network Solutions can you spell the name of the company who will be taking your place in the near future?  G O  D A D D Y!

- Doug K.


Predicting the Future!

October 30, 2007

I wrote this about a year ago and now, when I read it, there is a bit of spookiness there what with the events of the last few months:

“In case it is passing you by, you should understand that the second dot-com boom is here. This boom is all about user-created content and social networks where people share that content and information about themselves and their desires. It is no longer about companies preaching to the masses in a one-way conversation. It is about companies listening to the masses speak to each other in a many-to-many conversation where the companies are facilitators! There are many examples of this type of site out there already (like MySpace and You-Tube) but these are companies that are indicative of the beginning of this era, not where it is going. Myspace and You-Tube still rely on a centralized point for everything. The future of the web is using one of its strengths and creating distributed communities. These are communities that flow across websites. They are ubiquitous, existing wherever you are across the web. Do you want to see an example? Check out MyBlogLog. MyBlogLog creates communities around blogs. You can join blog communities in a couple of clicks and you feel as if you are a part of a broader community, one that spans the web itself. This is the new way of the web. This is Web 3.0! You will see more and more of these cross-web community platforms and you will see the likes of MySpace and You-Tube trying to integrate it into their offerings. They will have to do it or they will be blown away by the competition. Unfortunately, their models are centralized so they have to be very careful. If they get it wrong they will lose. Web 3.0 community platforms will also need to be open (not necessarily open source but open to integration). MyBlogLog does a great job at what it is designed to do but they should keep in mind that others are creating services that would work very well with MyBlogLog. What I mean is that MyBlogLog should be designing its platform to leverage synergies that will exist with other cross-web community platforms. This will help to create a more stable and locked in user-base as well as promoting growth in businesses that will help them to grow. Of course, I am focusing here on MyBlogLog but this applies to any Web 3.0 company out there. Remember to keep your eyes on the forest, not just the trees, and you will be on your road to success in this new dot-com world!”

Source

The Web 3.0 stuff is a little weird but I remember more clearly now why we made some of the decisions we have with PodGlo and realize that we are definitely on the right track!

Anyway, we just entered the Amazon Startup Challenge and I am hoping we have a chance of winning, even with the fierce competition and other entries that I know are further along with their businesses then we are, I think we have a chance. Everyone I show our stuff to gets pretty excited about it and I can’t blame them because we do to every time we work with it and polish it off a little bit more. Wish us luck and thanks Amazon for such a cool challenge!

- Doug Kersten


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