Mr Critical

I am always into trying to come up with something entrepreneurial rather than settling down with a 9 to 5 job. An interesting side effect is that people around me feel like they have to share their own inventions and ideas. It’s all good with me. I have trained myself over time to breakdown an idea into components, analyze them and figure out if its doable. The problem is that once I do that, the results I spit back so quickly are usually bad, and people hate it. They like to think they came up with something incredible. Usually I am right for one of the following reason:

1. These are most often either my brothers, my friends from neighborhood, or college friends. What they all have in common is that they are new to entrepreneurial thinking. I mean, I am new myself, and it’s already been 4 years now solid brainstorming. They don’t know that they are walking in my first steps: they are naive and their ideas are unrealistic.

2. The second big problem is that their attention span is too short. They share, get encouragement and/or criticism and that’s where it ends. They don’t do anything about it, they just move to another, ‘better idea’…

3 . Most of them tend to think that getting a product out on the market is easy and can be done on the side of jobs, partying, traveling, and oh yeah, lots of drinking. You can’t start a business and expect to lift it off the ground if you have a full time job. You learn those things when you get to the “doing it” part… which brings us to the most import point:

4. The difference between IDEA and BUSINESS. One thing is to get idea. Everybody has them. Everybody gets brilliant ideas. However, no one does anything about them. Brainstorming is easy. It’s fun but it also tricks you into thinking that once you make a couple steps, you are close to finishing a 30-mile marathon. Big big difference. Marathon is not something you achieve with 1,2, or 3 tries. You have to run hundreds of times distances much shorter. You have to fail many times before you reach your goal. Only it so happens that sometimes you are in the middle of it and you haveГ‚ to change direction for something else…

It really is funny. People come, share their ideas and when I tell them why they will not work, they get mad at me. They often call me Mr Critical or say I am pessimist and nothing will work out for me. Its great – I love hearing that. Call me whatever you want but until someone makes even a super small business out of their idea I am always going to be right…

Health as a measure of ambition and dedication

I am one of those people that can starve for a long time if no food that I am in the mood for is around. However, for the last 6 months probably I have been starving for another reason – I am too busy or too tired to get food. The result is that I have long term problems with stomach and need serious treatment. Unfortunately, stomach pains are not the only problems. All kinds of health issues are emerging now (a lot of them probably caused by lack of good nutrition).

So now I am sitting all in pain and worn out, “Health can definitely be a measure of your ambition and obsession!” Yup. I figured that out. But then if you really want to be successful, you have to take care of yourself too, which means that to maintain GOOD health is an even higher level of ambition and dedication. This doesn’t meant you have to get through the ‘sick’ phase so you can reach the top. On the contrary – you can easily avoid it, which is why I am writing that post: spend extra energy and money to eat good quality food and to eat it regularly. Believe me it’s worth it in the long term.

The Drive

Everybody knows that if you really, really want something you will find a way to get it. Sure, I believe you. As a matter of fact, I am experiencing it now: I want my project to be done so I am more concentrated on it, leaving out other time-consuming tasks I don’t need. I feel like a shuttle that is exiting the Earth orbit and loses the burden of the empty tanks because it has one purpose – to get where its supposed to. Over the last 3,4 years I have observed this phenomenon. In the beginning things can take months to change, but as you grow more obsessed with your ambitions, habits can change overnight. I haven’t missed a bedtime in weeks and breakfast, like never before, is now a firm rule. So yes, if you really want something you will find ways to squeeze more time or get more efficient.

But now let me ask something, How exactly do we get into that vortex that pulls us to our dreams and feeds us with energy for more? Why are some people just not interested in doing anything? Why do people just never even start pursuing something they will like? There seems to be a threshold that needs to be crossed, and unless you do it, career can have a totally different shape. I’ve heard in US a lot of preaching on the topic: “You have to study what you enjoy” and just now I see what they mean. I live the true meaning of words because I teach myself what I want and then I apply it to my work. The problem here is that this piece of advice won’t get in your brain unless you have crossed that threshold and have had a taste of your dreamjob that fills you up with desire and ambition to continue.

So lets say Mr X likes architecture. His parents support him in studying what he likes. So Mr X majors in it, and works as an architect for 10 years. But he, just like most people, never really got in the vortex. He sits in an office, drafts buildings, then goes out and finds something he likes doing to make up for the annoying time he had in the office. He is now wondering, “What happened to my passion for architecture, why did it get dulled over time? Maybe I should have become a photographer since I like taking pictures so much these days…” What happened is that there was no force to draw him more into it so that he gets excitement and fun out of it that will empower him to think of forming a company, hire drafters, and take on bigger, more exciting and cool projects.

I crossed that threshold, but I still don’t get how I did it. So what I am looking for is, “How do you find that exact thing you will enjoy, cross the border and get pulled like gravity in it?”

…all I have for now is ‘try it’…

APT: The Downs…

Just yesterday I wrote about what I call “Amusement Park Theory”. Now I want to elaborate on the DOWNS.

Today is one of the big big downs. I am sick, worried, aggravated. I am so snappy that people around me are afraid to talk to me. I have been coding and reading about application design now for 3 straight days straight. I know now about MVC (Model-View-Controller) but I still can’t understand it truly. More specifically, I don’t know how to structure my own application on the MVC framework. I don’t know which functions should belong to View, which to Controller. I have also been looking at custom events, dispatchers, class extends and class implementations. My head is literally AS3 class soup.

Well if it takes time and energy that’s alright. But what worries me is “Can I ever learn that stuff in a decent, acceptable timeframe? What if there are other things that I really don’t have the resources to learn?” I don’t have eternity for this project, I have to move fast. I have been through so many web ideas and I have created none. I really, really want this one to pop-up online. The idea is amazing, its doable, its just awesome. But yet, I am not programming geek – I only got introduced to class-based programming this January. I work hard when I feel like it but I am new to this material. I get all those doubts now, “Maybe I shouldn’t be the one to write the code? Maybe It is more efficient to have it outsourced.”But then this is a whole different story on building up a startup:

– I have to worry about idea being stolen. If person X writes my application, at any point he can pick his shit up and finish off the idea on his own. And if he doesn’t steal it, he can blackmail for % of the company. Yeah, I know, NDA’s but who knows how well they work. Even if he is not interested in stealing and just wants to leave, I am left with his crap that is probably undocumented and has to be basically rewritten. And this can repeat again and again…
– I have to find money to pay this person X. And I can’t just get someone to do the job, it has to be done well. Plus, how do I find a good person? AS3 is new itself. Some people have been doing Flex for 6 months, but Flash is not Flex. Well yeah, I have a list of angel investors that I could approach, but asking for money before you have anything done is never a good strategy. Otherwise I would be wasting the few chances I have. This all doesn’t feel right.

This whole situation sucks big time. If I don’t figure out how to build that soon, this would be another project on the pile of scraps. And my partner this time is not a programming guru like Alek. This time Alek is away, busy with some other projects of his. I pitched my current idea to a more distant/recent friend of mine that got very excited and was eager to do work. I liked him, seemed like an honest guy, and besides sometimes all you need of someone is energy and dedication to figure the problems. But Noah is more of a firm thinker who gets me back to ground when my dreams make me fly. He is double majored in English and Philosophy which quite honestly helps zero at programming stage. I know we’ll have both a lot of work later, but for now I am on my own and this shit is not moving!!!

its 1,29am. Bed time.

Idea: KillPod

Trigger: We had iPods, but we wanted immediate access to any song at any point, we didn’t want to look for downloads, put them on computer and only then transfer to iPod. We wanted a piece that streams music to a cellphone, caching only the recent songs and the most probable to be listened next.

How: Flextronics would build our music phone by our specifications and design, would provide us with huge content of songs for which we would pay per stream, and then we would partner with one of the cell phone carriers to provide the wireless service for a flat fee of $5 or $10.

Mistakes: We wrote too much that in the end no one would want to read, and at the same time did nothing. We also overestimated ourselves and were overly optimistic about “killing the iPod”.

The story: We knew what we wanted, so we set off to make it. As we have studied in Junior Achievement class, every business starts with a well written business plan. Ah, yes, Business Plan! We had just won the national competition for business plan so now we were confident and wanted to create a real business. Oh boy was it writing. We ended up writing a plan close to 50 pages describing everything you could imagine – market, future competition, financial information, technical details… Anything you can possibly brainstorm.

It looked great (to us). As a matter of fact, we were high on our own project. We valued the company to 100million and were planning to quit college. It was all set up, we didn’t need crappy classes anymore, we were rich. But were we far from truth! Long time we kept thinking, rethinking, and tweaking it. Every so often we would decide to send it to an investor and worked for another week of improvements before that. But there was another problem that we didn’t realize at the time: no one that had money to invest had time to read anything more than 2,3 page executive summary. We had close to 50(with financials and other stuff)! It was an endless writing of a story, that would never become true.

We also didn’t really quite get the scale of our venture. There was just no way we could get such big players in our game. We were just two college (freshmen) students that wanted to create something better than iPod. I laugh now at myself and my foolishness.

Also, a major issue was that we ourselves didn’t do anything really. Everybody on the line of ‘killing the iPod’ had a practical purpose- Verizon provides the wireless midium, Flextronics builds the phones, dumps terabytes of music on our server and what are we doing? We are connecting them. Making phone calls. That mean that even after incredible and impossible amount of work to make this happen, we were easily cutable out of the deal. We didn’t put any real value in providing the service.

One more problem that didn’t really become very clear from that project alone, but you can definitely mark it out: its not always about creating the best and newest. Sometimes the technology is not ready. We wanted to use 3G back in 2005, but there was barely any implementation. We thought of WiMax, which is still not out for consumer products even today! And what’s more subtle: sometimes just the market is not ready. You can introduce a brilliant product, but if its not the right time for the right price, you will lose because people will not be able to understand how good the product is. Its also not about efficiency but about money. Why would Apple provide flat fee for all their music, if they are milking you $.99 per single song! Of course this will be the model until people are ready to stop paying for it.

The Moral:
– Don’t write huge business plans, 2 pages is more than enough for investor. Actually don’t write business plan at all. Thinking is easy but it probably has 2% significance, the rest is DOING IT. Also, things change as you go along, so wasting 2 months of brainstorming, for an idea that will change later is pointless.
– Make sure you pick up a REALISTIC idea. Don’t fly in the sky, because you will fall sooner or later.
– Don’t talk too much before you do anything. People can mock you for a long time how instead of being a millionaire that took over Apple you are still a college student, writing some anthropology homeworks or some crap..

PS. Alek wrote about his KillPod experience on his Bulgarian blog.

Here is a link to our bplan…if anyone is interested.

The Amusent Park Theory

This is not really a theory but its an analogy I like to make between the life of an entrepreneur and an amusement park. I will explain it in the framework of my first successfully completed project – the Planner Project.The so called “Planner Project” was simple – I wanted everybody in my high school to have daily planners for homeworks and to-do lists. ACS did not have that, so Svilen and I had to raise a couple thousand dollars, make the design, create the press files, print it and distribute it. Hardest part was raising money. We had to cold call various companies, meet with people, pitch the idea and hope that they will want to pay money to advertise in our planner for high school students.

I don’t know how many days I have spent with Svilen running around the city with my legendary Fiat Panda to random companies to “beg” for money. It was tiring, annoying, sometimes humiliating. We would get “No! Not interested” and it would seem that the world is collapsing. If they didn’t want it, no one would want to advertise with us. No money, no planners, and days and days of work lost. Also, it got pretty tought at some point, because we had decent money from the second national TV and GlaxoSmithKline and couldn’t make it. How do we go back to those big guys, “Sorry we couldn’t do it, we apologize for all the husstle, here is your money back…” But other times a random person would come up and give us a great idea, “Hey your mom told me about the planner, why don’t you check Rossignol, they might want to do it, and you’e kind’a friends with them too” and then we would picture again the project successfully completed.

It was ups and downs. So many and so extreme. But I look back, it was all worth it. It was definitely amazing to complete such a cool project. It was also very rewarding to feel and taste (i have to be honest, you can’t understand what I am talking until you try it) what it is to create your own projects, and nurture them for months until they are done. From total despair to full hope and ecstatic joy in 5 minutes. Some of those moods lasted for days, some for minutes. So if you ever get a chance to do projects on your own – go for it. Don’t get scared, just do it.

Now the theory. So you already see what I wanted to say – life is like an amusement park. Every project is a ride. Crazy big important projects that might bring a lot of rewards are the crazy big scary rides. You go up, you go up big time in the air. Make millions. You go down, you go down big time. Your dreams of millions just shattered. If you are just working for a company for hour by hour, you are probably riding a Marry-Go-Round.

Moral: Choose your rides wisely. If you go big, expect more than just bumper-car experience.

Undone Ideas

I constantly come up with random ideas. Most of them are web related, but some are simply practical things in life. I think that I will start sharing them. For most I haven’t taken any steps on implementation and for the ones i did – I haven’t done much (whether because I didn’t like it, didn’t have time or something else). But maybe you can do it. Or maybe you can find the missing piece of the puzzle and then we can do it together. This new category is dedicated to such ideas.

Book: Wikinomics

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything
Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams

ISBN: 1591841380

So I promised I will write reviews. Here is a book I just finished. The very attractive name caught my eye in Barnes and Noble

The book makes very good points about how the economy is taking a different shape these days. Development of communication tools allow for much greater efficiency. How? Well instead of hiring, companies and organizations can uncover the work that needs to be done to the world and the person with most expertise and cheapest price can do the job. And no matter how many people corporations have hired, the world pool is bigger.

A good example of this transparency and opening is the mining company. Goldcorp was struggling with finding new gold resources, so it put online all the private information and told people, “We give you all our information, you tell us where to dig!” The prizes they paid to people totaled $575,000, but 80% of the suggested dig places yield substantial quantities of gold. 100 million company became a 9 billion monster that eat its biggest competitors. Another example of transparency was how IBM opened up their patents for use to public, receiving in return over 1billion in revenue yearly.

Its also worth noting that people have become what authors call ‘prosumers’. We are not only consumers, we are not satisfied anymore by slightly customized products (pink iPod or 2gb ram in the new Dell). We now like to completely build our products. We like to create video, blogs, photos, we like to make software and show it off. Its the reason why open source software will continue to grow and why collaborative sites are going to flourish. And figuring out our consumer preferences might be quite important for a business’ survival…

What else…oh yeah, I thought it was funny how Geek Squad (have you seen those black and white beetle cars zooming around the city?) communicates and exchanges most efficiently ideas at Battlefield 2. “Shoot that mother cracker, behind the tank. BTW, where do I find firmware for WRT-54GL…”

So yeah, its worth knowing those things. Limp Bizkit sang it really well, “You better stay on top or life will kick you in the ass”

Don’t Forget to Be Happy: A Note to Myself

I have learned that to be entrepreneur it takes a lot. You have to be in it, you have to sacrifice time, energy etc – you know it. I have been very busy lately – 13h workdays, 7 days a week…

And today I saw a movie. Surf’s Up! Its an animation about surfing penguins, with good funny jokes, with dreams, ambition, competition. There was a scene where Big Z (the pro surfur) tells Cody (the hype ambitious kid) that its all about the fun and the love for surfing itself. It made me think that sometimes, when you work too hard, you forget to enjoy what you do. So I hope I will remember more often now that I do what I do, because I like it and I have to enjoy it. That’s all life is about.

How Entrepreneurial People Get More Entrepreneurial

I worked a good chunk of time for a very successful entrepreneur that made a fortune from real estate. For the time I was with him I saw how from a single person he grew to a super efficient team of about 15 people that are building and renovating at a dazzling speed.

One unique thing about him is the amount of books he reads. Almost every day, I see him with a different one. Sometimes its about dog psychology (he got a dog and was very into teaching it), sometimes its about stock volatilitis, sometimes its about oil and comodities. We discuss some, he gives me to read others, but its way too much for me to keep up with him. Now that his team does most of the work, he has plenty of time to read and get an edge over competition. He also doesn’t just read. He reads interesting useful books that have studies, reflections, wisdom and experience.

I decided i should try it too. Read a bunch of books on networking, communications, and motivation/attitude. I have to say that the knowledge I gained from those few books is nowhere to be found in our college textbooks. And by far more useful. I also think that in the long run, when I look back and see what books I have read, I will see correlation with what I have achieved. For that reason, from now on I will review all the good books that I have been through. I am setting up a section named “Books” where all my posts with reviews will go. Enjoy.