Startups and Other Problems

I cringe a little bit when I hear the word “startup”. This word has several different meanings in modern newspeak. In Silicon Alley (this is what New York’s startup scene was called in 2000) it appears in several typical phrases such as: “well, we can’t afford that – we are a startup” and “we are a startup, but we are very well funded”. This word is basically used either as an excuse for wanting below-market labour or an excuse to flaunt investor-supplied riches. In the first phrase it means that the company has been burning dumb money for at least a few years, in the second – it’s just starting. One “startup” that I worked for (and have fond memories of) began in 1997 and gave up ghost in 2012. UGO was truly the Dick Clark of companies (except not as successful).

Recently I was researching an engineer who designed the Wright 2600 keypunch. An article about him on Tripod (another blast from the past) has a very interesting quote: “After retiring from US Gov., he volunteered for SCORE, the retired executives helping businesses with start up and other problems.” Startup is not a type of a business! It’s a problem that businesses have!

The term “serial entrepreneur” has also acquired a thick patina of sleaze. The thing is, entrepreneurs are not really like flying aces (I think I read somewhere that most military pilots are either aces who shoot down 5 or more planes or the ones who are shot down). No. You only need to take a look at Jerry Kaplan, who wrote “Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure” and probably set some kind of a record in running companies that don’t make it. A large percentage of startup money is made through sales to larger, lumbering companies. Was broadcast.com a great deal? Nobody remembers it when watching its founder wearing relaxed fit shoes. There certainly a lot of money out there chasing some not very viable ideas. Unfortunately the startups of yesterday and today are either huge failures or huge successes. Or both (but not for everybody).

Luckily these days startup costs are at all time lows. To create a huge failure of a company you need a lot of money. On the other hand, to barely succeed all you need is some pocket change. Forget about Y Combinator. The Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud will “barely invest” and try to help you to “barely succeed” – in other words to encourage you to build a business that realistically aims to be profitable. Forget “go big or go home”. Just try to honestly to build a business. Screw freemium. Forget about “incubators”. All you need is $37. And The Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud will maybe give it to you. If you’ll get a rejection – dig deep.

The Gift of PR

When you are working with true professionals, one of the best things to do is to ask them to choose for you. Japanese have a special word for it – “omakase“. When you say “omakase onegaishimasu” in a sushi bar, the chef will create a custom meal for you, based on the freshest and the best ingredients available at the moment.

If you ever give your money to Warren Buffet, your hair to Jonathan Antin, your floundering computer maker to Steve Jobs, the choice of where and what to eat to Tony Burdain — they’ll do a good job. Doing the same with any stock broker (is likely to churn your investments or worse ), the Supercuts barber (might style you ala Gates) , Carly Fiorina (might make poor H and P spin in their graves some more) is a capitally bad idea.

For a while I’ve been running Amazon’s “omakaseTM” ads on my blog, and I’ve got to tell ya, they stink. I, personally, would fire the business dev suit running (or rather running into the ground) Amazon’s Associates program. This person is never going to be fired, because by it’s nature, Amazon Associates is an amazing thing, one of the best business ideas that Amazon ever implemented. It’s like an Abrams M1 tank – even a drunk moron can drive it around and do a lot of very impressive damage, but it takes a highly trained soldier to really unleash it’s true destructive capabilities.

I am very disappointed in Amazon Associates products, especially omakase, and because of that I am building my own Amazon Associates ad server in my spare time. Lately I haven’t had much spare time, so the project is moving rather slowly. I’ll be pulling omakase ads off though, and meanwhile I’ll replace it with a holiday gift for my readers.

I will replace the ads on my website with promos for some blogs and websites of my readers (as well as some of my favorites). Do you you have a site you’d like to promote? Comment here or send me an email. Suggest as many as you want. If you have some “creative” – that’ll help. And if you won’t suggest anything (as it usually happens when I ask for suggestions) and make me feel very sad, instead of promoting your sites, I’ll do the same with all the splogs that sometimes spam me. At least they take the time to leave a comment.

Corporate Memorabilia

It looks like I failed to attract any Microsoft readers, but I have at least two readers from the Big Blue. Let the pandering to the audience commence!

As those of you who actually read my journal might know that I used to work for a dot com agency called iXL where I had many unforgettable experiences.

(I finally found a metrocard that casa” posted in his journal a while ago).

Anyway, iXL had a logo that looked like this:

In the beginning it was a hip company – dress code was not enforced and neither was anyone required to come in at 9 AM. I don’t remember what it was, insistance on business casual or the mandatory 9AM meeting that made sysadmin named Lee to make enough of these buttons for everyone to wear in the 9AM meeting.

Looking At The Things Flashing By

Lj user saltdog reminded me of something from the not so long gone era of dotcoms. Back then there was a tremendous proliferation of web development companies that called themselves “agencies”. I worked for one back then.

These companies behaved kind of like bacteria in a pool of agar-agar. At first they multiplied. Razorfish, iXL, Scient, Viant, Sapient, Agency.com, Organic, Xpedior, Proxicom. Then they tried to enlarge themselves. Some by what they called “organic growth” which is like when a bacteria that grows more cells. If I remember correctly Razorfish tried doing that. Others engorged themselves by swallowing smaller companies like some corporate amoeba. A prime example of that was iXL. Then there was a type of companies that multiplied by cloning. Scient, Viant and Sapient even had cloned names.

Clients that wanted websites (agar-agar) were plentiful, but coding monkeys (minerals) were the growth limiting factor. The agencies spent much of their profits on advertising to lure in potential employees. One of the more creative ways I’ve seen at Sapient (I think, it could have been some other -nt clone). They rigged their website to detect referrals from ip addresses that belonged to other agencies and present a customized front page that presented top reasons to leave that agency and start working for the clone.

A magazine ad (I think from Silicon Alley Reporter) that stuck in my head and what lj user “saltdog” reminded me of was rather unique. It was just a copy of a ticket. A real ticket given by an MTA cop to some codemonkey at some now defunct agency. It was a little hard to read and probably not very eye catching. In the memo field of the ticket it said something like this: ” MTA police officer [Cop’s name] encountered [Codemonkey’s name] riding between the cars of the [some letter or number] train. When asked about what he was doing [Codemonkey] answered, that he was “looking at the things flashing by” “. The ticket was for $25 or $50 dollars, or something like that. The copy below the ticket invited people who like “looking at the things flashing by” to go work for that agency.

Yeah, that in itself was the epitome of the dot com era. Looking at the things flashing by. Then the amoebas, multicellular scum and clones ran out of agar-agar and began to merge, become swallowed by more evolved corporations and die.

Murder at the ABA or The Pod People

There is one project that I am glad I was not on. A few people that were sitting in a octapod next to me at iXL worked on the http://www.aba.com website. It turned out to be a horrible death march. I found out about the project because one of the coders had an Asimov’s book displayed on her table (interestingly enough, I had that book in my collection).

The book in question was “Murder at the ABA”, a detective story about a murder at the American Bookseller Association convention.

Oh, if you are wondering what the “octapod” is. An octapod is this weird replacement of a standard cubicle. It looks somewhat like this:

In other news: Scient that swallowed iXL has now been swallowed by sbi. So long to Scient, Viant, Sapient jokes.

Are You Proud of Your Workplace?

I like decorated workplaces. And I don’t mean a cube with a swimsuit calendar and “motivational” posters from http://www.motivational-posters-animal-posters-sunset-beach-photos.com/ (that’s a real address too). I don’t like Despair, Inc Demotivators TM, although I wish I came up with that idea myself. It’s a big business, as illustrated by this spooky picture of their warehouse:

What I do like, is when an office has some artifact or artifacts that everybody is extremely proud of. For instance in Boston office of defunct company iXL they had an Aibo dog (the expensive first version), which they’ve got for creating http://www.aibo.com. I worked in New York office of iXl.

A company that I worship, iDEO, has an office which has the ultimate office decoration. Some engineers went to the airplane scrap yard and brought back a huge WWII bomber wing, which they polished and hung above a meeting room.

Art. Lebedev Studio, a company, which I think will become Russia’s iDEO, and which I also worship, has the coolest collection of old technology

Fog Creek Software (yeah, I worship a lot of companies) strives to provide the best working enviroment possible. From their website: ” … That means the nicest work environment we can get. For now, that means an historic brownstone in an exciting Manhattan neighborhood full of caf├ęs, bookstores, ethnic restaurants, movie theatres, and a rather disproportionate number of Persian rug shops. We have a real garden out back, a full kitchen, a pinball machine, and natural light… ” And that is even more amazing than an airplane wing.

Me? Well, I have a small collection of old vacuum tubes (or valves as Brits call them) in my cube. But I think a nice jet fighter’s helmet and a nice jet instrument panel from eBay’s fine selection would be much cooler.

Ok, I am off to install a 120 gig drive (a bargain at $130) in my Tivo. Wish me luck.

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Holy crap!
I just realized: Livejournal is basically a “push” technology!

Quote from CNN: “The push era was ushered in by PointCast, a screensaver that also delivered news and advertising and which somehow managed to be even less useful than the World Wide Web.