Top 5 ways that the Cleveland startup scene can alter our positioning of the city for the better
1. Kill “Rust”
Once, the “Rust Belt” was called the “Steel Belt” (or so I hear). This moniker, like Akron being called the “Rubber Capital”, was a proudly accepted label for an area that saw unprecedented economic growth driven by industry. “Rust Belt” was popularized in the 80’s as a way to wrap an idiom around the decline of the US steel industry and the associated regional decline that followed. It’s not a badge of honor, it’s reference to our failure to maintain a modern economy.
2. Stop Playing the Underdog
I don’t know if it’s some kind of Cleveland sports team complex or a general Midwestern quirk, but we consistently view and message ourselves as the underdogs. This is not some sports league with standings that we’re behind on. We don’t have to beat San Francisco on talent acquisition, or out grow Boulder in new funding, we just need to build/maintain a great and tightly knit culture that facilitates relationships and makes people feel like family.
There is no rising to do, no changing of hearts and minds to accomplish, no “it’s getting better” to talk about. We are a proud and industrious city populated by intelligent, friendly, and helpful individuals. We have great cultural, geographic, economic, and philosophical qualities that speak for themselves. Be proud.
When faced with snide comments about burning rivers and brain drain, use that thirty seconds as an opportunity to educate on something great about the area. Don’t let the conversation be ruled by a certain basketball player’s return. Change their bias.
3. Recognize Incentives that Matter
If I’m deciding where to locate my business (which I am), continually being told how “its getting better” is not the message I want to hear. I want to hear: “low cost of living”, “A+ talent availability”, “startup friendly”, “tax incentives”, “payroll tax rebates”, “access to mentorship”, “access to funding”, “no seriously, access to funding”.
4. Realize that Talent Follows Opportunity
It’s a classic two-sided marketplace issue, how do you get A+ talent if you don’t have A+ opportunities for them to fill? How do you get great companies into the area without the talent? Short answer? Someone has to take a risk.
The A+ developer moves home to raise a family, the startup returning from an out of state accelerator flush with cash starts to hire top tier talent (email resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org), the Fortune 500 decides to modernize and grow staff. There are catalysts and we need to facilitate and embrace them.
5. Stop Being Humble, Dammit
While a positive trait in most cases, humility has a way of diminishing our achievements. Stop it.
Celebrate victories big and small.
When something is going right, we need to tell the world. We need more press, more buzz, more excitement. There were several $XXXm transactions in the Cleveland area recently and most people I talked to *locally* had no idea. Do you think people outside the CLE area are going to know if we don’t? We’re bad at making noise for ourselves, and even worse at spreading the word on good news from others.
Social media, blogs, newspapers, magazines, podcasts, whatever is takes. Get it done Cleveland.
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You Suck at Intro Etiquette
An intro is worth its weight in gold. Don’t waste one by saying the wrong thing, or worse, not replying at all. Here are some notes on how to maximize your success in either sending or receiving intros.
Give Freely without Expectation
Those who “hoard” contacts and are unwilling to provide intros are bad stewards to their community. Actively suggesting people that you might be able to intro someone to will not only build a positive relationship with them, but if done correctly, will build your relationship with those that you’re intro-ing them to as well.
Subject Lines Matter
I typically go with something like “Bob Smith <> Jim Jones”, or in the case of introducing two firms “Initech <> Intertrode”. If the symbols are too archaic for you, just make it clear that you’re introducing two parties without coming off like spam.
Grease the Wheels
A successful intro includes a personal touch. Find a commonality between the parties and share it. Do both people have kids in college? Maybe they like to Ski? Find something and use it.
Clearly State the Reason
It can be as simple as “Bob is looking for a contact at your firm, and given your shared passion for coffee, I thought you should get some!” Make sure all parties know who wants what and why you’re playing middleman.
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Bob Smith <> Jim Jones
Hey Bob, how’s the knee?
Wanted to introduce you to Jim over at Intertrode. Jim’s been looking for some help on a bug related to the 2000 switch and when we discussed it I immediately thought of you. Jim and I worked together on that project last year and he is an avid skier like you, so I thought you’d get along great.
Jim, Bob is an old friend who has been with Initech forever and should be able to help with your UTC issues. If he gives you a hard time just remind him that I have photos of his college hairstyle. ;-D I’ll leave it to you to follow up.
Intro replies need to be timely. If you’re the one being introduced, it’s your job to reply, and now. If the person you’re being introduced to replies first, you’ve lost the game.
Personally, I love giving intros, but if someone I intro doesn’t reply before the intro-ee does, they’re going to have a hard time getting another one from me. Ever.
Respect the Risk Being Taken
An intro is not something to be taken lightly. The person making the introduction is expending political capital and providing an implicit reference for you. By not following through properly, you’re embarrassing the supplier and making yourself look bad to everyone involved.
Thank the Supplier
Establish your relationship with the person providing the intro by thanking them in your reply email. Something simple, like “Thanks Bob, I owe you a beer next time I’m in Chicago!” can go a long way to setting the tone of the discussion going forward.
Move the Supplier to BCC
This sounds trivial, but it matters. Very rarely does the person providing the intro want to be copied on every single follow up email. By moving the supplier to BCC (and saying so in the reply) you get a chance to acknowledge the supplier and let them know that you’ve replied while removing them from the ongoing thread.
Subject: RE: Bob Smith <> Jim Jones
Thanks Ed! Let’s grab lunch next week, my treat. (Moved to BCC)
Bob, nice to meet you! I’d love to pick your brain on this issue we’ve been having with conversion of UTC in our 2000 switch project. Can I buy you coffee later this week? I work downtown, happy to come to you.
This Isn’t Rocket Science
Overall, just be timely, use proper grammar, and don’t abuse the intro supplier’s generosity and you’ll be head and shoulders above the majority.
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“Priorities: Growth > Profit > Revenue > Eyeballs > Demo > Prototype > Pitch Deck > Idea > Funding”
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Ten lies entrepreneurs tell themselves
Startup founders spend so much time trying to convince others that their company is “crushing it” that sometimes we can convince ourselves of how easy it will be to succeed. Here are a few lies we tell ourselves.
1. "Once I get funding, it’ll all get easier." - Nope, it all just gets harder. If you are looking for easy I know some corporate recruiters that are hiring.
2. "I need the latest and greatest hardware." - No, you don’t. Some of the best stuff is written on the oldest gear. My first product (abject failure that it was) was written on a crappy Dell desktop and my dusty old MacBook (which, tank that it is, became my wife’s, eventually her parents’, and is still running today).
3. "I shouldn’t bug that person, they’re too busy." - Just ask. If they’re too busy and don’t reply, ask again. Ask until they say no.
4. "Social media is a good use of my time." - Probably not. A little goes a long way, but it followers don’t mean much if you don’t have anything to sell. Build it, then talk about it. If you’re big enough to need a real social media presence, you’re probably big enough to hire someone to handle it.
5. "Equity is cheap." - Oh you sweet summer child. You’ll only make this mistake once.
6. "It doesn’t matter what my customer thinks, I have a vision." - Customers can be a strange species, but if someone tells you something really off the wall, it’s probably worth spending a little more time to learn what the background story is.
7. "Splitting the equity evenly is the only fair thing to do." - It may sound like it, but eventually there’s going to be a decision that divides the team, make sure that there’s a clear leader with the power to make final decisions.
8. “Equity should be given to myself, my cofounders, and employees via direct grants.” - NO. DON’T DO IT. Have a vesting clause for everyone (potentially including yourself). You might love your cofounders but you never know when someone is going to abandon ship, meet a girl, or lose their mind.
9. "Big company X knows more than me." - Have you ever talked to someone at one of the big valley companies? They may have some smart cookies, but the spread isn’t that wide. Chances are you’ve got a an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with one of the big boys and make a dent.
10. "If I get on TechCrunch, I’ll be huge!" - Not quite. My companies have been on TechCrunch a few times (http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/08/60mo-gives-quickbooks-a-minty-dashboard/, http://techcrunch.com/2011/01/19/after-a-fateful-tweet-60mo-raises-series-a-from-lightbank-yo/, http://techcrunch.com/2012/05/03/freeagent-acquires-financial-software-startup-60mo-lands-investment-from-lightbank/, http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/04/microsoft-sharepoint-socialfest/, http://techcrunch.com/2009/01/23/2008-rearden-commerce-has-a-heck-of-a-year/). While the sheer amount of traffic that a TechCrunch post can represent is hugely appealing, I’ve found readers of tech blogs to be somewhat shallow in their interest. Of the tens of thousands of hits you might receive, only a small percentage will take the time to sign up for your product. An even smaller percentage will actually engage with your product, making the traction generated by a post on a major blog sexy, but ultimately of little value aside from hype.
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Six ways to maximize your accelerator experience
When joining an accelerator the experience can often be overwhelming, especially for first-time entrepreneurs. Here are six ways that you can get the most from your time at an accelerator.
Connections - The most valuable thing you’ll get from being a part of an accelerator class is the built-in access to smart people that have already built companies, raised money, and been through what you’re going through. You might even get connected with potential customers or partners so don’t hesitate to ask for intros if there’s a fit.
Guidance - If you think you know everything there is to know about what your company is going to face, you’re wrong. Be receptive of the guidance you’ll receive from mentors, accelerator team-members, and your fellow classmates. Don’t squander the opportunity to pick their brains, ask tough questions, and get insights into your business from a pair of fresh eyes.
Focus - For many first-time entrepreneurs an accelerator is an opportunity to focus on their business that they may not have experienced before. Don’t succumb to shiny object syndrome. Spurious pivots can cost more than just wasted time, they can leech off precious momentum and make advisors and investors nervous about your ability to follow through.
Productive Distractions - However, when an opportunity presents itself be prepared to take the leap and commit to a new path. Many of the people you’ll meet or the lessons you’ll learn will inspire you to new ways of thinking. Maybe the founder of another company could use your help, or a new market need will become evident by talking to customers.
Money - The money invested by accelerators is typically minimal in nature. Just enough to keep you in ramen while you get off the ground. This is really the least important direct value an accelerator brings to the table but indirectly it facilitates your ability to focus and is the basis around which you can build a valuation in the future.
Exposure - Along with the connections you’ll get will come exposure to a broad swath of the public. Many accelerator programs have built-in PR teams and your demo day equivalent can be a turning point in your business’s prospects. Be an extrovert and get your name out!
Remember, your time in the program is limited so take advantage of every moment. In a startup the time is your worst enemy and every tick of the clock brings your closer to running out of capital, momentum, and stamina.
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Leap Motion Controller Review and Thoughts on 3D Motion Control
When I preordered the Leap Motion controller, I knew that it was going to be a step toward the future of human / computer interaction. We’d all love to see the type of interface highlighted in Minority Report become mainstream, but what we don’t realize is how ingrained the mechanics of mouse / keyboard interaction have become in our daily lives.
I met the founders of Leap Motion at SXSW and got a chance to play with a pre-release prototype. In the somewhat structured environment, lighting, and applications, the product performed well and provided a surprising level of near-instinctual usability. When interacting with a simulated school of fish, you could move a proxy of your finger around slowly and they’d follow it, swarming in a roughly orb-like shape around the slowly glowing fingertip surrogate, or move your finger quickly and scare the virtual fish away, swimming in all directions. Very cool.
It was impressive. Truly, the most obvious opportunity for motion detection lies in video games. With the Kinect, the motion controller of the Wii, and PS Move, the concept is already mainstream. We’re likely to see continual expansion of the movement-as-controller theme in gaming for the foreseeable future. On the PC, however, we’ve seen very little traction in the space aside from a few apps that recognize gestures seen by your computer’s webcam (https://flutterapp.com/, http://www.pointgrab.com/, http://eyesight-tech.com/).
Enthusiasts have been hacking the Kinect to do amazing things (http://www.popsci.com/category/tags/kinect-hacks) for some time, and the platform appears to be ripe for becoming the standard, but the hardware has been said to be “inelegant”, and the API even less so.
Cue the Leap Motion. Bring a well engineered, simple piece of silver-clad hardware together with an above-average finger/hand/utensil tracking system and you’ve got a recipe for awesome that can’t be denied.
It is pretty awesome. After unboxing, I plugged in the controller (helpfully, two cable lengths are provided, though bluetooth will eventually be implemented), downloaded the software and went through the quick orientation.
The natural sunlight in my office seemed to wreak havoc on the sensors, but really, who needs sunlight, right? After closing the blinds, the interaction was as smooth as I had experienced when trying the controller before. The orientation was neat, and after setting up an account on their proprietary app store I got a chance to try a few of the apps out.
Cut the rope is just like you’ve experienced on touchscreens, though the finicky nature of keeping your finger where you want it, moving fast enough to cut the rope, but not so fast that the controller loses track of your finger can be a struggle. Holding your finger in place to select menu items proved more of a challenge than the actual game, and brings up the questions of which “click” convention is best, hover over time, or push by moving your finger forward in 3D space.
The Flocking app was nifty to play with again, but has limited longevity of interest.
I did install the Touchless app, which, while having huge potential, drove me a bit batty. Trying to control your PC with your hands sounds great, but is more difficult than it sounds. As an example, I tried to surf Reddit exclusively with the use of the Leap Motion and failed miserably. Not only are the links and buttons too small (even with using browser scaling) to accurately click, but scrolling with two fingers was a complete nightmare. I’d hold out two fingers, move them forward to touch the imaginary plane in 3D space, then drag up, then pull them back. Nine times out of ten I somehow flubbed the gesture, either not moving them far enough forward, or somehow holding my fingers in a such a way that the controller could no longer sense two distinct digits. To type (using my laptop’s built in keyboard) I had to reach over the controller, which somehow triggered the Spaces gesture, causing me to have to reselect the browser, ultimately having lost focus of the field I was trying to type in.
Most surprising was how much work holding your hand up is. I’m obviously out of shape, but the effort of holding my arm up to keep my fingers in place for an hour just to surf the web a little was enough to make me hold my right elbow up with my left arm as a ledge. Awkward.
Ultimately, the concept has legs. The future of interaction will likely have an increasingly motion-controlled element, but I don’t see hovering ethereal keyboards as a valid concept anytime soon. The tactile response of touching a key or clicking a mouse button is really a requirement of our current way of thinking.
In order for motion control to become a usable standard, there a few things that are going to take time to resolve.
- Training is going to be fundamental in driving 3D motion control to the mainstream. Touchscreen interaction is already making us think differently from the mouse and keyboard, just like typing slowly phased out penmanship as a desired skill, but touchscreens still have a tactile element. Training ourselves to focus on and interact with thin air will be a crucial step.
- Conventions need to emerge. I don’t think the current conventions for scrolling and clicking are going to cut it. The mouse and keyboard are the parent of touchscreen interaction, but I don’t believe that touchscreens are the parent of 3D motion control. It’s a whole new world, and as such, we need to rethink the concepts of hover, selection, scrolling, navigation from scratch.
- Acceptability is unsurprisingly an issue. Waving my hands around like a madman in the comfort of my darkened office only makes my dog curiously tilt her head, but in a Starbucks? Probably not going to fly. Until motion control is a bit more known and waving your arms around making gestures in public is accepted, it’s unlikely you’ll see it take off in the mainstream. Talking to Siri in public is one thing, but holding my hands out like a zombie in want of brains is quite another.
The Leap Motion is undoubtedly cool, and portends the direction of things to come, but if universal and ubiquitous motion control is the future, the future is a long way off.
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