Dave Concannon

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In Pure Water, No Fish

Guest Post: You are those you surround yourself with

This is a guest post by Giang Biscan Phd. Read more about Giang at the bottom of this post.

Power to the people fist7:00 am: Happy music!  Thanks to a music alarm app, I am up and ready for the day.

8:30am: Brainstorming and collaborating with others.  Thanks to Google docs, Basecamp, Codeita, Mindomo…

12:30am: Staying in touch with my friends through twitter and emails while I am out for lunch. Thanks Seesmic, Hootsuite, and other mobile apps.

5:00pm: Magic moment at the playground with my kids.  My phone can capture and upload it instantly for my family & friends in Asia and Australia to see.

6:30pm: Driving to a startup event to mingle with other startup entrepreneurs. The trusted voice of my GPS guides me there.

3:00am: Conference call with a development team in India. Vokle, Skype or Tinychat allow that.

And publishing this to you right now?  Thanks, Wordpress.

I am never ceased to be amazed at how much technology is allowing us to do today.  Throughout the day, integrated in almost every one of our activities, we are surrounded and supported by amazing technology. Things that seemed so science fiction not that long ago, or even dreamed or thought of, is now at our finger tips.  We are in control. But this article is not about technology.  It’s about people. (Before I go on, please allow me to thank Dave for the opportunity to guest post here on his blog.  It is an honor. The honor is all mine Giang!)

Technology or People?

Whatever the technology, there are people behind it.  Creating. Building. Using.  Sharing. Thriving.  This is why wise investors like Fred Wilson (@fredwilson), Chris Dixon (@cdixon) or Mark Suster (@msuster) and many others make their investment decisions based mainly on people: the team or the entrepreneurs behind the startups.  How incredible is that?  We, someone, many among us, are making it happen.  These are people that aren’t just strangers or celebrities you read about in magazines or see on TV -  these are people like you and me, in the startup/entrepreneurial community (and beyond) that we are friends with, talk to, meet at events, or are at least within reach.

I love this quote:

You are those you surround yourself with

That quote is true either ways you look at it: how you see yourself inside, and how others see you from the outside.  Whether you like to admit it or not, the people around you have a huge influence on who you are, how you think and what you do.  Sometimes the influence is affirmative: we admire/respect someone and want to do things similar ways.  Sometimes the opposite is true.  We learn what not to do by making assessment about someone around us.

The Power of Referral

As for outsiders, you could try to sell yourself by saying how fantastic you are.  But the real impact to the outsiders’ opinions come from those surrounding you.  I am not just talking about “designated” people who give references about you, but also people that others may hear or observe about you from.  Check this tweet by Francisco Dao about how he screens people for his by-invitation-only event “The Retreat“. That type of 3rd party opinion is often considered less biased, and thus has a real impact.

So if we know that we ARE “those we surround ourselves with”, why wouldn’t we try to surround ourselves with bright, energetic, ambitious, supportive, thoughtful (insert more positive words here) people?  What if you don’t have the right people around you right now? Well, then start!  It is never too late.  Life is a journey, it’s not a dress rehearsal for a one-off performance.

This is a high level step by step of how I am approaching it:

How to Surround Yourself with Great People

  • Step 1: Set goals before decide the type of people you like to surround yourself with:

I took it as an important task to think about my goals in life as in who I want to be and what I want to do before deciding on the types of people I like to have around me.  It’s like Dr. Stephen Covey said “Begin with the end in mind”.  Or as Simon Sinek’s approach: Figure out your “Why” first, and everything else will become obvious.

  • Step 2: Figure out the right environment:

Figure out the types of environments that the people you like would likely be spending time in.  I love the startup community and love to surround myself with other startup entrepreneurs.  The natural environments for us are (surprise, surprise!) the internet such as twitter, Mixergy, Hacker News, blogs, ThisWeekIn network, and offline at various startup events.

  • Step 3: Emerge in the right environments:

Once you figured out the right environment, what are you waiting for? For me, it’s full on.  This is my philosophy: No watching from the sideline.  I will write more about this on my blog later, but I truly believe that you should jump right in. Blog.  Tweet.  Events. Whatever it takes.  You can only surround yourself with the right people if you meet the right people.  A great way to meet people is to put yourself out there.  Mark Suster has written some great articles about this.  See for example an article about why you should write a blog, or how great Twitter is to connect with others.

  • Step 4: Focus on building relationships:

This is a huge topic, but the fundamentally very simple. Focus on building relationships.  That means focusing on giving, creating value, rather than “what can this person do for me”.  Gary Vaynerchuk often talks about how he is comfortable for the giving balance to be 80% of giving on his side in any relationships (see for example this chat with Kathy Sierra). Gary is a living proof that giving and genuinely caring about people are the golden ticket here.  I will be writing more about this topic on my blog, but don’t worry about getting the short end.  If you focus on giving, the universe has its way of rewarding you in much bigger ways.

On a side note, if you admire someone, and think that they are out of reach, it’s time to think again.  Reach out.  They are more accessible than you think.

  • Step 5: Never burn bridges.

Many people can rattle this off the tip of their tongues, but not many live by this:  Never burn bridges.

Unlike financial bankruptcy where your credit record legally comes clean after 7(?) years, the record for some relationship bankruptcies NEVER reset. Never burnings bridges means never deliberately making someone look bad, or do things that harm them.  Even when it’s good for your ego, or business,  or whatever.  If you, hopefully accidentally, do something that may hurt a relationship, make sure you go out of your way to fix it.  We are all human, so mistakes are sometimes forgiven, providing that you show sincere remorse.  If you did everything you could to fix a mistake and it still didn’t work, learn from the experience and move on.  “A friendship lost is one that never was.”  Even after a fall out, keep the door open to allow the other persons to come back and a chance for the relationship to heal.  Never say never. There will be people you meet that you do not want to surround yourself with.  Just politely stay away.

These are the steps that I have been following.  They have helped me meet and create hugely rewarding friendships with many people that I respect and admire.  You may call it technology.  You may call it business.  You may call it networking.  Everything to me is about people and relationships.  Obviously you have your own ways of approaching this, and I would love to hear it, if you are willing to share here in the comments.


Giang BiscanGiang Biscan, PhD is the Producer of Mixergy.com and AsAble.com.  She loves the startup community.

Catch her on Twitter at @giangbiscan, her blog at AsAble.com, on #StartupWeekly chat every Monday at 12pm PST, or in person at many startup events.

Giang is an inspiring and generous entrepreneur – you should connect with her on twitter here: http://www.twitter.com/giangbiscan

Twitter Developers – Saved or Screwed?

The conference portion of the Chirp twitter developer conference happened yesterday, and among the major announcements was that twitter are essentially developing their own versions of popular applications such as Seesmic and Tweetdeck. Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) called it a few weeks ago in an article that described many of the popular twitter applications that exist as simply ‘filling in holes’ in twitter’s service. Now Twitter are actively planning on filling in these holes themselves.

It’s inexpensive market research to open your API for free to developers, see what applications people want to use and then either buy the apps or build them yourself. It’s a good outcome if you get bought such as the twitter iphone app Tweetie, but perhaps not so great if you’re one of the other hundred applications that will instead be replaced by a version created internally by twitter. There are two prevailing opinions:

From Loic Lemeur (@loic), creator of Seesmic on the “Everything’s going to be fine” side of the fence:

The “You’re all screwed” counterpoint by @1938media’s Loren Feldman, amusingly tagged as “Delusional”:

Automatic posting of Tweets to Wordpress via Yahoo pipes and XMLRPC

Photo via seemoo

I’ve been looking for a simple way to keep track of the interesting links I see every week, and was searching for a way to integrate it seamlessly with how I already browse the web. One of the major points I took from Matthew Ogle’s talk at FOWA Dublin was that in order to provide a service that’s really useful to the user it has to coexist with how they already use technology. So basically I don’t want to have to store the links somewhere special, and don’t want to have to add additional tags in delicious (I’d link to John Keyes‘ nice implementation, only his blog doesn’t seem to have “previous post” navigation buttons anywhere…).

Simultaneously, I wanted a little project to play about with yahoo pipes* somehow.

Shamelessly grabbing the “post to wordpress” function from this blog post on how to post to wordpress using python and XMLRPC, I’m filtering my tweets from the last week for any retweets that contain links and bundling them into a post. At the moment I’m leaving them as drafts to be published manually while I iron out any unforeseen bugs, and future implementations might include a nicer template or to add an automated flickr image for every post.

* Admittedly, pipes aren’t a necessary component in this setup as all. All the pipe is doing is taking my twitter stream, and plucking out any that have links in them and start with “RT @”. Optimisation sometimes makes for less interesting implementation, I just wanted to tinker.

Tuesday Push – Revahealth.com

Health Club Sign

Two weeks ago I wrote a Tuesday push about loopthing.com. Despite having a nicely designed site,  Loopthing isn’t something that resonates with me in terms of a business model. Until the service matures I believe that they’re sitting in the category of web business which I describe as “Me too! (dot zero)”. The Me2.0 businesses are missing one or more of these essential ingredients:

  • At least ten percent innovation on their competitors to make them stand out (Satisfying the criteria of “value to customer” versus “uniqueness”).
  • A niche that’s small enough that they can dominate without significant competition before branching out into new markets or niches.
  • A superstar web or entrepreneur personality who can drive traffic immediately just by having their name attached to the project (E.g. Jason Calacanis, Guy Kawasaki, Gary Vaynerchuk, Kevin Rose, et al) – It’s possible to succeed as a “Me too!” if you have a “celebrity” name attached.

Revahealth

This week’s Tuesday Push is for yet another business listings portal, in the guise of Revahealth.com. So what’s different here? For a start, Revahealth have been around for a few years, giving them time to solidify their business model and  giving them a head-start on any recent competitors. Secondly, and most importantly by far, they’ve picked a small but extremely profitable niche that isn’t going to go away any time soon – Healthcare.

Business Model

The business model is straightforward. Business for healthcare services like Dentistry, Cosmetic surgery, and Laser eye surgery  practices are competitive. Your average small-to-medium sized clinic isn’t likely to have a web page, and even if they did it’s probably unlikely that they have much time to update it regularly. Revahealth fill this gap by funnelling clients to grateful clinics who reward them with a referral fee. In addition, Revahealth offer the “freemium” model where clinics can list their business for free, but there’s a much nicer upgraded profile available for a fee. The model is proven – Internet marketing “superstars” such as Jeremy Schoemaker have commented on it before. The difference between Revahealth and the countless other “business portal / connect users to business” sites is in the niche.

The healthcare niche is by no means small, but certainly not as big as “a list of all businesses”. This means that it’s possible for one player in the field to make a name as the go-to place for healthcare information and dominate, with the added benefit that there’s revenue immediately. Once they are a recognised brand in the  healthcare sector, there’s nothing stopping them from moving into another area using the same basic technology and business model.

Management Team

In Micheal Cusumano’s eight-point lens for business evaluation, the management team is the primary criteria. Revahealth benefits from Caelan King’s experience in marketing and as a product manager, and the experience of Ray Nolan as a board member, who has built Web Reservations International into the (very profitable) market leader in hostel bookings. Tapping into Ray’s experience of the problems faced in building a niche service like hostel bookings is a very useful skill to have on board when moving into another area.

Social Marketing

Calelan puts a lot of effort into the Revahealth blog (well worth a read), is active on twitter, and regularly presents at conferences such as Bizcamp. While this isn’t marketing to the specific audience of their product, it ensures brand awareness of revahealth within the technical and entrepreneurial community, and at the very least indicates that there’s no plan to let their technology stagnate.

Summary

From a business perspective, Revahealth ticks a lot of boxes – a solid management team with a compelling offering in an attractive market. The site itself has lots of content, the design is clean, spacious and easy to use, and the layout seems entirely geared towards the company’s organic SEO efforts. I can see Revahealth doing very well – Healthcare services are an necessity, and they have a great targetted service which I think will continue to grow profitably.

Here’s a presentation that Caelan King gave on monetising web applications at Barcamp Belfast, which goes into more details about Revahealth’s revenue model. (Via Ken McGuire’s excellent Tuesday Push for RevaHealth).

The Trouble with Crowdsourcing and “Speculative Design”

Over at Carsonified last week there was a bit of an uproar about a competition to design a holding slide for one of their forthcoming events. Almost immediately after the competition was announced, there was a comment made which suggested that the competition was an example of “Spec work”, and pretty soon afterwards the comments on the post descended into chaos and name-calling.  Speculative work is a phrase that is synonymous with exploitation and opportunism in the average designer’s mind, where solid design effort is traded for a lottery ticket. The announcement that something is “spec work” is the designer’s call to arms.

There are several crowdsourced design sites such as 99designs and crowdspring, where a design specification is provided for designers to submit designs for. From the specification owner’s point of view, this must seem like a gold mine – a real-life version of the experiment where a million monkeys on a million typewriters try to produce Shakespeare. The designer’s perspective on things might not be as rosy – instead of winning a tender to develop a good design at a happy price for a specific client they’re now competing against any designer at any skill level with spare time on their hands.

But is that really accurate? From the client’s perspective it might seem like a free buffet lunch, but there can be legal downsides to the process such as receiving plagiarised designs or designs that use copyrighted images, to just generally being inundated with poor results. Perhaps lowering the barrier to entry to such an extent allows students or people who can’t get a paying gig to compete, but in a normal situation would you ever be likely to pick their designs? Design is normally a two-way conversation where you gradually hone your idea to match the client’s vision until the result is perfect. Crowdsourced design skips this step in favour of the “harder, faster, more” approach. The benefits are based on the “diamond in the rough” gamble that perhaps your competition will somehow attract that elusive “Good Will Hunting” character out of hibernation to produce genius. I believe that the bell curve statistic in combination with the fact that the odds are overwhelmingly against any individual designer winning (thus preventing their entry) proves this to be a fallacy. Renderedred has a tale of one designer’s experiment in the area.

Crowdsourcing has also been applied to the market of “ideas” whereby contestants submit creative ideas to solve problems. Where design has a limited barrier to entry in that you at least have to have access to graphics software, idea-sourcing has no barrier – and therein lies the problem. Having to wade through the effluent of a hundred monkeys to find your next “great idea” is time that could be spent actually brainstorming a creative solution. Where twitter provides a level of credibility in that at least your respondents have some sort of connection to you (or at the very least you can determine to a certain extent whether they are mentally unhinged by skimming through their previous messages), idea-sourcing opens the floodgates to anyone regardless of qualification, experience, or competency. Lowering the barrier to entry is the main benefit and the main drawback, trading an initial vetting process based on credibility for a post-mortem where you can’t tell the qualified from the insane.

I think there will be a continuation of crowdsourcing, mainly along the “me too” category of design competitions as it seems to have struck a chord with a segment of design customers who have had bad experiences in the past. Overwhelmingly, designers are opposed to speculative work (see no-spec.com), but I’m wondering how many may be driven to entering these sorts of competitions in the current economic climate. One hypothesis is that twitter’s revenue stream could come from harnessing the power of their network to incorporate crowdsourced design, idea sourcing or similar competitions.

Top Five Twitter Applications

Twitter Logo

If you’ve just signed on to twitter and are used to other social network sites such as Facebook, the sheer amount of information that twitter presents and the not-so-friendly user interface might be a little daunting.  

Thankfully, Twitter has opened up it’s API to allow smart code monkeys to develop all sorts of interesting visualisations and tools.  Here’s my list of the top five (With a bonus or two!):

  1. TweetDeck 

    Tweetdeck is a beautifully polished desktop application to view your twitter stream. Tweetdeck happily sits in the background and keeps a track of your friends, replies and direct messages as well as allowing you to group followers into handy buckets.  It’s the simplicity of the interface that really provides the real benefit here, it’s a pleasure to use. Written using Adobe AIR means it installs nicely on Windows and Mac, as well as Linux with a little messing.

  2. TwitScoop

    TwitScoop exposes the benefit of Twitter that some are calling a possible “Google Killer” – Real-time search. While you might have to wait a few hours or a day for google to have information on the latest happenings, twitter delivers information from thousands of people as events unfold.  Twitscoop lets you see what phrases people are most tweeting about at the moment, and which way they’re trending.
     

  3. Who Should I Follow?

    I’ve heard social networks described in the phrase:

     ”Facebook is for catching up with people you used to know, Twitter is for networking with people you want to know”. 

    So if this is true, who should I be following? (The answer of course, is me. ;) ) – Luckily who should I follow have answered this question nicely. Using the Twitter API to figure out people who are similar to the people you are currently following,  who should I follow gives you a page of recommendations which can be tweaked to find people who are more or less popular, or closer to a specific location. (And they’re aware that  ’Whom should I follow’ is more gramatically correct, but they don’t care. Good for them). 

  4. Tweetree

    www.tweetree.com  provides a nice visual filter for people who might be more used to Facebook or forums – Threaded discussions between users.  If you’ve ever tried to pick through an extended conversation between people you’re following on the twitter website and found it frustrating, this might be for you.  It provides a much more attractive view on who is talking to whom, and nicely separates out links that people post too. You have to provide your twitter username and password, but they insist it’s never stored anywhere. That said, they don’t seem to use HTTPS on their login form… 

  5. Twitterhawk

       Companies have started realising that social networking is a very targetted way to service their customers. For example, I’m interested in pursuing an MBA and sent out a random tweet asking if anyone had any advice.  In response I got a nice chap from Queen’s School of Business in Ontario who was happy to help with any questions. These people are on the ball, but they’re not alone. More and more companies are viewing what their customers are writing about them, and hoping to address questions and potential negative publicity proactively. 

    Twitterhawk is this concept taken the the next logical step – automation. Twitterhawk provides an automated service to answer these sorts of queries with content you provide. Admittedly this could be plenty spammy in the wrong hands, but it fits into the category of web app that I like to call “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that”.

     

  6. Bonus round! 

    Twitter Mosaic

    Twitter Mosaic is a cute little application for the narcissists in the house. Pretty simply it displays your legion of followers or friends, and lets you slap their adoring faces  on to mug, business card, t-shirt, or bag. Also, you get a nice chunk of HTML you can put on your web page which displays a mosaic of their profile pictures.

     

     

  7. Bonus round #2!

    Twecipe

    I’m not entirely sure what Twecipe is yet, but it’s from the clever foodies behind LookandTaste.com. The name would suggest some amalgamation of twitter and recipes. At the very least, I think it’ll keep the gourmet snob in me happy.

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