Chicago Lean Startup Circle

When discussing my personal year in review, I briefly mentioned the Chicago Lean Startup Circle. I wanted to take a moment and discuss the group and what we plan on trying to accomplish with it.

I got introduced to the concept of a Lean Startup by the Eric Ries blog Startup Lessons Learned. Reading Erics blog has helped crystalize and formalize things that I’ve already been preaching and practicing for years. I gained valuable insights into A/B testing, small batch SEM and The Five Whys, among others. Having bought into Agile Development almost a decade ago, his writing could almost be described as Agile Product Development. That is, a small level above the nuts & bolts of development. However, embracing the theory of something and putting it to practical use are two very different things.

As things have progressed with 1530, I’ve found myself structuring product & customer development with the desire to become very lean and efficient. This has led me to my first road block. Namely, how do you run a lean software shop given the constraints of a bootstrapped startup? While there have been many excellent books written on the subject, they all seemed targeted at seemingly larger organizations and teams. I’ve found myself struggling to adopt some of the practices ( Set Based Development, Queues, Value Stream Mapping, etc.. ) when it’s just 1-3 people working on a set of software products.

On a whim, and perhaps coming off the high of organizing my other two meetups, I began to look for a lean startup meetup here in Chicago. Luckily, one already existed. I set my sights on attending and hoping find out how other startups are running and how their operations are performing. After attending my first meetup, I suggested that we see about securing some more formal meeting space at the ITA, which is where I host my other meetup. All went well and we had our first meetup in that space on Tuesday. We had an interesting mix of people there, from pre-launch to established startups. Everyone had different backgrounds and different spaces that they were familiar with and that sparked some very interesting discussion.

During the meetup on Tuesday, we also discussed how we’d like the next meetups to run. We decided early on that we didn’t want to become a generic business / startup group. We wanted to be very focused on lean startups that adhere to a certain culture / ideology. This also meant that we’re going to try and focus on the quality of the meetups overall and not the size. We don’t want to become a giant group with boring presentations every month. We want to focus on being interactive & collaborative, placing a high value on feedback from the group as a whole.

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So if you’re interested in startups, either starting one or joining on, I encourage you to join the meetup.

1530 Updates – Personal

Yesterday, I detailed the last year from 1530s standpoint. Today, I’d like to talk about the changes I’ve undergone as part of running 1530 and my career in general.

First, running a company has been a fantastic experience. I’ve learned a lot about all aspects of business. From finances, management, marketing and product design & development. I’ve always had a basic understanding of all of the above areas, but when you’re doing it yourself, it really forces you to focus more on the details. You get a lost more exposure to things you wouldn’t normally get.

Probably the biggest change for me in the past year is really more of an evolution. I’ve gone from preaching about Lean Product Development (LPD) and the Theory of Constraints (TOC) to actually implementing on a day to day basis. While I’ve always been interested in the concepts of LPD & the TOC, it’s been difficult to apply them. Frequently, I’d be on projects or working for companies where the decision making resided elsewhere and I was just supposed to implement a plan or design. This past year has been a crash course in the application of LPD & TOC ( and more ) to software product development. Until you’re actually in control of making certain decisions, you don’t get much of a chance to actually see the repercussions of your choices. When you do, it’s really a awakening experience.

The next biggest change for me has been with the management and structure required to run a company, especially when you have more than one person involved. It’s been a great experience to pull my head out of the development sand and look around at all of the other aspects of business that there are. Sales calls, 3rd party opportunities and partner interaction are just some of the things that I’ve gotten involved with over the past year. In these cases, being able to communicate effectively is critical. Being able to delegate is probably as critical. Sometimes they go hand in hand. You can’t really delegate something unless you can explain it clearly and effectively.

I’ve also been networking more than I have have in the past. Either through the Illinois Technology Association, contacts or LinkedIn. I’ve really gotten some good exposure to the Chicago startup community. I’ve met some great people and seen some great companies. I’ve also fully embraced the idea of meetups. In fact, I’m currently either the organizer or assistant organizer of 3 meetups here in Chicago:

  • Chicago Semantic Web & Linked Data Meetup – I took over full organizer responsibilities here when Paul Gearon left the city.
  • Chicago Lean Startup Circle – I was investigating starting up a meetup around the concept of a lean startup. Luckily, I found an existing one. I was made an assistant organizer by Mischa, the organizer. We had our first formal meetup this past Tuesday. I’ll blog about that in the future.
  • The Chicago College Football Meetup – I started this prior to the current season. It’s been great and we have a good amount of people that come out every week. It’s been great.

I’ve meet several people and gotten good business recommendations through the above groups. I never understood peoples reluctance to network with people. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to grow as a person. It will broaden your horizon and you’ll get some good exposure to things you otherwise would.

In the end, it’s been a unbelievably packed year and I can’t wait for the next 12-24 months. I have a long term plan for where I want to take 1530. Hopefully over the next year, we can start rolling out the products that will make that plan a reality.

Free Mac Software

One of the most interesting things about the Mac ecosystem are software bundles. These are bundles of software are a collection of Mac ( sometimes iPhone/iPod Touch ) software that are sold as a package for an incredibly low price. Sometimes, there are more applications that get thrown in if certain sales goals are met. About a half-a-dozen of these bundles are released every year. Looking over my emails and hard drives, it seems like I bought ALL of them. It’s gotten so bad that I completely forget which apps I have licenses for.

Well, I decided to catalog all of the apps and collect their licenses so 1 ) I have them for future reference and 2 ) I don’t mistakenly purchases duplicate licenses of something. During this process, I’ve come to the realization that I’ll never use 75% of the software I’ve bought.

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So, I’ve decided to hold a software giveaway. The rules are simple:

  • I’ll list the software I have licenses for here.
  • If you see something you want, contact us.
  • I’ll contact the publisher and see if it’s kosher to give my license away. If they say yes, it’s all yours. If not, sorry. I’ll also remove it from the list of available software.

Two things to note here. I’m not doing this for money and I’m not going to keep any information / serials / licenses for any software I give away. I’m doing this so that good software doesn’t go to waste. So without further waiting, here’s the list:

Note: I’m no sure which version of the above software I have, so it’s very possible that the current version could require a paid upgrade. You’ve been warned.

Ready. Set. Go.

1530 Updates – Business

Today is a great day. It’s the 1 year anniversary of 1530 Technologies, Inc. It’s been a unbelievable year. First, I started the company by myself. In January 2009, I picked up a partner and began work on our first product, Awardable. Then in May 2009, I was blessed to find Michael as 1530s intern. Beginning in September, Michael went back to school but decided to stay with us. As a result, we promoted him to Junior Developer.

I decided early on that taking any kind of financial backing was probably out of the question. It’s a decision that every entrepreneur has to tackle and decide on for themselves. For me, that left bootstrapping. Since this first year has been about revenue, pure and simple, we’ve made 2009 an incredibly profitable year and have given ourselves a sizable runway. That means that our fist fiscal year, 2009, will end in the black. Not to shabby considering the economic climate with which we started.

In terms of the company itself, I always intended for 1530 to be a product company. However, I knew that concentrating on building products initially would be difficult without cash flow. So, right now, most of the revenue comes from consulting. Frankly, it’s the easiest way to bootstrap a technology company. Eventually, the revenue distribution will have to shift from consulting to product revenue. For the present, though, this past year our consulting business has been booming. We’ve worked with a wide range of technologies:

  • PHP Development
  • Drupal Development
  • .NET 3.5, Silverlight & ASP.NET MVC
  • Objective-C & the iPhone SDK
  • Django & Python
  • WordPress

And on a wide range of products:

We’ve also released 3 products / properties in 2009:

The products above are also just a warm up for the types of products we’re going to be building here. We have some exciting new products coming up in the next 12 months. In my next post, I’ll talk about what the past year has meant for me, personally.

Useless Twitters

I’m not a huge fan of Twitter in general. During the small about of time I’ve used Twitter, I’ve found the signal to noise ratio a bit to high for me to stand. Plus, I’m not so sure that drawing useful information from it depends on a fair amount of serendipity. Right now, Twitter is just not a high priority for me. That may change in the future, but who knows. I realize I might be in the minority, and that’s fine. To each his own.

However, one thing that I cannot, will not, support is the useless, narcissistic twitter patterns that I’m starting to see peoples twitters take. I’ve been keeping a small list patterns that I find useless:

  • “<Question>? hmmm….” – Asks a supposedly clever, rhetorical question to give the reader the idea that the publisher is ahead of their time. But if you look, it’s never actually saying anything. Sorta cover-your-ass for Twitter. Example: “Is Mayor daley using the Olympics to divert attention from Chicagos crime? hmmm…”
  • “They are the <X> of <Y>” – Used to make a supposedly clever comparison between two things that usually aren’t compared. Example: “They are the Chicago Cubs of restaurants.”
  • “Dear <X>, please <Y>” – More annoying rhetorical questions from people who like to fire off random opinions. Example: “Dear Phillies, you are welcome. Indians fans”.

I’ll update this post if I come across any more. BTW, these aren’t just found on Twitter. Since Facebook redesigned their homepage to mirror Twitter, status updates have slowly started to take on these patterns.