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Free pdf of Eric Ries: “The Lean Startup” (huh?)

I am a big fan of this book, so I was really surprised to find a freely downloadable copy of the file in pdf form. I snooped around and the site seems legit but it's odd that a very popular book is made available for zero dollars.

Here's the link to Lean Startup on

If you are wondering, is Kenya. I posted a question to them to explain whether this was above board. I wonder…

What is the cellphone equivalent of a hat rack?

Screen shot 2012 12 06 at 4 26 50 pm

I am just as guilty as anyone of being overly addicted to looking at my cellphone, and that's not an original observation! It's a cliché that has been written and talked about ad nauseum.

This article points out that there was a time when men wore hats outdoors and the social norm was always to take your hat off when you were indoors or were interacting socially. Maybe the reason is that the brim of the hat covers your eyes and interferes with normal social interaction, who knows. But if you watch Mad Men you are quite familiar with the phenomenon. The article makes a funny analogy with our use of digital devices:

"It seems that whenever people meet in person these days, they do so while separating their attention between the people in the room and the devices in their hands. Somehow, it has become socially acceptable to digitally masturbate in each other’s company. You might say, “but I’m taking notes or responding to an important request!” No you’re not, you are digitally dicking around." (from Tech is Making Meetings Worse - it's time for Digital Hat Racks")

Great idea! Let's see it on Kickstarter soon!

Good tips for building products that people want

Here is a good cheat sheet on how to build products that people really want. It is cribbed from this article on TechCrunch.

  • Draw On Previous Experience and Understanding – The biggest problem is startups in search of a problem. Chase what you’re passionate about; you’ll probably already have knowledge in the space.
  • Have A Hypothesis About How You’re Different – Have a point of view about your startup. Why is there a special opportunity for this now?
  • Never Build Without Sketching – Mike says he and Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom would go to a cafe with little iPhone design pads where “we’d build and throw away entire features. You’d waste three or four pieces of paper, not three weeks of coding.”
  • Learn In Weeklong Increments – Start with a question: “Will folks want to share photos on the go? Can we build filters that look good?” Spend the week investigating, and by Friday have a conclusion and move on.
  • Validate In Social Situations – “We called this the Bar Exam. If you can’t explain it to the guy or girl at the bar, you need to simplify.” Don’t just test with your techy friends.
  • Know When It’s Time To Move On – “I know ‘pivot’ has become a dirty word, but if there’s no unanswered questions left, then it’s time to move on.”
  • The Wizard Of Oz Techniques For Social Prototyping – You don’t need to build everything at first. You can be the man behind the curtain. Krieger says him and Systrom tested an early version of a feature which would notify you when friends joined the service. Instead of building it out, they manually sent people notifications “like a human bot” saying ‘your friend has joined.’ It turned out not to be useful. “We wrote zero lines of Python, so we had zero lines to throw away.”
  • Build And Maintain A Constant Stream Of Communication With Your Audience – Don’t spend months building something without any idea if someone actually wants it.

Teaching at Olin College next year

College photo 10842 130x0I'm excited to tell you that I just accepted a position as Visiting Lecturer at Olin College for Spring 2013! Actually the full name is Olin College of Engineering.

Olin is a small engineering college, actually in the top ten of engineering colleges according to US News' Rankings. Olin is a very young college: it just celebrated its 10th year!

I'll be teaching Entrepreneurship in a course called "The Tech Startup " (at least I think that will be the name of the course.)

As you might know, I was teaching at Brandeis University over the last three years. The course I taught at Brandeis was more computer science oriented, aimed at getting the students the experience and helping them gain the skills to build software products in a way that looks like the real world.

At Olin the focus will be on the broader topic of how engineers should think about startups, how to come up with products that have a chance at selling, making sure they match what customers want and are willing to pay for. I

am still nailing down the details of the curriculum but it's very exciting to have this opportunity and I am totally psyched about it!

Election Meltdown

I was a volunteer for the Democratic Committee in Arlington Mass. They have an impressive operation, just like what you've heard. For example, the systems they used to deploy us volunteers.

I walked in the campaign office, untrained and unschooled. Within minutes I was assigned my very own 'turf'. What is a turf? A turf is a neighborhood of about two to four streets assigned to me and only me.

I was handed a clipboard with a sheaf of sheets describing my turf. The clipboard included:

  • A map of a nearby neighborhood, with a series of dots on certain, but not all houses
  • A list of addresses in street order, first one side and then the other
  • With each address a list of names of people, and an area for notes
  • And a short script explaining what I was expected to do once I knocked on the door

Note that not all houses on the streets are marked. Only those that that their database said were kind of on the fence and with a little nudge might decide to go and vote for Obama and Warren. Supposedly, no definite Republicans nor committed Democrats were on the list. The list had about 50 houses, probably they had figured out that that was the approximate tolerance of a volunteer.

I could tell you similarly impressive stories about their dial-a-voter tool that would allow me to make one or 100 calls from my home computer, specifically targeted at undecided voters or those who might forget to vote, tell me who they were, what to tell them, remind them where to vote and so on. All from a web browser.

Very cool.

Now, in contrast. Here's an article about how Romney's system was developed (Microsoft,) deployed (centralized in Boston) and basically crashed on election day. Here's a nice quote:

"…The end result," Ekdahl wrote, "was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of [get out the vote] efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters). Wrap your head around that…." (from Arstechnica)

There’s more to life than Kickstarter (revised)

Everyone (almost) has heard of Kickstarter, right? It's the best known (I think) of the so-called Crowd Funding services. Let's say you have a project - it can be anything - a record, a book, some kind of invention - and you need funding. The crowd funding sites give you a tool to propose your project to everyone on the web and it makes it easy for you to motivate them to donate or fund, and it makes it easy for them to do so. Cool idea.

And like any cool idea, there are lots of variations. I don't want to say that their knockoffs because they all have different flavors, focuses, types of users, size of funding and so on. Here's a helpful list that I came across. The editorial comments are mine.

The following seem to be for smaller and more creative or DIY projects

  • Kickstarter - "Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects"
  • Indiegogo - "People all over the world use our industry-leading platform to raise millions of dollars for all types of campaigns. No matter what you are raising money for, you can start right now with no fee or application process."
  • Fundable - " Fundable is the premier platform to promote and manage your fundraise."

The following ones are more focused on mini-real investments for startups, by accredited investors:

  • CircleUp - "Investing in private consumer products companies"
  • Crowdfunder - "Business Crowdfunding for U.S. startups and small businesses to raise funds through equity, debt, and revenue-based investment."
  • MicroVentures - "MicroVentures is an investment bank for startups. We conduct due diligence on startups and then if approved we help them raise capital from angel investors."
  • Wefunder - "Wefunder highlights some of the best new companies that are tackling important problems, and gives you the opportunity to help them with your time, advice, and investment."
  • EquityNet - "Use EquityNet's equity crowdfunding platform, angel investor network, and business plan software to produce a winning business plan and get funding quickly."

And this last one is more about lending and borrowing, not investing:

  • SoMoLend - "SoMoLend exists to help entrepreneurs and business owners by matching businesses who want to borrow money with investors who want to lend. "

And this one is focused on non-profits and charities and other do-gooder projects:

  • Crowdtilt - "We Want To Rid The World of the Phrase, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we"

Check out WriteThatName

I've been using a app called "WriteThatName" which very helpfully scans the emails I receive for signature blocks with people's name. It takes that info and correctly parses it and adds it to my google contacts. Super nice. I recommend it!

What happened to Americans Elect?

Over the last year I mentioned "Americans Elect" several times: Americans Elect: Another Opinion, Field Of Dreams: Americans Elect, and Americans Elect - A viable third party?. Without rehashing or rereading my previous posts, basically, AE promised to get their candidate on the ballot in all 50 states by beginning the legal work really early, while driving an online process to select a candidate. This was their promise (from their own site)

Screen Shot 2012 11 05 at 10 30 51 AM

Their web site was very credible and well done. (I looked at it now, and it's still nice, but they essentially concede that they failed without coming out and saying it.) They had Thomas Friedman talking about them, and I was kind of excited about it. But I became a little nervous about it when I saw a distinct conservative lean in the candidates that they were putting up, and very few names I had ever heard about. I wondered whether this was actually a highly sophisticated operation that wasn't really what they were trying to appear to be.

Well it's been a while since I had heard of Americans Elect but I fully expected them to carry through on their mission and promised. But I just looked at the 'sample ballot" for my town, and Americans Elect actually are nowhere to be found.


I wonder what happened to them!

I was rather proud of the art I designed for a t-shirt this summer. It's cool but of course it's a direct ripoff, um, no, I mean, it was inspired by a well known piece. If I show you my design, below:


You will immediately see the resemblance. You might say, oh that was on a postage stamp:

220px Lovestamp

Or you might say, oh, that was a New York City thing. But you would be remembering wrong:

I Love New York svg

Actually, the stamp was based on an design and sculpture by Robert Indiana. Yes, it was a sculpture first:

200px LOVE Indiana

But you can see another copy of the same sculpture in New York City. I saw it just a few days ago:

LOVE sculpture NY

Actually I didn't take that picture, because if you see it on foot, there is always a line of kids waiting to pose for pictures with it.

Anyway, you can see that my idea for a T-Shirt design was clever but hardly original. I admit to having some guilt about appropriating the design, but also I have been keenly attuned to see who else and where else folks might have borrowed the design.

In Chicago, I saw this:

LI sculp hope 001b

On TV I saw this:

Go On intertitle

In a promotional email from the Institute of Contemporary art I saw this:

GeneralIdea AIDSwallpaper for mc

So, what do you say? How badly did I infringe the copyright of Robert Indiana? Will I be asked to take it down (and destroy the 16 one-of-a-kind t-shirts.) And will I win the case in court, because, "everyone else is copying it"?