I'm also working on a project called Musicology which will be released late 2013.
I love to write & record music which you can check out here!
One semester, when I was an undergrad, I decided to try out a business class: Business 101. At the end of the semester, our professor assigned us a final paper on Business Ethics.
I sunk my teeth into the assignment. Like most young students, I had strong opinions and reveled in the opportunity to express them.
The professor ended up giving me a 75%. I was choked. I told the professor I thought it was unfair and that he should change my grade.
He explained that I had gone beyond what was required but that I had formatted the title page wrong.
This meant that students who gave textbook “business ethics” answers would be getting better grades than me. I told him that was stupid. He was unfazed. He said you just have to learn to do your title pages correctly.
I left his office steaming that a formatting error could be considered more important than engaging the content.
That was the last business class I took in my undergrad.
Today, Ramit Sethi made a point on his blog that made me want to stand up and clap:
I just don’t care that much about proofreading. I catch 99% of my own errors, and even when I publish something that has mistakes, nobody cares.
I agree big time and it’s cool to hear this from such a prominent writer. Proofreading is too often about exercising control rather than focussing on things that move the needle.
That’s why when you ask for feedback on writing, you’ll receive minor grammar fixes rather than feedback on the actual content.
Or why business professors will dock marks if you format your title page wrong (even if you did a good job!).
Yesterday I found myself on Medium, Evan Williams’ newest project. It’s a unique take on publishing and I could definitely see myself using it.
Beyond the concept, Medium has stunning design work. I liked it so much that I decided to redesign this blog that afternoon (taking generous portions of inspiration from Medium). It’s not a perfect redesign but it was a fun way to spend an afternoon! Need some inspiration? Try checking out Medium.
It’s happened a million times.
A client comes to you with a project. She’s enthusiastic. You get excited about doing a great job on the project. You both establish that the goal of the project is to move more widgets. You’re both optimistic about where this is going.
Three months later, the project is wrapping up. You no longer feel connected to the higher level goal of moving more widgets. For you, the project has become, “deliver a functioning ecommerce website.”
By now the client is overloading you with, what you interpret as, granular feedback. You are both exhausted and just want the project to ship. You both have secretly started to resent each other (just a little bit).
This is not the exception. This is the rule for every software project.
Finding a hundred, little, unsexy ways to fight back against this reality is the right place to begin any conversation about hiring developers or starting a company.
When I tell people in the Toronto startup community that I freelance primarily for non-profits I get a lot of patronizing looks. I’ll hear things like:
You shouldn’t take non-profit clients- they’re too much of a headache
Dude, they don’t pay well enough
They don’t understand what you do- so they’re disrespectful of your time
What I want to say (but usually don’t) is that I think my startup friends are full of shit. In fact, if you take the above quotes and apply it to my startup clients THAT would actually accurate.
So let’s take each of these quotes and apply it to startups:
They don’t understand what you do- so they’re disrespectful of your time
This past summer a startup client asked me to come in and work the next week in their offices. I said I would, and did some creative scheduling to free up the week. The Sunday before I started work I received a text message at 10:30pm:
Hey, we don’t need you this week.
Less than 10 hours before I was set to start work. Thanks for respecting my time.
You shouldn’t take
non-profitstartup clients- they’re too much of a headache
A good chunk of my startup clients are moving too “quickly” to supply appropriate documentation or feedback. So as a designer, it can be difficult to ascertain clear goals from the outset of projects.
In fact, in many cases, I have found that “goals” are developed as we iterate through my mockups. I’ll end up going through several rounds of mockups before the client has an “aha” moment and is able to articulate the goal.
It’s frustrating to have to help clients “sound-out” a goal through mockups. Clients that do the hard-work of thinking through a project before they hire a designer are much better to work for.
Dude, they don’t pay well enough
Guess what? No non-profit has ever asked me to work for equity. Startups always look to subsidize my work with “equity.”
So in conclusion, Clients that are consistent, clear communicators are my favorite clients. I love working with them. Startups that complain about a “talent shortage” should work on getting good at project management and communication. People will want to work with you if you’re good at that.
But in the meantime, I’ll keep working with my non-profits clients.
Disclaimers: I’m not trying to make a hard and fast rule about startups. There are certainly great startups to work for. This is just based on my anecdotal experience as a freelancer. This post also is probably more accurately titled “why freelancing for startups sucks sometimes” as I don’t really touch on positive non-profit experiences at all.
Wired: What’s the biggest surprise technology will deliver?
Jobs: The problem is I’m older now. It’s 1995. I’m 40 years old. Technology doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t.
Wired: That’s going to break people’s hearts.
Jobs: I’m sorry, it’s true. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much – if at all.
From the 1995 Wired interview. Emphasis my own.
This is not a quote that makes you want to leap out of bed in the morning. But at a time where tech startups are celebrated on magazine covers, I think it’s a clear eyed and sober statement.
The startup world is big and exciting. Being part of it gives you a sense of exhilaration and endless possibilities (see: billion dollar buyouts) that the rest of the economy seems short on.
This momentum and flurry can develop into a broader, higher-level optimism in technology.
The kind of optimism that tells you technology brings us closer together.
Or that it’s democratizing nations.
Or that it will develop super-intelligence (admittedly I don’t know much about this).
Technology becomes a convenient stand-in tool for how we will reshape the world. And at a certain point we start to confuse technological optimism with technological worship. It all starts to get a little fuzzy.
Jobs quote, whether he meant it this way or not, is a reminder to reel in overshot optimism. Technology solves a lot of problems. But it is an insufficient answer for what it means to be human. I find it instructive to keep that in mind.
Recently, I’ve become interested in adding Microformats to my sites to augment my listings in Google.
It’s got me thinking about Google listings. Listings are actually remarkably compact. If you take a close look, there is a lot of information condensed in a very small area. It’s an interesting design challenge.
I wanted to see how if I could “design” my Google listings. I came up with four variations:
1) Pack it all in - I think this is as much info as you can put into your listing. This is great because you get almost twice as much real estate on the page. The downside (maybe?) is that it’s awfully convoluted. The searcher is looking specifically for a “OnePager Review” and my listing is offeringa lot of superflous information.
2) A little trimmer – I took off the ” | Site Builder Report” as I don’t think it’s relevant to searchers (although it might be if I was a big brand like “Wal-Mart”). I also removed the date. I know the date can be very helpful when searching but I don’t like the way it comes before the description– it’s not very clean.
3) Getting rid of my face - I’d bet that having a face in the SERPs would result in a higher CTR. But I also think it’s superflous. This version gets out of the way and only presents the user with relevant info.
4) Google Classic - The classic, elegant Google listing. You don’t get much real estate on the page. It’s beautiful in it’s simplicity, but it’s likely not enough info to be effective.
This should be tested!
In the past I’ve spent tons of time trying to optimize Adwords ads but hadn’t really considered optimizing my organic listing.
I’d like to try a multivariant test to see what generates clickthroughs. I’d use Google Webmaster Tools which allows you to see impressions and clicks per keyword. Unfortunately, it’d be highly unscientific at best. There’s just too many variables: it’s hard to pin down when exactly Google updates your listings and your position in rankings can shift at anytime.
Two months ago I had an opportunity to have coffee with Seth Kravitz, a leader in the Chicago startup community. At the time I was getting ready to move to Toronto, a city I had never lived in before.
I asked Seth if he had any advice.
He suggested I try to meet as many people in Toronto possible and build my network. He recommended I resist getting a full time job: just take my time and build relationships.
So that’s what I set out to do. I’ve spent the last two months in Toronto trying to meet everyone possible. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. People are generous with their time
I left Chicago with a short list of people that Seth (and my buddy Jaret Manuel) said I should meet up with.
From that list I sent out a couple tweets. A couple emails. Everyone responded and nearly everyone was available to chat.
Each time I met up with someone I would ask who they thought I should meet next. From there, my list ballooned.
2. People are doing cool things in Toronto
I met Paul Dowman at a meetup. Paul is building a Rails consulting company. Paul was super helpful and introduced me to a wealth of contacts in Toronto. Those contacts in turn landed me an (awesome) contracting job.
The list could go on. My main point is that from a newcomers perspective, there’s many pockets of exciting things in Toronto.
3. Three things to check out if you’re new to Toronto
Networking in a new city means Meetup will become your new tool. It takes some time and effort to get involved, but here’s three great places to start:
Rails Pub Night – If you’re into Rails, you probably already know about Rails Pub Nite. But if not, know that it’s a can’t miss event. You’ll meet great dev’s in a relaxed atmosphere. Unspace runs the event and they’re awesome. I had a chance to hang out with their team one evening and had one of the most candid, best conversations about Toronto’s startup scene.
Lean Coffee TO – Lean Coffee TO came highly recommended to me. It’s like a relaxed group conversation. Everyone just sits in a circle and shares startup experiences. I find it instructive and helpful. I guarantee you’ll learn something if you attend.
Toronto Startup Digest - This is not a meetup. It’s a mailing list curated by Will Lam. But if you’re new to Toronto, I highly recommend it. Every Monday morning Will emails out the next weeks events in Toronto. It’s got me to several events I wouldn’t have otherwise.
One of the of best parts of attending Code Academy has been the amount of talks and meetups I’ve been to around Chicago. At many talks though, I’ve heard a similar question being asked: “what makes an entrepreneur?”
So far I’ve heard lots of different answers:
Here’s the thing: every time we ask that question I think we’re really asking “do I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?” and we take whatever answers we’re given and we match it up against ourselves.
Playing this game is a bad idea. It’s bad because we’re poor judges of ourselves. Most of us underestimate what we’re capable of. So I think it’s best to just stop speculating whether or not you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
And best way to stop speculating? I’d bet it’s getting started and doing something …