Friday, August 24, 2012

Work is just a rhythm

After spending over a year working alone on I’ve found the biggest challenge is staying focused every day. When people work together in an office there is a mutual social motivation that is very powerful, but you only tend to notice it when its gone. After experimenting with a number of different motivators I found that, for me, it boiled down to rhythm. Once I planned and established a daily schedule as a habitual pattern the work easily followed:
Workout/breakfast (8-9)
I found 30 mins a day was the best fit. Enough to get the heart rate and endorphins up, but not so much to make me tired. Think of it as a primer. I do this before looking at my phone or email. Looking will sink this part of the routine.
Work (9-1)
This is always my most productive time. After going through urgent mail I prioritize my first task. I’d say 70% of the real work that I do all day happens here (difficult coding/pitch decks).
Lunch (1-2)
Nap (2-3)
Napping here is very important. Any later it inferred with my sleeping schedule. Forcing a nap here even if I wasn’t tired really brought up my energy the rest of the day.
Work (3-7)
I intentionally plan fun/easier work here (design/planning/email). This tends to be the part of the day hardest to re-start. If the work is fun or easier you get back into the zone.
Dinner (7-8)
Work (8-12)
Oddly, this also tends to be a very productive time for me. Especially with no other calls/emails to distract I get quite a bit of solid work done at night.
At the end of the night wind down by planning the tasks for tomorrow. Generally I block everything out in outlook
Sleep (12-9)
Sleep is the keystone to every day. Everything falls apart without adequate sleep and I won’t sacrifice my sack time for anything short of a catastrophic failure (site is down).
This may look like a lot, but I will take brakes as needed. I found from RescueTime I’m actively productive 8-10 hours a day. That’s about as good as it gets.

Getting on this schedule was challenging for the first couple days, but afterwards the general inertia made it easy to maintain and you almost automatically start each phase.
I have a 3 hour limit on hitting a wall. If I can’t work I just take that ‘block’ off
Breaks are always physical (walking, driving range, ping pong, darts) or sleep. No intellectually stimulating breaks at all. Bodies tend to like to be lazy, so we want to do something that uses 30% of our brain (TV/books/games) rather than 80% (coding /writing). Any opportunity to engage in a simple activity is attractive, but tended to make me less energetic and productive after.
Vacations. I’d generally take every other weekend completely off. No work whatsoever for 2 days. That typically is enough to allow me to reset, recharge and take a quick strategic review then dive back into the trenches. If I’m cycling caffeine intake then these two days will always be complete detox days (no caffeine at all).
Hope some of you find this useful to focus in and get work done!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pitch Anywhere

imageThere’s a reason the elevator pitch rules supreme.  The best chance you have to influence the next investor and customer is when they aren’t expecting it.  In any big city the best folks are always around at local events, dinner parties, or in line at a coffee shop.  However, a happenstance meeting usually means you’ve haven’t had a chance to prepare either.  No Laptop, No Notes.

The one tool we never leave home without is our phone.  So here’s some tips to get you ready to pitch any time anywhere.

The One Liner

As soon as you open your mouth you need to pique their interest.  You have about 10 seconds to make it happen.  Once you see their eyes glaze over the pitch is done for.  Its incredibly hard for anyone pouring hours into their project to sum it up in a sentence, but it must be done.  The two tests I apply to any One Liner are:

-Will a teenager understand it?  Newspapers, magazines, and popular novels all target the 9th grade reading level.  So should you.

-Is it aspirational?  The biggest mistake I used to make was describing what my business was currently (i.e. a commercial real estate database) rather than being aspirational (we connect commercial buyers and sellers to make deals happen).   The first sentence needs to punch above its weight and describe your dream not your prototype.

Its as easy as 1-2-3

Now the classic pitch formulae works: Problem-Solution-Process.

-Problem – what problem are you solving and for whom?  For us it was: "Commercial investors don’t’ have a central place to find deals"

-Solution – what have you built to address that problem? ie “We’ve built a open marketplace where any commercial investor can list or find deals.

-Process – how are you doing this? Once you’ve convinced your audience that you have a super mission you need to prove you can accomplish your goal.  “We created a best in class big data system to integrate all of this data from where it already is today.”

Five Pictures

Demos are the devil.  They are hard enough in any environment, but on the run, with spotty wifi, phone being modified every day, and new software it’s a nightmare. This is only made worse by trying to walk a brand new user through the process in a slick fashion.

The workaround here is to take 3-5 pictures screenshots of your solution and just put them in an album on your phone.  Now you can just have swipe through them.  This process never breaks (just pictures not software), is slick (no fumbling around), and fast (no load times).  This is the best possible face of your application you should show. 

*Bonus* Offline Demo

Recently, I’ve been digging into some more android applications for PollKarma and I’ve found connections are painful.  No matter what carrier you’re on, it seems to fail when you demo. 

The best workaround I’ve found is to make an offline mode.  After building a simple connection tester I created an ‘offline mode’ for any places where you have a slow connection.  This mode always starts the app as a new user and uses all local data (rather than going to our server API).  Now I can demo the new app anywhere any time without clearing data or needing to find a connection.