A New Adventure

July 1, 2009

Adventure – an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.  Is it unusual?  Even in the bay area where the unusual is fairly usual, this isn’t something that the majority does.  How about exciting?  If it wasn’t exciting I wouldn’t be able to even get to this point.  Hazardous?  Compared to my outdoor activities, hazardous is a little strong but it’s not void of risk either.  So yeah, the word adventure feels like a good fit.  But a fit for what?

Starting my own company.

That’s right, in the midst of what I hope will be the worst economy in my life, I’ve decided to leave my comfortable and well paying job at Mark Logic behind and do my own thing.  It’s not a decision that I made lightly, in fact I’ve been pondering it since Thanksgiving of 2008.  I’ve given the concept plenty of time to soak in and as the weeks have passed I’ve increasingly felt like it’s something I have to do.

I had this moment in high school where I decided that the secret to my life was to minimize regrets and after 14 years it’s still serving me pretty well.  Yes this is a risky move.  Yes I could blow all of my savings on it.  Yes I could end up regretting that.  But what overshadows all of those could be regrets is the certainty of regret if I don’t try.  Plus, I’m at the point in my life where doing something like this only gets harder.

The more time you spend in financial comfort, the harder it is to live a life of minimalism.  Plus, for most people their thirties are a time of increased responsibilities in the form of houses and families.  These things seriously raise the bar on funding your own startup.

But the biggest motivator to take this risk is that I’m very excited about what I’m working on.  I haven’t felt this kind of excitement since I was working on my search engine in college.  I’m not ready to share all of the details about my project in such a public place but I will say that it’s very closely tied to my biggest passion, music.  So not only am I going to get to work on my own stuff for my own good, I’ll be forced to listen to music while doing it, what a hard life.

As usual I’ll do my best to share the details of this adventure on this blog.  Of course, if history is an indicator of the future I might get distracted for a while and have some gaps, but we’ll just have to see.

Many thanks to all of those that have encouraged me to give this a go as well as those that have given me a moment of pause, my determination is stronger thanks to you.

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Yesterday I was listening to a presentation about lean startups and a topic in the presentation really struck a chord with me.  The presenter was talking about measuring progress and how frequently progress is measured in ways that are totally incorrect.  Such an obvious observation in hindsight but one that I had never made.  Hello dots, meet your new friends the connections.

Immediately I started thinking about all of the projects that I’ve worked on and tried to identify how progress was measured on each one.  The most disastrous project had a huge specification jammed down the throats of the developers and progress for that project was measured by how much of the specification was implemented.  There wasn’t much about this project that felt right, but the self centered metric for measuring progress should have been the biggest indicator of failure.  At least 10 man years were spent on that project, it never made any money and has now been shut down.

The next project I worked on at that company was one of my own making.  Personally I was measuring progress by how much the company was able to innovate.  Admittedly that too was a stupid metric because you can have progress without anyone else caring. Consequently while the site is still around, the original projects on it were a bit of a flash in the pan and died a slow death.

More recently I was working on a project that had a pretty clear metric for progress, traffic.  But I suspect that this metric was a bit too vanilla and thus provided little value.  However, the bigger problem was that different parties had different metrics for progress.  Our group was measuring traffic and saying that generating more of it was the most important thing to work on.  While the CEO was measuring our progress by how much money we were making, which was none.  So it strikes me that not only is it important to have a good metric for progress, it’s something that all parties need to agree upon.

So I feel like a real idiot.  I strongly believe that asking questions is a fundamental part of making anything that’s successful.  I’m not talking about asking random questions, I’m taking about asking the hard questions and having the endless curiosity to ask why.  But I feel like I’ve neglected to ask the hardest and seemingly most important question of, what is our metric for progress.

So today I’m thinking about all of the other aspects of my life and it’s surprisingly refreshing to realize the places where I’ve been measuring the wrong thing.

A simple example.  When I started climbing I measured my progress by how hard of a climb I could complete.  Typical male stupidity.  That metric had me focusing on pure strength instead of technique which has caused me a tremendous amount of physical pain.  Or take this blog for example.  It’s very easy to measure my progress by looking at beautiful charts that tell me how many people are reading what I’m writing.  But is that really what I’m after?  No.  I’m just trying to share things in my life with those that are interested, not make more people interested in my life.

When taking a macro look at the things around me I really start to wonder what metrics are being used in other areas.  What’s being measured when we bail out banks and automotive companies?  Simply not dying?  How about the housing market?  More homes being purchased?  What about the economy as a whole?  Please tell me we aren’t using the stock market.

I’m hoping like crazy that someone in a position of power has answers to those questions.  But even if we have the metrics, what I fear is that the people in power don’t agree or even communicate what they are.  What would happen if every law we passed had to have a metric of success tied to it and we voted on both the law and the metric?  Then we would have real data that can be used to decide if the removal of our rights as Americans has a proportional increase in our safety.

Humm… much to think about.

The Return

March 7, 2009

Yep, I’ve been away from my blog for pretty much five months which is both alarming and saddening.  One of the reasons I started this blog is so I could share my thoughts and experiences with those that are interested.  So on the surface it kind of looks like I haven’t had a thought or done anything for the last five months.  Fortunately the surface doesn’t tell the right story.

The reality is that too many things have been going on and in some cases, things of the wrong type.  I’m sure we’ve all had points where we knew that if we opened our mouth we’d end up saying the wrong thing.  So I’ve been exercising some self control and holding off on sharing until I was confident that I’d be happy with what I had to say.  The only downside of this is that I inadvertently stopped talking about all of the fantastic and fun things that have been going on as well.

The result is a feeling of constipation.  I’ve got so much stuff to share that it’s a little overwhelming and I’m not sure where to begin!  But I’m anxious to sort it out because some of the experiences are fairly unique and the amount that I’ve learned in this duration has no match to any other period of my adult life.

I’ll be sharing again, thanks for being patient.