My awesome publisher No Starch press sent me a couple copies of the Portuguese translation of Build Your Own Website last night. So neat to see this.
Last night I had the pleasure of presenting on my recent Kickstarter success at the New Work City member Show and Tell. I got asked an excellent question from the audience afterwards. In my presentation I had shown that I did my homework about what works: price points, network effect etc but, some one asked “Did you look at any failed projects to see what went wrong?” I answered with my typical response when I don’t know the immediate answer “That’s a great question.” In those brief seconds I had to think of a response, I actually experienced dread.
I imagined myself preparing to launch my Kickstarter filling my head with all these stories of failure and negativity. I thought about what Chris Gillbeau (author of the $100Startup) said in the same space just two weeks before. Some one in the audience questioned his focus on successful entrepreneurs. To paraphrase Mr. Guillebeau, “failure is overrated. Don’t get my wrong. Failure is a good thing to experience because it gives you a learning opportunity.” The important thing is to iterate. Some have the tendency to emphasize the problem over the solution. This can lead to inaction.
Happstr is an example of vindication for the optimist.
It’s been less than 3 months since I stood up at 5 am on a bus leaving New York City and said something like, “Have you ever been fucking depressed? Like, go through moments of darkness? I want to build an app that encourages happiness. You tap a button and your happiness gets mapped out for others to see and get inspired by. If you aren’t feeling happy you can search a map and go to where people are happy.” After three all nighters and a whirlwind tour through the south, five amazing, wonderful people built that very app. We called it Happstr. The app continues to gain steam, has almost double my Twitter followers despite still being a prototype and not ever being officially launched. It was recently nominated for an award for humanizing technology (a personal victory since I teach technology to humans).
Happstr is an example of vindication for the optimist. I’m not always overly optimistic. Like everyone I experience periods of doubt and regret but I try not to project that to others — especially those I first meet. My job is to teach beginners about tech and too often people outside the world view it as closed off and inaccessible. They’re afraid of making mistakes. I don’t blame them. I have a lot of friends who build apps and websites for a living and it’s not uncommon to hear “That’s a dumb idea” or something close to it. The tech world venerates lean, fresh, new and most important ridiculously high-performing products. There is no second place. If you don’t have the hottest, newest exclusive technology you shouldn’t even bother.
From years of teaching people technology, however, I know that the trouble for most beginners is overcoming their fear of mistakes. Giving a beginner enough room to try it out themselves and mess something up leads to high quality learning and the most likely road for their personal success. Guess what? Getting frustrated every time it takes someone 30 seconds to do something it takes you 10 seconds to do, doesn’t exactly help them.
I see students all the time who’ve started and ended their personal web projects prematurely because they saw other people’s sites or they were convinced by someone else that some other technology would be easier or better. Too much posturing again leads to inaction. I often tell my students who ask me what’s the best way to start getting into web development learn any language. I find the people who get that action is more important than talk — like Girl DevelopIt and Mike Caprio who organized the NYC StartupBus make up the quiet majority while the haters; the get out of town if your idea isn’t the next Facebook are the loud minority.
That’s why I’m personally honored (while not presuming full-credit for its success) that Happstr is nominated for a humanizing technology award. It’s not perfect (It’s not even finished). But it’s an app that proves that being optimistic in the tech world doesn’t represent a naiveté but rather a choice and an inspiration for others.
I went to two events this past weekend that helped form some thoughts about my relationship to my work, teaching students. The first, on Friday was “Rise of the Independents,” a crash course into the coworking world with Chris Guillebeau author of the $100 Startup. The second was The Brooklyn Food Coalition Conference in Greenpoint.
In the $100 Startup Chris Guillebeau interviews entrepreneurs who either left their job by choice or were let go and found themselves with the opportunity to pursue an independent career. I see Chris’ book as almost the polar opposite of the Lean Startup, which is focused heavily on high-growth startups. $100 startup instead looks at people who are figuring out how to make a living on their own with little or no capital investment and with a minimal trial and effort strategy. At the event on Friday, Chris talked a lot about the idea of value. If you are adding value, providing a good or service people want then you can make a profit. If things aren’t going the way you’d like, you can adjust to figure out what the value is and how to better provide it. The book $100 startup chronicle everyday people making decisions like this some are indeed making lots of money on their businesses ($1M+ per year), but they’re doing so with little to no capital investment or traditional business loans. Tony Bacigalupo underlined the work of the book in his introduction by describing how this major shift towards microbusiness is happening despite being under-reported in the media.
At the Brooklyn Food Coalition conference there were workshops on everything from why you shouldn’t eat meat to food politics and policies to navigating the minutiae of government red tape to build a rooftop garden. It was clear that no matter which side of the argument you were on over whether food is a basic human right and shouldn’t be subject to market fluctuations, that most of the action was in the local organizing. Every where you turned you saw t-shirts and fliers for local gardens community coops, CSAs and meetup groups for neighborhoods. Just like with the microbusiness revolution described in the $100 Startup the talk is important but grossly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of action happening on a local level. While at the conference I took a workshop on food security and profit where the conversation quickly turned to a discussion of GMO labeling and concerns about the safety of food, and how to protect against contaminants. I’m always struck in these conversations how closely it mirrors discussion of software patents, DRM and file-sharing. Companies want to protect IP to the detriment of the spread of ideas. Rebel farmers share seeds illegally circumventing copy-protection measures put in place by these large corporations.
There used to be an understanding that college was a four year phenomenon followed by lifelong employment with little to no variation until retirement. It’s almost laughable to type such absurdities now. The realities of the modern economy is that jobs change frequently and skill-sets even more.
When I left my full time job to start a consulting business I was following in the footsteps of millions of other accidental entrepreneurs. I knew teaching would be a big part of what I do but wasn’t 100% sure it could be a business. By experimenting with adding value raising and lowering prices trying out platforms and venues, I was able to figure out a way to make it work. There’s so many resources available for learning today Meetup, General Assembly, Eventbrite, Skillshare, Girl DevelopIt, CodeAcademy just to name a few. It’s quite possible, as I’ve written on before, to make a living by being a teacher and a lot of people do. But like so many things happening in this new microbusiness, sharing-economy a lot of the work is happening under the radar.
A lot of my colleagues don’t realize I’ve worked in academia for a number of years. In fact almost exclusively except for the last six years working in training and education at Apple Inc. Like many people I share the belief that the education system and academia is broken. Unlike many others I don’t believe this means there’s no good in it. I do, however think there are some key factors that make the industry of education seem outmoded. Here’s just a few factors:
I’m still working on my SXSW posts. In the meantime here’s a collection of places I popped up in the Press.
Next is Nate Cooper, a teacher who is the founder of Happstr. “Happstr is a happiness tracker,” he explains, and describes how users push a “big friendly button” on their iPhones when they are happy, or they can search a “heat map” for the greatest concentration of happy people. “A Harvard study has shown that a friend of a friend being happy can increase [your own] happiness by 10 percent. And a friend of a friend of a friend, by 6 percent,” he says. He closes his pitch by saying, “Find your happy place!”
— Article is about Happstr, the App I co-created. Ricky Robinett is pictured above with blue baseball cap.
— Article is about Happstr, the App I co-created. Ricky Robinett is pictured above with blue baseball cap.
Hey there Website Bootcamp
Finally got around to Seeing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Netflix streaming and wow what a powerhouse. I had no reason to suspect it wouldn’t be — I believe I haven’t seen a Mike Nichols film I haven’t enjoyed. What was surprising was how up to date the film appears even though I know it’s history and context. In some ways it reminded me of a more recent Nichols production, “Closer”, in the way it deals with despicably human characters. Though the characters are vicious and mean to one another they are at the same time tremendously frail. “Closer” made me think that I was seeing a group of characters who kept misfiring, always one step behind one another. They were at the same time cold and calculating and simply desirous.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” offers a window into the same sort of world of miscommunication that “Closer” did, but rather than simply misunderstanding one another George and Martha perhaps know each other too well. They offer a window into a marriage that is both highly familiar and meaningful and at the same time on the verge of complete annihilation as characters are (at times quite literally) smothering each other.
The film (based upon a play of the same name) also has a lot to say about constructed-ness and storytelling. The dialog plays out in the form of games that the characters are inadvertently playing. Games where the rules are maleable from round to round and where there is no clear victor. It’s hard to say what is true in the stories the characters tell throughout the film but at the same time one wonders if it matters. It’s all a construction in the end, a play, a movie, a marriage. It doesn’t matter what is real and what is not. The point is the struggle, a bumpy, horrible, exhilarating and ultimately darkly funny struggle.
Who thinks this about anything?
Catching up with some of my rss feeds found this nice little photo over at Flora Douvillea blog about Parisian Life:
Reminded me of a photo I took a few weeks ago at Coney Island:
A sort of visual association game Brooklyn’s answer to Paris but what’s interesting is the comparions go deeper. That wire structure towering outside the Brooklyn Cyclone’s MCU Park has, according to wikipedia, been named the Eiffel tower of Brooklyn. The comparions between Brooklyn USA and Paris FR go further as well. Grand Army Plaza
is also called Brooklyn’s Arc de Triomphe. What’s with the overlap? To my knowledge Manhattan doesn’t look for such parity. If it means beautiful structures to pretty up the place I guess I’ll take it.
(via Married to the Sea)
If they invented a way to have sex over the internet web comic (via a softer world)
This is one of the coolest pics I’ve seen in a long time. (via Near Future Laboratory)
Quiet the lizard brain
(via 43 Folders)