… eating glass, staring into the abyss

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I was talking to my friend Mark van Harmelen of Hedtek (of whom more in a later post) about setting off on this path, and he gave me this quote from Elon Musk;

Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.

This was meant kindly, of course; did I really want to put myself in this position, this level of stress?

There are two parts to a response to this; firstly, do I believe that this really what it’s like?

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Tools – FilemakerPro

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At a time when new web-based tools that help with one aspect or another of the development cycle pop up every other week, and when the number of free development environments is so large that choosing between them might be seen as a job in itself, it might seem odd to be promoting a database aimed at non-technical users as a prototyping environment – especially when it will be 20 years old next birthday. Factor in the cost – at around £280, it’s easily 100 times the cost of a typical app – and you might be wondering about my sanity.

But as I kicked around the options for getting a working MVP of our health/fitness app to the point where I can show potential users and investors something that actually works, and which will communicate the value of what we have imagined through hands-on use rather than verbiage, I was finding it hard to stay positive.

The options seemed to boil down to two:

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Tools – Prototyping on Paper

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ClimateActivateMe Prototype on Paper

My friend Ross (an excellent illustrator and creator of animated shorts, by the way – look here – and here for more) suggested I have a look at POP – Prototyping on Paper. I did, and it’s fantastic. Very simple and intuitive to use, and you get testable results with clickable links, fast.

Here’s a proposal I made for the September 21 People’s Climate March (to which I hope you will be going – look here). Once I’d drawn the wireframes, this took about an hour and was my first real use of the app.

Back

I have been, as they say, AFK for a few months. Away but not idle. In addition to finishing off my long-in-the-making sustainable doctor’s surgery in Herstmonceux, East Sussex (the new pharmacy is growing behind the hoarding just visible top right);

HIHC View from East

Herstmonceux Integrated Health Centre

I have also completed a course in programming Android apps through Coursera,

Tartan designer android app

Tartan designer android app

and written a full-on software spec for a friend’s e-commerce site (you will be happy to know that there is no picture to go with this one…).

And, in the last 6 weeks, I have been working away on what looks as if it will progress from a shiny idea into a real attempt at a digital startup, which I am modestly going to keep quiet about for a while longer.

This last ushers in a new phase of this blog, then, which will likely have fewer long posts about events, and more short posts about things that have come up as I talk to the many kind people I am pestering for critical comments/constructive advice/words of wisdom. Time to put some of the things I learned last year into practice….

Startup Productivity Tools event 28th Nov

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This event was put on by Tech Meetups, an international setup with events all over the world – the first of theirs I’ve attended.

I was unfortunately late, so I missed the presentation from HootSuite, who aim to allow management of multiple social media campaigns. My loss.

PRESENTATIONS

ProdPad: As I arrived, Janna Bastow was presenting a tour through the set of tools offered by ProdPad, the startup she founded with her partner, and which they have successfully bootstrapped. ProdPad offers a suite of services clustered around the earlier stages of product development for teams – starting with ideas, offering tools for capture and management, for gathering comment and feedback on them, all recorded and transparent to all stakeholders – specific permissions can be given to users outside the organisation.

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Aside

PitchMark: full disclosure pitching without fear?

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This post from Newspodge brought PitchMark to my attention – a service that attempts to offer confidence to content creators and inventors by acting as a time-stamped repository of record, and backup legal support. The service isn’t free, but although it doesn’t look expensive, in the age of freemium everything it perhaps looks so at first. Close investigation of exactly what it offers will be important – the devil is in the detail with this sort of thing.

This is perhaps something that could be built-in, or partnered with, the Co-Founder Jamming idea.

Artisanal coding culture

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I am not a coder.

To qualify this statement, consider a parallel: I understand a fair amount about the techniques that are used to form, shape and join timber, both theoretical and from practical experience, as a designer and maker on a number of scales. But I would never call myself a carpenter, because I have worked alongside carpenters, and have a deep respect for what a skilled carpenter can do.

By the same standards, I’m not a coder, although I do have some understanding, some experience and I hope some of the analytical ability. I certainly have the same respect.

Artisanal coding cultures have had little chance to develop real depth; human culture has a pace that, speed up as we might, is still tied to the pace of organic life, and information technology, by that yardstick, is barely three generations old. On top of that, while wood has remained wood, and steel remains steel, digital culture has undergone successive revolutions – largely hardware driven – with software following behind, catch-as-catch-can.

Nevertheless (even while understanding much of the content on only the surface level), I am convinced that the c2.com wiki maintained by Ward Cunningham has material that will prove to be significant in the development of a coding cultural tradition. The interchanges there are distilled, terse, limpid and at the same time open to an almost metaphysical dimension to the practice – a preparedness to take a step back and consider the inherent qualities of how algorithmic implementation is.

Explore at will.

Project Proposal: Co-Founder Jamming

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single startup wannabee, in possession of only some grand ideas and a sub-set of the necessary skills, must be in want of a co-founder.

(apologies … many and very humble apologies, indeed .. to Jane Austen).

As an aspiring startup founder, possessing only some of the skills needed to make any of my ideas fly, not even sure if one of my own ideas should be the first one I work on (see earlier post), I need to find a co-founder or two – or five.

How do I do this? Well, as far as I can see, I’m already going along the accepted pathway. Attending tech networking events, talking to people, putting myself about, writing to people, trying to be as noticeably helpful and interesting as is consistent with not seeming creepy. And it’s great – I am consistently impressed by how positive my experience at each event is, by how interesting/interested the people and their ideas are (posts passim).

But is it enough?

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Start-Ed: Free legal advice meetup Nov 20th 2013

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As the name suggests, this is not so much a networking event, as an opportunity for startups to get free legal advice. The organisers bring along some working solicitors, and team them up with a number of law students.  They sit around a large table, and you put your issue to them, then talk it through.

There were three tables on this occasion, and they saw us one at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis. There wasn’t any noticeable time pressure – you had as long as you wanted to explore your issue.

It’s a great idea -

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