Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Vignette: Paris Metro

I get off the train and start making my way through the labyrinth to the next train.

I enter a long hallway. The only people in it are me and four people near the turn at the far end. They're all wearing the same type of vest: oversized, non-descript, grey. They are conversing with one another and taking up the entire space of the hallway. If you want to pass you must go through them.

I don't find this threatening. I've seen this type of behavior before in the Metro as well as in the Tube and the New York Subway. You've seen it too; a group of younguns hanging out and conversing, oblivious to the fact they're impeding traffic. The only difference here was they were white, older, and included a woman in the group.

As I passed through the group, the eldest male held out a card reader and said something in French. My initial thought was He wants my credit card to donate to his charity. Well that ain't gonna happen so I fell back to my default phrase when someone hits me up for money in this town.

"Pardon, je ne comprende Francaise. Je suis..." (Yes, I used the Spanish word "comprende" and not the French word "comprend".)

"Tickets!" said the woman, a little _too_ loudly.

"Sure, no problem." I reached into my jacket pocket, pulled out my ticket and handed it to the gang leader with the card reader. He swiped it and said what I imagined was "Thank you, citizen. Enjoy your evening."

The woman said, again, a little too loudly, "Thank you. Enjoy your time here."


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Startup Weekend New Jersey

Last weekend I attended Startup Weekend New Jersey. For those of you who don't know, which is most of you, Startup Weekend is a worldwide organization which brings people together to work on startup ideas.

Here's how it works: developers, designers, marketers, idea people, etcetera, get together at a venue (ours was Juicetank, a coworking space in Somerset, New Jersey). People who have an idea for startup have five minutes to pitch their ideas to the group. When all the pitches have been pitched, the group votes on the ideas they liked most. Depending on the size of the group, the top n voted ideas are chosen to be worked on. We had about 110 people in attendance, so that meant we had about 15 or so projects selected. Then, depending on your interests and capabilities, you break into teams and work on these ideas. At the end of the weekend, presentations are voted on by a panel of judges with the criteria being how well you did, how well you followed the lean startup techniques, etc.

Now, keep in mind the idea here is not to build a software project. It's to validate a business idea using Lean Startup techniques and maybe build a demo for a startup business. The business may have to do with anything, such as transferring money between people in real-time, to wiping out unemployment, to creating a dating site for cats. By the way, all three of those examples where actual projects that were pitched and worked on during the weekend.

The most-voted project, and the one I joined, was called Waddle The idea behind Waddle is to aggregate a traveler's posts from various social media and present the data on a map. The founders, Suma  and Vishnal, had done a lot of upfront work and had a very well thought out business idea, hence why it was the most upvoted project.

The Waddle team was made up of a bunch of pretty cool people who knew their stuff. We put together a cool demo and presentation; unfortunately I wasn't able to be there for the presentation on the last day. Apparently, it was such a good presentation that we won along with another team. The winners of the competition won acceptance into a startup accelerator called Techlaunch and a purse of $25,000 to further the idea. The team and I are meeting later today to discuss where we go from here. :-)

The thing that impressed me the most was the power of the lean startup techniques, specifically be customer value proposition. Although Suma and Vishnal had done a lot of research, we still got a lot of value out of applying the  techniques. Not only did applying the customer value proposition validate the business idea, it also showed us several new markets that no one had ever thought of! These techniques actually work!

So, if you are entrepreneurial, or just like to work on new business ideas, check out a local Startup Weekend. Its a lot of fun and you will learn quite a bit.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


I can not believe the changes in my life this past month. I still can't believe it's been a little more than a month since I quit my day job.

I'm sitting in a stylish little flat in Limassol, Cyprus watching a cruise ship move slowly into port. It's 5:00 AM.  Last weekend my team won the Startup New Jersey competition. Before that, I spent two weeks working in one of the richest neighborhoods in the country. I made a fool of myself on the dance floor Sunday night and I didn't care.  In a couple of weeks, I'm swinging through London, Paris and Amsterdam where I'm going to hang with some cyber-friends. Then...?

Thirty-odd days ago, I was living in a cubicle in corporate America as a code monkey: fixing other people's bugs, guessing what this ticket was referring to, and laughing along with my fellow co-worker's gallows humor.  It really was one of those positions you read about and can't quite believe true; the protagonist has a well-paying, easy, corporate job, a comfortable life with good friends, and yet is miserable. But true it was.

New management came in about two years ago and, as new management is wont to do, implemented many changes. I was going to continue going along for the ride (easy corporate job, comfortable life, yada yada yada) but then my manager announced he was quitting after 18 years with the company. Not to greener pastures, just leaving. That was the wake-up call I needed. While I liked my co-workers and being in the office, if things were bad enough for him to leave, it was bad enough for me as well.

Serendipity is a real thing. Just as I started to get my resume together, update my LinkedIn profile, and started networking, a colleague that I haven't talked to in years got a hold of me; he just happened to need my expertise on a contract he was working on and wanted to know if I was available. And here I am.

The sun is coming up. Time for a walk on the beach.