How To Get a Technical Guy To Work For You

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I recently went to a networking meetup and met someone who had an app idea and was looking for a technical guy to be a partner or a cofounder. Invariably people chime in and say that you should go to the Rails meetups or some other technical ones. You’ll definitely find technical guys there but I think that’s just scratching the surface of the problem.

The real problem is convincing them to work for/with you. There seems to be a real shortage of developers and designers, especially in the bay area. There are so many exciting startups that have traction to work for not to mention the giants like the Facebooks and Googles. Those companies are offering great salaries with great benefits. On top of that, any able developer can apply to the numerous startup incubators and try to get their own idea off the ground. With so many appealing choices open to them, the idea of working for an idea guy for a few measly points is not going to be attractive unless you can show why they are more likely to succeed working or partnering with you.

How do we do that?
Prove the business. I love entrepreneurs who validate the business before investing a penny on tech. One great example is Dabble. People can take any class offered on Dabble for $20. Anybody who has a skill can offer to teach classes. When the site first started out this was a simple WordPress site with a sign up form widget. People sign up to teach classes and people sign up to take classes but there was no magician behind the curtains. When my friend Jessica Lybeck and her business partner started this site, they didn’t immediately hire a programmer to build the system. They just used WordPress and a WordPress plugin. A different entrepreneur would have build a pitch deck before starting this. Another entrepreneur would have probably spent a lot of money building the site so that people can sign up to teach and learn and built out this whole system.

Presell. I also love it when entrepreneurs have clients lined up to use the product. This maybe because they were presold based on a presentation or marketing material or they signed a letter of intent to use the product. Even better, sell – meaning get their money first before you even have the product – that’s the ultimate validation. They want it so bad they’ll pay you to make it happen. Sites like Kickstarter are great for something like this – it gets people to commit their dollars if they really like your idea.

Be open about your idea. This is probably the number one turn off for developers – when people come up and say I’ll give you a piece of the action only if you sign an NDA. News flash – your ideas are not new or original. I can’t tell you how many times people tell me an idea as if it was the next best thing since sliced bread and I tell them – oh have you heard of [X] app or [X] website? Do your homework people. Know your space inside and out. Who are the players, who are the competitors, what’s the market etc. Don’t worry about people stealing your idea. They are too busy doing their own idea.

Popularity: 3% [?]

Startup Stories: Advisors

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One of the things you should do when you have a startup is to have a board of advisors. Advisors are people you know who you look up to and go to for advice. They may have previous experience in doing what you are attempting to do or have expertise in an area that you lack. You should also look for advisors who can help you overcome hurdles you may encounter or make the necessary introductions.

Approaching a potential advisor
I would approach an advisor much like I would approach a potential customer or cofounder or even investor. That is, after I have built a minimum viable product. This shows them that you have invested some time and put some skin in the game. If you go to them prematurely with just a scribble on a napkin, its really hard for anyone to first picture it and second to know whether this thing will ever move beyond the daydream stage. Remember that they are investing in you by spending their time and energy. You want to show them that you have potential and that with a little help from them that you can succeed. From the advisor’s perspective they want to help someone with the most potential to succeed.

Having advisors means you are now accountable to more than just yourself. This is especially true if you are a sole founder or have not yet found a cofounder. I find this to be a very good motivator because I do not want to let them down and disappoint them. In my last startup I made the mistake of not having any advisors, not because I didn’t think I needed any but more because I was afraid to ask anyone.

Having a group of advisors to round out your weaknesses will also help with building the team. Someone might be on the fence about joining you, but if they see that you have people who know what they are doing helping you out, they will be more likely to join. Remember that it’s all about mitigating risk.

Showing traction
If you have any momentum in terms of unique visitors, levels of engagement, or press coverage, by all means use that to make your startup more appealing to your potential advisor or cofounder. Nobody wants to pour time and effort into something that won’t amount to anything. Most people would rather be employee number 10000 at Groupon than join a no name startup unless there was a strong team or major traction.

Ask people who are already helping you

You may find that certain people are already going out of your way to help you even though they may not officially be advisors. That was the case of one of my advisors. I wanted to show him my latest project and he spent over an hour looking at it and picking it apart and offering advice. He was advising me before we both knew he was my advisor. These people are already investing in you before you even asked, and it makes sense to approach them.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Super Awesome Video Slideshows for Valentine’s Day

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If you’ve never heard of Animoto, you should check this out. They let you easily create video slideshows from your photos and videos in minutes. I’ve known about Animoto since way back, but I never really got around to playing with them. For Valentine’s Day, I figured I would use them to put together an awesome video for Kim. Here’s the result:

As you can see, the result is pretty slick. It was really easy to create. You just select photos from you computer to upload, select a song from their selection and animoto creates a unique video based on the music you chose and the photos you uploaded. Their algorithm is dynamic guaranteeing a unique slideshow for everyone. I was pretty pleased with the results. Kim certainly was. You can create a 30 second slideshow for free. A 3-minute slideshow costs $3 – that’s what I used. You embed Animoto videos as is or you can also choose to upload it to Youtube.

My only gripes were that the output was a bit low res and the music selection was weak. For an extra $5, I can get a hi-res version with an ISO file that I can burn to DVD. I don’t know if I’ll go for that. I think they should partner with more music distributors to offer you a larger library of music. The other thing you have to watch out for is that they will try real hard to steer you into getting the “All Access” pass for $30/year. If you only want to get 1 video, click on the small “info” link and scroll down to the “$3 single video” link. They made that really hard to find. However if you plan to use these videos for commercial use, you’ll have to shell out $249/year for their pro license.

Popularity: 3% [?]

Hot Tweeters on Video at TECH Cocktail Chicago 11

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On August 6th when we had TECH cocktail, Ron May interviewed Olya and I about Hot Tweeters. I think the only reason he wanted to interview me was so that he could get close to Olya. Hey, whatever works. To skip directly to the Hot Tweeters part of the interview, go to 9:30.

Here’s another video of me pimping Hot Tweeters at TECH cocktail by Ramon Deleon. This Domino’s Pizza multiple franchise owner is a marketing genius. I met him at a social media conference at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange earlier. He’s got a great story about how one of his orders got screwed up and the customer happened to be a big time social media person who tweeted about it. He handled it very well by doing a videopology to said person and making it up to her with a new order on the house. That video has been viewed almost 80,000 times at the point of this blog post. He’s one of the best things to happen to Domino’s Pizza hands down. Now he’s hobnobbing with social media heavy weights like Gary V and giving talks all over because of his insane social media marketing.

Popularity: 1% [?]

The Story of Hot Tweeters: How to Launch a Website in 45 Days Part I

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Hot Tweeters is my latest web app. It can be best described as Hot or Not for Twitter. You go to the site and are presented with a grid of 18 Twitter profile pics. You click on up to 3 profiles that you think look ‘hot’ whatever ‘hot’ means to you and click on the vote button. Then you are presented with another 18, and that’s pretty much it. There are other features like viewing a larger image using a popup lightbox effect, voting on the profile page, a Hot 100 charts, a quick follow button for easy stalking following, but other than that, there’s not much to it.

The project took me a bit less than 45 days from conception to launch and I thought I’d share the story.

Hot Tweeters

A little background info
I work full time as a Lead Interactive Developer at Roundarch, a consultancy specializing in Rich Internet Applications. At the time that I created Hot Tweeters I was also being slammed at work, doing 10 hour days and taking work home on the weekends. Throw in several speaking engagements, blogging for the company and my own blog, trying to fit in my wushu training and you have someone who’s trying to bite off more than he can chew.

However with the help of another developer, my community manager/social media guy, my wife, and several of my coworkers who served as private beta testers, I was able to launch this site for very little money and a little bit of good old fashioned elbow grease.

My Inspiration
The reason for doing this project, among others, is because I am inspired by those who’ve created very successful websites for very low cost and very little effort. These include James Hong and Jim Young who created Hot or Not and the now famous Markus Frind of Plenty of Fish. The fact the Hot Tweeters is a site along those lines is purely coincidental though as I didn’t have them in mind when I came up with the idea.

I see these guys as sort of the commandos of the web. They were able to accomplish with very little what many ‘real’ companies can only hope to attain. And they did this with very little in terms of cash and human capital relative to others.

The Idea
If you look at the About section of the site, it says a bunch of dudes came up with this idea on a Friday night over some beers as a way to find hot chicks on Twitter. In actuality, it was one Asian nerd geek who thought it up on his train ride home. I figured the former made for a better story. The idea just hit me and I started sketching it down right away.

I came up with 4 versions of what was to be the “main game”. I had just come back from SXSW and Leah Buley’s talk on “Being a UX Team of One” was fresh in my mind. One of the thing she advocates is this forced creativity where you just come up with different designs just for the sake of it instead of just focusing on one. This way, the “better” version would just be apparent.

Hot Tweeters Designs

I settled on Design 4 for several reasons.

  • Twitter profile images are small, putting only a few on the page is just wasting a lot of real estate. I wanted to be able to scan through lots of people really quickly.
  • With Design 1, I might run into a bunch of non photo profile pics and that would quickly ruin my experience as a user.
  • Design 2 just seemed like a lot of mental load having to rate each person from 1 to 10.
  • Design 3 just didn’t seem to have a strong intuitiveness to me.

The Philosophy
I made a conscious choice not to have a 1-10 rating on Hot Tweeters for a couple reasons. First of all I wanted an upbeat site. I didn’t want someone to feel bad because they were rated ugly. This is because unlike Hot or Not where people upload pictures of themselves, Hot Tweeters allows you to vote for anyone on Twitter. If you thought somebody with a Twitter account was ‘hot’, then you can just vote for them. That’s a big difference between Hot Tweeters and something like Hot or Not. In Hot or Not, if you upload your picture and put yourself out there and if you get a low score that’s on you. However at Hot Tweeters a person could find themselves on there because somebody voted for them without them knowing. Thus I didn’t want somebody to come to the site one day and see they had a 1 out of 10 and feel bad.

The Visual Design
I knew from the beginning that I wanted the site to feel fun and light hearted. I knew that a site such as this could easily turn sleazy but if the site design reflected a fun attitude, perhaps it would be taken that way – just as a fun little site.

Hot Tweeters LogoOriginally I had the idea of doing a logo made up of a girly girl pink bird and a puffed up blue guy bird with their backs towards each other with their eyes looking towards each other. I quickly realized that it was going to take too long to create and settled on a much more simplified logo of a cute round looking bird. The male and female versions are just color swaps of each other in the vein of Sub Zero and Scorpion from days of old. If you look carefully at the bird, you will see that it’s just made of up of really simple shapes. I budgeted around 3 hours for the logo and probably spent around that much. The font was a publicly available font that was reminiscent of the Twitter font. The flame was introduced to convey the idea of hotness.

The Mentality
This was very much a guerrilla effort. The development team consisted of Joe and I working part time. I would release the most basic functionality with just a few bells and whistles and see how people would bite and see if it was worth putting more effort into it before building out something that nobody cared about. With such limited resources, I distilled the website down to the essence of the site, but I wouldn’t compromise on the user experience. Whatever I made, the mandate would be the same – make it a delightful experience to use and the users will come back.

The Development
I divided the development work between my developer Joe and I. I would do all the visual design, HTML, CSS, and some of the AJAX so Joe could focus on the back end. The reason I decided to have somebody help code on this project was so that I could get things done that much faster. Had Joe not helped me, it would have probably taken me 2 or 3 times much longer to launch because of my current workload. I ended up doing some of the backend+frontend work once all my UI work was done.

In about 3 weeks we had something up and running and I was soon playing with it. I think I’ll end here for this post. In the next post I’ll cover the remaining weeks.

Popularity: 2% [?]

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