Live an Epic Story

We all die and our bodies are handed back to Mother Nature. What is left of us then?

I have a little booklet I keep for an exercise I call “You are who you’ve met.” It lists everybody that’s had an effect on who I am and one sentence about what I learned from then. It includes my family, friends, foes, and even fictional characters. Sometimes the sentence I write down is the same, but the person it’s attached to gives it a different context, and therefor a completely different meaning.

The idea here is that we pass on values to others simply by interacting with them. Those values are then passed onto others. I think this is what makes us immortal. While our bodies may no longer exist, we passed on values from many beings to many others.

Sometimes, our name is attached to these values. Think historical figures, and how they’re existence is a symbol that signifies the values we pass on when telling their story. Religion and story tellers (like Disney) use stories to pass on values. It’s because we humans remember experiences, and stories are a way for us to experience someone else’s life. Values taught through stories are “stickier”.

So if you want to pass on the values that you believe make the world a better place, live a story worth telling, one that teaches the values you feel blessed to have learned from others. Be immortal. Live an epic story.

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Making Sense of Agile

Disclosure: we have a 2.5 hour workshop on Agile Tools with Patricia Anglano coming up at Coloft on October 8th, which inspired me to write this article. Read more about it here. In this article, I tried to link to the most helpful Agile articles I found for people just getting introduced to the concept.

Though I’ve coded on and off for some time now, I can hardly call myself a developer. I’ve barely collaborated with others on a project. I’d love to find time, and when I do, I’d love to try Agile.

I’ve been reading up on Agile Software Development, but honestly it’s still very confusing to me. I just can’t manage to fully imagine what the process looks like. What I understand is that it’s good for iterative software development, which works well with the lean startup method.

Who uses it?

It seems like most dev teams I know (both startups and dev shops) use Agile or at least some aspects of it. The most neutral survey on agile adoption I could find was this Forrester survey from 2009:

35% of respondents stated that Agile most closely reflects their development process, with the number increasing to 45% if you expand what you include in Agile’s definition.

In a more recent survey from 2012, 84% of respondents (software development professionals) said their organization is using agile development. The number seems quite high to me, but this Annual Development Survey is pretty to look at and has a lots of interesting info, so I highly suggest you take a look.

Should I learn it?

If you’re a software developer or a project manager at a startup, I would say yes. If you touch any part of the product development cycle, I would say at least a little. While I’ve had people tell me you’re either agile or not agile (you can’t be “kind of” agile), plenty have told me otherwise. Either way, it seems like there are lessons to be learned simply from understanding how it works.

I also think it’s great for business managers and CEOs should familiarize themselves with the concept of Agile (I agree with this rather long Forbes article, The Best-Kept Management Secret on the Planet: Agile).

I was also introduced to this TED video about how Bruce Feiler implemented agile practices with his family and the benefits he saw in doing so. So perhaps there are lessons learned for any organized group.

In an effort to balance my bias, I found this article that provides some guidance into whether your organizations strengths are better suited for waterfall or agile. This Quick Introduction to Agile Software Development also highlights some cases where you might not want to go agile.

How do I learn Agile?

I can only imagine the best way to learn agile is to join a team who already uses it. If you’re looking to start using agile in your organization, there are consultants you can hire to help you implement. Another costly solution is getting certified, but I think it makes more sense to learn by doing.

If you want to start learning on your own, the Quick Introduction to The Quick Introduction to Agile Software Development is the most comprehensive, yet simple guide I’ve found so far online. You should check out the original Manifesto for Agile Software Development and the 12 principles listed, but it doesn’t guide you in implementing. It’s always worth reading the Wikipedia article if you haven’t. If you Google “agile development”, it’ll take you down a rabbit hole filled with lots of information, but it will take some time to make sense of it all.

Apparently there is such a thing as Good Agile and Bad Agile. I’ve found some tips from somebody whose experienced agile at multiple companies, Agile Development: the quickstart guide to doing it right.

That’s why when Patricia Anglano of Agile Media Consulting, who helps companies implement agile, approached me with her hands-on workshop to let people experience agile in a night, I was quick to set it up at Coloft.  The 2.5 hour workshop is coming up in October and you can find more info here.

I know there are other opportunities to learn Agile (General Assembly does classes, but none are currently upcoming in LA) and I’m sure there are great resources I’m missing. Please don’t hesitate to share any you know of in the comments.

I’d like to end with a fun presentation that introduces the essential concepts of agile by comparing it to Tetris: Improving Agile Development Through Tetris.

 

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Idea: Github for Music – The Open Source Music Project

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Update: Found it! Two weeks later, this article popped up on TechCrunch: Splice Is GitHub for Musicians. (I wrote this article on Sept 26, TechCrunch article is Oct 9)

What if I could take a bass beat that you created, and a strum that let’s say Julie created and create my own song directly on a web app? It would automatically give attributes to people’s sound-bytes or full songs that I used to build my song.

Someone could then take the song I created, sample bits of it into another song. This would again, automatically attribute me, but also you and Julie.

Since musicians are already doing this, why not create a platform that allows people to easily collaborate and build songs on top of other people’s song, but with proper attribution?

Here are a few awesome open source music sites, but nothing’s quite there.

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15 Notable Venture Capital Firms in Los Angeles

venture_capitalist1-300x193

[Update 9/24] Added TenOneTen Ventures to the list, so now it’s at 16.

Whether you call in Silicon Beach, the LA startup community, or the Los Angeles tech scene, it’s pretty much one and the same. What fuels it? Money. Here are a list of notable local Venture Capital firms, links to find out more about them, where they’re headquartered, and some notable investments they’ve made.

*This list does not cover 100% of VCs in LA. Notable VCs and Investments are decided by the author based on factors including size of investment, recent activity, or notability in LA.

Come by Coloft anytime to hang out with me and work on resources like this :) I’m also currently working on breaking down which industries and stage they invest in so keep an eye out (or reach out to help! – yohei@coloft.com).

Sources: Crunchbase, The Startup Universe

A-Grade Investments
HQ: Los Angeles
Notable Investments: Fab.com, SocialCam, Getaround, Couple
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Anthem Venture Partners
HQ: Santa Monica
Notable Investments: Beachmint, Scopely, SurfAir, BUZZMEDIA, Big Frame
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Baroda Ventures
HQ: Beverly Hills
Notable Investments: Science Inc, Surfair, Fab, Retention Science, Dog Vacay, Letuce, 20JEANS, Chromatik
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

CAA Ventures
HQ: Century City
Notable Investments: 20JEANS, NuORDER
Website | Crunchbase

Canyon Creek Ventures
HQ: Santa Monica
Notable Investments: Amplify LA, Invested.in, At the Pool
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Clearstone Venture Partners
HQ: Santa Monica
Notable Investments: The Rubicon Project, Glossi, At The Pool
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Crosscut Ventures
HQ: Santa Monica
Notable Investments: Docstoc, GumGum, StyleSaint, Lettuce, Eventup
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Karlin Ventures
HQ: Westwood
Notable Investments: Invested.in, Amplify LA, ChowNow, PageWoo, Bitium
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

New World Ventures
HQ: Chicago (LA Office: Westwood)
Notable Investments: Truecar, Beachmint, Big Frame, Eventup
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Palomar Ventures
HQ: Santa Monica
Notable Investments: Fulcrum Microsystems, ExteNet Systems, Predixion Software
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Rustic Canyon
HQ: Santa Monica
Notable Investments: Science, Docstoc, LoopNet, Chromatik
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Redpoint Ventures
HQ: Menlo Park (LA Office: Westwood)
Notable Investments: Twilio, PandoDaily, Machinima, Stripe, Path, Heroku, SocialVibe
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Siemer Ventures
HQ: Santa Monica
Notable Investments: Technorati, Vator, Ranker, Amplify.LA, Surf Air, Stack Social, 20JEANS
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Steamboat Ventures
HQ: Burbank
Notable Investments: Merchant Circle, EdgeCast Networks, GoPro, Photobucket
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

TenOneTen Ventures
HQ: LA
Notable Investments: Kaggle, Ranker, Nearwoo, Divshot, Surfair, Scopely
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

Upfront Ventures
HQ: Century City
Notable Investments: TRUECar, Factual, Maker Studios, Adly, NuORDER, DailyLook
Website | Crunchbase | Startup Universe

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Pandora Risk Factors

These are actually taken straight out of Pandora’s recent S-3 filings, where you can also see things like their annual revenue, expenses, etc. I’m sharing this because I think it’s important, especially if you’re in the music/tech space, and because I assume most of my friends don’t read through S-3 filings…

And if you’re an entrepreneur, ask yourself this: have I thought through the risk factors of my business? And if so, am I being honest with my investors about these? Just a thought.

In their own words:

  • Internet radio is an emerging market, which makes it difficult to evaluate our current business and future prospects.
  • We have incurred significant operating losses in the past and may not be able to generate sufficient revenue to be profitable.
  • Our failure to convince advertisers of the benefits of our service in the future could harm our business.
  • Advertising on mobile devices, such as smartphones, is an emerging phenomenon, and if we are unable to increase revenue from our advertising products delivered to mobile devices, our results of operations will be materially adversely affected.
  • If our efforts to attract prospective listeners and to retain existing listeners are not successful, our growth prospects and revenue will be adversely affected.
  • We have experienced rapid growth in both listener hours and advertising revenue. We do not expect to be able to sustain these growth rates in the future and our business and operating results may suffer.
  • If our efforts to attract and retain subscribers are not successful, our business may be adversely affected.
  • If we fail to effectively manage our growth, our business and operating results may suffer.
  • We face, and will continue to face, competition for both listener hours and advertising spending.
  • Our ability to increase the number of our listeners will depend in part on our ability to establish and maintain relationships with automakers, automotive suppliers and consumer electronics manufacturers with products that integrate our service.
  • If we are unable to continue to make our technology compatible with the technologies of third-party distribution partners who make our service available to our listeners through mobile devices, consumer electronic products and automobiles, we may not remain competitive and our business may fail to grow or decline.
  • Unavailability of, or fluctuations in, third-party measurements of our audience may adversely affect our ability to grow advertising revenue.
  • The lack of accurate cross-platform measurements for internet radio and broadcast radio may adversely affect our ability to grow advertising revenue.
  • Our success depends upon the continued acceptance of online advertising as an alternative or supplement to offline advertising.
  • We operate under and pay royalties pursuant to statutory licensing structures for the reproduction and public performance of sound recordings that could change or cease to exist, which would adversely affect our business.
  • We depend upon third-party licenses for the right to publicly perform musical works and a change to or loss of these licenses could increase our content acquisition costs, reduce the sound recordings that we perform on the service or adversely affect our ability to retain and expand our listener base, and therefore could adversely affect our business.
  • If music publishers effectuate withdraws of all or a portion of their musical works from performing rights organizations for public performances by means of digital transmissions, then we may be forced to enter into direct licensing agreements with these publishers at rates higher than those we currently pay, or we may be unable to reach agreement with these publishers at all, which could adversely affect our business, our ability to attract and retain listeners, financial condition and results of operations.
  • If we fail to accurately predict and play music or comedy content that our listeners enjoy, we may fail to retain existing and attract new listeners.
  • Loss of agreements with the makers of mobile devices, renegotiation of such agreements on less favorable terms or other actions these third parties may take could harm our business.
  • We rely upon an agreement with DoubleClick, which is owned by Google, for delivering and monitoring our ads. Failure to renew the agreement on favorable terms, or termination of the agreement, could adversely affect our business.
  • If we are unable to implement and maintain effective internal control over financial reporting in the future, the accuracy and timeliness of our financial reporting may be adversely affected.
  • Our business and prospects depend on the strength of our brand and failure to maintain and enhance our brand would harm our ability to expand our base of listeners, advertisers and other partners.
  • We depend on key personnel to operate our business, and if we are unable to retain, attract and integrate qualified personnel, our ability to develop and successfully grow our business could be harmed.
  • Interruptions or delays in service arising from our own systems or from our third-party vendors could impair the delivery of our service and harm our business.
  • Our operating results may fluctuate, which makes our results difficult to predict and could cause our results to fall short of expectations.
  • Failure to protect our intellectual property could substantially harm our business and operating results.
  • Assertions by third parties of violations under state law with respect to the public performance and reproduction of pre-1972 sound recordings could result in significant costs and substantially harm our business and operating results.
  • Assertions by third parties of infringement or other violation by us of their intellectual property rights could result in significant costs and substantially harm our business and operating results.
  • We may require additional capital to pursue our business objectives and respond to business opportunities, challenges or unforeseen circumstances. If capital is not available to us, our business, operating results and financial condition may be harmed.
  • We may acquire other companies or technologies, which could divert our management’s attention, result in additional dilution to our stockholders and otherwise disrupt our operations and harm our operating results.
  • We face many risks associated with our long-term plan to expand our operations outside of the United States, including difficulties obtaining rights to publicly perform or communicate to the public music on favorable terms.
  • Expansion of our operations into non-music content, including our launch of comedy, subjects us to additional business, legal, financial and competitive risks.
  • Our ability to use our net operating loss carryforwards and certain other tax attributes may be limited.
  • We could be subject to additional income tax liabilities.
  • If we cannot maintain our corporate culture as we grow, we could lose the innovation, teamwork and focus that contribute crucially to our business.
  • Federal, state and industry regulations as well as self-regulation related to privacy and data security concerns pose the threat of lawsuits and other liability, require us to expend significant resources, and may hinder our ability and our advertisers’ ability to deliver relevant advertising.
  • If our security systems are breached, we may face civil liability and public perception of our security measures could be diminished, either of which would negatively affect our ability to attract listeners and advertisers.
  • We are subject to a number of risks related to credit card and debit card payments we accept.
  • If we fail to detect click fraud or other invalid clicks on ads, we could lose the confidence of our advertisers, which would cause our business to suffer.
  • Our success depends upon the continued acceptance of online advertising as an alternative or supplement to offline advertising.
  • Some of our services and technologies may use “open source” software, which may restrict how we use or distribute our service or require that we release the source code of certain services subject to those licenses.
  • Government regulation of the internet is evolving, and unfavorable developments could have an adverse effect on our operating results.
  • We could be adversely affected by regulatory restrictions on the use of mobile and other electronic devices in motor vehicles and legal claims are possible from use of such devices while driving.
  • We rely on third parties to provide software and related services necessary for the operation of our business.
  • The impact of worldwide economic conditions, including the effect on advertising budgets and discretionary entertainment spending behavior, may adversely affect our business and operating results.
  • Our business is subject to the risks of earthquakes, fires, floods and other natural catastrophic events and to interruption by man-made problems such as computer viruses or terrorism.
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Three Most Underutilized Marketing Strategies for Early-Stage Startups

nose-up

Disclosure: We have a  one-day workshop coming up with Sean Percival at Coloft that focuses on these three marketing tactics. Regardless of whether you join us for the workshop, I think you’ll benefit from knowing these strategies exist.

I had the chance to chat with Sean Percival, who recently joined the Distribution Team at 500 Startups where he also blogs for them about marketing. He shared some insight he gained from assisting their portfolio companies with marketing. The most exciting insight to me was that after helping dozens of companies, he’s been able to identify three things that early-stage startups often need help with: drip marketing, retargeting, and SEO tune-up.

Since early-stage companies lack the bandwidth to try every marketing strategy available, it’s important that they quickly identify strategies most likely to be both effective and cost-efficient. Why not learn from the experience of others and focus on what’s working for them?

Drip Marketing

Drip Marketing is where you send multiple pre-written emails to customers over time. Unlike traditional email campaigns where you send an email to everyone at the same time, these messages are usually timed to be sent X, Y, and Z number of days after the user provides their email address.

For example, Neil Patel on his personal blog sets up a series of seven emails where the first six are educational and the seventh is his pitch. There are plenty of things to think about when implementing a drip marketing strategy, so check out this infographic before you start.

Retargeting

Retargeting is where you run ads that only show to people who’ve already visited your site. You can take it a step further and, for example, target a specific ad to people who’ve abandoned their shopping cart. Services like AdRoll make this possible, check out their article: How Retargeting Works.

Though a few years old, this survey amongst marketers suggested Retargeting as the most underutilized marketing strategy.

SEO Tune-Up

If you don’t know what SEO is, it stands for Search Engine Optimization and this breaks down into a lot of smaller strategies that basically help people find your site through search engines. If you want to know all that goes into SEO, two great resources are The Beginner’s Guide to SEO (Moz.com) or The 2013 SEO Checklist (Clickminded.com).

Some Final Words…

Every business is unique, so every company has the responsibility to analyze which marketing strategies work best for them. If you want a broader understanding of marketing a tech startup, you should probably check out The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking by Neil Patel & Bronson Taylor.

If you want to master these three strategies and happen to live in Los Angeles, check out the one-day workshop with Sean Percival on September 28th: Drip Marketing, Retargeting, and SEO Tune-Up (only $299 for early-bird pricing!).

 

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Publishing a Website Using Google Spreadsheets

Since spreadsheets and databases are pretty much the same thing, I thought it would make sense to have a web publishing platform built on Google Spreadsheet. After taking a look around, I’m having difficulty finding anything.

I checked out the Google Spreadsheet API, and they seem to have all the functionality you need to build such an app. The only solutions I could find, however, were written for developers:

There’s even Tabletop, which takes Google Spreadsheets and converts content to Javascript for you. Still, no simple solution for publishing a widget or webpage yourself.

This slideshow, Google Spreadsheet as a Web Application Data Prototyping  highlights some of the pros and cons of using Google Spreadsheet as your database, and how the author implemented it himself.

Pros – Spreadsheet architecture is similar to relational database, changing cell/column data is easy, clients understand spreadsheet, importing data is easy, quick prototyping.

Cons – Time consuming, not an end solution.

What if you could publish websites quickly from a Google Spreadsheet so it wasn’t time consuming? And what if anyone could use Google Spreadsheet, or a similar spreadsheet app, to act as the primary database that runs a simple website?

That would be cool.

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LA Tech/Startup Event Calendars

Are you organizing an event for the LA tech/startup community? The best way to get the word out about your event is partnering with people/organizations that have a reach to your community, ideally those with large and engaged mailing lists. That being said, you should get your event listed on all the tech/startup focused event calendars. Here’s the list:

socaltech.com Event Calendar
Alexa Rank: 86,509/18,308 (global/US)
How to get listed: Submit event through site.
Event listings: Curated.

Built In LA Events
Alexa Rank: 187,070/29,837 (global/US)
How to get listed: Submit events through site.
Event listings: All submitted events are listed.

Startup Digest Los Angeles Event Calendar
Alexa Rank: 67,329/30,088 (global/US).
How to get listed: Submit through site.
Event listings: Curated.

SiliconBeachLA Event Calendar
Alexa Rank: 613,014/139,141 (global/US).
How to get listed: Email info@siliconbeachla.com
Event listings: Most submitted events are listed.

TechZulu Event Calendar
Alexa Rank: 334,263/166,764 (global/US)
How to get listed: Email events@techzulu.com.
Event listing: Curated.

QStreetStartup Events Calendar
Alexa Rank: 3,422,053/NA (global/US)
How to get listed: Submit through site.
Event listings: Not sure.

WeAreLATech Event Calendar
Alexa Rank: 8,596,302/NA (global/US).
How to get listed: Submit through site.
Event listings: Most submitted events are listed.

LA Tech Events
Alexa Rank: No Data.
How to get listed: Submit through site.
Event listings: All submitted events.

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Celebration Nation

We are the citizens of celebration nation,
we walk this world with an attitude of gratitude,
our friends and foes,
from their head to their toes,
every single mood,
every type of food,
every day of the year,
both love and fear,
both sun and rain,
both pain and gain,
we thank them all,
’cause it makes us whole,
but watch out there’s a trap,
and it’s not on the map,
there’s one thing to remember,
from january through december,
and it’s to remember to “be you”,
’cause no one can do that like you!

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What Is “The American Dream”?

americandream

Guy Kawasaki suggests that startups ditch the mission statement and instead have a mantra, a phrase with three or four words. It’s purpose is to help employees truly understand why the organization exists. A mantra creates a cohesive context for discussion, helps drive decision-making, and is a constant reminder of a shared goal.

The United States of America has a mantra, and it’s “The American Dream.” The definition of The American Dream has changed over time. It was initially about fleeing hierarchical or aristocratic societies. During the gold rush, it became about the potential for instant wealth. It’s since then been about home ownership and upward mobility. Most recently, it has been about equal opportunity and access to education and career.

It’s completely normal for the mantra to change over time; it should reflect the state of the world and the mind of the people in it. What’s important, however, is that the meaning of the mantra be discussed regularly. Without a shared vision, all debates will be inefficient and ineffective, laws put in place will be ephemeral, and dissatisfaction becomes inevitable.

Education isn’t producing the results it used to, so access to education clearly isn’t enough. Many are unemployed, and even those who have careers that can support their family are unhappy, either from work dissatisfaction or not having enough time to spend with family.

What is today’s American Dream?

 

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