It’s been just over the one year mark since we started Three Screen Games and FanGamb. I left IBM on May 1, 2009, and we began the DreamIt Ventures program on May 18, 2009. It”s been an interesting and crazy year. We’ve learned much about what it takes to make a successful social game, and a successful startup. And we’ve positioned ourselves and our team for much greater success.
Part of what we’ve learned over the last year is that the industry of social gaming is still in its infancy and there is a host of new models to be experimented with. We have some exciting things in the works and as a result, will be moving to Europe later this summer to continue developing our product and business. We can’t yet share all of the details on why we’re making the move, but I’ll share more as soon as I”m able.
It’s certainly quite a change and not one that we expected a year ago, but we’re confident that it’s the best direction for our company and are extremely excited about the next phase of FanGamb. Personally, it should prove to be a valuable experience, working internationally and experiencing the European technology and startup communities.
So, if we”re moving to your part of the globe, or you’re just passing through, give us a shout! We’re very much looking forward to meeting new folks and saying hello. For everyone else, I’ll share the experiences through the blog and photos on my Flickr account.
If you work with people, at some point you’re going to need to motivate them to do something you want. We’re not talking anything malicious, just getting stuff done. For most things, that’s always been the carrot and stick approach – if you do what I ask well, I’ll give you a carrot. If not, I’ll whack you with my stick. In essence – if you reward something, you’ll get more of what you want. If you punish something, you’ll get less.
And the bigger the carrot and stick, clearly, it would seem to make sense that the better the motivation derived from them. Because this system is ingrained in us, we see this everywhere.
To escape the status quo, everyone who works with or manages individuals should watch the below video, capturing the highlights of Dan Pink’s book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. (Not only is it extremely interesting, it’s also a really great lesson in using whiteboards to make engaging videos ) Pink also gave a TED talk last summer.
Hopefully, you took a moment to watch it. For those of you that are reading on, here’s a quick summary:
When tasks call for cognitive skill over mechanical skill, larger rewards result in poorer performance. Pay people enough to take money off the table. And, emphasize the three key factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction:
1) Autonomy – self-directed 2) Mastery – getting better at their craft 3) Purpose – making a contribution
I found the video extremely interesting. While the carrot and stick approach is so intuitive to us, when you really stop to think about the tasks that we’re motivated to work on, Pink’s points hit home.
When you’re toiling away, in the bowels of some huge project, working on some small part that isn’t going to significantly make or break the big picture, are you really driven to do your best work? Compared with, if you are the “CEO of your job”, making a clear contribution.
This is one key reason why most corporations are at such a huge disadvantage to most startups when it comes to innovation. Having huge amounts of money and resources are fantastic, until you’re trying to get top talent to apply it to new problems. The main corporate driver is to maximize profit, and you work on small chunks of something larger that the end customer really doesn’t care about. Startups facilitate their people in maximizing purpose, making contributions. And if they don’t, they should be – startups aren’t just vehicles to accomplish the founders’ purpose. Startups are an opportunity for everyone on the team to work towards achieving something, a collective victory.
Also, since startups are one of the few places that have the capability to go against the status quo, to implement processes that would make corporate managers shiver in their cubicles, they’re also well setup to allow individuals the other two key factors – autonomy, to decide how best to achieve the task at hand, and mastery, to provide an opportunity to get better at their craft.
The Mark Pincus “Be the CEO of your job” example is a good illustration of this. So is the example that Pink uses in the video about Atlassian and their “FedEx Days”. Who knew how productive one day could be if you just gave your employees free reign to decide how best to make a contribution?
Jeff Atwood has a great post on how he’s applying these principles at Stack Overflow. Are you maximizing purpose and leaving your carrots and sticks outside? Or is your motivation based purely on dollars and thus is an ineffective sham? What’s working for you?
Recently, an alum interested in supporting entrepreneurship at Penn State asked me for my thoughts on the current state of support for student entrepreneurs. Given my involvement with the Lion Launch Pad, an accelerator for students at Penn State that I co-founded, this is a topic that I have a strong interest in.
I have a much longer post on ideas to help support student entrepreneurs that I’m working on, but for today, I’m just going to stick to the current state.
I wrote a summary of the various groups, individuals, and programs at Penn State that I was aware of, which are involved in supporting student entrepreneurship in various ways. That document is embedded below.
If you’re an entrepreneur at Penn State, or even just someone interested in entrepreneurship, I would be very interested in your feedback and thoughts on the programs listed, along with my thoughts.
From the document: …
There are a number of programs on and around Penn State’s campus that are dedicated to helping students explore and succeed in entrepreneurship. These include both academic and business resources. If students know where to look, there is generally something that can help get them moving in the right direction.
Penn State has both a history of entrepreneurial success and some recent entrepreneurship success stories. This is in addition to a fantastic resource in its alumni base, spread out across all areas of business.
The past several years have seen huge growth in programs for supporting early- stage entrepreneurs. No longer is there a gaping void between idea and venture capital funding. Entrepreneurs have a number of programs beyond Penn State to turn to and benefit from.
Despite the large number of available programs, unfortunately, the entrepreneurship landscape is heavily fragmented and resources are not integrated. Consequently, students interested in entrepreneurship use their time looking for the necessary resources rather than taking advantage of them.
There is an issue of general awareness. Without high profile recent wins, there is a limited number of students who consider entrepreneurship as a viable career path or application of their ideas/creativity. Furthermore, students are seldom aware of academic entrepreneurship programs beyond their college/major.
The third section of this document provides a highlights of the recent growth in external programs for early-stage entrepreneurs – there is a large opportunity to align with these programs and incorporate their best practices.
Penn State’s alumni base is a tremendous resource, yet, unfortunately, it is difficult to access and leverage. There is an opportunity to structure this resource more effectively, thus benefiting all Penn State entrepreneurs.
Engineering Entrepreneurship Minor, School of Engineering, Design, Technology, and Professional Programs, College of Engineering (http://www.e-ship.psu.edu/)
The list of startup accelerators has been getting a lot of attention as of late. It was exciting to see the list recently featured on Change.org’s Social Entrepreneurship blog. This activity follows the continuing interest and growth in seed-stage startup accelerators. Below are some updates and additions to the list.
Updates from the startup accelerator world:
TechCrunch featured a nice write-up on Stanford’s recently launched SSE Labs program. Written by Larry Chiang, one of the advisors to the new Stanford Student Startup Lab, the post touches on some of the political hurdles that the SSE Labs program ran into at Stanford in the process of launching. It is interesting (and disappointing) to read of the difficulties students had in launching an entrepreneurship support program at Stanford, typically referred to as one of the gold standards for academic institutional support of entrepreneurship. Still, it is an academic institution and many of the struggles the students ran into sound similar to roadblocks we’ve hit at Penn State and that I’ve heard about at other institutions. I’m glad to see the students are forging ahead undaunted.
Lots of activity internationally. The next few updates all concern accelerators abroad. One new program was mentioned in the comments on the accelerator list: The first accelerator for China just opened and will be based in Dalian: China Accelerator
XING’s founder, Lars Hinrichs, is launching HackFwd in Europe. It has some interesting twists over the conventional model. Funding will be up to â‚¬191,000, depending on the size of the team, and companies will participate in the program for up to a year. This results in HackFwd taking a more substantial equity chunk, though:
HackFwd will take 27% of a company it invests in ““ that’s a sizeable chunk. In the US, Ycombinator takes around 6% but can do anywhere from 2%-10% while TechStars take around 6-10%, whereas the London-based Seedcamp takes 8-10%. However, those latter programmes only last months, while HackFwd”s backing will be designed to last a year. … Startups will get funding for one year, with the aim of roughly matching the founder’s current yearly salary. Founders keep 70% equity, with 3% going to advisors and 27% to HackFwd. However, that said, they then take care of ‘legal and admin stuff”¦ so you can focus on your product.’
“To remedy the problem [of not having any early-stage funding for young entrepreneurs in China], he founded Innovation Works, a startup incubator with a twist. Instead of just doling out a million dollars here and there to promising projects, the company recruits top engineering graduates throughout the country and enlists them to help its portfolio companies get off the ground, while simultaneously grooming them to found startups of their own in 12 to 18 months.” … “‘Y Combinator would have a very hard time making it in China,’ Lee says. ‘It would have a hard time finding the startups and qualified people to fund. It could interview hundreds and find only two.’ The American incubator model only works in China if you turn it on its head, starting first with the people before generating the concept. Right now, Innovation Works is funding two external startups and working on five projects that came from the inside team.”
“Another difference to the [Y Combinator] model: If the startup chooses a designated mentor, it will have to give away another 2% of stock options. ONL”s mentor line-up, assembled via the Neoteny Labs connection (both labs are partnering), is pretty impressive though, including big names such as Reid Hoffman, Napster founder Shawn Fanning, or Tim O”Reilly.”
Oasis 500 aims to push 500 startups in Jordan in 5 years and will offer several programs starting with training courses for entrepreneurs with ideas. … [T]he training program will start around August of this year and will take a quota of around 100 entrepreneurs for several rounds every year ( any one with a tech idea according to Usama.) At the end of each program Oasis 500 will choose 10 ideas to invest in with an average of 10,000 Jordanian Dinars per idea and provide incubation (offices) for a period of 2 months. If the startup is qualified there will be additional investment of an average of 50,000 USD.
I started blogging again this January. So far, so good. I’m enjoying where my blog is going and, based on traffic and subscriber metrics, you readers out there seem to be enjoying the material and coming back.
I’m certainly not an expert on blogging and have a lot of learning (through testing and trying things) to do. But someone recently asked me for my thoughts on what I’ve learned about blogging so far. As someone who has tried blogging a couple of times in the past, I thought maybe my thoughts on what I’ve learned from my recent attempt might be interesting.
So, here are 10 things I’ve learned about blogging so far in my exploration. How does this align with what works for you?
Don’t worry about making posts perfect. Just write something. A little trick I like is to go back in the archives of any blog on the web. Go back to the very start and take a look at the posts when that blogger started out. You’ll find a vast difference between the post quality then vs now. Its a process, a journey – everyone figures out what works for them somewhere along the way. You will, too, with time.
You’ll have times / days when you’re really into the blogging thing and others when you’re too busy/etc. Use those periods of motivation to write a bunch of posts and schedule them out into the future to keep a consistent schedule. Break up long posts into series / multi-day posts. You can get a lot of mileage out of large encompassing topics and multi-part discussions.
Let your audience guide you. Some people use Twitter to “trial balloon” topics, by seeing how people react to specific thoughts they’re considering writing posts about. Whether you do something that formal or not, pay attention to what posts really engage your audience. Write more of them.
Pay attention to what you enjoy writing about. After all, if you don’t enjoy it, it will become a chore and you’ll either stop all together or stop being authentic.
Throw out the rules. Your blog should be an exploration of different topics that interest you. Don’t let it get too dry or predictable – try out new things and mix it up a bit. Again, you don’t want it to become a chore – you want it to remain fresh and interesting to you personally.
Lists work really well. Make a list of things and expand on it. My list of startup accelerator programs is my most popular, most discussed post.
Find yourself giving similar advice to folks? Did a friend ask a particularly insightful question? These kinds of conversations prove extremely fruitful for posts, I think. Start to notice what you’re talking about, and let that become part of your bogging discourse. Jot down a list of ideas for topics. Add to this as you have ideas. I use EverNote to collect links, data, etc for future posts.
Tweet your posts when people are awake to read them. There have been some interesting posts about when the optimal time to tweet your posts is. Late morning / early afternoon Pacific time seems to be the most common response. Regardless, it makes sense to let people know you’ve written something when they’re awake to see it. Restrain yourself and queue up the tweet to go out later. (By the way, this is implied, but it’s worth mentioning: Use Twitter to promote your posts and get thoughts. Most of my traffic comes from Twitter now vs. RSS feedreaders.)
Start by taking an article/other post and link to it and give your reaction. Good way to get into a post. And take a point of view. Middle of the road, generic posts don’t draw any interest or comments. The blog should be your side of a conversation that you care about.
Have fun. Trite, but true – if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t post.
Anyway, those are some things that have worked for me. What works for you?
I was chatting with another startup founder recently who was talking a conversation he had with his CTO and what the CTO had told him about a recent issue with their site. Some data had been lost from the site and the CTO apparently immediately started putting blame on some unknown “user error” as the cause of the unknown glitch. This is despite the fact that there didn’t seem to be any relevant connection between any of the functionality on the admin backend and the data loss that had occurred. Fortunately, there were backups and the data was able to be restored, so no real harm done (aside from frustration and lost time). However, what was more interesting was that the situation was apparently only one instance of many similar conversation – strange technology issues occur and the CTO has no clear explanation for what happened.
Startup founders, especially those with no technology background, if this happens to you – stop. Stop letting your CTO get away with providing vague explanations for what happened. Stop letting the CTO off the hook. Everyone who uses a computer knows that technology doesn’t always work right. Startups are, more often than not, dealing with a combination of bleeding edge platforms, compressed time schedules, and lack of sleep – a cocktail that can be exciting, but results in a higher than average percentage of software bugs.
The issue is not the bugs. They are expected. Any founder who expects a system to be bug free is dreaming. The issue is a CTO who can’t explain the issues that occurred, or, more likely, doesn’t want to take responsibility for the issues. And even more importantly, the implications that this has for the technology side of your business.
Founders with no technical experience are in a difficult position in startup world. So much of a startup’s life is centered around the technology. As the company moves from customer development to product development, for someone who doesn’t understand the tech, the startup world becomes a wild roller-coaster ride with the CTO in the drivers’ seat. Make no mistake – you are more or less at the mercy of your tech co-founder if you don’t understand the tech, so you had better pick a good one.
A good way to look at this is what if your CTO walks away – do you know how to access the code, how the architecture is setup, how to get into the various administration tools, how to access the backups? Ideally, the question is yes to all of the above, but startup world is chaotic. New systems are being added, servers are reconfigured – change is ever present. Are you up to speed on stuff?
So, what’s the point? The point is – if your CTO can’t take responsibility for a tech issue that occurs, if she won’t walk you through what caused the issue, if he doesn’t do a root cause assessment and explain the results – then you are living on the edge. If your CTO can’t own up to one issue, how much other stuff is going on that you have no idea about?
Let’s be very clear – if you are in this situation, then you have a relationship with your CTO where the balance of power is skewed and the wellbeing of your company is at risk. You need to get clarity into what’s going on over on the tech side and restore the balance of power, and more importantly, rebalance your relationship where you’re getting truthful explanations from your CTO. Or find a new one. Heed the warning signs and protect the company.
Hi! I'm Rob, a technology entrepreneur living in Dublin, Ireland, originally from Philadelphia. I co-founded BetDash.com which was acquired by Paddy Power.
I lead an awesome internal startup engineering team at Paddy Power, where we're continuing to build cool stuff for our extremely enthusiastic customers! We're using Ruby on Rails, Backbone.js, Sencha Touch, Redis, Resque, MySQL, and git. Previously, I worked with data warehouses and business intelligence at IBM Global Business Services. More here.