An idea is an idea and nothing more until it’s executed.
I’m sure those of us who have spent some time within the startup community have heard this a time or two, but are we actually subscribing to this concept?
I still keep running into far too many people who treat their ideas like some top-secret conspiracy to overthrow the government. An idea so valuable that if any minor detail is leaked, someone will turn around and make a million dollars off it within days.
C’mon now, really?
Think of all the Mexican restaurants in your city. Most of the time, a Mexican restaurant is a Mexican restaurant. The menus are fairly similar. There’s complimentary chips and salsa, blended margaritas and if you’re lucky, your food comes out so fast it’s still sizzling.
So if all these restaurants are fairly similar, why would anyone open a second restaurant in the same town?
Execution. The food, the location, the experience, the decor, the staff. Not every patron wants or needs the same exact thing. People will prefer one restaurant over another. Some restaurants will be wildly popular while others eventually close.
So stop keeping your ideas secret. Tell people, get advice, get feedback, and go build the damn thing. Sometimes you just have to try to build a better mousetrap even if other models exist.
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- If you want a cool job working with cool people, you have to make things. You will not network or interview your way into this job. You have to put yourself out there and do cool things. Blog. Make videos. Organize people. Start a business. Ship product.
- Projects undertaken with agency are worth 100x as much as projects where you were just a cog in someone else’s machine. Nobody cares how big or cool the company you interned at is if you didn’t actually do anything interesting there.
- Curiosity pays off in spades. Join new social networks. Try out apps. The Internet is easy to explore — take advantage of it.
- Blogging is changing fast. Lone-wolf, article-style blogging is being replaced by more interesting platforms like Instagram and Google+. Embrace it.
- There’s a startup out there for every interest. Pursue your passions. Add technology where you can.
- Read up on content strategy and user experience (for starters). There are whole jobs, whole fields, whole industries that they’re probably not telling you about in school.
- You have to understand how the Internet works in a deep and complete way. You don’t have to know how to develop an API, but you have to know what one is and why they’re important. Go from there and keep learning.
- Nobody (who matters) cares about your GPA.
- Nobody (who matters) cares about your degree or certifications.
- It’s okay to be a beginner. Don’t pretend more skill or knowledge than you have. You won’t learn anything that way.
- If you like print design, learn digital. It won’t bite. (Psst…if you’re in Des Moines, start here.)
- Job security at big corporations is bullshit. You will probably get laid off. If you get a job at a big media conglomerate you’re probably replacing someone that just got laid off.
- Take classes like statistics, accounting, and economics. Understanding, processing, visualizing and communicating about data is increasingly important.
- Expect to change jobs a lot. Expect contract work. Expect to spend time freelancing.
- Always have health insurance. Always. (But don’t use it as an excuse to stay in a shitty job…lay off the DVD’s and dining out and buy it yourself.)
- Trying to be someone you’re not is a dangerous waste of time. Don’t fear self-improvement, but don’t try and be someone you’re not. AKA: Keep the mohawk.
- Hire professionals. If you’re freelancing or starting a business, lawyer up and get an accountant. If you’re not, get an accountant anyway.
- The greater startup ecosystem is incredibly permeable. Go to events. Start events. Speak at events. Listen to podcasts. Comment on blogs. Start a blog. Be connected. It’s not hard, but it does take work.
- Internet people are, on the whole, really nice, really normal, and really down to Earth. They are also easy to flatter. Say hello and tell them you like their work. Write them. Subscribe to their blog. Follow them on Twitter. Ask if you can crash at a desk at their office for a day. If you’re genuinely interested in what they do and let them know, they’ll likely surprise you with their kindness and generosity.
- Don’t worry too much about networking events. Do build a network.
- Write every day.
- It never hurts to learn something new. Ever.
- Hit publish (or update, or upload, or share) even if you think it sucks. It won’t get better if you don’t show it to other people.
Background Info and a Dozen or so Caveats
We didn’t record the presentation or use notes, but I was able to recall quite a bit. Amanda and I both went through communications programs focused primarily on traditional media. I majored in radio and tv production. She majored in PR, communications, and design.
To create the above list, I stole the smart things Amanda said, mixed them with my own thoughts, and wrapped them up into a self-reflective manifesto I wish someone had delivered to me when I was sitting in that same class five or six years ago. Take it with a grain of salt — all advice is autobiographical, after all. Much of this advice is definitely me talking to myself in the past. I don’t know if I would have listened, but there it is anyway.
Our presentation was premised on encouraging the students to pursue what they’re already interested in and the talents they likely already identify with such as writing, editing, and multimedia production.
People seemed to like what we had to say, and many of them were kind enough to tell us as much.
Hello friends! Our new podcast is live! It’s called The Flyover Effect, and you can either stream or download the latest episode from The Flyover Effect website. It’s a podcast about startups, design, and all things Internet. It will be a mix of chats with cool industry people and conversations amongst ourselves. The first episode features Whuffaoke superstar Tara Hunt, CEO of Buyosphere.
Our goals for the podcast:
- Clock in each episode at or under 30 minutes.
- Do an episode a week.
By those metrics, we’re knocking it out of the park so far!
It’s not yet approved in the iTunes store, but you can still subscribe: add http://feeds.feedburner.com/theflyovereffect as a subscription. If you need a little help, check the Info page on the podcast site.
I recently led our team in preparing for and presenting at BarCamp Des Moines. It was held downtown in the nearby Central Library. Due to some family matters I was unable to attend and Igor was unable to finish prepping in time, but overall it was a very successful event for Team BitMethod.
In this post, I’m going to use pieces of our Field Guide to Modern Business to explain how we got ready for, and, in my not very humble opinion, kicked butt at BarCamp Des Moines.
Not knowing where to begin is a reflection on you, not the idea. Throw a dart. Start moving your pen. Sling paint. Take the first step. Just start.
It had been our intention (and my responsibility) to get BitMethod rolling on more speaking engagements, education, and consulting gigs. When Solid Guy Geoff Wood and crew started buzzing about BarCamp DSM on Twitter, I decided it was a prime opportunity to get everyone committed to writing and presenting an idea. I had Igor register all five of us and informed the team they would ALL be attending and speaking. We took the first step and now Dan, Amanda and Neil have go-to presentations they can perfect and pull-out in a pinch.
Infect. Lead. Drive. Challenge. Push. Destroy status quos. Make your beliefs viral.
It’s difficult to spread your ideas, knowledge and expertise if you haven’t clearly articulated those things to yourself. We had previously put in the work to brainstorm a list of SME (Subject Matter Expertise) everyone could focus on building their reputation around. For example, mine has entries such as “rut-busting” and “project continuity”. Neil’s has “practical programming”. My favorite, on Igor’s list, is “being a positive energy ball”. We used this list to generate topic ideas for our presentations.
Proactively focusing on our subject matter expertise helped us infect others with our ideas.
Science made metaphor. Always seek beauty, simplicity, usefulness, clarity.
This isn’t a knock against the organizers, but it was obvious the event was being thrown together at the last minute. (I really don’t mean this as a dig against the organizers. If they hadn’t decided to throw the event at the last minute, it wouldn’t have happened at all. It was no one’s responsibility to organize a Des Moines BarCamp, they took it upon themselves. They did a fine job pulling things together.)
I started prodding the organizing team a bit over Twitter and exchanged some emails regarding event organization. I helped steer them towards a more suitable venue and clarify some information on their website, which in turn made for a better event, which in turn made our efforts regarding the event more valuable. A lot of people don’t realize how many details are involved in putting an event like this together. A note or two to the organizers can go a long way. Feedback is more useful two weeks before than two hours after.
I concerned myself with the audience (user) experience at BarCamp to increase our own success.
Organizations exist to empower people.
I made it very clear from the outset the team could present about whatever the hell they wanted and THEY were the star of the show. I would not have cared one bit if Amanda gave a 30 minute talk about pandas or vegan cupcakes, because I know she would rock it no matter what and find a way to make it relevant. We encourage the pursuit of technology “celebrity status” for our people. Making “us” famous makes a lot more sense than trying to make the company famous, so to speak.
Maintain momentum and good things will come. Awesome attracts awesome. Success breeds success. Failure kills momentum. Indecision kills momentum. Fear kills momentum. Just keep moving.
Did our team give world-class, TED-quality, blow-your-freaking-mind presentations? No. They were raw. Rough. Needed revisions. But we put ourselves out there. We didn’t let fear or indecision slow us down. We said “Here are some things we know. We are going to keep learning and keep talking about them.” It worked. We made connections, got some leads, and received positive feedback. It wasn’t a national stage, but we don’t need national stages yet. Some people learned the name BitMethod that day, and that’s a start.
Maintaining momentum is tough. We followed up with a set of photos from Igor, a blog post from Amanda, some emails, and this post you’re reading right now. The BarCamp experience also helped us prepare for our well-received Straight Talk About Mobile presentation recently held at our offices.
Saying we’re going present at BarCamp and actually doing it are two different matters. Content is tough. Committing ideas to paper, organizing them, editing them, and testing them is very, very hard. We weren’t going to be content to pull chairs into a circle and spin some bullshit off the top of our heads. We needed to get to work.
Having already wrangled the team on blogging, I knew that sometimes the only way to break through and get things moving is with bare-knuckled perseverance, aka old-fashioned Nebraska Stubborn. I scheduled some time and locked everybody in the War Room for an uncomfortably long session until ideas started flowing and presentation outlines started to form. I didn’t do a lot during the session other than sit there, look at people, and ask occasionally if anyone wanted to bounce anything off of me. It worked.
Give what others can’t give.
No big revelations here. This Field Guide entry echoes the BarCamp experience of giving and learning from each other. We were happy to be part of it.
Part of what I’m doing right now. Also reflected in Amanda’s presentation which showed a lot of her process, something amateurs often think is some kind of trade secret.
If someone says, “I’ve got this”, let them have it. Work with people you trust, and then actually trust them.
I didn’t see, read, or hear anybody’s presentations before we hit BarCamp. There just wasn’t time.
I wasn’t worried, though. They said “we’ve got this”, and I let them have it.
Also, there was no corporate “approval process”. If Neil and I had disagreed on a matter of opinion, his opinion would fly in his presentation, no question. We might have a healthy debate about it, but there’s no authority in our company to determine what goes out and what doesn’t. We trust people.
Looking forward, here are some things we’ll do differently in the future:
- Spend a bit more time with the introductions. I got feedback that the team didn’t do a bang-up job of making clear who they were and whom they worked for. When nerves are high people tend to jump right into their prepared presentations.
- Freebies. We have very lovely posters from the Field Guide, which Dan’s presentation centered on, but didn’t bring any posters to give away. Whoops!
- Practice out loud, as a group. It worked great for STAM, and I hope we can do it more often for future engagements.
So there you go. That’s how we tackled our local BarCamp, BitMethod style.
As a special treat for those who attended our open house last week, we gave away limited edition posters featuring entries from the "BitMethod Field Guide to Modern Business."
If you've taken a liking to one of these sweet posters and want one, just let us know or stop by our new office and pick one up in person. We have a few remaining of each.
We also want to thank everyone who came to the open house, it was wonderful to see your smiling faces. If you were unable to make it, stay tuned for more awesome BitMethod parties . . . er, events in the future.
P.S. If you have our posters up in your office. Please take a picture and share it with us via Twitter, we'd love to see them.