Entrepreneurial Project Management

Guerrilla tips and tactics for getting things done

“When You Set Yourself on Fire . . .

Posted by matteverard on July 11, 2006

People love to come to see you burn.”

–John Wesley

Good leaders know that if you are genuinely amped about your project, you will attract followers. I remember seeing an interview with some early Apple programmers describing how Steve Jobs rallying the troops into a death march with a St. Crispen’s day speech. The pitch: “if you can shave 8 seconds off the boot-up time for millions of people, think of the man-years of productivity gained!”

Leadership = vision + passion + diligence

My buddy, Todd, is showing some great leadership in his latest project to make his first movie…at 35, w/ 3 young kids, and a full-time job (not in LA, not in the movie biz). The best way to describe it is “a love-story-documentary about youths and record stores” and the cultural shift that has come about through digitization (e.g. kids don’t go to record stores anymore and as much as we’ve gained w/ iPods, we’ve lost something, too). Kind of a Dog Town and Z-Boys about Music.

You might say that the idea found Todd and is compelling him to set it free. He’s lit himself on fire and I’ve gathered round to watch. I’m going to post an excerpt from a recent email so you can get a sense the process. (I introduced him to a serious indie-rock legend who happens to be my neighbor, Ron House. His Memorial Day parties are amazing…)

we had a great time at Ron’s place a few weeks back. he dropped some excellent stuff on us, the quality of sound and footage was outstanding (made possible by the very expensive camera). i got some great direction from that discussion as far as the narrative is concerned. maybe even a title: “Pissing off of the Porch – Survival of the Independent Record Store” or something to that effect. i’ve had a few scheduling challenges. had to cancel this weekend’s scheduled trip to the store which sucked. plan is to shoot there, get in-store visual and perhaps some discussion. ron agreed to an on camera walking tour of high st – “show you where everything used to be”. he also invited us to record the TJSA re-union show at little bros in august. so it’s moving along, if a bit slowly. there’s a great story here though, and the more i dig around, the more pertinent it seems. ultimately it comes down to people – and we have interesting and compelling people. i can appreciate the work of directors/producers. even this little thing takes considerable effort, just to keep it in the air.


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Mac Commercials

Posted by matteverard on July 11, 2006

I’m among the throngs of people praising the new “Get a Mac” commercials. Apple is rubbing salt in an open wound in the consumer computing market: too much complexity. Just about any normal person has to promise free beer to a serious techie in order to get their new Dell up and running. I was called to my mom’s recently and spent an afternoon fumbling around with patches, updates, uninstalls, and virus protection. Add a wireless network to the mix and you’ve gone from two beers to four in a hurry. I was only able to succeed with a well-timed phone call to a full-time sys admin buddy.

Check out Charter St.’s (Paul McNamara) good piece intitled “The Software Complexity Racket.” It’s a smart take on the financial disinsentives for innovative simplicity that exist in the current enterprise software market.

Also, don’t miss the smart parody “Get a Mac” commercials from VH1! Hilarious!

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Reduced Feature Set = Better Product?

Posted by matteverard on July 10, 2006

Yes, it’s true. Here’s a great post by DabbleDB’s Andrew Cotton Catton (demo of his new product here) explaining why his product doesn’t have templates. Answer: it used to but they cut that feature after user testing. I love it! This reminded me of two things about design that every PM should know:

1. More features != better product. More features usually means more options to consider. “Considering” is thinking. Thinking leads to confusion. Confusion leads (quickly and unavoidably) to a bad experience.

2. You don’t know anything until you watch someone use the product. Actual user testing is the only way to know what’s good and bad in your design. You can get user input during design, recruit a great team of interface designers, and do paper prototyping, but you’ll never get the real deal until it is a tool in someone’s hand.

It’s very difficult to cut a feature (after pouring hours into development and design, you’re emotionally committed to it), but that’s the kind of discipline that needed to make a great product. Congrats, Andrew!

Posted in Leadership, Program & Project Mgmt, Usability | 1 Comment »

iPod Revolution: Unintended Consequences

Posted by matteverard on July 10, 2006

My buddy, Todd, sent me this fantastic article on one significant cultural effect of the iPod–the death of Rock Snobs–and what that means for the world. A sample:

While the term “Rock Snob” has a pejorative ring, the label also implies real social advantages. The Rock Snob presides as a musical wise man to whom friends and relatives turn for opinions and recommendations; he can judiciously distribute access to various rare and exotic prizes in his collection. “Oh my God, where did you find this?” are a Rock Snob’s favorite words to hear. His highest calling is the creation of lovingly compiled mix CDs designed to dazzle their recipients with a blend of erudition, obscurity, and pure melodic dolomite. Recently, I unearthed a little-known cover of the gentle Gram Parsons country classic “Hickory Wind,” bellowed out by Bob Mould and Vic Chestnutt, which moved two different friends to tears. It was Rock Snob bliss.

Funny and poignant–I’m definitely one of the milkers and have felt, on occasion, that I’ve dishonored the high rock gods by mixing rare collections with the profane.

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Charterstreet and Coghead

Posted by matteverard on July 7, 2006

Greg Olsen and Paul McNamara are building a company that allows biz-sumers (business consumers who might be able to write an excel macro but aren’t IT folk) to build hosted applications (a la Ning and a bit like DabbleDB), thus further commoditizing the tool making process. They’ve taken an old school business approach (e.g. no Aeron chairs and cheap office space) even though they have taken VC money.

I love this business space right now–so much of corporate IT is broken (animosity between users and IT, high costs, low innovation, poor stability, little competitive advantage, need I go on?) and there is a huge opportunity to build SaaS businesses that serve the end-users.

Their blog is called Charter Street. Read their 5-part series on “The Next Technology P-Wave“–beautiful writing, smart ideas, these guys are worth watching.

Posted in Innovation, Program & Project Mgmt, Start-up, Tools, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Francis Fukuyama and the US Political Scene

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

The Johns Hopkins Polical Scientist, Francis Fukuyama, has penned a couple of brilliant, controversial books (The End of History and the Last Man, Our Post-Human Future) which I found to be thought-provoking reads. Often he has been linked to the neoconservative movement, but in the NYTimes Magazine pieced (link below), he does a great job separating himself their mess and charts a course for the future that eschews war.

From Wikipedia:

In an essay in the New York Times Magazine in 2006 that was strongly critical of the invasion [5], he identified neoconservatism with Leninism. He wrote that the neoconservatives:

…believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.

He also announced the end of the “neoconservative moment” and argued for the demilitarization of the war on terrorism:

“[W]ar” is the wrong metaphor for the broader struggle, since wars are fought at full intensity and have clear beginnings and endings. Meeting the jihadist challenge is more of a “long, twilight struggle” whose core is not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world.

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Microsoft Designs iPod Packaging

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

Hilarious, short video showing how MSFT would apply their design philosophy to the iPod (ironic note: the video was created within MSFT).

Posted in Innovation, Usability | Leave a Comment »

Understanding When Not to Invest

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

A great speech by Warren Buffet’s right hand man, addressing the question “How does one pick stocks?” for USC’s Biz School. I got this from the often cantankarous, semi-aristocratic Nicholas Carr, the pundit who penned “Does IT Matter?” His book argued that IT was becoming a commotidy and that businesses would be wise to treat as such (and focus on cost reduction rather than innovation). It made CIOs drop a load in their collective shorts.

From Carr:
But my favorite moment comes when Munger explains why investing in great new technology often leads to economic pain, if not ruin:

The great lesson in microeconomics is to discriminate between when technology is going to help you and when it’s going to kill you. And most people do not get this straight in their heads. But a fellow like Buffett does.

For example, when we were in the textile business, which is a terrible commodity business, we were making low-end textiles – which are a real commodity product. And one day, the people came to Warren and said, “They’ve invented a new loom that we think will do twice as much work as our old ones.”

And Warren said, “Gee, I hope this doesn’t work because if it does, I’m going to close the mill.” And he meant it.

What was he thinking? He was thinking, “It’s a lousy business. We’re earning substandard returns and keeping it open just to be nice to the elderly workers. But we’re not going to put huge amounts of new capital into a lousy business.”

And he knew that the huge productivity increases that would come from a better machine introduced into the production of a commodity product would all go to the benefit of the buyers of the textiles. Nothing was going to stick to our ribs as owners.

That’s such an obvious concept – that there are all kinds of wonderful new inventions that give you nothing as owners except the opportunity to spend a lot more money in a business that’s still going to be lousy. The money still won’t come to you. All of the advantages from great improvements are going to flow through to the customers.

Keep that in mind the next time your company’s considering a big investment in information technology. You know you’re going to pay the bill, but who’s going to end up reaping the rewards?

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Life Near Appalachia

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

Dueling Banjos

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Honesty in the Workplace

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

Why I got fired from Apple (via GMSV)

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