A Better App Store

I love my iPhone.  I don’t know how I ever lived without it.  I spent a day without it once and it felt like I had just had an appendage amputated.  At times it seems that the design teams at Apple must be able to see into the future so it’s always an amazing moment when you discover something that they could have done better.

Today I came up with something better that Apple should have done with iOS6.  Maybe they’ll get it in iOS7.

The Back-story

I was getting low on my iTunes account so I went and bought an iTunes gift card to add to my account.  I scratched off that gray sticky stuff to reveal my code and then I opened the App Store to redeem my card.  Suddenly I was hit with the urge to not have to type anything. (Who knows, maybe my phone is what has me conditioned to do this.) So naturally I looked for the “scan code” button.

No, there isn’t one.  That’s right, I have to manually input that 16 digit code by hand.

So here’s my idea

I want the gift cards to come with a small bar-code/qr-code/some-cool-new-apple-code feature that is hidden by that same old gray sticky stuff.  Then when I scratch it off and open the app store I want to be prompted to scan the card. The whole card.  I want it to be able to recognize that there are two bar codes on the back of my iTunes card and scan them both.  Then I want it to verify that it’s a legit code and instantly add it to my account.

That’s it. Not too complicated on the backed. Drop dead simple on the front end. So get on it Apple, I expect to see this in the App Store soon.

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The Social Media Bubble

In the late 90′s we had the dot com bubble.  Investors were stupid and they knew they were being stupid.  They were just hoping to get in and get out before it popped.  Many did. More didn’t.

We are currently in the social media bubble. (speaking strictly in terms of investing)

When it pops it won’t go away just like the dot coms didn’t go away.  And I don’t think it’ll really pop, it’ll deflate.

What did go away was the over hyped investment money.  Is Facebook really worth $40/share? I don’t know.  So far I haven’t seen what they are really worth.  When we do I suspect we’ll see the bubble start to lose some air.  Not too quickly. But it’ll right size itself.

That’s my prediction for the day.

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Pivoting on the Fly

I’m trying to teach my kids about money and entrepreneurship. So far it’s going fairly well.

My 10 year old has decided that for her business she is making and selling bracelets.  These are the type of bracelets that kids make from colored thread and give to their friends.  Several times she has got a good collection of bracelets made and then gone on a little selling spree.

So far she has learned that there is a small market in our neighborhood and the the market will bear a price of $.50 each for the bracelets.

Today she was out selling with a friend (I don’t let her sell door to door by herself) and she knocked the door of an elderly lady and her puppy.  Knowing that there would be bad odds of getting her to buy a bracelet for herself she quickly thought of something new.

“Hi, we’re selling doggy bracelets” she exclaimed.

She sold more than double what she usually sells.  Now that’s a pivot.

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An Introduction to Twitter

About a year ago I was sitting in a stupid dinner meeting with the executives of a big hotel in Vegas and the whole “I don’t get this Twitter” thing came up.  The one exec that seemed to be the most adept explained what he had read. I’m going to try to sum it all up because I tried it and it totally worked for me.

First thing – Stop bagging on things you don’t understand just because you don’t understand them.

Second – Sign up and pick a few (5 to 10) well-known people to follow.

Third – Watch. And learn. Don’t start tweeting yet, other than maybe that first “well- I’m-new-to-twitter-and-trying-to-figure-this-thing-out” tweet.  Do this for about 4 to 6 weeks.  By this time you will have figured out that you are following mostly the wrong people.  And you’ll figure out how you want to use Twitter.  Twitter isn’t for everyone.  And there is more than 1 way to use Twitter.

Fourth – Start tweeting.  Emulate the people whose tweet style you agree with but don’t be afraid to follow a few.  Use Twitter for conversations that you don’t mind being public.  Use Twitter to speak your mind about things that you want associated with your personality. Don’t spam Twitter. If you aren’t providing something either useful or entertaining don’t tweet it. No one wants to know what you ate for breakfast. Unless you just tried out a new coffee shop and want to recommend them.

Things you need to know:

Hashtags. A hashtag is a word preceded by the # symbol.  This is used to attach your tweet to a specific topic. Don’t just do this on every tweet. This is used at events and in discussions so that everyone participating can follow related tweets.

Replying. When you begin a tweet that is addressing someone by starting the tweet with “@user” it is only visible to people that follow that user.  Sometimes this is what you want. Sometimes not.  If you want everyone to be able to see it, put something before the @ in their username. I’ll try to work their name into the middle of a sentence or sometimes I’ll just add a “.” in front of it, like so; “.@myfavoriteuser that was a good point, here’s another thing to think about”

This should be enough to get you started.  Ok, now go give it a try. www.twitter.com

Have a tip? post it below in the comments.

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Startup Weekend

Image representing Startup Weekend as depicted...

Don't miss the next one.

Ok, so it’s been a little while since I blogged.  Honestly I have kinda felt like there wasn’t much to blog out.  But then a few weeks ago I signed up for Startup Weekend Salt Lake City.  The event was last week and I’m still on a high from it.  I haven’t done anything that cool in years.  I’ll definitely be going back to the next one.

So What is the Startup Weekend?

Many people have started hearing the buzz about the Lean Startup movement that began about 5 years ago or so.  If you haven’t go read the following blogs:

http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/

http://www.avc.com/

http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/

http://steveblank.com/

K, all done reading those? Good. Now go buy The Lean Starup by Eric Ries and read that.

So now you know what a lean startup is.  The Startup Weekend is the ultimate crash course in entrepreneurism. Attend one of these events and you will really come to understand the words; pivot, iterate, validate, lean, and tired.  The last one comes at the end of the weekend though, not during like the others.

So What Happens at a Startup Weekend?

So I pitched an idea along with 58 other people.  We each had exactly 60 seconds to pitch.  I heard so many great ideas.  Then at the end of the pitches we each got 3 votes for which idea we would like to work on.  There were about 20 or so that I would have loved to be involved with.My idea didn’t get chosen but I had a really hard time narrowing it down to just 3 ideas to vote for.

Once the votes were tallied we selected about 14 teams for about 100 team members and each migrated toward the idea we wanted to work on.  The only thing that I would like to see change for the next event is to have more designers present.  I wasn’t planning on doing design, I was planning on doing the business/marketing side but we ended up without a designer so I did that too.

I picked a great idea that was called MyKart.  Very similar to what we wanted Deal Tracker to become back in the day but with a more modern, mobile, and social twist to it.

The next day we were supposed to finalize the idea we were working on and we pivoted about 8 times to different ideas.  By 1:00 PM when all the other teams were halfway done with development we had just come full circle for the second time to our original idea. We changed the name to WeShop to emphasize the social aspect of it better.  We knew that domain wasn’t available but we didn’t really have time to find an available domain.

The third day we had to get things buttoned down and prepare for final presentations.  We also had to validate or invalidate our theories about the app.  We actually got 24 people at the mall in about an hour to sign up to be the first users when it is launched.  We finished our proof of concept and had it working locally. We cranked out a short video with less than 30 minutes to spare. Our stuff really worked. It was awesome.  When Will and I were working on Deal Tracker we didn’t get that far in 6 months.

Finally the presentations.  A couple of the teams did so so, and some just rocked it.  Our presentation was really good but I was really doubting that we could win because there were so many great projects and presentations. For a full breakdown go read about them on Alex Lawrence’s Startup Blog before continuing on.

I thought for sure we’d be in the top 3 though.  Third place was Unicorn Sex Appeal.  Amazing AR app/game. I can’t wait until I can play this on my phone. I’d gladly pay a few bucks for this app.  Second place went to Rate My Tenents.  A well oiled and polished app for landlords to be able to get the real inside scoop on potential tenents.  I was sure Tweet Graph, or Tasquach, or Afterthought, or Cinch, or Hackladder, or Buttermilk would beat us but then all of a sudden, they announced that we had won.  Man what a feeling.  To be able to put together something so awesome in 2 days that we could compete with these other projects was more than just amazing. It was an honor.  Never before have I felt like I was so surrounded by talent and genius.

And I finally learned something about myself.  I truly am an entrepreneur.  I’m just getting started.  I’ll see you at the next Startup Weekend.

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Partners

One of the most divisive topics I’ve read about in countless books and blogs is the advantages and disadvantages of going into business with a partner.  And if you do, how do you divide up the company in a way that will keep everyone happy? And how do you make sure everyone lives up to their end of the deal?

Let me first start out by saying that I think it very wise to have a partner or partners.  People that have found good partners are far more likely to succeed in their business goals.  I think a lot of the opposition to partnerships doesn’t come from the institution of partnerships in and of its self (if you can call it that) but from a lack of good partners.

There’s lots of things to keep in mind when selecting partners.

Partner equity

Mark Suster does a pretty solid job on this one so I’ll just send you over to his blog to read his take on Founders, Owners and Prenuptials.

Doing this part right will save you from many uncomfortable meetings and conversations.  You don’t “give” equity, equity is earned.

Getting to know your partner

There are lots of parallels that can be drawn between business partnerships and marriage.  In both you should spend a good deal of time getting to know your future partner to see if this person is someone who you want to be legally joined with.  One big difference is that it’s acceptable to do a background check on future partners while it might come off as a little creepy to do one on that really attractive girl at the coffee shop after your first date.  You need to understand the future partners history, philosophies, goals, past times, habits, strengths, weaknesses.  A good partner can build you up and make you more successful. A bad partner can drag you down and make the partnership/marriage a living hell, not to mention the ways that you’ll pay for your mistakes long after that partnership/marriage has been dissolved. A future partner that tells horror stories about their past partners will probably tell similar stories about you.

In my life I’ve seen the direct effects of choosing bad business partners.  Much of my life growing up was shaped by a couple business partners that really had nothing to do with me.  These were my dad’s business partners.  But because of the choices of those partners I didn’t have many of the opportunities that my classmates did.  This isn’t a blame game, I just want to highlight the power that a partner has to be an influence for good or evil over the lives of those involved with him/her, directly or indirectly.  A partner who understands this power and respects it will be a good partner 9 times out of 10.  A partner who doesn’t understand this concept is almost as dangerous as the ones that do but have no ethics. It’s very clear why those partners should be avoided.

Unfortunately most entrepreneurs make the common mistake of bringing in partners who don’t get it.  This usually happens from not getting to know your partners beforehand or not understanding what to look for in the first place.  They don’t understand what’s involved in being a good partner and don’t understand when they are doing something wrong.  They make this decision out of emotions (which shouldn’t be ignored) rather than weighing the pluses and minuses of the partner.

One big difference between dating and shopping for business partners is that it’s a good idea to completely take emotions out of the picture (if that’s possible) when you choose a partner.  As long as your partner fits well with the company culture you hope to build it doesn’t really matter how well you get along.  If your partner isn’t your best friend that makes so many things less complicated.

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Just Answer the Question

I attended an interesting event today.  I sat and watched Senator Orrin Hatch ask Mark Zuckerberg a bunch of questions submitted by students at BYU.

I have never liked Facebook or Mark Zuckerberg because of some of his business decisions.  That said, I tried really hard not to like him today but he really did a great job convincing me that I should like him.  He had really good answers to all the questions, he presented himself really well and actually said a few things that made me rethink the reasons that I haven’t liked him in the past.

And then he did something really interesting. “I don’t really get the chance to sit down next to a senator very often so I’d like to ask you a few questions as well.”  He managed to turn things on Senator Hatch (quite innocently I believe) by asking him things like “What is the government doing to protect innovation and keep the Internet as open as possible?”

I almost thought Hatch was going to answer one of his questions… Almost.

Wow, I have never been so embarrassed to be from the same state as someone else.  I tried counting the times Hatch threw flattery at Mark thinking that would be an acceptable intelligent answer to his question.  “You’re so great. I respect you sooo much. I am really proud of you.  Did I mention how great I think you are? I just want you to be my friend.” Towards the end of the event when Hatch would speak I noticed that a good portion of the crowd just tuned him out and used that time to stop and discuss more intelligent things among themselves.

So if I could offer my two hosts a piece of advice, here’s what I would say. Mark, do more speaking engagements, I thought you were brilliant.  Orrin, just learn one thing please. ANSWER THE STUPID QUESTION!

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Developing Your Personal Brand in 7 Easy Steps

Google yourself.  What do you see?  What do you want people to see when they search your name.  What do they currently see when they search your name?  Do they see your photos on facebook from your last vacation? Do they see the names and birthdays of your children? Do they see the facebook page you setup to bash your old boss at that job that you hated so much?

About a year ago I got the chance to work with Peter Tennis.  One thing we frequently discussed is how the social landscape is changing the way the world works and how it is becoming so common place to have so much information about any individual available online. It’s like being a public corporation almost. Peter called it your personal brand.

Your personal brand is every bit as important to the individual as a corporate brand is to the corporation.  They used to call it your reputation.  And your reputation was typically limited to people within 2 or 3 degrees of separation for people other than Kevin Bacon.  Information these days travels further faster and can linger in cyberspace forever.

The question isn’t if you have a personal brand. If you are online, you have a personal brand.   The question is how do you develop and manage your personal brand.  Every interaction you have with others online becomes part of your personal brand.  All you have to do is keep interacting like you already are, just with a few rules in mind.

1. Start by planning it.  Make some goals. Identify what things you want your personal brand to be associated with.  If you are looking to advance your career in business don’t focus your brand on sail boats.  Although sail boats are really cool…

2. Get your own name. Your real name.   I’m talking about domain names, online profiles, email accounts,  getting there first is a good way to make sure your not fighting with your literary doppelganger later on. If like a friend of mine, you see someone else with the same name you might have even more work to do if you want to muscle your way to the top.  Or you could change your name.  Maybe just getting in the habit of using your middle initial all the time would be the right move.  If your name is too common or shared with someone too famous, you might want to consider a pen name.  I have one I have been developing for years just in case I want to switch fields later in life.

3. Online profiles. Don’t just reserve the name, develop them. Interlink them. Google loves social networking profiles. Linkedin, Twitter, Disqus, even Facebook. Keep your avatar across all your profiles the same.  Always have an avatar.

4. Watch your mouth.  All this information is public.  Never post something online that could come back to haunt you.  I would probably not hire someone who had created a facebook page dedicated to defaming their former employer.  Probably.

5. Blog. This is your chance to really speak your mind.  You start the conversation.  Blogs are the place to declare the field in which you are an authority.  Should your blog gain a substantial following it could be your ticket to… write your own… ticket.

6. Stay active.  Dedicate some time weekly or daily to managing you brand (updating the blog and answering comments)  Look for blog posts, sites, communities where your comments will create synergy with your brand.  That’s where you want to spend your effort.  It’s okay to spend your time in other places as well, just don’t muddy the waters of your personal brand.  For example I like golf, but I don’t spend lots of time commenting on golf blogs and threads.  I still read them but I don’t want my personal brand to be about golf so I limit my interaction there.  I’m more of a spectator.  However if it’s a business or design blog, I’m there commenting.  Someone else might have just made the same comment but that only reinforces my personal brand.  I’ll agree with them and offer a few points of my own.  Who knows, you may end up sitting next to that person on your next business trip.  What an easy to way to make a good connection.

7. Get creative. You might even want to do PPC on your own name.  As long you don’t share a name with someone famous this can be pretty affordable.

If you don’t like what shows up in Google then you have some work to do.

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Teaching Children about Money: Chapter 1 – Mistakes

When I was a kid my dad gave me a job stripping aluminum from a load of heater coils; copper tubing wrapped in aluminum coils.  He had bought a trailer load of it as scrap metal.  The metals as scrap were worth much more separately than combined so it was worth quite a bit to him to have us separate the two.  He paid me $5/hour and I put in 4 hours before I couldn’t take it anymore.

I don’t remember what I spent the money on but I spent it.

Did I learn anything about money? It think I learned that spending it is fun. That’s about it.

In high school I got a job at Marie Calendar’s as a cook.  Over the course of 2 years I made several thousand dollars and the only thing I could show for it was a bunch of concert t-shirts, a black guitar (still have it), and a 1981 Ford Fiesta.  Again I learned that spending money can be fun but I honestly have no idea where 90% of it went.

Not until I was in my mid 20s did I realize that I had done it all wrong.  I started thinking about business.  I started reading business books.  I learned a lot about investing in the stock market.  I joined a small group of freelance developers in our first business venture, a development shop.  I sold lots of random things on Ebay.  I designed project after project and even got a few of them started.  I even got serious and founded my own SEO company.  Finally I learned that making money can be more fun than spending it.

I have determined that even though I don’t want my kids to learn it the hard way like I did, that’s the best way to learn it.  So I have given my kids jobs and learning opportunities so that they can learn for themselves how to deal with money. And how to make money.  I also try to give them really bad mistakes to make.

Like a few weeks ago, my daughter wanted to buy a pack of gum. You can get them at Smiths for $.79.  She saw it for $1.09 at Walmart and thought she just had to have it.  But she didn’t have any money with her so I offered to buy it and sell it to her for $2.00 when we got home.

My son is a little older and has had more exposure to earning and spending.  He waited until a little later and had me buy him a big pack of 12 from Costco.  I think his cost him about $.67 per pack.

I have learned some lessons that cost me a few thousand dollars here and there but I know people that have spent 10 and 20 times what I did to learn the same lessons.  I am just hoping I can help my kids learn those same lessons for 10 to 20 times less than what it cost me.

So far it seems to be working.  My daughter has decided that she wants to buy a gumball machine and is currently looking for a store that will let her put it there.

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Billionaires and Philanthropy

It looks like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet are getting what they hoped for.

For those that don’t know, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet have started a movement.  It’s called the “Giving Pledge”.  Basically it’s a call for billionaires to commit to giving away half of their wealth to what ever philanthropic effort they choose sometime during or after their life.  Today the first 40 who were invited to their exclusive planning dinners announced that they will sign the pledge.

So what does this mean for the rest of us?

Most likely it’ll mean that George Soros will continue funding liberal and socialist movements, Bill and Melinda will continue vaccinating children across the world, scholarships will be created, whales will be saved, and trees will be planted.  Mostly good things right? Right.

So what does that mean for me and you? Not too much.  We’re still stuck in this horrible economy.

So I had an idea.  Something that I think most, if not all, of the billionaires who have made the pledge would probably support.  I would like to see them start some sort of funding trust for American small businesses and startups under which the businesses could receive grants or loans that could help them grow their business.  We’re talking about the funds for a restaurant owner to open a second location, for a heating and air conditioning business to buy a couple more vans, for a small startup to hire a patent attorney.   The small business would have to meet certain requirements so that you wouldn’t have a bunch of free loaders exploiting it but I think that would do the most good for the world economy.

Thoughts?

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