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Archive for January, 2011

 

Einstein Thinks Entrepreneurs Are Insane

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

A budding entrepreneur sent me a few questions the other day and I wanted to blog one of my answers up for you:

How do you decide when to pull the plug in one way or another?

This is a hard decision as well, with no obvious answer. I always tell people that the most important part of being an entrepreneur is know when to pivot. Every business plan is a little (or a lot) wrong and what you are doing that first two or three years is trying to figure out what dimension of wrongness you did. The hard part is that even when you are doing it right, it is usually quite hard, so the key moment for an entrepreneur is:

“I have been banging my head against this wall for a long time. One of two things is true at this point, either I should keep banging my head and the wall will crumble soon, or I should do something different and hope things get better.”

Einstein once said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Entrepreneurs must be insane because every entrepreneur will tell you that there comes a time when you have to keep pushing. So there you go: Do you keep pushing or do you pivot? Is this moment one of those moments? Is is incredibly hard to tell. People tell you to push and they tell you to pivot, but recognizing which of those you are supposed to do at any given point in time is incredibly hard.

I won’t try to fool you and tell you that the great entrepreneurs know the difference. My impression is that it is mostly luck.

You never really know.

Task Management 101 – Theories and Practice of To-Do Lists Plus Product Reviews

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

This is going to be a monster post. Great post to start a great year.

Let’s put an end to suspense: I am using Google Tasks today for To-Do lists. Here is the story of how I got there:

Different people have different needs in Task Management and To-Do Lists and an understanding of your needs is important in aligning expectations and picking appropriate tools to support your work. Quick example that illustrates the point: Advertising.com believed in Franklin Covey. They were bananas for Franklin Covey and it was fairly obvious why: They were an organization driven by delivery managers. Delivery managers at Ad.com had incredibly transactional jobs: They would come in every morning, look at the 30 campaigns they were managing, and take away from it a list if 50 things that had to get done that day. They probably had a few meetings that day with product management or sales, but that was it. They had to get those 50 things done. And then they did it again tomorrow. Franklin Covey is fantastic for this kind of transactional environment. It focuses on daily to-do lists and the intra-day prioritization of those lists.

Franklin Covey typically doesn’t work well for engineering jobs. Engineering jobs daily to-do list typically looks like:

Monday:

  • Code Feature X

A hard core Franklin Covey lover might say, “Decompose that”, but then it simply looks like:

Monday:

  • Think About Feature X
  • Code Part X of Feature X
  • Code Part Y of Feature X

Bottom-line, these jobs are not heavily transactional so the intra-day prioritization of to-do’s loses importance.

I had used a nice leather binder and it had worked well previously, but I became a Franklin Covey guy at Ad.com. I used a Franklin Covey for three years, then I switched rather abruptly. When I took over New Product Development at AOL Advertising, I suddenly realized that Franklin Covey was no longer working: I was in so many meetings that I never sat still for 10 minutes. Also, I had transitioned from executing to leading. I have always found it hard to be both a leader and clipboard guy. Any project manager will tell you that leading a meeting and taking notes on the meeting is an exercise in folly, so I generally made sure that I had someone following me around with a clipboard as we went from place to place. Now they were taking the actions and following up on them and as long as I had a couple of those people to alternate meetings with me, stuff got done.

At this point, I went paperless and it worked incredibly well. I used Remember The Milk and any to-do that I had went into it. I chose RTM at the time because it appeared they had the best combination of iPhone and desktop platform (in their case, the web app) that I could find. I used RTM for two years to take relentless to-do’s in meetings and it was great.

Last year, I left AOL to start my own company. I quickly realized that I had to bring Covey back, but not for why you think: My job didn’t become transactional. I could have continued to use RTM, but I found that meeting with customers works better with paper. It annoys the crap out of clients if you are mucking with your phone while they talk to you. They assume you are playing brickbreaker. It is that simple. So for a year I was a Covey guy.

Now I am going digital again and I thought it was a good time to re-survey the market. Here were my requirements:

  • The ability to make multiple to-do lists
  • The ability to associate a note with a to-do
  • iPhone && (Mac Desktop || Web) && (optionally iPad)— Syncing + off-line iPhone
  • I wanted it to be free. I had used RTM Pro to get iPhone syncing, but they just made 1 sync per day free and I actually thought that was enough for me. And I knew RTM was good enough to meet my needs, so unless a product was mind-bogglingly over the top, no point paying.

I don’t need to schedule to-dos: I have always simply put those in my calendar and it works fine. I don’t need to prioritize to-dos. If I can rank order them that is fine. One of the things that always annoyed me about RTM was that I couldn’t drag and drop to-dos, I had to use priority to set the order I wanted. Okay, but a little annoying. Many of my to-do lists are not really to-do’s in a classic sense, but rather lists: A list of feature ideas for Application X, a list of ideas of new companies I could start, a list of potential gifts for my wife. Things I keep track of in to-do form, but I don’t need to schedule them, just prioritize them and maybe hide a note with them (requirements for the feature).

On to the showdown; I looked at a few products. Let me talk about some popular products I dismissed out of hand:

Evernote

Evernote is a note-taking product. I am actually excited about using Evernote to fill the gap in my toolset for recording meeting notes electronically. Alas, they are not technically a to-do list and this is manifested in how the product works. They suggest that people that want a to-do list should make a note called to-do list and keep their list in it. A text file is not good enough for my to-do list.

Things

Things looks awesome. It is a Mac desktop app with an iPhone app that looks great. It costs money both for the desktop app and the iPhone app (and the iPad app). Didn’t look great enough to justify shelling out for it. There you go.

Ta-Da Lists (from 37signals)

No offline support for iPhone, end of story.

Now let’s talk about the finalists:

THE WINNER: Google Tasks

Google Tasks started out as a to-do list that I saw whenever I was looking at my gmail. That worked surprisingly well for me as I started to use it. Then I wanted to take it to my iPhone. Google doesn’t have an official iPhone app for tasks, despite the friendly mobile web interface, but because it is Google there are APIs and many people have built iPhone apps. This allows you to take Google tasks offline, which is great. I tried about 4 different Google Tasks iPhone Apps and the one that was hands down the best was GoTasks. I am not going to rehash that process, just trust me on this one. Or don’t and go try yourself. Whatever.

GoTasks was the best for three reasons:

  1. Easy to add new tasks
  2. Easy to access notes associated with a task
  3. Easy to reorder tasks and check off completed tasks

GoTasks Screen

“But that web interface sucks!”, you say. There is a secret interface to Google Tasks that makes it much more awesome: The Canvas interface. Give it a try. I found it met my needs as well as Remember The Milks web interface.

Google Tasks Canvas Interface

Remember The Milk

One of the most popular task management systems, I felt like it had jumped the shark a bit for me.

As you can see from the web interface, they make it really easy to access the notes, which I like, and easy to add a new task, but it seemed like the focus in how they evolved the platform was scheduling to-dos. If I wanted to-dos scheduled, I wanted it integrated with my calendar. I lose a lot of screen real estate on the iPhone to the ability to view completed tasks (never used it, never will), and look at scheduled tasks (don’t have any). Also, they had focused on things like priorities and location-awareness and these features never helped me. My priorities are all relative: I like re-ordering, not re-prioritizing.

Also, I tried all the desktop widgets people had written for RTM and didn’t like any of them. FWIW.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist is the new hotness right now, but I found the product quite 1.0. I liked that it was a Mac Desktop app and that it had a lot of sex appeal, but there were problems. The iPhone app made it really hard to re-organize lists. You had to go to a separate screen after you had made a task to re-order it. I might have been able to live with that, but the real crime was this: The app did not support notes, it just kept to-dos. Of course, 3 weeks later, it supports notes. So yay for them. I think this app is really evolving in the right direction.

Unfortunately, I decided that all the sexiness of this app was not a completely good thing. GoTasks UI is incredibly utilitarian. Screen space is utilized in a very iPhone way to help me read things more easily and interact with things quicker.

Wunderlist iPhone Screenshot

And I don’t want to hit “Edit” to re-order, don’t want to waste space on the stuff at the bottom.

I will definitely check back with Wunderlist in a year, but I felt like Google has a ton of room to grow in this area and they don’t care about the money. They will just invest crazy resources until they are the default to-do list manager for everyone. Seems like a no-brainer idea for them.

So there you go, the to-do list showdown of 2010 and how it all worked out.

Mobile user agents is kind of a big problem

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Right when you thought browsers were crazy, we enter the mobile era – and I am here to tell you that mobile user agents suck!

Hint: If you are trafficking campaigns in DFP and you target iOS, it only targets iPhones, it will not target iPods. There is no way to target iPods!

Mobile user agents are like rabbits – there are a bunch of new ones every week. If you think about it, we had huge problems with browser user agents and there were only a few and they only came out with a new one once or twice a year. New phones come out every day. And they have things like “new screen resolution” that break everything.

Collectively, that is a loud sucking sound.

Football Strategy and The Things You Don’t See

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

I have blogged a little in the past about football. Here is some more.

I think about football a lot:

  1. Great business idea: A DVD sold on late night infomercials that teach random men to read defenses. I think people want to geek out more when they watch football. The prevalence of “man-caves” speaks to how men want to focus and concentrate when they watch football. Reading defenses and offenses better plays right into this interest. If you know a famous ex-football player (preferably a Hall of Fame Quarterback), please contact me.
  2. I have proposed a Baltimore Ignite presentation several times on reading defenses in Madden and running the spread offense.

Let me pay tribute to Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Many of my theories regarding football are formed as I learn from the pied piper of actually thinking about what is happening, Gregg Easterbrook. Best football weekly update you will read.

Anyway, a couple of formative concepts that I want to pass along:

  1. Great assistant coaches are worth their weight in gold. Kansas City was terrible last year. The only significant thing they changed this year was that the head coach (on the chopping block last year, coach of the year candidate this year) fired his offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator and brought in Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Who are those guys? The guys that were the offensive and defensive coordinators for the Patriots during their first few Super Bowl runs with Tom Brady. Instantly, the offense and defense are more disciplined and better prepared and winning games left and right.
  2. Josh McDaniels just got canned for being a terrible head coach. The guy that hires him as an offensive coordinator will do well. Prior to being head coach for the Bronco’s, he was the Offensive Coordinator for the Patriots during their 16-0 regular season and I loved his play-calling and schemes. He will bring success to a lucky team that snags him quickly.
  3. The most important thing you can do as a head coach is get your Coordinator’s right and solve your QB problem. More coaches get fired for not being able to solve the QB problem than any other reason.
  4. People do not go for it on 4th down nearly enough. This is something that Easterbrook goes after all the time. Let me quote:
  5. Carolina, at 2-12 the league’s worst team, reached the Steelers’ 32 on its first possession — and punted. Who cares if it was fourth-and-5? Who cares if it was fourth-and-32? A 2-12 team punts from the opposition’s 32? The Panthers might as well have run up the white flag right there and left to get blueberry-almond martinis. The punt boomed into the end zone for a net of 12 yards in field position, and I don’t even need to tell you who won the game.

    Basically, if it is 4th and less than 3 and you are past your 40 yard line, I think if you can’t kick a field goal you have to go for it. Show faith in your offense. Show faith in your defense. If you don’t think you can get 2 yards when you need it, do you think you can beat this team?

    Also, if you know on 3rd down that you are going for it on 4th, that opens up your playbook. You are in four down territory all the time.

  6. More hurry up football. Defenses hate this. They love rotating people. Spread the field and snap the ball quickly.
  7. You need to run two trick plays per game. Ken Whisenhunt was great at this when he coached the Steelers. You need to try two trick plays every game. Even if the other team knows you are going to run two trick plays in the game, it is incredibly mentally taxing on the defense when you do it. Flea flickers, reverses, reverse passes, fake field goals, designed roll-outs and bootlegs, option plays, weird direct snaps, all that stuff. I like reverse passes a lot, because I think if you are going to run a trick play, it has to be a shot. Flea flickers rarely seem to work, but the reverse pass seems to be consistently effective – I think that is because the defense on that side feels the need to come up to stop the run, allowing people to get behind them. Flea flickers pull up the safety, but cornerbacks on the edge of the play will typically simply stay with the receivers, making it a hard play to work.
  8. You need to throw deep and throw on first downs. Unimaginative offenses run the ball on first down consistently. This is incredibly predictable. You need to get the defense out of situations they are used to and into situations that you are used to. Similarly, you need to push the safeties back and that means show them that you are unafraid to throw over the top.