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Curating Startup Genome PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dirk   
Tuesday, 03 December 2013 21:25

I remember the first time reading through the Startup Genome report being impressed with the data assembled on successful VC-funded startups. Instead of opinions, here were facts. And I remember thinking that it would take a lot of effort to increase the sample from funded startups to including the non-VC funded startups, successful and otherwise.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to act as a curator for the Startup Genome, where I help assess Chicago startups so they can be added to what is becoming a very large database. The original Startup Genome report has also birthed Compass, which provides insight for startups, but www.startupgenome.com continues as a curated site to allow startups to find each other and resources.

So, if you're starting a company in the Chicago area, please let me know!

What is a Spend Plan? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dirk   
Wednesday, 17 July 2013 20:10

A Spend Plan is like a budget, except it accounts for timing and sporadic items.


A budget says $1000 on rent, $350 for car payment, $450 for food, $100 for entertainment.

A Spend Plan says $1000 for rent on the 31st (and monthly thereafter), $350 for car payment on the 15th, $80 on Saturdays for groceries and $35/week for lunches out, $50 next Friday and $10 a week. Plus $10,000 for the house payment due next March and $110 for license plates due in December.

This allows for much tighter cash planning and behavior modification that may allow someone to forego more credit cards, loans, and just plain running out of money. Because you may really want that house, but you'll have to control your spending to get it.

If you'd like to create a Spend Plan, and find significant savings, go to www.spendbot.com, or visit the blog at www.spendbot.info/blog.


Last Updated on Monday, 29 July 2013 14:43
Adios for now PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dirk   
Thursday, 18 April 2013 16:05

I've been updating this website very infrequently and it is only going to become more infrequent as I put my time into Spendbot (and future ventures). These past five years have been interesting and occasionally fun, and I look forward to staying in touch with the hundreds of customers, business associates, and coworkers I've enjoyed meeting over the years. I'd like to leave you with a few of my favorite sayings, some I made up and others I haven't:

1. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Answer: the Farmer. So make your plans and get going;

2. If you have a customer, you have a business;

3. There are those who make things happen and then there are those who watch (not mine);

4. Don't overestimate what you'll accomplish in a year, nor underestimate what you can achieve in five (not mine);

5. In a world where 3 billion people live on two dollars a day or less and want to do our jobs for half price or less, money's going to be tight for a lot of people for a long time;

6. E is for Entrepreneur; also for Ediot.

7. Nearly every successful company has failed before succeeding- it's why they have financing "rounds";

8. You can't try unless you try;

9. Odds are, 90% of people would be worse than your current partners, and 5% better, but those 5% are probably already doing something better;

10. Treat others as you wish to be treated (not mine);

zài jiàn for now!

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 April 2013 16:26
Importing Old Thunderbird Email Files into Windows 8 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dirk   
Thursday, 08 November 2012 01:04

So you've upgraded to Windows 8 and reinstalled Thunderbird only to find out that your old emails- including inbox and sent- are now missing from Thunderbird. Thunderbird has a nice utility to import emails from other clients like Outlook, but not from old Thunderbird installations. Perhaps the instructions below will help, although I take no responsibility for how this works on your machine. It worked on mine.

First, exit Thunderbird. Next, find your old emails. You have to search the windows drive of the old computer, or in windows.old if you've upgraded a computer to Windows 8 from preview edition. Look for Thunderbird/Profiles/Mail and in that Mail folder you should see a folder named random letters.default. Inside that you should see one folder that says Local Folders, and another with a name that corresponds to your email account. Open that folder.

In that folder, you will see files like inbox and inbox.msf.  DO NOT DELETE OR MOVE ANYTHING. Instead, make a copy of these files, either on your desktop or onto a USB drive. Rename them to something to indicate to you they are old, like inboxold and inboxold.msf, or inbox2012 and inbox2012.msf, making sure they're not the same as an existing folder name.

Now, find your current email profile folder by searching your current windows directory, again for Thunderbird/profiles/mail. When you open that .default folder and the folder corresponding to your email account, you should see more files with names like inbox and inbox.msf. These are your current email files.

Now, copy your old email files that you renamed into this folder. None of them should have the same name, if they do DO NOT replace, rather go back and make sure the file names are unique. Once these files have been moved into this folder, you can start up Thunderbird and you should see your old emails in these old files.

If this works for you, great, feel free to drop me a line and let me know.



Last Updated on Sunday, 11 November 2012 17:00
On new ideas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dirk   
Thursday, 06 June 2013 18:32

"There are no new ideas". Mark Twain and many others have used this phrase to frame their remarks on innovation and creativity. But saying there are no new ideas because they are just collections of old ideas is like saying there are no new poems because they're just collections of old letters. W, R, O, N, and G are the old letters I apply to this thinking.

New distribution models, new uses of technology, new organizations, new financing schemes, and the oldest new idea of all- let's try this- yield opportunities at every turn. While it may be safer to cobble together familiar ideas with a minor tweak, I'm drawn to ideas that involve perhaps two or three changes from the norm. In fact, I'd say this is a requirement if you're seeking internal and external consistency in your approach. Rarely will one tweak fit in with the rest of a proven model to yield the greatest success.

A new idea isn't a guarantee of success; execution is much more important. Google didn't start with any secret ideas; everything they did in search was public information. In pursuit of our new ideas, we've developed a considerable amount of expertise in cloud technologies, running up against the limits of current (public) offerings when it comes to things like modeling capacity and error-proofing privacy. Consequently, we're developing our own tools and solutions, and our time at 1871 has been marked with more collaboration than we've experienced in years. We may fail- or succeed- but at least we're learning, and it's tremendous fun. And I like having decades of experience in suspecting what's new and what's not and managing the risk of learning so that our fun doesn't cost too much.

So if you have a new idea, feel free to let me know. I'd love to help you learn.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 June 2013 21:50
Built in Chicago and agile development PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dirk   
Wednesday, 23 January 2013 04:57

I attended Built in Chicago's Startup Launch event at Rockit Bar, where an old friend and advisory board member's company presented their technology. They have signed a few dozen beta customers and have learned a great deal about their market in the limited pilot they've been conducting. I was struck by how many companies have adopted an Agile development focus, where quick implementation, evaluation, and improvement is preferred over long planning cycles, and it reminded me of my efforts-while starting a contract manufacturing business within GTE many years ago- to shrink prototyping cycle time from the standard 12-16 weeks down to 2-3 weeks. I learned quite a few lessons along the way.

The first lesson I learned is that if you want to get something done, the best way is to do it yourself. We had a department responsible for prototypes. Imagine their surprise when I pulled a few engineers together to build a new module in 24 hours vs. the 2-3 weeks typically budgeted for just construction. And after being told that artwork masks cost thousands of dollars and took at least two weeks, I made quite an impression by finding a supplier who could deliver at 1/10th the cost in just 24 hours.

The second lesson I learned is that mistakes happen, so finding those mistakes early and assuring they're truly fixed is more important than finding someone to blame when the planning process proves inadequate. However, this requires very solid test and corrective action methodologies. One of the great strengths of agile is the ability to find mistakes, quickly iterate, and have test devices completed earlier so that there is time for adequate field testing. As the old saying goes, while you can always invent better idiot-proofing, God can always invent better idiots. There's nothing worse than finding this out after production launch.

The third lesson I learned is that the Corrective Action process has to be robust. There can be no tolerance for root causes of "Operator Error", or "Machine Malfunction", or "Act of God", or "Criminal Behavior". These are sure-fire signs that someone did not ask "why?" enough to arrive at a root cause that can actually be addressed with an effective, error-proofed, solution.

The fourth lesson I learned is that Agile (or Just-In-Time, or Lean) does not mean seat-of-the pants. Planning is still required. It's just that there's no time for the creative process in the planning. Go with what you know now, build, and evaluate, as opposed to providing days and weeks for new ideas of what could go wrong to bubble up. The time required for creative ideation will come in parallel with building and testing, and additional input will be gained.

A fifth lesson I learned is that people will change if they see the benefit. This requires an understanding of the competitive landscape and the emerging forces that threaten to overtake the status quo. This is one of the reasons that lesson one can be so powerful.

I'm sure we learned many more lessons in our 25 years on the vanguard of cycle time reduction thanks to the prodding of customers such at AT&T, Motorola, HP, GE, GM... as well as smaller companies intent on out-maneuvering their larger competitors. As I'm increasingly involved in software and web development, I see a great many areas where these lessons learned are being found out anew today, especially as the knowledge base grows to Tower of Babel-onian proportions.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 June 2013 21:51
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