Saturday, April 29, 2006

Valleyschwag Boinged

Halfway through the sorting and packing last week I was still having my doubts about Valleyschwag, but when we had the burlap stenciling and tied up with twine I realized that this might be the nicest packaging that most of our subscribers had ever received. I looked at it and realized that I would actually pay the subscription price to be on the list, even as I was packing the stuff myself.

Apparently some bloggers also like the packaging, and the whole experience, because Valleyschwag got blogged a lot last week. Especially important were: Scott Beale - schwag contributor and man-about-town, whose post was picked up by BoingBoing, which some of you may be familiar with. Plus venture-capitalist and blogger David Hornik lent us some legitimacy outside the freakshow circuit.

Needless to say, this resulted in more than a few new subscribers over the last few days. So all your corporate types and venture-backed startups out there, time to empty out your closets and send us ALL YOUR SHIRTS. God knows we need them. The people need them.

So, returning to my standard list format, here are 8 pieces of schwag I'd like to see in a valleyschwag package. (Note that most of these don't exist yet.)
  1. Consumating
    Secret decoder rings that can be exchanged on first dates. I'm not sure exactly what they would do, but it would kick ass.

  2. Flickr
    LED's and tiny laser pens to encourage more lightpainting.

  3. EFF
    Those super-hot SWAT team EFF hats.

  4. Mule Design

  5. Valleywag
    Tiny cameras and audio recorders to spy on our employers.

    Blackboard t-shirts and chalk, so we can make a custom shirt for every event we attend.

  7. MySpace
    Reversible shirts with myspace logo on one side and nothing on the other side, so we can turn them inside out and deny that we have a myspace account.

  8. Laughing Squid
    One live squid.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Archetypes are more employable than real people - Be an archetype!

I'm going to change things up a little bit and try writing in paragraph format. Let's all hold hands and do this together.

I've been thinking about public personas lately. I have a theory that employers/clients prefer to hire a persona, or an archetype, rather than a person or a set of skills/experience.

Of course skills are important, and nobody (smart) will hire someone who doesn't have the skills to do a job. These might be technical skills (can use Visio, can talk without spitting) or softer skills (can understand abstract business concepts, isn't creepy).

Experience is obviously important too. Ideally employers want someone who has done a task before, or has done something similar, or sat near the team that did a task, or worked at a company that had done a task years earlier and failed. (Note: when creating your resume these four types of experience are interchangeable.)

So first employers eliminate all the people who don't have the skills/experience to do the job. In software, this includes almost everyone. I did the math on a task that I've done a few times: designing a web-based instant messaging system for mobile phones. There are about 30 people in the world who have been the lead designer on one of these projects. We'll say there are 6,000,000,000 people in the world total. When you do the math, you get 8.3333333333333333333333333333333e-9. I dropped out of college, so I don't know what this means, but I think I've made my point.

After eliminating almost everyone, a potential employer is left with, say, three qualified people. This is where my theory kicks in.

Employers, especially those who work for huge corporations and feel that they've sold their souls, want to be around people who make them feel good. Good about themselves, good about coming to work, good about the world.

If an employer really loves art, but they're too busy to make art, or go to art galleries, or look at art websites, or appreciate art when they do happen to see it, they can hire an employee who is also an artist. The boss is now a patron of the arts. Your persona, the fake concept of a person that you create to make yourself easily pigeon-hole-able, also makes you more hire-able. The boss has a need for a person who can design a mobile instant messaging system and remove the pain of alienated modern existence. You, with your IM experience and alternative artist persona, can fill that need.

The same concept works with open source coding, volunteering with disabled kids, or riding a motorcycle. "Yeah, I don't ride a motorcycle because of my [bad back/domineering spouse/fear of death], but my friend has a Ducati Monster." Notice that you are no longer an employee, you are a friend.

And nobody would fire a friend.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

8 Things to look for when buying a mobile phone

I have a lot of work to do today (and tomorrow and yesterday) but I'm going to take a couple minutes and compose a post for the people. Hmm...what should it be...maybe something useful. Here are 8 things to look for when buying a mobile phone.
  1. Beauty
    You're going to be carrying this thing around for several years. Unless you wear glasses, your phone is the only fashion accessory that you will always have with you. You might as well get something that makes you happy when you look at it.

  2. Carrier
    This is a complex and important issue. Voice coverage in the places you frequent is the most important feature, so check how your friends' phones work in your house, workplace, favorite bar, etc. I use Cingular/at&t because I can test different phones on the same account, and they have an unlimited internet plan.

  3. Buttons
    Make sure you can press one button at a time and dial in the dark. Some phones have novel key layouts, like keys in a circle or a slightly offset grid. Others have keys that are too close together for big fingers or gloved hands. Avoid these phones - they will make you hate life.

  4. Pocket feel and Face Feel
    A frequently overlooked feature, especially for the dudes (or anyone without a purse): this thing will be riding around in your pocket, and if it feels annoying in there (too big, too thick, nobby) it will make you sad. The Razr is the ultimate pocket phone - it feels great in there. Closely related is the face feel. Does talking on the phone make you feel like a corporate tool or a major dweeb?

  5. Features
    Note that features didn't make the first half of the list. This is because I'm a realist, and I know that if I tell you to buy a phone based on feature set you'll ignore me.

    Here are the features that everyone needs, whether or not they know it yet:
    a. voice calling
    b. contact list synching
    c. text messaging
    d. good web browser
    e. camera

    And here are the features that you should really get:
    f. computer connectivity (bluetooth or usb)
    g. text message/web browser connectivity
    h. great camera with flash
    g. mp3 player

  6. MP3 Player
    I know this didn't even make "must have" list above, but you really must have it. Buying a phone without a good MP3 player now is like buying one without a camera a few years ago. You think you don't want one because your iPod is so great, but once you really have a good phone and music player you'll leave the iPod at home. Mine has been sitting on my bedside table un-charged for months.

  7. Screen
    Get a phone with a big, bright, high resolution screen. Your pictures will look great and you'll be happy.

  8. Wrist strap
    As the Japanese Invasion continues, we will all want little decorations and stuffed animals on our phones. Be sure that your new phone has a place to attach a wrist strap. This will also keep you from dropping your phone in the toilet when you're puking in a bar and calling your ex-girlfriend/ex-boyfriend/mother.
Ok, as a reward for reading the whole thing I'll just tell you: get the Sony-Ericsson w800i.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

8 Tricks to Keep Clients Happy

It has come to my attention that Rubyred clients (and potential clients) sometimes read this blog. In the spirit of openness, I'll tell you some of the tricks I use to keep you happy. Other readers are free to use these tricks with their own clients.
  1. Over Deliver.
    This is the number 1 key to success in all areas of life. Whatever people are expecting, give them a little more. (The reason it's trick: you could just promise something and deliver exactly as expected, but it really doesn't work as well.)

  2. Listen.
    Listen to what the client is saying. As soon as you think you understand, listen some more. Then ask clarifying questions and listen to the answers, then listen some more. Ok, now you can talk.

  3. Take notes.
    When the client is talking, somebody should be writing down what they are saying. Everyong thinks they can remember what was said -- if you actually can, that's great. You are allowed to take notes and never refer back to them. But you still need to take notes.

  4. Refer back to the notes.
    This is part of over-delivering. When following up from a meeting, you should have addressed every issue that is in the notes, even if the client forgot about it. They'll remember eventually anyway.

  5. Bring Cookies.
    Always have some cookies at the meeting. Purchasing decisions often depend on things like cookies.

  6. Get background information.
    This one is so easy it's a wonder that everyone doesn't do before every meeting. Before you talk to a client (or potential client, or anyone) do a web search on their name, their company, and their industry. You need to know what's happening in their world.

    When interviewing people at Yahoo I was always amazed that people would show up having not read a big news story about the company that was published the day before.

  7. Be Funny (and maybe a little dirty).
    People prefer to hang out with those who amuse them. So be amusing. And I don't mean being "wacky" by wearing a funny tie or something. Tell an off-color joke or two. For a while Thor was using Furries (yes, people who like to have sex while dressed in animal costumes) as an example of an under-served demographic for social networking software.

    Being dirty has the added bonus of eliminating clients that you wouldn't really want to work with anyway.

  8. Open Up.
    Get drunk with them. Take them to Supperclub, Relax with cucumbers on your eyes. Let them watch as you are manhandled by an overzealous (and slightly grabby) masseuse. Tell them about how your mother never really loved you. You have nothing to hide, and your clients will trust you more when they know all your dark secrets.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

8 Technologies I Hate (in spite of my livelihood depending on them)

The fact that I am an owner of a technology company leads some people to think that I like technology. This is untrue. Here are 8 technologies I hate but am forced to work with on a daily basis.
  1. Wifi
    I don't care what anyone says, wifi simply doesn't work. It craps out constantly. I'm going out this afternoon to buy two 25 foot ethernet cables so I never have to use wifi again.

  2. iPod
    Everyone holds this up as the pinnacle of design, but like Wifi it just doesn't work very well. Adding a song to the playlist is kludgy, and I always play the song now when I intend to play it later. I hate iTunes too, and my iPod doesn't work with subscription music services, which are the only logical way to buy music. (Just to bait the mac users, I'll add that I feel the same way about almost all Apple products.)

  3. Printers/Print Drivers
    Getting something to print at the right size, in the right colors, with the right page orientation is way too difficult. I still get it wrong about half the time. And I don't think I'm the problem -- HP, Microsoft, Adobe, and Sony should be able to sit down and work this out for me.

  4. Email
    Why do people still reply to the whole list instead of just the sender? (I, like all mortals, am occasionally guilty of this.) I hope somebody is working on creating a new email system from the ground up.

  5. Mobile Phones
    Ok, I'm starting to feel like a curmudgeon. I love my phone.

  6. The Internet
    People often ask me for help with the internet. I'm not very good at the internet. It's too complex, and it breaks all the time. The only reason I'm able to use it is because I've memorized a bunch of arbitrary steps.

  7. The Subway Ticket Machine
    Why does BART (the SF subway) hate change so much? After 5 years riding it I haven't figured out how to go into the station with a $20 bill (the only currency that american bank machines distribute) and leave with the one dollar and two quarters required to transfer to the bus.

  8. Electric Lighting
    When the overhead lights in my office are on this grey box near my desk makes a buzzing noise.

    Nobody is still reading this.

Friday, April 07, 2006

8 Ways to Fake It

One way to be successful is to fake success then let it catch up with you. Here are some ways to fake your way through life without really hurting anyone.
  1. Count to five before answering any question.
    I learned this from my friend Matt. When someone asks you a question, especially in an interview/work type situation, look off into the distance and count to five then answer the question as usual. You will seem thoughtful and deep. This trick works way, way better than it should.

  2. Send email late at night.
    After you leave work at 4pm and drink until 2am you'll feel like going home and passing out. This is a fine idea, but right before you pass out open your email and find something from your boss (or whomever you want to impress) and write a very specific reply to one of the points she raises. Now she will think you were up working hard all night. It doesn't hurt to "accidentally" cc all you coworkers.

  3. Repeat what somebody else just said.
    When somebody says something smart in a meeting, nod your head and say "I agree, we should (instert exactly what they just said here)." Now you are essentially a co-sponsor of the idea, regardless of whether you know what you're talking about.

  4. Make up meanings for acronyms.
    My sister insisted that "DSL" stood for "Digital Super Laser" for about a year and everyone thought she understood something that they didn't. Note that this can backfire completely if someone actually knows what the acronym stands for.

  5. Talk about airline mileage programs.
    I don't remember who first turned me onto this one, but it totally works. Whenever someone talks about spending a lot of money or doing something that doesn't make sense (say, running up credit card debt) say "at least you can get airline miles for it." People trust you more if they think you fly on airplanes a lot.

  6. Nod in agreement.
    Nod your head when people say things you don't understand. When they ask you if you know about [neuroscience/plumbing/linux] say "I know a little, but I'm interested in learning more." You don't have to mention that the "little" you know is whatever they just said.

  7. "I thought about doing that."
    It's always great to establish common ground with someone by having done the same thing. "Really? I used to work in a fruit canning factory too." Failing this, you can always say that you thought about doing something that they have done. "Yeah, I've been working for software companies my whole life, but I thought about being a deep sea fisherman for a while after high school." "I thought about entering the seminary for a while, but I pretty much stuck to bartending." Note that you aren't lying as long as you ever, ever thought about it, even if it was only long enough to realize what a terrible idea it was.

  8. Read the plaque.
    Whenever you see a plaque read the key points and bring them up in conversation before you forget. You'll seem like a smart person who is well versed in a variety of topics. "Uhh, I think sea lions prefer to eat small fish and crustaceans. These ones have been getting sick lately because tourists feed them bread." "Well, I think it's interesting that this building was the only one on the block to survive the '06 earthquake. It didn't fare so well in the big zeppelin raid though."