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Micah April 15th

My Grandmother Once Told Me

For the past several days, I have been contemplating life.

I do this often. It’s almost a ritual at this point. I stop. I review. I think about things I have done; I question why I did them, and evaluate them. I try to learn from things I have done and havent done. I guess at the future; at alternative paths decision points could have created.

And, I do this quietly for the clarity it brings.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by a Japanese magazine. I get interviewed now and again, mostly about startups, often about Graphicly. This time, when asked why Graphicly, “It about the stories,” jumped out of my mouth.

One of the realizations I have come to over the past few days, is that I love story and love to tell stories.

It’s the legacy my grandmother left me.

My grandmother, who died last year, told stories constantly. Some would call her a liar. I called her inventive. Some were amazed at her tales. I was impressed with their ever-changing plots.

She would sit with me for hours spinning a tale that I would remember for years. As she got older, I would remind her of the story of the prince that lived in a speck of dirt that could only escape in a soap-bubble.

And she would tell me of the continued aventures of the tiny prince.

She taught me that everything is about the story. Everything is about how its told. It’s about the connection between words and imagination.

It’s what gets me so excited about what we are doing at Graphicly. We are enabling people to converse around story. We are helping to build community around imagination. Mostly, we are supporting the story tellers.

My grandmother once told me that stories were what bound communities together. Shared experiences and beliefs recounted in simple ways. We all love to slay the dragon and woo the princess. We strive to be the hero. We want to save the world.

“Give me a chance,” we demand in our stories. “Give me a chance, and I will change the world.”

Everything builds around the story. The truth, the lies, the inconsistencies, the reveals.

I miss my grandmother’s stories. I find that when I am contemplating my life, I often hear her voice telling my story. I see the curved corner of her mouth indicating that she knows the truth is malleable, and that the story is better for it.

In my daily life, I lean on the story. I talk in pictures, I see problems and solutions visually, and find explaining issues is easier when there is a bit of a story surrounding it. “It’s like my grandmother once told me,” I explain. “Our users are like the little prince living on his own little planet. They want their planet to be theirs, but they also want to show it to their friends.”

Story lives everywhere. Today I read a post written by a friend about three other friends. The quick of it: Sarah Lacy wrote a post about how Bijan Sabet‘s Spark Capital reneged on a term sheet that was presented to Lauren Leto and Patrick Moberg of Bnter, enraging the NYC investor world and showing that VCs are evil.

It’s always hard reading Sarah’s posts because I know that she writes in a way that forces the reader to love or hate the content and, by association, her. It’s a great style that clearly drives a lot of readership.

As I finished reading the story, my first reaction was a mix of disappointment in someone I have a ton of respect for (I have told Bijan that he is one of three people I would love to have on a board one day) and disappointment for two people who I have a ton of respect for (Patrick drew a picture a few years ago that got me to dive into blogging with both feet, and Lauren is an interesting mix of focus, savvy, luck and energy  — and while this sounds stalkerish, I am fascinated with the fascination people have with her, and the image she has cultivated. Plus they are both cool as shit. People I’d probably hang out with and invite to my parents house if they ever happened to be in my home town.).

But, as I stepped back and started to think through the story — and there is no doubt that regardless of the amount of truth present, it’s a story — it began to remind me more and more of my grandmother’s twinkle.

The evil VC; the wide-eyed and naive entrepreneurs. Their cliché hollywood moment. And the anger and outrage that ensued.

Did it happen? No idea.

But here is what I know: Bijan is one of the most standup people (let alone VC) that I know.

And, when I wrote my post that 2011 is going to be the year of women entrepreneurs, my biggest mistake was missing Lauren. She is neither naive or wide-eyed, and with Patrick could very well make Bnter the biggest story of 2011 (if it can move outside of NY effectively).

I am excited to speak at Big Omaha with Sarah. She is a fantastic storyteller. Her ability to weave truth, opinion and supposition into a relatable story is second to none. Hate or love her, her writing is amazing.

And when I am at Funded By Night in Detroit, I will certainly be excited to hear about Bnter’s progress and what Lauren has planned (and, of course, which VCs are going to be lucky enough to be part of that future), and commiserate about investors that bailed out at the last minute or came in at much, much lower amounts that originally promised).

My grandmother once told me that an adventure not worth telling a story about was not worth going on.

We entrepreneurs have plenty of stories to tell, and at the end of the day, it’s the adventures and stories that make it all worth it.

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4
Micah December 30th

Joining or Starting?

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and in respond to the “Built it and they will come argument,” I said “people like to be part of a conversation, not start a conversation.”

Yesterday, Anil Dash wrote a post about his life on the Twitter Suggested User List. He discussed (among other things) that Twitter quickly released that its a lot more fun to be on Twitter if you have friends.

Web companies spend tens of thousands of dollars on building amazing web applications. The Ajax is just right, and the user experience is amazing. But, often they assume that with a simple post in Mashable or Techcrunch, people will come and use their app.

I dont think Twitter did much thought around the Suggested User List. Certainly, they had no idea it would become such a topic of conversation. I can imagine the discussion.

“Man. A ton of people sign up and never do anything.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Well, they arent following anybody, so their stream is pretty empty.”

“Huh. thats interesting. So people with content in their stream tend to use our application more?”

“Yeah.”

“What if we suggested people to follow?”

“GENIUS!”

Its like throwing a party. No one wants to be the first to arrive, not because its a fashion no-no, but because there is no conversation going on. Its so much easier to come in the middle of the party, and jump into a conversation already in progress.

Seems simple, right? But so many companies, awash in the glow of the results of their launch PR, forget its about building and sustaining the conversation. As we get close to launch – (January 6, at CES! EEK!) – I think a lot about how do we create a place where people can come and join the conversation. A place where people are welcomed, because the conversations are comfortable.

Frankly, its the same with blogging. So many people will start a blog and write a post or two. “No one is commenting!” they exclaim. “Blogging sucks!” They decide to market themselves. To push the blog by commenting on other blogs, tweeting about their blog, etc. But conversation wont start by bringing people to the blog. With blogging, the blogger starts the conversation and invites people to join in. Bring people with you to the blogging party. Ask friends to check out the posts you have written, and comment (if its applicable).

People dont want to start conversation. They want to join.

One is a push, and one is a pull. People want to be pulled into the activity. To the energy that is around them. Dont force them to create energy and excitement for what you are doing or building. Draw them in, get them to participate. Empower your readers or users; dont provide them expectation.

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26
Micah November 10th

Lets All Do The Crowdsource

Have you heard of the new dance craze that all the kids are doing? Its call the Crowdsource, and it goes like this:

  1. Throw your hands in the air and scream “Man! We are super busy!”
  2. Shake your head and yell “Have you heard of the craze sweeping the nation? Its called the Crowdsource. The Crowdsource!”
  3. Shrug your shoulders and exclaim “Its cool. You get everyone else to do your work for you!”
  4. Then you clap your hands, smile and with a knowing, hip smile, laughingly announce “Lets do this!”
  5. Repeat until you realize that you are a moron and have no clue what crowdsourcing is.

In 2006, Jeff Howe coined the term in a Wired article. Referring to the practice of presenting a problem to an unknown group of people in the form of an open call. To be exact, on his blog he defines it as such:

Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.

Jeff wrote “the” book on crowdsourcing and among other positives, crowdsourcing problems tends to be free and give real customer insight.

Those two points: insight and lack of cost have led so many companies to attempt to use the “wisdom of the crowds” to solve their problems. For some, like Threadless, it has been a wonderful success. For others, not so much.

One of the outcomes of the rise of crowdsourcing has been the proliferation of spec work (here is the video from a panel about Spec Work from SXSW 2009):

What seems to be missing from the conversation is that not any problem can be solved through crowdsourcing. For example, a friend sent out a tweet that said (paraphrasing): “I want to crowdsource this. What blogs do you read?” Thats not crowdsourcing, thats a survey.

I realize that for many crowdsourcing has jumped the shark, and this post is a bit late to jumping on the crowdsourcing has jumped the shark bandwagon (after all bandwagon jumping has also jumped the shark, and I believe if you look into your heart of hearts, jumping the shark has jumped the shark as well).

But, crowdsourcing, using your passionate users to make a product that they can be more passionate about is still pure genius. Here is a great example.

I bought a TomTom 740 Go Live and instantly was amazed by the accuracy of the trips. I had a Garmin Nuvi 1490 for a few days prior to swapping it for the TomTom, and I was really disappointed in the traffic and the directions. I have a specific route from San Francisco to my parents house in San Jose that after years and years of driving the route, I have determined to be the fastest.

The Garmin took the safe route. The TomTom took the “right” route. What was the difference? TomTom crowdsources its maps and directions.

Taking data from all the TomTom’s in use (sort of), they get the actual speeds of roads at certain times, versus the posted speeds. They also allow their users to submit map updates. In approximately 30 days, there were more than 6,500 updates to the maps. Include that with custom POI updates (I now have all the Apple Stores in the US), and you have a product made better by its users.

Thats crowdsourcing in a nutshell. Will asking your customers to solve a problem improve the product? Will you be able to put out a better product because your crowd (not any crowd) is involved in its growth?

You see, thats the secret of crowdsourcing. Effective crowdsourcing only works if 1) your community is passionate about your success; and 2) you have an existing open dialogue with your community. Threadless is a great example.

Build passion and communication with your community, and the ability to effectively crowdsource the solutions to important problems will be as easy as the box step.

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