Three Unusual Sources of Startup Ideas

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I believe that any startup idea, even if it’s an obviously bad one, can be pivoted into a bigger and better idea, so getting started is probably the most important step in making an idea into a successful execution. Sometimes entrepreneurs spend way too much time dwelling on the idea – on a piece of paper, or in the name of the company.

While mentoring TechStars companies over the last five years, I’ve seen what I would consider bad starting points – small markets, bad value prop, high operational cost for low LTV – become billion dollar ideas. Executing them is the hard part, for big or small ideas, for good or bad ideas and that’s where you should focus. To help you find a better idea so you can spend your energy on execution, I’m listing three very unusual sources of idea generation:

The Built-In Apps

Big companies in charge of big platforms have a slower shipping cycle compared with startups. As much as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple or Twitter claim to be entrepreneurial and fast moving, they are not (they were at some point). Steering a very large boat takes time. Here lies the opportunity for entrepreneurs. Anything that’s built into that platform that could be replaced is a great candidate for you to attack. It took Gmail 10 years to update their Contacts experience. iPhone’s calendar app is a joke. Amazon’s AWS cloud resources management took many years to get to an OK point. That gave the opportunity to many entrepreneurs to identify those opportunities and launch alternatives.

But there are more to be done. Each new iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, AWS, Twitter or Facebook release that exposes new functionality and it has some “built-in” app/service/component, it won’t be updated for a year or two, maybe more. As a startup, you can learn what it does, understand pain points & feedback, and create features that address those problems. Of course you’ll be competing against the “default” app, so many people will tell you to go home. But if you truly create a much better product, people will notice, start using and telling their friends.

Recently Acquired Startups

startup-tombstoneThere are many reasons startups get acquired. Some get acquired for their talent, some for the customer base, some for the underlying technology and some for their revenue. It turns out that revenue is usually the least likely reason a startup is acquired. This presents an interesting dynamic. If a company bought a startup, not because of the prospective value of its business, what’s the buyer incentive to keep the direction of the product as is? Answer: very low.

Most of the acquisitions (guesswork here since I have no real data) lead to the acquired product being shut down in the first two years. Sometimes, pieces of the technology make their way through the main acquirer’s product. But rarely existing users are happy or satisfied with the results, and frequently previous users/customers are upset, angry and venting on social media. You probably had that feeling as well when a product you use often got acquired by a big company, and you just know that you’ll get screwed at some point.

Well, here is the opportunity for you, the entrepreneur. You can’t time the market, but odds are you can be close to timing when a product will decay in value or be shut down after their acquisition. So, the business idea is to start a competitor to product X as soon as X is bought by a big company. By the time your product is hitting the market, your previous bigger competitor will be slowly dying and once their customer revolt you come in as the savior.

Recently Shutdown Startups

Startups fail for reasons far and wide. From poor management to ops cost, from high burning rate to dead ends. Of course, sometimes they die for not finding product-market fit in time and investors or founders decide not to continue the chase. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad idea. It doesn’t even mean there wasn’t a market for it. How many brilliant products go the way of the dodo because the execs didn’t understand a distribution strategy, marketing or customer acquisition?

If I were you, I’d pay special attention to startups that get some traction (press, users, partnerships, etc.) and failed. Or startups that shut down and caused lots of users on Twitter or social media to complain, bitch or whine about it. You are looking for passionate customers left in the rain. This means there is demand, but the supply failed to deliver.

A List of 120 Seattle Founders and Entrepreneurs

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There are many things that are very hard in an entrepreneurs’ journey. That said, finding out role models, mentors and advisors is not one of those anymore, primarily because of social media and new levels of acceptable transparency for founders.

I put together a list of 120+ founders in the Seattle region you might find it very valuable if you are just getting started. Some of these are successful serial entrepreneurs, and some are just in their first steps. Enjoy it.

Founder & CEO at Bizible
Co-Founder, CEO, & Night Janitor @bizible. Uniting marketing & sales one company at a time. We call it #pipelinemarketing
CEO & Founder at EnergySavvy
Co-founder EnergySavvy – If you’re not enjoying an energy efficient home, I personally invite you to join modernity!
CEO & Co-founder at Simply Measured
Co-founder/CEO @SimplyMeasured, trying to make analytics & reporting easy. Golfer, breakfast enthusiast, favorite Excel function is COUNTIFS.
CEO & Co-founder at Haiku Deck
Co-founder/CEO of Haiku Deck, hand-model, interpretive dancer. Committed to saving lives, one presentation at a time.
Founder at Play Work Studio
Founder @ Play Works Studio. I design fun science games for girls and boys.
CEO & Founder at Whitepages
Founder and CEO of @WhitePages
CMO & Co-founder at Meshfire
CMO and co-founder of @Meshfire. Destroyer of Boredom. SaaSassin. Forbes Top 50 Social CMO.
CEO & Founder at Infinut
Software Designer and Developer. Mother. Building educational apps for my daughters to teach them math concepts. Adjunct Faculty at U.W.
Co-founder & VP Engineering at Front Desk
Will travel for food #GoHawks
Founder & Product at Outreach
Head of Prouct at @Outreach_hq, founder. Dive in the deep end – if you want it bad enough, you’ll figure out how to swim.
Founder & CEO at BuddyTV
Entrepreneur
Co-founder & Head of Customer Success at Bizible
I feel more like I do now than I did when I got here. ATA: @bizible
Founder at Leah’s Kitchen
CEO & Co-founder at Wellpepper
CEO and co-founder @wellpepper, clinically validated to improve adherence to patient care plans, m-health blogger, skier, hiker, foster parent, dog lover
Founder & CEO at MangoSpring
Founder/CEO, MangoApps Inc.
Founder & CEO at ResolutionTube
Founder & CEO, ResolutionTube
Founder & CEO at Shippable
ceo @beshippable, wildlife photographer, scotch lover
Co-founder & CPO at Simply Measured
Co-founder of @simplymeasured. I build things that make people’s lives easier and do everything passionately.
Founder & CEO at Cheezburger Network
CEO of @Cheezburger. Co-founder of @Circa. (Sorry I yelled at you during Werewolf.)
Founder at Smartsheet
Founder/chairman of http://t.co/HxPCM7tFvv – coordinate anything with anyone.
Co-founder & CEO at Gratafy
Co-founder & CTO at BevyUp
Co-Founder & CTO at BevyUp
Co-founder & CTO at SquareHub
Entrepreneur . CTO . Co-Founder @SquareHub @BookieJar . French . Tech savvy . Geek . Snowboard/ski lover #startup #pnw
CEO & Co-founder at Glympse
Co-founder & CEO at Dato
CEO and Founder, GraphLab. Amazon Prof of Machine Learning, UW. Loves data, machine learning, biking, and long walks on the beach. @graphlabteam @UW
Founder & Chief Product Officer at LiquidPlanner
Co-founder and Chief Product Officer at @LiquidPlanner. Project manager, software designer, gamer, techie – you get the idea.
Founder & CTO at Simply Measured
Relentless creator. Co-founder of @simplymeasured. Crawls social graphs for fun.
CEO & Founder at Glowforge
CEO of @Glowforge and http://t.co/htzu9GtOsm. Formerly Google, Sparkbuy & Ontela. Author of forthcoming O’Reilly book on startup CEOs. Lucky dad.
CTO + Co-founder at DevHub
CTO and Co-founder at @devhub / EVO Media Group
Founder & CEO at Affinity.IS
Daniel Todd is an Internet Entreprenuer, CEO and Founder of Affinity.IS
Co-founder & COO at Lively
COO and Co-Founder, Lively
Founder & CEO at Tango Card
Tango Card Founder & CEO
Founder & CEO at TINYhr
Angel investor and serial entrepreneur who loves growing the people who he works with. Currently building http://t.co/efmtODgn and http://t.co/g2yPNxiL.
Co-founder & Product at Limeade
Listener/dreamer/doer. cofounder+product @limeade. cyclist; quantified self + car nerd.
Founder & CEO at Placed
Founder and CEO of Placed
CEO & Co-founder at Sensoria
Doing well by doing good
Co-founder & CEO at ReadyPulse
Lead ReadyPulse. Hack triathlete. Father of 3 Daughters
Founder & CEO at Tatango
I invented the text message… Also the founder of http://t.co/PMXghZNjZD
Founder & CEO at PhotoPad
PhotoPad~Your Story ,Your Design,Your PhotoAlbum Director, Founder Institute http://t.co/S5nO7sctja Ambassador To The Children Of Olive Crest!
CEO & Founder at Algorithmia
CEO and founder @algorithmia, ex- Program Manager @msexcel and @mspowerbi Business Intelligence., @techstars mentor. player @quakerugby
Designer & Co-founder at Skilljar
Founder & CEO at Meshfire
Founder & CEO of @meshfire. Serial entrepreneur. Built my first SaaS startup in ’02, took five SaaS products to market. Irredeemable @Audi fan.
CTO & Co-founder at Ada Developers Academy
software developer | founder of @brandworthy and @adaacademy
CEO & Co-founder at LendingRobot
27% financial quant, 25% entrepreneur, 20% designer, 18% in high tech toys, 12% in unconventional wisdom, at least 2% wrong.
Co-founder & CEO at NQuiry
Startup co-founder with too many interests. Food Nerd, Writer, Runner, Yogini, Shoe Addict, Wino.
Co-founder & VP of Customer Success at Auth0
Electrical engineer, software practitioner, amateur mechanic, builder. Co-Founder and VP of Customer Success at Auth0 (@auth0)
CEO & Founder at Estately
Founder and CEO of Estately. Mentor at 500 Startups. I ❤ customer acquisition, user experience and building companies.
Founder & CEO at BitTitan
Entrepreneur, Innovator, Inventor, CEO | Works at @BitTitan | Cloud enablement provider for Office 365, hosted Exchange, Identity Management, Security, and more
Co-founder at Glamhive
Founder @Glamhive & Founder @IMM (Intermundo Media). Growth hacker who hopes people on Twitter are more interesting than people on Facebook.
Founder at Code.org
Founder, http://t.co/5A38giBqk4. Entrepreneur, startup advisor/investor.
Co-founder at Jackson Fish Market
Co-Founder of Jackson Fish Market. Author of the Madrona Heroes books.
Co-founder & CEO at Lively
finance, technology, medicine/health
CEO & Founder at Julep
CEO & Founder of Julep @julepmaven. Entrepreneur, wife, mom, sister, daughter and girlfriend. http://t.co/0ZvDRJ7nmZ. Instagram: @janeparkjulep.
CTO & Co-founder at Skilljar
CTO and co-founder @skilljar
Founder & Chief Designer at Jackson Fish Market
Founder & Chief Designer of Seattle Software Studio: Jackson Fish – creators of http://t.co/ERmJ9ZNP, http://t.co/XELdVkBe, & dozens of other products/projects
Founder & CEO at Groundspeak
Jeremy is the President of Geocaching HQ
Founder & CEO at ExtraHop Networks
Founder & CEO at Rival IQ
Digital marketer, SEO & Co-founder @RivalIQ. To all marketers who follow me please give Rival IQ a try and tell me what you think. http://t.co/E16iwjBk8F
Founder & CEO at Zipwhip
CEO at Zipwhip.
Founder & CEO at API Science
Founder, API Science and ProgrammableWeb. Tracking how open APIs are changing everything.
Co-founder & Product at Remitly
Co-founder of Remitly. Product guy. Problem solver.
Co-founder at Booktrope
Books, business and the business of books. Mom. Marketer. Co-Founder of Booktrope. Submissions are open! http://t.co/q27HzqEMOH
CTO & Co-founder at Payboard
When I grow up, I want to be a theologian.
CTO & Founder at Algorithmia
Founder / CTO at Haiku Deck
I’m Kevin, co-founder and CTO of Haiku Deck. My life story is here: http://t.co/xGDiDwd27T
Founder & CEO at Socrata
Founder & CEO of Socrata. Passionate about Open Data.
Co-founder & CTO at Socedo
Co-founder & CTO of @socedoapp with the mission of bringing social #leadgen to every business in the world. Husband of 1, dad of 2, tech and sports junkie.
CEO & Co-founder at Koru
Koru ceo and co-founder. global citizen, rule-bender, connector, education innovation junkie, semi-reluctant urbanite with barely controllable skiing addiction.
Founder & CEO at MyFive
Cofounder/CEO of @Biznik; Founder/CEO of @My5. Crusader for small biz & indie workers.
CMO & Co-founder at PicMonkey
Spiel and SpinMaster. Co-Founder @PicMonkeyapp. Wife. Mom of boys. Dog, Cat, and Chicken feeder.
Co-founder at Wedding Happy
Co-founder @weddinghappyapp with @vizsladriver • the planning experience is as memorable as the event • lefty • INTP • math @NYU • opinionated
CEO & Co-founder at Jobaline
Cofounder and CEO @Jobaline | Investing and Executive advising, High Tech, Internet, Digital Media
Founder & CEO at Magicflix
Tech Entrepreneur, Founder @Magicflix (Techstars ’14), @InvestmentYogi, previously @travelocity
Founder & CEO at Moment
An entrepreneur, creator, and builder. Co-founded Contour + Moment (http://t.co/ivxaQ8jnLr)
Co-founder & CTO at EveryMove
Co-founder & CTO at @EveryMove; Seattle Startup Instigator.
CTO & Co-founder at Sensoria
I delivery positivity above every expectation, when you are nice to me! Tweets are my own.
Founder & CEO at Avvo
Avvo CEO. Orbitz board member. Gonzaga board member. Visit Avvo for *free* legal advice and ratings for 98% of U.S. lawyers.
CEO & Co-founder at Zealyst
Cofounder & CEO of @Zealyst. @WitSeattle Board Member. Enthusiastic about all things startups, mediating, Seattle, whiskey & running.
Co-founder & CTO at Auth0
CTO and Founder at Auth0 @auth0. Crypto geek. Culture maker.
Founder & CEO at Porch
CEO and Co-Founder, Porch (http://t.co/MIVvFikjcq)
Co-founder & CEO at Remitly
payments. digital currencies. startups. fintech. remittances. HBS. Dartmouth. Remitly CEO
Founder & CEO at Pro.com
Founder/CEO http://t.co/WApvMPBMKP. EIR at a16z. Former CEO of Digg. Founder of LiveBid. Amazonian for life.
VP of Dev & Co-founder at Sensoria
Founder & CEO at Geekology
Founder & CEO of http://t.co/RQ4O9MY2AB | http://t.co/5MvCPgVaoI. I love people, technology and startups. My universe centers around technology job market.
Co-founder & CEO at usermind
Co-Founder and CEO of usermind, inventing a new way to BizOps, having fun and dreaming
Co-founder & VP of Engineering at ReadyPulse
Entrepreneur, Technologist, V.P Engineering at @ReadyPulse, Geek, UX enthusiast, Husband of a Loving Wife, Father to two wonderful daughters
CTO, Co-founder at Apptentive
CTO @ Apptentive. Mobile, Ruby/Rails, MongoDB, APIs, Sailing, Skiing, Seattle, UW MBA, and Dad to Identical Twins
Founder & CEO at Reveal
Founder and CEO of Reveal. Optimist. http://t.co/4ZNeSXdk8Y, https://t.co/w6oY19sev3
CTO, COO & Founder at Leisure Loyalty
CTO, Web Architect, SaaS Loyalty Platform
CTO & Co-founder at Venuelabs
CTO @ Venuelabs, geek, do-er of things.
Founder & CEO at Distelli
Software Engineer and Entrepreneur. Founder @distelli – I’m not a pirate! rsingh was taken so arr…singh it is!
Founder at Moz
Founder of Moz, husband to @everywhereist, teeny tiny investor in Techstars Seattle, blogger, traveler, feminist, and evangelist of all things SEO & TAGFEE.
Founder & CEO at Blab
Blab Inc CEO, Porsche greaser, bike commuter & Mr. Happy
Founder & CEO at Runway2Street.com
Founder & CEO @runway2street1. Instagram: @Rathnas Past Lives: Microsoft, UPS
Founder & CEO at Health123
co-founder & CEO of a kick-butt startup; long-term technologist, fierce idealist
CEO & Co-founder at Apptentive
I like to build things. Co-founder, Apptentive (http://t.co/N3U4tOK5fm).
Founder & CEO at 9slides
Founder CEO @9slides, Chairman Shobhit University Alumni Network, Advisor @Byteridge, Ex-Microsoft PM. Let me know how i can help you.
Co-founder & CEO at EveryMove
Co-founder and CEO – EveryMove Healthcare entrepreneur; Dad; Crossfit fanatic, Trail Runner, UCLA Anderson, https://t.co/Eku1YkbheI
CEO & Co-founder at Skilljar
CEO and Co-founder @Skilljar. Helping instructors teach online. Stanford GSB, MIT, Amazon.
Co-founder & CTO at Avvo
CTO – http://t.co/4V1b4jh6Go, ex-Expedia, ex-Microsoft
Founder at Rival IQ
Founder @RivalIQ. proud father. husband to @munchkininchief. @SeatownCrossFit. Ph.D. from UW @csenews.
Founder & Product/Engineering at Rival IQ
Tech dude, photographer, climber, husband, father; co-founder of @RivalIQ; creator of @aviforecast
Co-founder & Engineering at Remitly
Co-founding Engineer @Remitly (Beamit), hands on guy with a Do-it attitude! #TechStarsSeattle Alum, @CarnegieMellon grad
Co-founder & CEO at Foodista.com
Co-Founder & CEO of http://t.co/2cvMdRsa (@foodista), the recipe, cooking, & food news source; and of the International Food Blogger Conference (@IFBC).
Co-founder & President at ReadyPulse
Co-founder & President @ReadyPulse. I tweet on Social media, non-profits, and politics.
Co-founder at Glamhive
Co-Founder, Glamhive
Co-founder & CTO at PushSpring
Geek & Founder
Co-founder & VP of Marketing at Magicflix
Mompreneur, Founder and VP Marketing @magicflix. Love tech, marketing, dogs; Obsessed with content and ad tech. Formerly @facebook, @weareaditi.
Co-founder & CTO at ReadyPulse
Co-founder, ReadyPulse. Find out how much your Twitter followers and Facebook fans are worth at http://t.co/JT6cQJ6umO
Founder at Rival IQ
Tech entrepreneur. Founder of http://t.co/M79y14CL51, Gist (sold to BBRY)…mentor at #techstars, #startupweekend. sailor, runner, biker, husband, father.
Co-founder & CEO at Fizzmint
CEO @Fizzmint, Director @hackthepeople, leader, keynote speaker, author Women In Tech fall 2015, webcaster, geeknerd, mentor, Trekkie, scientist, poker player
Co-founder & COO at Tagboard
Co-Founder and COO of @tagboard. Fan of disruption and innovation. Recovering M&A deal-doer. Lover of family. Obsessed with cars and F1.
Co-founder & CEO at Poachable
Co-Founder & CEO of @Poachable. Formerly @Google @HarvardHBS @BowdoinCollege.
Founder & CEO at RealSelf
realself is my everyday obsession.
Founder & Head of Product at Glowforge
Design founder at http://t.co/Vw2L6tMVcO (we’re hiring devs & designers!). Founder of @rescuetime (YC08 / True Ventures). Builds with pixels, code, & atoms.
Co-founder & CTO at CareZone
Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer, CareZone
CEO & Co-founder at Bonanza
bonanza ceo, developer
Founder at WeLearnLive.com
Marketing Science Geek @Microsoft, Founder http://t.co/8u1aiKxNqc Business Model Junkie, Trendspotter, Lover of #Startups, Passionate about innovation

Note: This is not a list of all entrepreneurs/founders in Seattle. If you know more people you find interesting, just add as a comment below.

ClassDojo is an unethical and damaging product for Kids (& parents)

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[UPDATE: The comments sections of this post is full of astroturfing — fake comments by fake users. The all come from the IP address 104.244.24.92 pretending to be real teachers (Jarrett B, Jennifer Molak, Susan G, Caroline F., Tatiana H)]

I believe most organizations and people are positive to society even when they have a negative side to it (everything does). ClassDojo is negative, and I fear that if it becomes a reference model – due to its misunderstood success – it will have a dramatic negative ripple effect in early education. If you were concerned about Facebook’s Newsfeed manipulation study last year, you should be orders of magnitude more concerned about ClassDojo. It’s about manipulating kids!

Let me start by saying I’m not an education expert – neither are the founders of ClassDojo, by the way. However, due to the nature of my work around health, fitness and incentives, I’ve been immersed in the latest research on motivations, incentives, social behavior, behavior economics, compliance, etc. Human nature is one, so it doesn’t matter the application, the fundamentals are the same.

I also have no financial interest in the success or failure of ClassDojo, or any of it’s competitors. My only interest is to stand for what I believe, particularly when kids mental health is at stake, and I can’t be silent about it.

Learning about ClassDojo

I was driving to work listening to a podcast about teaching kids how to code. I got to the office and typed some keywords into Google and bumped into ClassDojo.com – I was looking for CoderDojo, actually. My first reaction to ClassDojo was what a great idea it is. As soon as I read what the product was about and watched a quick video on their website, my brain could not stop churning about the awful thing that ClassDojo is doing.

I found this New York Times article from a couple of months ago. It focuses on privacy, consent and ethics of collecting kids’ information, but as you can see, there are a gamut of issues with it.

What is ClassDojo?

Straight up, ClassDojo is a gamified reinforcement engine for elementary students, in which the teacher creates the rules, awards points and has full control over the “game”. In simple terms, students create an avatar to represent themselves and are awarded points for doing things the teacher thinks is “right”, or taken points away for what’s “wrong.” At the teacher’s discretion, that’s done in front of all other kids in the classroom so that all students can learn from the success and failures of others.

Parents can sign up to learn about their kids earned and lost points and reinforce the behavior or message even more at home.

What is the problem with ClassDojo?

Some of the problems with ClassDojo are very obvious, and some are more nuanced. I will go through a list of 7 of the most egregious problems.

With any technology, tool, process or methodology, its value is just as good as the people using it. Some teachers and parents will have a better understanding of it, and will work around the negative aspects of ClassDojo, but some won’t even realize these problems exist.

Here is why ClassDojo is unethical and dangerous:

#1 – It’s a compliance tool

Ignore every marketing gobbledygook from ClassDojo, what it boils down to is that ClassDojo is a compliance tool. Compliance tools are designed to get people to comply with a regimen. The dictionary defines compliance as: “The act or process of doing what you have been asked or ordered to do.” The opposite of compliance is disobedience, defiance, and deviance. We don’t want that in the classroom, do we? So what’s the problem with being a compliance tool?

First, it’s an easy way out. It’s much harder for a teacher to tell a student why she should or shouldn’t do something than to say “you get 1 extra point if you do it this way.” Second, compliance also focuses on uniformity. You can’t have different rules for different students depending on their needs. Either you have a rule that applies to all students or you have no rule at all, which means the last few decades of investing in different learning styles is going out of the drain. Third, and a little more subtle, is the fact that compliance punishes diversion (and failure) – more on that later.

#2 – It’s *NOT* about positive reinforcement

Here is their homepage claiming to be about positive behavior.

CLASSdojo-HP
A researcher named B.F. Skinner is the father of reinforcement behavior (positive and negative reinforcement). If you are up to it, go read about him on Wikipedia. His work, Operant Conditioning, has evolved tremendously since his time, and it defines this matrix:

Pleasant Stimulus Unpleasant Stimulus
Adding/Presenting Positive Reinforcement Positive Punishment
Removing/Taking Away Negative Punishment Negative Reinforcement

Here are a few of the tools at the disposal of teachers with ClassDojo:

  • Student does something good and earns points: Positive Reinforcement
  • Student doesn’t step up and doesn’t earn points: Negative Punishment
  • Student does something bad and loses points: Negative Reinforcement

There is more to it. Since teachers are doing this in front of other students, there are reinforcement and punishment being felt by all students. If you want to learn one strong case against it, read Alfie Khon’s book Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason or some other of his books.

#3 – It Changes the focus from learning to earning

Having worked in the behavior/motivation “industry” for the last four years, I find it incredibly hard the act of creating motivation, but not so much the act of changing someone’s focus. Kids are naturally motivated by doing and achieving. By creating a classroom game, they will focus on, and optimize for, earning points, badges, and trophies while the focus should be on learning. The ultimate goal should be learning things, not to pass on tests or get points.

Don’t mistake this to the debate about grades and tests at schools. One thing is being rated by what a child has learned, another is being rated/rewarded for how a child behaves. You can pre-order Josh Stumpenhorst book The New Teacher Revolution that talks about the problem with current grade system.

#4 – It Kills Creativity & Independent Thinking

You know a great way to learn? Failing! You know a great way to create empathy for fellow kids in your classroom, saying something mean and having the other kid cry and feeling, deeply, awful about it. Listen to this video of Louis C.K at Conan O’Brien.

With a ClassDojo rule book of behavior, kids are less likely to deviate and try anything new. If it doesn’t seem I’ll get a point for it, I’ll do something that will give me a point. If I know a behavior will make me lose a point, I won’t even try it.

#5 – Zynga-effect, Dopamine & Endorphin Dependency

ClassDojo could create a drug-like dependency on kids, the same way that people who played Farmville felt. You need more and more of it until you can’t satisfy yourself anymore, and you can become obsessed. Seriously, do we need an unnatural dopamine and endorphin inducing experiences in the classroom? Has anyone even questioned this?!

It’s unethical! Don’t mess with kids brains. Read Nir Eyal’s post titled The Morality of Manipulation. Manipulating adults is one thing, and it could be quite unethical, manipulating kids without fully understanding the consequences is at a whole new sphere of irresponsibility.

You’ll get awesome short and near term results until the whole thing unravels. Here lies the danger, a short-term perception of success at the expense of dramatic long-term impact on these kids. Will they be more likely to be unhappy in life? Probably. More likely to have depression, drug dependencies, lack of satisfaction? Well, if science is your guide, yes, they will be more likely to all those things (research endorphin and dopamine addiction if you care).

#6 – It empowers the powerful

There are bad teachers out there. Some teachers are already abusive and overpowering. Some teachers pick on some students because they don’t like how they speak, or because of their religion, race or their parents. Some classrooms have this imbalance of power in which the teacher thinks he’s a God and the students are his minions. Yes, this is the minority of teachers, and this tool doesn’t create these problems but exacerbates them. And it also could exonerate those teachers’ decisions… “I was just using the tool.”

#7 – Lifelong Impact

If the above problems didn’t convince you that ClassDojo could have a long-term negative impact on your child’s future, how about this: This is not how college works (or high schools) and it’s not how the workplace works. There won’t be anyone telling young adults what’s appropriate and what’s not. They won’t learn how to read others people reaction and know how to adjust to it because they are waiting to get the +1 / -1 they were used to. They might be lacking or having underdeveloped emotional and social skills necessary to succeed in life

I know nothing, we know nothing!

I’ve been an avid consumer of behavior, education & parenting books and information on the web. I’ve been to seminars, conferences and talks by John Gottman, Jim Fay, Carol Dweck, Gordon Neufeld, Ashley Merryman, Nir Eyal, BJ Fogg, and many more. We – as a society – still know very little about child development, education, behavior science, and parenting. We have come long ways over the last two decades, but there are decades of research to be done for us to have a good grasp on it.

It’s not just because ClassDojo seems to be doing well as a business that it means it’s a good thing. Cigarettes and McDonald’s are good businesses. Product-Market Fit (a startup term to indicate a business that’s working) is not proof that this is meaningful, important, valuable or that it even should continue to exist.

So, you are saying that reinforcement & gamification is bad?

No, I’m not. Contrary to some educators and psychologists who take a hard stance against rewards, I’m not one of those, but I think ClassDojo for all the things I mentioned above did it completely wrong. Khan Academy, on the other hand, put the learning at the center and made the reinforcement the after the fact subtle praise. And there are other education-related services that are doing fantastic work with kids, like AltSchool, an amazing startup doing some amazing work in early education. Check them out.

What should I/we do?

My concerns is about a company and its philosophy. I’ll assume that ClassDojo founders and employees are well-intentioned, but they are either being ignorant about the very core of what they are doing or they are turning a blind-eye to these problems.

If you are a teacher, I take my hat off to you. Your work is incredibly hard, and I couldn’t do your work. However, I urge you to read the books, articles and authors that I mentioned on this post and make up your mind about it. Even if you want to use ClassDojo and address all the issues and concerns I mentioned above, you’ll be going against the grain of this tool. Just drop it and use something else. Heck, just tell me what something else you want and I’ll figure out how to build it for you.

If you are a parent, pressure your school and teacher to stop using ClassDojo.

Grab people’s attention by the symptom, not by the cure.

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We might think highly of what we’ve created. We might think we have a great, unique and revolutionary solution for a problem. We want the world to know about it. We speak in witty form, touting our approach, and… No one comes. Actually, no one listens. They don’t even know what you are talking about it.

You heard the famous quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. He didn’t build a faster horse. He saw a completely unique and revolutionary approach to transportation and he solved it. However, if he had taken an ad in a newspaper and announced “Buy an automobile to go places” people might have totally missed the point. “Automobile” was such a foreign concept. You have to tie into what people are looking for and are familiar with, either an existing solution you’re competing with (“horses”), or the symptom of the problem they are trying to address (“go places faster”). Below is the first advertisement for a car, from 1898.

First US ad for an automobile, 1898.

Back to the Future

Here is a better example: Weight Loss. Weight Loss is the symptom of bad lifestyle choices. If you want to lose weight, you need to change the choices you make. But can you imagine someone advertising “Better lifestyle choices”? Unlikely. People look at a symptom they see or feel and go search for a cure for that symptom. They don’t know what the cure is most of the time.

Kurbo is an amazing startup focused on helping kids lose weight. Kurbo knows that weight is a consequence, in great part, of nutrition (and physical activity). So they need to help kids change their eating habits and the weight loss will happen as a consequence. If they took the high-road and never mentioned weight-loss in their advertising, the people looking for them might not find it. But they had a bigger problem, the symptom they are trying to cure (being overweight) carries a stigma with the user (kids), so they have to be even more careful about what they talk about in the description of their product.

If you build a product that people don’t want, it doesn’t matter what you do for marketing, you are screwed. But even if you build a product that people do want, you still have to get people to first find out you exist!

Resources for a Startup CTO in Seattle (+ 42 CTOs on Twitter)

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Let’s be honest, most developers, including yours truly, are more in the introvert side of the scale. Between going to a social gathering with strangers or cuddling with a complex software engineering challenge, we pick the latter nine out of ten times. So if you are an aspiring startup CTO or VP of Engineering, or you are just getting started and could use some mentoring and guidance, how do you do it?

First, there is a couple of lists on LinkedIn that are not specifically about startups, but about “CTO-ing” in general: the Seattle CTO Club and the Greater Seattle CIO/CTO Group. There are also several meetups that you can connect with other startups CTOs and the like, as the Dot Net Startup group (founded by yours truly, but I don’t run it anymore), Appy Hour (Mobile apps), and a plethora of tech-specific gatherings like Seattle JS, Seattle Scalability Meetup and Docker Seattle.

In addition, there is no better way to get connected than getting plugged into what other CTOs are doing and talking about, so I compiled a list of 42 startup CTOs in Seattle for you to follow and be up-to-date on events they attend, blogs they read and more.

VP of Engineering at Placed
Co-founder & VP Engineering at Front Desk
@frontdeskhq co-founder / vp engineering
VP of Engineering at RealSelf
I’m just a geek
Chief Engineering and Product at iSpot.TV
Chief of Engineering and Product at http://t.co/uXWVXgeD5n. Father of three wonderful boys. Husband to only one wonderful wife!
Co-founder & CTO at BevyUp
Co-Founder & CTO at BevyUp
Co-founder & CTO at SquareHub
Co-Founder/CTO @ SquareHub & BookieJar. Former CTO @ ValuValu & MotionBridge. Entrepreneur, tech savvy, early adopter & geek. Love snowboarding, France, PCNW
CTO at GreaterGood
CEO of http://t.co/eI90nyWSIS. Interest: faith, business, technology, adventure.
Founder & CTO at Simply Measured
Relentless creator. Co-founder of @simplymeasured.
CTO + Co-founder at DevHub
CTO and Co-founder at @devhub / EVO Media Group
CTO at Spare5
From startups to Amazon and back again. CTO and Co-Founder, Spare5.
CTO at FlexMinder
Founder & CTO of FlexMinder. @techstars Seattle 2011 Alumn. Cyclist. Golfer. Enjoyer of good beer.
CTO at AssureStart
Technologist, Porsche Enthusiast, Golfer
CTO & Co-founder at Ada Developers Academy
software developer | founder of @brandworthy and @adaacademy
CTO & VP of Product Development at Limeade
Entrepreneur, CTO, Enterprise SaaS, Dad
CTO & Co-founder at Skilljar
CTO and co-founder @skilljar
CTO at CloudKibo
Co-founder & COO Uhuru a PaaS Cloud, that bring the best of .NET and Open Source together. http://t.co/775h0EmcqV
VP of Engineering at Navigating Cancer
VP of Engineering at Navigating Cancer. Software development leader in Seattle.
CTO & Co-founder at Payboard
When I grow up, I want to be a theologian.
CTO & Founder at Algorithmia
VP of Engineering at AnswerDash
Seattle Tech Geek, Vespa Fan, English Shepherd Owner.
Founder / CTO at Haiku Deck
I’m Kevin, co-founder and CTO of Haiku Deck. My life story is here: http://t.co/xGDiDwd27T
Co-founder & CTO at Socedo
Co-founder & CTO of @socedoapp with the mission of bringing social #leadgen to every business in the world. Husband of 1, dad of 2, tech and sports junkie.
CTO at Zooppa
CTO @ZooppaUSA. Startups, Technology, Web, Design, Business, Teams, Ideas, Ruby on Rails and Entrepreneurship
Co-founder & CTO at EveryMove
Co-founder & CTO at @EveryMove; Seattle Startup Instigator.
CTO & Co-founder at Sensoria
I delivery positivity above every expectation, when you are nice to me!
Co-founder & CTO at Auth0
CTO and Founder at Auth0 @auth0. Crypto geek. Culture maker.
Co-founder & VP of Engineering at ReadyPulse
Entrepreneur, Technologist, V.P Engineering at @ReadyPulse, Geek, UX enthusiast, Husband of a Loving Wife, Father to two wonderful daughters
CTO, Co-founder at Apptentive
CTO @ Apptentive. Mobile, Ruby/Rails, MongoDB, APIs, Sailing, Skiing, Seattle, UW MBA, and Dad to Identical Twins
CTO, COO & Founder at Leisure Loyalty
CTO, Web Architect, SaaS Loyalty Platform
CTO & Co-founder at Venuelabs
CTO @ Venuelabs, geek, do-er of things.
CTO at Pathable
Haha made ya read!
CTO at Reveal Chat
Hacker, slacker, code cracker. … also CTO at Reveal.
Co-founder & CTO at Avvo
CTO – http://t.co/4V1b4jh6Go, ex-Expedia, ex-Microsoft
Founder & Product/Engineering at Rival IQ
Tech dude, photographer, climber, husband, father; co-founder of @RivalIQ; creator of @aviforecast
CTO at PlaceFull
CTO @myplacefull, Former @Google guy.
CTO at Buddy
CTO @ http://t.co/eGMAC3Gd4x. Train hard. Code happy.
Co-founder & Engineering at Remitly
Co-founding Engineer @Remitly (Beamit), hands on guy with a Do-it attitude! #TechStarsSeattle Alum, @CarnegieMellon grad
Co-founder & CTO at PushSpring
Geek & Founder
Co-founder & CTO at ReadyPulse
Co-founder, ReadyPulse. Find out how much your Twitter followers and Facebook fans are worth at http://t.co/JT6cQJ6umO
CTO at Experi
One of the infinite monkeys trying to type Shakespeare.
Co-founder & CTO at CareZone
Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer, CareZone

[UPDATES]

Playing in the right business zone

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If you are a product manager, by title or role, you are probably familiar with the matrix describing where you should spend your resources. It states that features that are used by most users most of the time are worth spending more than features that are either used by just a few users or just a few times in the users journey through your product.

What if we superset this thinking into your whole business. What if instead of “your users” we use “all population” and instead of feature usage we replace it with an individual annual need for your product.

For example, buying a house is something that is done by about 60% of the US population, and they stay in their house for an average 13 years. That means between age 25 and 80, individuals that buy a home might go through that process only four times in their lifetime. Another example is reading the news. Approximately 80% of adult Americans read the news on a daily basis.

If you collect enough of these events and plot on a chart, you end up with something like this.

Freq-mock1

What’s not represented in this chart is the dollar value of the transaction. Although the average person might buy a new cellphone just about the same number of times that she takes a long vacation, one has a cost of a couple hundred dollars while the other is about a few thousand.

That line of thinking led me to the idea opportunity zones chart. It’s meant to represent opportunities for VC-scale business, not services business, not mom & pop business, not big business expansion, but startups that can become big business.

Freq-mock2

No startup zone: This is where you have people life events that happen just about once or twice in a lifetime and by very few people. It’s very hard to jump start a business in this segment.

Tough to scale zone: Even though it could happen somewhat often, the lack of mass demand means this is possibly a very fragmented target audience and unless you can have a high per-transaction profit, you can’t build a big business. Imagining serving very few customers, but making a lot of money from each.

I’m doing it for passion zone: It’s just like the Tough to scale zone, but you could build a decent business here. It probably is not a VC business because it doesn’t have the $100M in revenue potential (that’s the bar for some VCs to even consider your startup). However, if you can bootstrap or use some other form of capitalization you can have a good deal for yourself.

High ticket price zone: This is a very exciting zone if you are talking about transactions into the thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even though is not super frequent transaction, it is frequent enough for the number of people doing it that you can reach revenue scale.

Only basic human needs zone: If you can figure one of the basic human needs that inhabit that zone — people must have it — then go for it, but the frequency is low enough that a nice-to-have would not survive in there. A few examples of events in this zone is picking a new school for your child or replacing the furnace in your home.

You need a big brand zone: Things that you do once every one to ten years, like buying a new car, a house or even a mobile phone. The reason you need a brand is because of discoverability. You won’t be top of mind for folks if they don’t do it that often. That’s why car companies spend so much money on brand awareness campaigns. BMW needs to create a very strong brand image over a long period in your mind for when you are ready to buy a luxury car to pick their product. You are better off playing the fat startup game, than the lean one if you want to play in this zone.

Finally, the last two zones on the top right are where you want to play. The “red ocean” zone is where you’ll see the highest number of competitors and unless you have something that’s a technology breakthrough or is a unique and clearly better (a.k.a. revolutionary) value proposition, your screams for attention will drown in the middle of a thousand others doing the same thing. The unicorns are here. There are riches, but it’s a winner takes it all game. This zone represents mobile gaming, photo sharing, social media, e-commerce/marketplaces, etc.

But the zone just below the red ocean is where the most opportunities exist for startups. Where people might do a task from a couple times a year to a couple times a week. Where it’s not a 100% penetration as to not be obvious to everyone this is a problem, but it’s not such a small segment of the population to make it unattractive. This is where gender-specific needs exist (like Dollar Shaving Club, Stitch Fix & Julep), or popular hobbies solutions (for fitness, cooking, book reading, blogging), or entertainment (video games, niche content sites).

If you are in the early days of your startup and building a big VC-backed business is your goal, I’d advise you to think how you can increase the frequency a customer transact/experiences your product and how you can create a broader appeal. It doesn’t mean you have to tackle the biggest market you can think of, but you have to be able to articulate how you’ll find a wedge into the market and expand from there.

A breakdown of EveryMove technology costs in 2014

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It’s very hard to predict how much it will cost to run a startup or all the services we’ll need to use. When we get started, we make very basic assumptions of the R&D and operational services we’ll use, but we lack comparables to know if we are off. Even if this is not your first startup, so many new and better services come to exist. I thought it would be useful for many entrepreneurs out there to share what year 4 of EveryMove was like so others can use as a reference. Each startup is distinctly unique. I haven’t seen this level of breakdown, and I’m sticking my neck out there writing this post.

First and foremost, I’m not doing this from an accounting perspective, meaning that I’m not helping CFOs as much as I’m helping CTOs. And by sharing this information I also hope to learn and improve on how we develop and operate EveryMove.

The tables have information on how much we paid in 2014, how many months we have used the service and what was the monthly average cost of the subscription (if it’s a Saas product). They also have a short description of what we are using it for, and what are the plans for 2015 (Y = continue to use).

Some services have a setup or other one-time costs that doesn’t necessarily reflect the real monthly subscription cost. For example, our subscription for The Resumator is $159 a month, but we bought Job Listings directly from the service. Other products we’ve made a one-time purchase (like PRTG) or we are using a free tier (like App Annie).

Day-to-day

Company/Product TOTAL Category Months Avg. Monthly What for Continue in 2015?
Atlassian $8,699 D2D 12 $725 Jira, Confluence, Gliffy Y
Dropbox $2,439 D2D 12 $203 File sharing Y
Google Services $1,950 D2D 12 $163 Google Apps (email, calendar, docs, etc.) Y
HipChat $522 D2D 12 $44 Internal IM service Probably replacing with Slack
Microsoft $3,016 D2D 12 $251 Office 365 subscriptions, Azure & software licenses Y

HR

Company/Product TOTAL Category Months Avg. Monthly What for Continue in 2015?
The Resumator $4,354 HR 9 $484 Job applicant track system Y
TheMuse $1,494 HR 6 $249 Company page for job applicants Maybe (we cancelled our subscription, but if we have 3-4 openings for devs I would do it again)
TinyPulse $1,038 HR 12 $87 Company culture feedback tool Y

Marketing

Company/Product TOTAL Category Months Avg. Monthly What for Continue in 2015?
App Annie $0 Marketing 12 Mobile ranking, competitive marketing & API Y (probably moving into the paid plan)
Hubspot $1,280 Marketing 3 $427 Landing page, conversion & messaging testing Y
Mailchimp $725 Marketing 12 $60 Marketing emails Y
SurveyMonkey $240 Marketing 12 $20 Y
Vimeo $109 Marketing 12 $9 Video hosting Y

Operations

Company/Product TOTAL Category Months Avg. Monthly What for Continue in 2015?
Amazon Web Services $780 Ops 12 $65 S3 & other services Y
Bitly $0 Ops URL shortening service N (we replaced with in-house solution)
DataDog $1,731 Ops 12 $144 Code Performance diagnostic Probably retiring and using NewRelic only.
Desk.com $1,157 Ops 12 $96 Customer support management tool Y
DNSimple $322 Ops 12 $27 Domains management Maybe (considering Google Domains)
Eligible API $30 Ops 12 $2 Health Insurance APIs Y
Full Contact $397 Ops 12 $33 Help identify a person authority over a company Y
KeePass $0 Ops - - Password management Probably replacing with LastPass
Mixpanel $328 Ops 3 $109 Feature analysis, retention, etc. Y
Moz $0 Ops 6 Moz API to get domain information Y (we used it for a while and we’ll use it again in 2015)
Neustar $6,922 Ops 12 $577 IP Geolocation Maybe, due to high price we are considering alternatives
New Relic $3,942 Ops 12 $329 Performance & QoS monitoring Y
Pingdom $479 Ops 12 $40 Service monitoring & alerts Y
PRTG $0 Ops Low-level monitoring of servers & services Y
SendGrid $6,510 Ops 12 $543 Transactional email service Y
Softlayer $95,810 Ops 12 $7,984 Cloud & server hosting Y
Splunk $171 Ops 12 $14 Bugsense: Mobile error tracking Y
Stripe $0 Ops Payment processing Y
Twilio $50 Ops 12 $4 SMS/Phone hacks here and there Y
UrbainAirship Ops 12 $0 Push Notification Y (although they have really tighten up the screws in revenue, so it’s becoming quite expensive)

Product Development

There are a lot of dev tools not included here either because they were free or because we already paid for them previously.

Company/Product TOTAL Category Months Avg. Monthly What for Continue in 2015?
Adobe Systems $5,342 R&D 12 $445 Subscription to Adobe Cloud for Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. Y
Balsamiq $79 R&D - Design mocks Y
Github Social coding $600 R&D 12 $50 Source code management Y
Jetbrains $498 R&D - Licenses to ReSharper & TeamCity Y
Lucid Software $59 R&D 12 $5 Diagram/chart tool N (replacing with Gliffy)
Specctr $25 R&D - Adobe PS/AI extension for redlining Y

Sales

Company/Product TOTAL Category Months Avg. Monthly What for Continue in 2015?
DocuSign $1,086 Sales Contract management Y
Go To Meeting $644 Sales 12 $54 Videoconferencing service N (Join.me does a great job)
LogMeIn $860 Sales 12 $72 Join.me: For presentation screen sharing Y
Salesforce $2,210 Sales 12 $184 CRM Y
Salesloft $650 Sales 6 $108 Sales prospecting automation Y
Toutapp $2,610 Sales 12 $218 Email template & tracking for sales N

32 Founders & CEOs of Tech Startups in Seattle Who Are Also Women

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There is a lot of great talent in Seattle who are building tech startups. Sometimes it can be laborious to find them, and if you are looking for advisors, mentors or role models, or if you want to be plugged in with what great entrepreneurs are building – who are also women – I compiled the Twitter list below in an easy to follow format. Go ahead, get plugged in.

I’m sure I missed some, so feel free to add a comment and I’ll try to update the list. This list is not a comprehensive list of women-in-tech, women-in-business or even great inspiring women, it’s only of founders or CEOs of tech startups in Seattle who also have a Twitter account.

CEO at Formotus
Mother, wife, entrepreneur, geek, Romanian, mentor, mentee, leader, pilates, skier, healthy cooking
CMO & Co-founder at Meshfire
CMO and co-founder of @Meshfire. Destroyer of Boredom. SaaSassin. Forbes Top 50 Social CMO.
Co-founder & CEO at ChattingCat
We got one last chance to make it real || God is not dead || the beatles really love jenifer
CEO at GiftStarter
@GiftStarter #CEO #Founder @Cornell | #Blogs #Design #Strategy | Collector of shiny people + ideas. Welcome to my world of #love, tech & #women. Tweets r mine.
Founder & CEO at PhotoPad
PhotoPad~Your Story ,Your Design,Your PhotoAlbum Director, Founder Institute http://t.co/S5nO7sctja Ambassador To The Children Of Olive Crest!
CTO & Co-founder at Ada Developers Academy
software developer | founder of @brandworthy and @adaacademy
Co-founder & CEO at NQuiry
Startup co-founder with too many interests. Food Nerd, Writer, Runner, Yogini, Shoe Addict, Wino.
Co-founder at Glamhive
Founder @Glamhive & Founder @IMM (Intermundo Media). Growth hacker who hopes people on Twitter are more interesting than people on Facebook.
CEO at Hopela
Founder & CEO of Hopela. @HopelaTweets. Building happy products that people love.
CEO & Founder at Julep
CEO & Founder of Julep @julepmaven. Entrepreneur, wife, mom, sister, daughter and girlfriend. http://t.co/0ZvDRJ7nmZ. Instagram: @janeparkjulep.
Founder & Chief Designer at Jackson Fish Market
Founder & Chief Designer of Seattle Software Studio: Jackson Fish – creators of http://t.co/ERmJ9ZNP, http://t.co/XELdVkBe, & dozens of other products/projects
Co-founder at Booktrope
Books, business and the business of books. Mom. Marketer. Co-Founder of Booktrope. Submissions are open! http://t.co/q27HzqEMOH
CEO & Co-founder at Koru
Koru ceo and co-founder. global citizen, rule-bender, connector, education innovation junkie, semi-reluctant urbanite with barely controllable skiing addiction.
Founder & CEO at MyFive
Cofounder/CEO of @Biznik; Founder/CEO of @My5. Crusader for small biz & indie workers.
CMO & Co-founder at PicMonkey
Spiel and SpinMaster. Co-Founder @PicMonkeyapp. Wife. Mom of boys. Dog, Cat, and Chicken feeder.
CEO at LiquidPlanner
CEO at @LiquidPlanner. Entrepreneur, marketer, neat-freak, mom.
Founder & CEO at Magicflix
Tech Entrepreneur, Founder @Magicflix (Techstars ’14), @InvestmentYogi, previously @travelocity
CEO & Co-founder at Zealyst
Cofounder & CEO of @Zealyst. @WitSeattle Board Member. Enthusiastic about all things startups, mediating, Seattle, whiskey & running.
Founder & CEO at Geekology
Founder & CEO of http://t.co/RQ4O9MY2AB | http://t.co/5MvCPgVaoI. I love people, technology and startups. My universe centers around technology job market.
Founder & CEO at Runway2Street.com
Founder & CEO @runway2street1 Past Lives: Microsoft, UPS
Founder & CEO at Health123
co-founder & CEO of a kick-butt startup; long-term technologist, fierce idealist
CEO & Co-founder at Skilljar
CEO and Co-founder @Skilljar. Helping instructors teach online. Stanford GSB, MIT, Amazon.
CEO at Moz
CEO of Moz. She likes baked goods, reading, goofing around with her son, and bad music.
Co-founder & CEO at Foodista.com
Co-Founder & CEO of http://t.co/2cvMdRsa (@foodista), the recipe, cooking, & food news source; and of the International Food Blogger Conference (@IFBC).
Co-founder at Glamhive
Co-Founder, Glamhive
Co-founder & VP of Marketing at Magicflix
Mompreneur, Founder and VP Marketing @magicflix. Love tech, marketing, dogs; Obsessed with content and ad tech. Formerly @facebook, @weareaditi.
CEO at OfficeSpace.com
CEO, http://t.co/drOgx38wum. Passionate about entrepreneurship, education and living healthy. I’m always on the move. I like to laugh.
CEO at Keylime Toolbox
I tweet a lot about being stuck behind trains. I’ve ramped up tweeting about digital marketing at @keylimetoolbox, if you’re more into that.
Founder at WeLearnLive.com
Marketing Science Geek @Microsoft, http://t.co/KvC46fWVXv Business Model Junkie, Trendspotter, Lover of #Startups, Passionate about innovation in #Africarising
CEO & Founder at Fleetfit
(UPDATE: This account has been deleted since I did the list last week)
UPDATE: More accounts…

Couch to Marathon

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The science of physical activity is exceptionally good — particularly if you compare to less understood lifestyle sciences, like sleep, stress, addiction, behavior, and nutrition – so there isn’t much that a non-expert like me can add to the conversation. But since I’ve done it, I went from zero to running a Marathon, I can share my own experience, talk about my own mistakes and the mistakes I’ve seen done by people around me who tried and failed.

It’s worse if you are physically fit

I can’t tell you the number of times I heard a story of a fit person who never ran and get badly injured after start running. The worse case I know of is an acquaintance that broke a bone. These people share a common trait, they have been exercising for a long time, so their heart and muscles are in top shape. They start running and don’t get tired as a typical new runner would, so they push themselves. But their biomechanics is not accustomed to running, so they get bones, ligaments or tendons injuries.

It happened to me to a certain extent. I started running in 2011, but I was a couch potato. I wasn’t overweight, but I didn’t exercise more than playing sports once in a while. I signed up for a half-marathon to find motivation – it worked – and went to do a first test run. I was able to run 5K (walking + running) so I was excited that I could start my training at that point. Two weeks in (after 5 or 6 runs), I had a foot injury. I could barely walk, and after going to the doctor I was put on run-rest for two weeks and get orthotics.

One of the things training plans designed to get you started on your first 5K do is to make sure you start super slow. It can take easily six to eight weeks for you to adjust to running, even if you are super fit, so taking it slow is critical.

Knee pain

Nine out of ten friends who tried to run and quit tell me the same story: my knee hurts. It actually happened to me. Halfway my four month training to my first half-marathon, I was crossing the 6-mile long runs and I started feeling knee pain, in just one knee. Every weekend would be the same thing after that, run 7 miles, have knee pain, limp back to the house, ice it, put Icy Hot and be OK in a couple of days. I had no problem during the 3 or 4-miles run during the week, but after 6 or 7, it was always bad. When I run my first half in June 2011, after mile 10.5, my knee was in so much pain that I had to walk the rest of the race. It was incredibly painful, disappointing and unsatisfying!

Running is a repetition sport. You do the same movement 60-100 times per minute. Each minute adds up a little. A slightly unbalance in a muscle strength or posture, even if just a millimeter after a while starts to create inflammation. This is not different than carpel tunnel / tendonitis in your hand if you use a mouse or keyboard for too long. Personal trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists and chiropractic, particularly the ones who specialize in sports medicine, are exceptionally good at identifying biomechanical problems and prescribing a set of exercises or stretches that will address your need.

For me, like for a lot of runners, it was a weakness of the IT band, a muscle that connects from the hip to below your knee. It’s the muscle that becomes weaker and weaker the more you sit. Guess what? We sit a lot in our lives. Knee pain, the vast majority of the time, it’s nothing else than an indication of an IT or hip muscles problems. Train those muscles and you are good. A few typical exercises are very good for those muscles, including squats, rollers, monster walk (yeah, that’s a thing), etc. Search for IT band or hip muscles stretches and you’ll find excellent tips online. I also started using a standing desk. Hard in the first few weeks, but then you get used to it.

Finally, posture during running makes all the difference. When I registered for the Chicago Marathon in 2013, I knew that I needed to step up. The knee pain – still present but less so – and everything that I didn’t know about running wouldn’t take me to the finish line. So I’ve got a personal trainer. Among the many things, he pushed me to see a physical therapist.

My first visit to the physical therapist, she did a gait and posture analysis in a treadmill setup with laser sensors and camcorder. Holy shit, it was bad. They showed me all the wrong things I was doing, from raising my feet too much to turning my feet outwards on each step, and from leaning a little to the left to hitting the ground with my heels.

I won’t go into too much detail, but the secret that worked for me is to run leaning forward (as if you are about to fall forward), hitting the ground with the middle or front of your feet, never with your heel, and having short strides so you don’t spend too much energy lifting your heels at each step.

Holy shit! It worked amazingly well. In July 2013, it was the first time in two years that I ran more than 7 miles and had no knee pain. Zero. Not only that, but because of my better posture and new running style, I felt a lot less tired because I was spending a lot less energy. It worked!

My training to the Chicago Marathon was exceptionally motivating because I was able to focus on endurance and training the parts of my body that needed training – lung, heart, circulatory system, liver, etc. – instead of worrying about muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons.

Endurance is different

I had done three half-marathons before I decided to do a full marathon. Turns out there is a huge difference between a half and a full. Going from a 5K to a half-marathon is just about more of the same. I believe almost any person can run a half-marathon if they train for it. For some people, it will be harder if they are obese, but it can be done. A full marathon, on the other hand, it’s a different sport in my view. It’s about endurance.

Having muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons in top shape is just table stake. It won’t take you to the finish line. To train for a full marathon, you’ll need to learn a lot more about nutrition (before, during and after runs), about hydration, about electrolytes and lactate. Marathon training is about training your liver, lungs, heart, kidneys and many other systems of your body so that it’s using energy and producing/consuming lactate in the most efficient way possible.

There is a common expression in endurance running called “hitting the wall”. In colloquial usage, hitting the wall means that you are really tired and can’t continue anymore, but in sports medicine hitting the wall is a lot more scientific than that and it’s explained by the amount of energy and lactate in the body. I’m not qualified to talk about this, but you can read about it or get an endurance personal trainer that will help you to identify the best training program for you.

The Art of Forgetting Your Own Product

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File this under “Ignorance is Bliss” – As product builders we have a deep understanding of how our product works, from a functional point of view (i.e. how to get a task done) to the value proposition (how to use it right and get the right value out of it). And there lies two big problems: If you (& your team) know it so well a) how you explain to users, and b) how do you identify blind spots on your UX.

This is scientifically known as the Curse of Knowledge. Although the research that identified it is from 40 years ago, the first time I heard about it was in the book Made to Stick. Even the Wikipedia page for this cognitive bias is only two years old. So, more likely than not, you have not put a name to it, but you know it well because you certainly experienced it. It’s when you try to explain something to someone and they don’t get it and you think they are stupid, when in reality you are missing steps that you assumed they know about it.

Product Education

Nowhere in your product the Curse of Knowledge shows up more often than on your product own documentation, marketing material, tooltips and hints. It might be obvious to you that “Connections” should mean People (if you work at LinkedIn), but for others that might be confusing as hell because there are other meanings, particularly in the context software and social network.

It’s not unusual for people to read the content of your product homepage (or app description) and still not get it. Actually, when I review and screen companies who submit to TechStars, SXSW Accelerator or other programs, I always feel like writing a blog post on how not to create a homepage. It takes a while for me to unpack all that language in what it’s actually trying to say.

Turns out that a video is worth a thousand words (not an image, a video). I really like the short videos that many companies create to describe their product. It’s usually done by a third-party company which makes the language a lot more accessible and colloquial. Yes, there is research proving that videos reduce homepage conversions, but that’s probably because people got it once they watched the video and learned the product wasn’t what they were looking for, instead of signing up to find out later.

And since we mentioned about third-party doing your video, that’s a great way to get out of the Curse of Knowledge. Get some consultant, copywriter, friend or even a new user to describe it back to you the things they did, how they would tell another person, etc.

Product Experience

Yes, learning about the product should not be a separate experience, but for this post I’m talking about it in two pieces. Although product education is where the Curse of Knowledge is the most obvious, your product experience is where it creates the biggest negative impact. When we know too much about how things are interconnected on our product, how changing a setting affects the downstream experience, or what connecting a third-party service will do to the experience, we have a problem.

We think these tasks are easy and people will get it. And then we add more features, make the product more awesome and the users who have been with your product for months or years have no problem, because they are into the Curse as well and they don’t complain.

No product, in my opinion, represents this best than Google Adwords. I used Adwords as soon as it came out and it was incredibly trivial and great product. There wasn’t much to learn and getting maximum value for your investment of time was easy. If you have never used Google Adwords, or if you haven’t used it for a while, go check it out. It’s a clusterf*ck of concepts, layers of indirection and ad lingo, that for the average small business advertiser it’s absolutely daunting. You know why it’s this way? Because the people working on it knows too much! They can’t unlearn. They have the Curse.

The spell to break the Curse

Sorry, there is not magic spell. But there are two workarounds.

Let me acknowledge there are a few people who are special. They were born storytellers and having more depth of knowledge about a product doesn’t seem to affect on how they tell the story to newbies. I’m not a storyteller, so I had to find workarounds the Curse.

My primary go to strategy is to take a half-day off. Not from work, but from my previous knowledge on how my product works. I open my browser in incognito mode or uninstall my app, and start as if I was a new user. First, by finding it on Google or in the App/Play Store, reading the copy, going through sign up and on-boarding, following all the instructions and trying to understand the concepts as if I didn’t know them. This exercise alone allows me to produce 20-page long documents of what’s wrong with the product, from miniscule things around the copy (“we use the word Add App here but Add Device there”), to big problems in the information architecture and the value prop we are trying to create. Sometimes this exercise is devastating because you find so many problems with your product, but it’s better for you to find it and take the time to fix it than to just be ignorant and failing.

A second technique is to get someone who is not part of the Curse but committed at spending the time and giving you an in-depth look at your product. You can buy that, like a consultant. You can get a friend or family member to do it for a couple of hours – but you can only do it once. Or, you can get new employees to do it as well. It’s actually a mandatory part of my employees to provide with a “first impressions” document at the end of their first week, which includes a list of problems or questions about the product.