July 18th, 2013


Sometimes, being a packrat is kind of neat

I am still gradually unpacking -- no longer the frantic "Must get it all out of the living room!" crisis of a few months ago, but there are a couple dozen boxes in the basement still to unpack. (Not to mention a couple hundred in the storage units -- I'm going to be working on this for years.) So I've adopted a gentle pace of unpacking one box a day, while cooling down from my morning run on the elliptical.

The past few weeks have mostly been focused on The Boxes Full of Random Files. In the beginning of the packing process I was being terribly meticulous, organizing and weeding as I put things into boxes. Then I realized that, at that rate, I'd be moving sometime in 2016, so I sped up. Then we actually *scheduled* the move, and it turned into a madness of, "Throw it all in boxes, and God will know his own!" Pack in haste, repent at leisure, as they say.

As a result, I'm throwing away a *lot* of what I am unpacking -- some of these boxes have turned out to be 90% recycling. (Why, yes, Jane and I *did* still have all of our bank statements from 1989. Which wouldn't be so much of a problem except that they have our social security numbers all over them, so those need to get shredded. *Sigh*.)

But there are a few gems. The box I hit today turned out to be about 50% made up of printouts of the original SCA Digests -- apparently, I printed out most of the first 100 issues. *That* is a rather cool little historical artifact.

Context, for those who hadn't been born at the time: in the beginning, there was the original SCA Mailing list; I believe it was sca@a.lcs.mit.edu; as far as I know, that was the Society's first-ever presence online. That died in May '88, not long after I joined it, due to technical difficulties, and was replaced by sca@mc.lcs.mit.edu, a more modern mailing list available in digest form. I was heavily active there, and (being me) apparently printed out much of the first year.

At some point, I'm going to have to dig through that for treats. A little quick skimming turns up fun details here and there -- for example, I had entirely forgotten that my original name for the Rolls Ethereal, before I put out the first edition, was "The Crystal Domesday Book". (I am amused that the Rolls were the *less* tritsy name.)

I'm curious whether this exists online anywhere. A quick search hasn't turned it up. The content is *similar* to that of the early days of the alt.sca newsgroup -- they were theoretically gatewayed to each other, but the gateway was notoriously unreliable in the early days, and much of what I have seems to be missing from Google's archive. At some point, I may need to scan this in, for the historical record...

Paul Graham's essays are delightfully refreshing

Over the past couple of days, both mindways and metahacker have pointed me at the writing of Paul Graham, one of the folks behind Y Combinator. The best way to thank them seems to be passing the link on.

The essays are largely about how to succeed with an early-stage startup. Graham has a good view of this, having done it himself and by now helped a *lot* of others get there. These essays are basically distillations of what he's learned about it.

The truth is, Graham isn't saying an awful lot I hadn't already figured out. I've been doing startups on and off for literally my entire career (my first job was my father's startup company, which never really got off the ground but taught me a lot), and I know the game pretty well. Still and all, I expect to spend much of the next month working my way through these and thinking about them.

Tangent: hmm. How many startups *have* I been in? Now I'm curious. Let's run through my jobs:
+ Aero Micro / System Dynamics (technically two companies, but they had the same three employees, so...)
? HDI (growing rapidly when I was there, but didn't quite *feel* like a startup)
- Intermetrics / Averstar (medium-sized, old and well-established)
- Looking Glass (small, but pretty much in its groove by the time I got there)
+ Trenza (my Doomed Bubble Company)
+ Buzzpad
+ Applied Messaging / Convoq / Zingdom (arguably Convoq and Zingdom were two successive companies that shared most employees and a bit of code base)
+ CommYou
? Memento (small, but not originally growth-oriented; OTOH, my project was the part of the company that *was* supposed to scale aggressively)
+ Querki
So Querki is roughly my sixth startup, about what I figured. Anyway...

Some of what he has to say is already explicitly factored into Querki's business plan -- for example, his most recent essay, Do Things That Don't Scale, talks about the way you have to fight for every single user when you're a larval startup, and that's what I expect August - February to be like for me. Indeed, his discussion of hardware startups is weirdly appropriate to me -- just as a hardware startup needs to assemble its own components by hand at first, I expect to do a *lot* of hand-holding for the early-stage Querki Spaces, both as customer support and to help me learn what needs improvement.

That said, he does fill in some extremely useful details -- for example, his essay Startup == Growth gives a maginificently useful concrete metric for solid success as a startup (5-10% growth per week), which I'll be factoring into the plans for next year. Indeed, his viewpoint that growth is *everything* for a startup is bracingly useful -- he advocates being extremely disciplined about this as a way of keeping yourself focused. That makes oodles of sense, but hadn't occurred to me before.

And even when he's saying things I already know, it is *remarkably* comforting to hear someone experienced saying them. Do Things That Don't Scale is particularly valuable there, since it confirms that my plans are the appropriate way for things to start. (Indeed, he largely implies that this is the *only* way to start.)

Anyway, these are great essays -- topics and approaches that sound like common sense, except that most startups completely fail to understand this stuff. Well worth reading for anybody in the startup world...

The Startup Marathon

The Oatmeal is best known as the place for comics that are rude, crude and frequently very funny. I don't always enjoy it, but do often enough to keep reading.

This one, though -- The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances -- strikes an odd chord with me. Not that I run marathons: my knees can't handle even relatively modest distances of real running. (Which is why I stick to the elliptical.)

But so much of what he says feels weirdly familiar, and I think it's because it describes my attitude towards life with a startup. I mean, I have to deal with The Blerch every day. (And am thankful for now having such a fine onomatopoeic noun for it.) His point about vanity rings painfully true: you can't get into this game for *external* validation, because at *best* it'll take years to get any of that. Instead, you have to do it for yourself, and the internal validation that comes with it. And while programming doesn't give me a runner's high, when it's good there is that same sense of getting lost in it and getting beyond the demons.

It's a shallow metaphor, to be sure. But I quite appreciate this particular strip...