Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Smell the fear

Oh my gawd!, look at my in box. Given hard times everyone is trying to fill it. The spam level has exploded and I am getting bombarded with more promotions that ever. The result is of course I spend a bit more time killing this stuff and don't look at any of it. These folks are getting desperate and the only solution to their very limited marketing imaginations is to turn up the throttle, which is increase, the volume of their customer communications. A simple answer, send more e-mails to your customers with more offers.

Does this really work? A Does it make sense?

Heck no!

I am so busy getting rid of junk communications from people I have done business with and expect to in the future that I don't even read them anymore. I find myself hitting the UNSUBSCRIBE button more just out of spite for their stupidity.

I have my own stresses, don't add yours to the pile. There must be a better way. And of course there is.

First, as the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy says, in friendly letters, DON'T PANIC!

This is the time to create stronger bonds, not alienate the customer. Here are some thoughts on how to do that.

1 - Don't Broadcast Your Panic. It stinks. The customer can smell it and is repulsed, usually pertinently. Control yourself, the big push isn't going to save the day so get smart, stop and think . . don't stampede with knee-jerk reactions. Calm down.

2 - It is all changing, the market and your customers. Define the change so you can adapt your approaches to fit it. In theory the ultimate skill of mankind is to adapt and evolve quickly so try to be a good functional human. This means the first thing is to find out the new rules. Take time to ask the customer what is going on and where they are going. Get feedback, answer questions, be useful and maintain those good relations you worked so hard to get.

3 - You are scared, they are scared, get above it even if you think the ship is sinking, get their input and project your wisdom. Be strong, not overbearing, show wisdom and strength. Become a bastion of hope, it's what Obama did and worked for him, you still don't hear a plan but the belief that one is coming keeps people tuned in and listening. Follow that path.

4 - Dialog with your customers. Engage them. Write content that encourages dialog, get their ideas and publish them to other customers. Timely, entertaining, relevant, hopeful content shows that you are on top of it, experts with strength. Listening shows you care, spreading the word, answer to questions and smart advise, all show that you are responsible, trustworthy, and concerned for them.

5 - If there ever was time to be social, this is it! Don't run off into the 'WEB.2' illusion, get real. Your customer's have a desire to do well for others, figure out how you can get into that flow. If it is sales, give some of the cash flow to charity and make a point of it, it is really your customer who is helping out, make sure he knows it and can be proud that when the chips are down what is good for him (your stuff or service) is also good for the community. There a thousand variations on this, find one that works for you.

6 - If you have a local presence, partner with local companies to make an event. Simple things, take your internal expertise, your Financial, HR, Ops, Procurement, even Execs public. Set up a simple "ask the expert" table top in a bookstore, supermarket, where ever, and offer up their experience and knowledge to those who want to learn or need knowledge. Take those dialogs, now questions from the common man, and use them as content for your email. Practical stuff that can get you newspaper and radio exposure as well as tell you customers you really care.

Use your imagination; push out with who you are, not just your "deals". Build trust and show concern. It is cheap to do, just open your heart and show you have one.

Copyright 2008 Barry W Thornton all rights reserved

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Coward

The other day I again ran across a major manager, in this case a CEO but this thought is not limited to the CEO class, who is a bully. I was reminded of something that Halibuton* said:

"A brave man is sometimes a desperado; but a bully is always a coward."

When you meet and observe driven individuals that you will have to interact with it is important to learn early which kind you are dealing with.

In business there is a strong lead and/or follow relationship issue in when two or more personalities work toward a transaction or common goal. Fundamental to the relationship is the issue of personal faith, that is in theory you both put faith in each other as an assumptive basis for the furtherance of your activity. It takes a brave person to deal with the truths frequently necessary to succeed, a bit of the desperado is not uncommon for part of the definition of desperado it to be bold enough to cast a fear aside, in this case to do what is right.

This is not the domain of the bully for he is a coward. The bully will use bluster to camouflage that character flaw, most commonly in the form of misleading you with their supposed fame. Bragging, name-dropping, innuendo, implying relationships, generally claiming what is not theirs are the tools they use and that you must watch out for.

As you build your business you are exercising bravery. For the faint of heart do not pick up the responsibility for their lives and the lives of others, they do not follow their dreams. They steal and claim dreams from others.

You will be besieged by bullies who will try to impress you with their skill, power, and virtue. This is always with the intent of getting their hand into your pocket, to acquire your power and resources, and to leverage you in the launch on to their next victim

This guy I met the other day reminded me that constant vigilance is the key to survival and success. Thus again, Andy Grove’s motto, "only the paranoid survive" comes home.

Have a prosperous New Year in these trying times.

Barry Thornton, a part-time follower of Socrates

*Thomas Haliburton (1796-1867) Scottish Humorist

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bootstrap Success Leads to Great Opportunities!

Collaboration is nothing new to the members of the Bootstrap Network, but little did we know that our initial collaborations and educational efforts in the Art subgroup would lead to an invitation to participate in a great local event that is held annually, the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Eleven Bootstrap artists, Ian Blair, Doug Brown, Carmen Canaan, Lisa Cowling, Nell Gottlieb, Jamie Johnson, Michael Long, Rey Madolora, Darren Minke, and Jess Wade, will be proud participants in this great event on December 22 - 24.

For those of you who don't know, the Christmas Bazaar is in its 33rd year of operation under the guidance of founder and producer Bruce Willenzik. Bruce is a consummate business man and promoter of the arts who has been active in the Austin art scene and community planning for decades, including a long and continuing stint on the Austin Commission of the Arts. He has long championed the principles of collaboration and has made a point of teaching sales and marketing skills to participants in the Bazaar, all of whom are artists and crafts people who know their trades but not necessarily how to present their work and sell it most effectively. Teaching these skills and fostering collaboration are precisely the mission of the Bootstrap Art subgroup.

Because of the event's popularity, there is quite a waiting list of artists and crafts people who want to be a part of it. The standards one must meet in order to get in go beyond talent and include a certain degree of business acumen and the requirement for a mentor to be nearby in order to help new participants if they need it. These are areas which the Bootstrap Art subgroup has been focused on since its inception two years ago, consequently, our members are well-versed in concepts such as art as a business, cross-selling and cross-promotion, mentorship, marketing, etc. As a former speaker at the art subgroup, Bruce is familiar with our philosophy and progress which largely mirrors his own approach, and when space became available at the Bazaar, he was happy to offer it to us.

Opportunities like this don't just fall into your lap for no reason. It takes hard work and perseverance to put yourself in a position for things like this to happen. In our case, it was two years in the making, and it was well worth it.

Thank you to Bruce Willenzik and the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar for recognizing our efforts, and to the members of the Bootstrap Art subgroup who have been active in helping each other and collaborating in events such as this!

Friday, December 12, 2008

All that glitters is...

...not gold. That's right, is not gold!

Glitter is a distraction and mental occupier, it is rarely reality. I have found over the years that the more the lights blink, the more noise it makes, the more buzz and glitz produced...the less the profits and potential really exist. By the time the lights are on you are late to the party.

We are creatures whose brains are based on the attention to change. For the couple of million years we evolved in being attentive to the snap of a twig or the flicker of a color in the tall grass was all that kept us alive. Fight or Flee is a core operating paradigm still in our brains. Ever wake up in the middle of the night because of a sound? Did you happen notice that your adrenaline was already flowing, the cognitive part of your brain, the consciousness, was the last part to come on line, you were already to take action when your eyes opened. You hear 300 to 3000 Hertz best because that is the frequency range of the sound braking twigs and rustling grass. You see more shades of yellow because living in tall yellow grass you had to see tiger stripes from dried grass in an instant. You are sensitive to change, it is the basis of our brains, all this thought stuff we do came much later in the brain's development, in the last 1% of our evolution. Change is what our brains are all about.

Ever notice that one of the first questions out of most people's mouths is "what’s new?"

We are driven by fads, the presentation of newness. We love it! Look at our response to hype. How about movies and music, the delivered product is typically a let down compared the promise of something new. What is greater than a new love?

I am not saying you should be cynical (which you should) but that this is the pattern of life, newness and change is attractive because we are wired for it (I am old enough to have seen bell-bottom become popular for the third time that I know of so I have to assume it happened many times before I became aware of them in the sixties). Virtually everything has happened before but it is new to us the first time we experience it, thus it is exciting, it makes our brains perk up and focus, dream, and for a moment we are more alive than we have been in a while. The habituation sets in, we get used to it, it become normal and dull. Thus are we wired to think.

So what is the point for an entrepreneur you ask?

Simple, don't fall for newness but use it to your advantage, and do so without shame. After all, it is life's only consistent pattern besides death and taxes.

Barry Thornton is a Technology and Marketing Guy

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Use Everything

If you've heard Bijoy talk about bootstrapping at all, then I'm sure you've heard him talk about "using everything."

Because bootstrappers are building business models that are unique to the individual, we have a unique opportunity to blend different pieces from our experiences and weave them into our businesses. I believe that I can represent to you exactly what it means to use everything, so that you might be able to bring some creativity into your business.

At 31 years old, I had left the corporate world in search of something new. The market was horrible (2002) and finding a job without connections was impossible, so I decided to try new things. I stumbled onto an opportunity to bartend and was able to work at night to make cash while having my days free to set up calls and work on starting a magazine (which I had no idea how to do).

Many warned me about "staying out of the corporate world too long" or "having to explain a gap on my resume." But honestly, the thought of writing another press release about something that was not newsworthy made me want to puke! Besides, I knew that it would eventually pay off.

So a few years later, I finally had enough revenue to put my first issue of Business District out. One of the first advertisers came directly from a referral from one of my managers.

Along the way, I started going to a boxing gym--I had always wanted to learn how to box, and needed someone to push me to exercise, because I don't do well on my own.

Fast forward a few years, and I engaged with the bar to manage their advertising (totally in line with my magazine venture). They also asked me if I knew anyone that could plan a boxing match, which we later decided would be in the parking lot of their club.

I helped them get sponsors and helped plan the event. I worked my butt off, and didn't make any money, but learned a lot about putting a sporting event together.

One of the sponsors of the event was Tecate, and as I was talking to the rep, I offered him a free ad in the magazine because they stepped up and sponsored the event. We decided that Dos Equis, another beer they carried, was a better fit for our target audience with their "Most Interesting Man in the world" campaign. After coordinating the ad, I asked the rep if they had any money they needed to get off their books by the end of the year, and would like to consider advertising for next year.

So I'm excited about my newest client in the magazine--Dos Equis--who bought ads for all of next year.

Some times, people ask me if I plan to sell the magazine. At this point, because I'm using it to pursue every avenue that is of interest to me, I can't quite figure out a scenario where selling made sense.

And besides--exit strategies are for VCs.

P.S. I've also been taking jazz piano lessons, which I thoroughly enjoy, and you can bet that will show up somewhere in my business.

Jason Myers (jason at abdmag dot com) is the publisher of Business District Magazine and led the Bootstrap Austin branding initiative.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Bootstrap Web

Bootstrap Web Democamp

The Bootstrap Web Subgroup. sometimes referred to as the Web 2.0 subgroup, has been active since 2006. You can find information about the group and audio from most of our meetings at the Bootstrap Web wiki page. Our admittedly biased view is that the web subgroup is most critical because all business is moving to the web.

In October, Bijoy Goswami and I previewed our presentation on building effective online commmunities, called Bootstrap Your Online Community. This was incidentally a first step toward the January launch of a Community Subgroup.

In November, we held our third quarterly Democamp, organized by Miles Sims. Five web companies showed their innovative wares in twenty-minute presentations. These presentations just keep getting better - looking forward to the next round in February.

Bootstrap Web meets on the third Tuesday of each month at Conjunctured, the Coworking Company, 1309 E. 7th Street.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Even in a down economy, Bootstrappers move forward

Everyone knows that the economy is down...yet, true to their form, bootstrappers are moving forward in ventures of all types. When times are hard, bootstrappers look for new methods and ways to adapt their ventures to current realities.

We often say "collaboration is the life blood of bootstrapping". Today our network is announcing another cross-entrepreneur collaboration- with the birth of Tech Ranch Austin, a technology venture accelerator focused on bootstrap, pre-seed, and seed-stage technology ventures that can change the world. Coming straight out our work at Bootstrap Austin, Tech Ranch Austin was founded by Austin entrepreneurs Kevin Koym and Jonas Lamis. The Tech Ranch team has expertise that spans software, hardware, alternative energy and emerging technologies. Tech Ranch currently supports start-ups like Piryx, IPX, and Onespot, and has worked with twelve companies to date. With today's announcements, Tech Ranch Austin will be kickin' it up a notch, standing hand in hand with Bootstrap Austin as two of the most vibrant opportunity creation engines in Austin's startup ecosystem. Although times are tough, it is through these open collaborations that Austin's entrepreneurs will win and move forward.

Kevin Koym is the chief architect and firestarter at Bootstrap Austin.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Collective Entrepreneurial Journey

On Monday, November 10, 2008, we launched the CLUB E Austin Chapter at the Long Center in Austin, TX with captivating messages from one of Austin's top entrepreneurs, Gary Hoover, top entrepreneurial organization, Bootstrap Austin, top homegrown technology companies, HBMG Inc. and one of community's top leaders and supporters of entrepreneurship, Austin Pro Tem Mayor Brewster McCracken. This effort was a true celebration for the CLUB E family and our partners in the Austin community because it is an important step towards helping our company, the CLUB E Network (CLUB E), move that much closer to realizing our vision.

Back in the late 90's I was able to attend an event where a famous local entrepreneur shared an inspiring start-up story at an event in Austin, TX that sent me home that overflowing with ideas on how to build the next great tech company. It didn't pan out that way for me that venture, but I'll never forget how I felt that night. The seeds had been planted to create something very unique and powerful that would benefit and help many others in future, but it wouldn't materialize for a number of years. Those seeds finally took root years later in the form of CLUB E, an online and on-the-ground network for entrepreneurs that is designed to help and support current and future entrepreneurs follow their passion and start their own companies. We call the CLUB E community "the most passionate tribe of entrepreneurs on the planet" because we all share a common passion for entrepreneurship and pursuing a road less traveled.

My long-time business partner/TV show host, Ingrid Vanderveldt, and I started working on an online social network concept when we were introduced to a trailblazing entrepreneur in Peter Burns, his student apprentice Corey Kossack and his motley crew out of Phoenix that were launching local chapters of their organization in AZ where entrepreneurs could meet in person on a regular basis. We decided to combine our efforts and create CLUB E that was one part Facebook (people meeting online), one part Toastmasters (people meeting in person) and one part TV (entertainment & how-to videos for entrepreneurs). A vision that we are slowly bringing to life so that we can share the inspiring stories and powerful lessons successful entrepreneurs share with us at our gatherings and activities.

On this November night, we were honored to have Brewster McCracken open the night for us at one of Austin's newest gathering places, the Long Center. His speech was set against the backdrop of the Austin skyline seen out the windows symbolizing how we are all part of this wonderful community and how we are all in this together even if we are all creating separate businesses. Brewster spoke of how powerful examples of local government, industry leaders and the entrepreneurial community have worked together to strengthen what makes Austin special and what makes it such a solid foundation for start-ups to get off the ground. He also challenged us to continue thinking for the future and look to areas such as clean energy and emerging technologies and others and make sure that we stay at that leading edge. Inspired by his comments, we teamed up with folks from our technology partner, HBMG, and came up with a contest to gather ideas from the audience about suggestions on what the city of Austin can do help save energy and/or 'green ideas' for the city. The gung-ho audience came up with over 65 ideas in 15 minutes that we are passing along to Brewster and his team - you never know what type of seeds might be planted in this effort. Lucky entrepreneurs Kevin Koym & Steve Tarr got 18 cupcakes between winning this green contest.

Since we launched CLUB E, we knew that Austin was going to be a central figure in the CLUB E infrastructure in that we would produce our video content out of the city and eventually have a physical chapter here as well. When HBMG stepped in to help host our site and be part of our efforts this past year, we knew that part of our vision would quickly come to pass. All part of feeding the soil and helping CLUB E get off the ground with a solid foundation. David Smith, HBMG's CEO and a longtime leader in the Austin hi-tech space, tied the evening together with his eloquent words describing how we are all working together leveraging the strengths of Austin's foundation to breathe life into new and yet-to-be entrepreneurs.

Thinking of the word entrepreneur in Austin conjures all kinds of visuals, people and organizations in the mind. Two of those that are prominent are Bijoy Goswami and the Bootstrap community. We are honored that Bijoy and crew participated in helping us celebrate the launch of the CLUB E Austin chapter because we both believe we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that we can be collaborative in our efforts to nurture and support current and future entrepreneurs. These two entities are part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that has made Austin a place of abundance in terms of resources and outlets that business owners can turn to help them meet the demanding needs their start-ups have. It is not about being competitive and trying to out do one another - it is how can we work together to support our collective causes as well as serve our constituents in the best way possible answering their specific needs. Having Bijoy share his beliefs and ideas that night illustrated this premise in words as well as in action.

Rounding out the night, the always-energetic Gary Hoover, founder of Hoovers and BOOKSTOP, shared his eight points on what he has found over the years to be central to creating successful and lasting ventures in good and bad times. Gary explained that great entrepreneurs have unending curiosity, a deep sense of history and an awareness of geography. The audience was left with a wealth of ideas and thoughts on what they could do on a daily basis to nurture their ideas and grow their companies. What struck me the most out of his talk is that when asked him what is the 'one thing' he wanted people to walk away from in terms of advice from the night. He said to make sure and carry a notepad or whatever device you fancy to capture an idea or scribble a thought so that you never miss an opportunity that might come to your mind. He pulled out his tablet #144 out of his pocket and shared the story of how Richard Branson also does the same thing and has literally thousands of such notepads he takes notes on. (I stopped by Office Depot the next day!) Gary is one of those very special people we truly admire because he constantly gives to his community by making himself available to the next generation of entrepreneurs and openly shares the wealth of knowledge and experience that he has gained over the years.

It was a proud night for the CLUB E team, but I believe something happened prior to the event that crystallized part of why I so strongly believe in what we are doing. The day before the CLUB E Austin launch, Bijoy and I had an opportunity to speak at the 26th annual Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education held in Austin. It was an event that brought together teachers and support companies from around the country so that they could network with each other, attend workshops and listen to entrepreneurs and leaders talk about a variety of topics that relate to teaching entrepreneurship. Clifton Taulbert, founder of the Building Community Institute and author of a number of books (Eight Habits of the Heart, Last Train North, etc.) spoke at the luncheon that day and left an indelible impression upon all that were there. He has spoken to audiences around the world and his books have been cherished by leaders from all walks of life including Nelson Mandela and he has even received Pulitzer nomination for his writings. At the end of his talk he left us with some of his own powerful words and the words of others that will forever be etched in my mind and what I believe lies at the very soul of why CLUB E has come to be.

"We come here together as teachers of the next generation of leaders and business owners in our community and in our world....For us it is not about 'how can I be an entrepreneur,' but how can we help another entrepreneur.' We have an opportunity do something that will change your life and the lives of thousands of others that come after you. To let young people know that 'we are all marked for good' and that we can 'cause the souls of others to blossom.'"

I hope you all get to help another on our collective journey down the entrepreneurial path and one day feel yourself blossoming - or better yet - see someone else blossom because of what you have done. Few things in life are more rewarding than that.

Lyn Graft is the founder of the CLUB E Network and LG Pictures.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bootstrap Art - Collaboration Works!

The Bootstrap Austin Art Subgroup got its start in the Fall of 2006, with a serendipitous meeting of Bijoy Goswami, founder of Bootstrap Austin, and Allen Beuershausen, art lover. Since its inception, the group has grown to over 90 members and has become a true community.

After two years of working and learning together, they will come together for their first show on Nov. 22 and 23 for the East Austin Studio Tour, an annual event in which artists throughout east Austin open their studios to the public for one weekend. Through teamwork and their partnership with Sustainable Waves, a manufacturer of solar powered stages for outdoor concerts who is hosting the exhibit, the artists will show a fantastic collection of paintings, photography, and sculpture created by 20 members of the subgroup. But they're not stopping there. There will be food and drinks, and a big blowout party Saturday night starting at 9:00pm which will feature art and live music from Atash, Wino Vino, and Govinda. Sustainable Waves is located at 4704 Caesar Chavez, just west of the intersection of Caesar Chavez and Springdale. The Art subgroup will be numbers 56 and 57 on the EAST map.

While Bootstrap Art is having this group show, other Bootstrap artists will also be participating in EAST and showing in their own east side studios. These artists include Andrew Long, Shawn Camp, Josh Sampson, Edward Vormann, Sarah Sudhoff, Steve Dubov, and Heather Tolleson.

A huge thank you to Neal Turley of Sustainable Waves, and Warren McKinney of Art Seen Online. And to Darren Minke of the Bootstrap Art subgroup who put forth a great deal of time and energy to help pull the show together.

This is a great opportunity to see the amazing art created in this town, especially the Bootstrap Art. Go check it out!

The Bootstrap Art Subgroup is co-led by Allen Beuershausen and Marcy Hoen.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Sense of Purpose

Ask not what you can do, but what you cannot. Almost ten years ago, I had my first dreams of entrepreneurship. I carefully documented my ideas with furious passion. I crafted detailed product requirements, sketches, roles, personas, milestones, features and revenue goals for dozens of products. I documented every small detail and this activity brought my 'ideas' to life.

I was motivated. I dreamed. I read books. Each volume of business ideas still occupies my office bookshelves today. I also followed examples of other entrepreneurs. I applied their models to my ideas. What could go wrong?

Everything. None of my endeavors generated positive cash flow. No one idea had significant momentum. I kept trying other ideas. I burned capital, fast. I gave up. Completely. I stopped believing in my ideas and myself.

But not in the way you might think.

The Principles of Lust. Early on, I looked at a business as a means to an end. This perspective resulted in envy for products, people and business models. Coupled with the lustful desire for a huge business and unlimited cash flow, a person can quickly become so idealistic that you forget what matters. The ego-driven pursuit of success can cloud a once clear vision of your business.

For me, having a partner was the missing ingredient in the business formula. I gave up on relying on my own initiative and put my faith into a partner. No man is an island but the successful ones are peninsulas - attached to someone who complements and recognizes both the strengths and weaknesses you possess. Find a person who can be honest with you, critique you and with whom you can disagree.

When we started our business, we did not have a formal business plan but agreed on the following statements as the foundation of the company: Enjoy what we do. Work with people that we like and who are loyal to us.

A good partner is your counter balance. They complement you and give you a sounding board for thoughts, strategies and potential. Seek out a partner that holds you accountable. They should empower you but at the same time, ground you to the goals, processes and measurement of the business.

Paint by Numbers. To me, ideas have no value. There are thousands of great ideas but the viability of those in the context of a business is limited. Focus is what matters; the balance sheet and what feeds it. Remove yourself from anything external that doesn't support the business and humble yourself. No matter how many partners you have, you all must respect one thing equally - the financial viability of the business.

Our business is a big art project and we use the following canvases: 1: Balance Sheet, 2: Profit and Loss, 3: Accounts Receivable, 4: Accounts Payable. A simple set of brushes and a small palet of colors. We paint the same picture every day. We take calculated risks but measure each effort within the same set of reporting metrics.

As you are bootstrapping a business, you must ask yourself many questions. What does your 3 month, 1 year and 3 year plan look like? Can you communicate your business plan to anyone beyond yourself? What are the critical dashboard metrics that define the health of your business? How do I know each month if we are making forward progress? What does a train wreck look like to the business?

Say Goodbye to Hollywood. The early stages of a business are critical to all bootstrappers. We gamble on potential meetings and dial up strangers. Double down. Bet again. We build our egos. We attempt to weave a strategy together through our interactions with other like minded individuals. What defines the turning point from an idea-focused business to an opportunity focused one?

Focus is such a simple word but it is what I believe moves a business through Ideation, Valley of Death, Growth and so on. Gaining focus for my partner and I came from seeking out a set of mentors. People that weren't like us, who had done it before and who had the wisdom to speak from experience. What we learned from interacting with our mentors changed our business plan, our focus and our future.

All you need is love. What we do doesn't matter; it's how we do it. If you love what you do, everything seems to click. I personally get out of bed each day yearning to get to the office. I love what I do. I love helping people. This generates unparalleled focus and enthusiasm. This energy is channeled in to the people I work with and the ideas we develop.

Bootstrapping a business is the most challenging thing you will ever do. Full of ups and downs, potentials and pitfalls, you will experience more emotions, faster than you ever have before. Don't give up but constantly ask yourself, "are you doing what you love?"

Be humble. Don't seek credit, anywhere. Keep moving. Focus on the business of finance. Take calculated risks. Ideas are the fuel, revenue is the fire. If you see only smoke, stop immediately and reset.

Most importantly, love, really love what you do. It never gets easier, but it gets more fun.

Chris Justice is the founder of Sparksight.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Kevin Koym: Bootstrap Your Business with an Enterprise Tribe

Kevin Koym spoke at Bootstrap Austin's September meeting and shared the four conceptual shifts that empower entrepreneurs to build businesses using social networks. They are:
  1. The Superempowerment of the Individual
  2. Shifting from a Knowledge Economy to a Knowledge Ecology
  3. An Attitudinal Shift
  4. Superconductivity
Listen to the BootRap Podcast of Kevin's talk.

Kevin is the founder of Enterprise Teaming and authors the Enterprise Tribe blog. He is the Architect at Bootstrap Austin.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Smacked upside the head with a Ph.D

Wow! A couple of days ago someone smacked me upside the head with a Ph.D! It's been a long time since that has happened and it still tickles.

I was at a lunch of an organization to find out about them and determine my interest in working to get on their Board. I like their premise and know I could help drive them to where they want to go. What I learned was that after 10 month of existence they still don't know where that exactly is (they're not a business but a non-profit). Those of you that know me, well, you know how I can be a pain-in-the-neck with my pressure to discover and my thruthaches and the like. So I was torturing the Board to push them to find out what they really want to be and no one understood what I was doing. I ask questions that sound like opinions to get a more profound answer and push people into self-discovery. While I am seeking knowledge they think I am telling them what to do, don't worry, it is confusing but is style that leads from chaos to order (in a very Shakespearean way). Well, a person there and I had differing opinions and as you also know, I kneel to no one so I didn't yield to this person’s sense of self-authority and importance.

Anyway, I was taking some heat from them and not responding in the desired fashion when the person in question whipped out the old line "I know because of my education and my Ph.D!" It was classic, I couldn't have found a better line in movie. Surprise - I did conduct myself as a gentleman, I didn't fall down laughing or say the obvious. I just looked around at the other folks to see if anyone else got it, some did, some didn't.

I like these folks and what they ultimately can do, I would like to help.

But to the point, which is that you as an entrepreneur are subject to lots of people trying to influence you. Many of them have lots of letters before or after their name. Typically those letters say that person may know a whole lot about a narrow topic. None of those letters indicate that the have any COMMON SENSE.

Only you know the real truth about your enterprise, only you know the real goals, only you are responsible for what happens, only you live it. Don't ever let an 'expert' dissuade you from what you know is right.


Does that make sense?

copyright Barry W Thornton all rights reserved

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I had noted in an earlier Blog that the key to marketing is to make someone unhappy, it is then the job of sales to them make them happy, that's how the two work together. - -So what are the tools of unhappiness?

Try F.U.D. the acronym for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt!

If someone is happy with what they have you clearly aren't going to sell them a replacement. Only when you break the relationship between what they have and how they feel about it can you expect to get new brain space, and brain space is what you need to convert them into a customer.

So F, U, and D are three great pry-bars or tools you can use to loosen up some brain-space. All of them start out as probes, until one hits a chink in the armor and gets some traction you have nothing, you just slide around on the outside of someone's "satisfaction shield".

You must probe with constant FUD questions to elicit response that will start someone thinking. Do this and in most cases a door will open. Is this marketing or selling? Maybe it's both.

Anyway you must do a series of probative adverts, always asking questions that center around 'what makes you think you are happy'. Maybe you communicate a message that shows why they should be unhappy or happier. Maybe you do positioning statements or explanations that are really questions in disguise. Statements like 'new' or 'better' or the like are really questions, they ask 'why don't you have the newest or the best?'.

Ever consider that the opening of any sales pitch is a marketing message or proposition? You bet it is! Every opening sales pitch is essentially an advertisement. Even if the target says no and walks way, just how is that different than having looked at an ad in a magazine or on TV and passed on it? It only becomes a sales pitch when some brain-space opens up and an idea goes in that can feed the unhappiness and start a change to occur.

In most ways technology marketing and sales is the easiest. Technology offers an addictive solution. Whatever the customer has, it is on the way to being out of date, not enough, too slow; whatever was good about it and made the customer happy is fading away. Technology is about change and change means something better is coming. It is only a matter of time.

What does this mean to the entrepreneur? - - It means two things. One is that the range for new ventures is almost unending and virtually unlimited, it is as wide as the scope of human endeavors and ideas. The second is that you only need to change one thing to make it new; only one problem has to be solved to tap a market. Your business will be based on what makes someone unhappy. It really is simple after all.

Barry Thornton - Technology and Marketing Guy

Monday, October 20, 2008


An oversimplified generality that is reality.

Much of marketing is about the message. And what is the message about? It is about making someone unhappy.

The message is that what they have now makes them unhappy and what you have to sell will make them happy.

A primitive view of one of the most elusive crafts in business but it is true. They won't pick up the phone or tap the keyboard to find out about you unless they are motivated - and being unhappy is one of the best motivators there is. Your message is not about making them happy, it is to remind that they are unhappy and that there is a way to eliminate that feeling.

Too short and too simple, it must be right.

Think about it.

Barry Thornton

Technology and Marketing Guy

Building a long term business?

A technology pundit noted that "We live in an era when nothing can be built to last. Everything is in flux; nothing can sustain."

Initially this would appear to be true. If you look at the Fortune 500, of the 500 that appeared on the first list in 1955, only 71 are still there, on the list that is. Some of the biggies that disappeared from that list are well know to you, like Scott Paper, Zenith, Rubbermaid, Chrysler, Teledyne, Warner Lambert, and Bethlehem Steel. Some died, some just gave up their independence. There are though those who have persisted; consider GE which has been around for over 100 years, or P&G which started before the American Civil War and continues to succeed; as does Johnson & Johnson whose roots were planted back in 1886. Then there's Nucor Steel who rose from near bankruptcy to the 151 spot on the Fortune 500 list or Xerox which turned over profits of over $1 billion in 2007, a mere seven years after suffering losses of over $300 million.

So what is at the root of long-term success and how do you build a company that will go the distance?

I think the key is self-afflicted abuse. It is not what the world does to you but what you do to the world. In the end it is you, the entrepreneur and with growth big-time business persona that is at the core of long term success. You get your start as a leader, people follow for all the reasons that leaders lead and followers follow. When this relationship malfunctions the game is over. Inertia and management may keep the company going but not necessarily growing. And you become jetsam to the company. Unless another leader comes along your baby, the company will die of attrition.

Harsh reality - you must lead or die.

Barry Thornton, Technology and Marketing Guy

Friday, October 17, 2008

Extreme Bootstrapping Part 2 - Divorced, bankrupt, homeless or all of the above?

Could a high tech homeless immersion save a marriage, a family, and a business while also helping others? This is the question that loomed before me in August, 2007 given a December 31, 2007 divorce ultimatum if things did not turn around financially for my TRACEe start-up.

A Decision With Only One Choice - Part 1 of the Extreme Bootstrapping blog post introduced my personal life/business predicament; quit my fledgling start-up and return to being an unfulfilled cog in the corporate machine while watching my family life deteriorate, or, push ahead and be an agent of change for the potential good of family and society. I really had no choice; I felt destined to endure an extended period of homelessness on the streets of Austin. My business, technical and personal/spiritual circumstances made it so. This was in spite of having to borrow $5K per month from our retirement fund to keep us from selling our home and disrupting our kids' school/friend status quo.

Clarity of Purpose = Energy + Productivity - That's exactly what I experienced upon embracing the streaming homeless immersion mission. It was no longer necessary to fragment my physical and mental attentions across multiple immiscible avenues of pursuit to take TRACEe to the next level. I could now laser focus on planning and executing the immersion.

Hopeful Homeless Immersion Outcomes - During the Immersion, my only street companions were to be the poorest of the poor and anywhere from a handful to a hoard of internet viewers/chatters from across the globe. My laptop and cell phone, equipped with mobile, live streaming video, GPS location tracking and interactive chat would serve as an electronic security blanket. My objectives? In addition to simply surviving, they were as follows:

  1. Generate personal social-networking profiles of Austin-based homeless to put a face on their individual and collective struggles and explore new social justice mechanisms for lifting them out of poverty
  2. Collaborate with and help increase Mobile Loaves & Fishes (MLF) homeless outreach ministry website traffic while also populating's (OTI) social network community
  3. Develop alpha release of TRACEe 'life trace' products & services aimed at reversing homelessness and poverty
  4. Expand TRACEe business partnerships
  5. Test and validate leading edge technologies with potential to help minimize project costs and increase web traffic: bio diesel, photovoltaics and crowd sourcing
  6. Generate raw audio/video/chat/location records of street life with live, follow-on research and publishing potential
  7. Serve as a role model, unifier and provider for my family
  8. Seek a God-driven direction for post-immersion product and company growth

Marriage Counseling; a Great Business Arbitrator? - My next step? Delicately approach and obtain buy-in of the homeless immersion by my beloved wife - not a pleasant task given that she blamed me for the current financial predicament, or should I say curse, that was upon us. Her disdain was quite understandable and palpable as it was rooted in a promise she had made to herself as a young adult being raised in a tumultuous entrepreneurial household; never to submit her children to the same financial hardships and insecurities she had endured. Her anxiety naturally spilled over to our two kids resulting in 'yours truly' being the bane of their collective existence.

Eventually, tensions reached the point of engaging a marriage counselor which, in an unexpected twist of fate, provided the perfect private forum for presenting the immersion case to my wife. It was an environment where she would be inclined to listen and reflect in the midst of an impartial, yet compassionate observer and mutual advisor. Furthermore, this venue was time-boxed at 1 hour per week enabled planning, adjusting and external mentorship in between sessions - I couldn't have asked for a better platform! Our timely counseling sessions resulted in tentative agreement that included a compromise to reduce the immersion duration from 6 months to a more palatable 40 days.

Streaming Street Retreats - It must have been divine intervention that spurred MLF to conduct an unprecedented three mini homeless street retreats in successive months of Sept., Oct., and Nov. - a perfect street and technology 'boot camp' opportunity that I could not pass up! Participating in a total of four street retreats in 2007 not only served to prepare me for the street environment, but also to initiate several meaningful relationships with specific homeless that became instrumental in developing and proving the value of social networking for the homeless.

Enter Avon Owens, a rotund, docile homeless man with a million-dollar smile whom I met on the first retreat. One day Avon found himself on the streets when locks were changed on the house he shared with his bother following a disagreement. He had been surviving on the streets for three years at the time we met. Since then we have been meeting once per week for lunch at a different Austin original restaurant while video-streaming the event to the internet. Avon likes to call it our 'project' as seen in this hilarious clip where he finds himself alone for a brief moment in the car with a live webcam attached to my cowboy hat and an internet-connected laptop displaying the stream & live chat.... With Avon as my homeless companion, I conducted the last two retreats using live 24/7 streaming video strapped to my backpack. These interactions with Avon have built a lasting relationship while serving as a testing/proving groud for the immersion technology. Furthermore, FOX ran a special news segment on how the technology was being applied to helping Avon overcome homelessness! Today Avon is off the streets, living very comfortably in a mobile home with a steady income due in large part to the social networking dynamic that was created.

Needless to say, lots of planning and R&D focused on mobile streaming technology for the street environment occurred as the days drew closer and closer to year end. Long story short, the "sky did not fall" when my wife's Dec 31, 2007 ultimatum came and went...thank you Lord! Honestly, up until Jan 1, 2008 I did not know which way the cards would fall. I did know, however, that God was directing the outcome so I had nothing to fear.

So, by early 2008 the project plan was framed out to occur in three phases of 40 days each according to the schedule below.

  • Feb 6, 2008 to March 15 - 40 Day Pre-immersion (Lenten) Prep Phase
  • March 16 to April 25 - 40 Day Immersion Phase, commenced during Holy Week
  • April 26 to June 2, 2008 - 40 Day Post-immersion Follow-up Phase

Video streaming occurred within each phase and is available for viewing at the alpha site

Stay tuned for "Extreme Bootstrapping Part 3 - Homeless or Bust" which will cover the 40-Day Pre-Immersion Phase outlined below and describe the lead up to "Saving Lives of the Homeless with the Click of a Mouse".


  • Define the daily routine
  • Map out who to see and/or where to visit
  • Flesh out the "Street Shepherds" schedule
  • Dovetail with the annual MLF street retreat
  • Secure business sponsorships


  • Secure media and documentary film participation
  • Schedule and execute streaming video events


  • Engage in fundraising campaign
  • Submit funding proposals

Technology prep

  • Design/test the technology configuration
  • Procure, develop, test technology elements

Spiritual and physical preparation

  • Bible study & reflection
  • Diet & exercise routine

Tom Baum is President and Principal Founder of and

Friday, October 10, 2008

Getting More Done

As a founder of a bootstrap company, I'm passionate about finding ways to improve productivity. The following excerpts are from a longer essay about lessons I've learned over the years. They all focus on improving efficiency, reducing distraction, and getting more out of life.

Distractions: The Internet is the new TV

Years ago I decided to stop watching TV. It was an addiction that offered little reward other than a temporary reprieve from reality. Since the average American spends over 4 hours in front of the tube daily (about 25% of the time you're not sleeping), I'm now free to work more, learn more, and live more. What I didn't realize until recently is that the Internet is the new TV and it's more accessible than TV ever was. It was never acceptable to watch TV at work, but now we have entertainment built into every desk and every mobile device.

Tools like RescueTime can help you quantify how much time you spend working, how you spend your time working, and how much of your day is spent browsing distractions. Understanding how you're distracted and the magnitude of the distraction is half the battle.

While browsing the Web for entertainment is distracting, I believe interruptive technologies like email, chat, and Twitter are the real enemy. Real work is done when people sit, focus, and get into a zone of productivity. Getting "in the zone" is difficult and can take anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes. Getting pulled out of the zone, however, is far easier. A phone call, email, text message, coffee break, or tap on the shoulder from a colleague will immediately pull people out of this zone of productivity. While seemingly harmless, distractions are so commonplace that people rarely get into the zone in the first place. It's very tempting to ask your colleague a question that might take you five minutes to look up when it will only take him 15 seconds to answer, but what most people don't consider is how long it will take that colleague to get back to what they are doing.

A rule of thumb we try to live by at Adlucent is that you should spend at least 20 minutes trying to figure something out yourself before interrupting someone else. You learn more by doing rather than asking and you respect the productivity of your peers.

Idea Paralysis

I'm a Maven and as a maven my major shortcoming is that I'm easily distracted by new, shiny challenges. My propensity to experiment and tinker is precisely what helped me stumble upon my idea for Adlucent, but it's also what almost brought the company down. While running Adlucent in the early days, I was also getting my PhD in chemistry and launching another company called PriceFight. I was so hungry for the next best thing that I ignored the greater challenge of growing one of my ventures to maturity. Fortunately, several mentors pointed out that a common shortcoming of mavens is that we often lack focus and focus is absolutely critical to success.

I have dozens of business ideas that I want to pursue, many of which I think are bigger than Adlucent, but I've also stepped back and realized that Adlucent is onto something big and we are creating true value that should be nurtured to maturity. To help me manage distractions, I fully detail my ideas in books and then store them safely away on a shelf. In the same way that writing your thoughts/worries down at night helps you rest easily, writing these ideas down and storing them away helps me keep a sharp focus.

A question that comes up is how do you know when to stop experimenting and start focusing? I think the notion of failing and failing quickly is important here. Once you think you have hit on an idea and kicked it around a bit, pursue it with strong focus. Then, be honest with yourself about whether it's ever truly going to take off. In the same way that venture capitalists hedge their risks by investing in multiple startups hoping that one skyrockets, you also have the ability to invest your time and energy into multiple startups to hedge your risk as long as you fail and fail quickly.

The biggest enemy to failing quickly is having some success. It is much more difficult to pull the plug on a venture when there is a modicum of hope than it is to move past a true failure. One cure is to define a bold goal before you start and keep trying until you hit it. Anything less is a failure. Anything more means you should aim higher.

It's worth noting that failing doesn't necessarily mean starting fresh with a new idea, but it does mean having the agility to change directions. Microsoft, Apple and Google are very good examples of how the initial company strategy changed and adapted through time until the founders hit on the big idea.

Outsourcing Distractions

In the early stages of a company, the founder is the single most important contributor to the company's success. The founder has the passion, diligence, and sweat invested to push through any challenges. As such, I believe it's the founder's responsibility to be fully dedicated to the cause. There are hundreds of distractions in life including the need to eat, shop, stay healthy, do laundry, and run errands. Some of these can be and should be outsourced to better maximize your utilization.

The first hire I made was a personal assistant and it is one of the best investments I've made in the company. Simply put, I can bill more hours and bill at a higher rate than the cost to hire an assistant. With an assistant taking care of my day-to-day activities, I have 30-40 hours more to hone my expertise and grow the business.

Outsourcing tasks to help you be more productive investment in yourself and your company. I've been able to grow my business faster, eat better, live better, and spend more time doing what I love.

Create a Stop Doing List

Jim Collins planted this idea in my head a few weeks ago at the Inc 500 conference. Virtually all entrepreneurs carry around a to-do list, but few of us carry around a list of things to stop doing. The discipline to stop doing something is potentially more difficult, but more important than crossing something off of your to-do list. Focus is critical to success and with focus you need to know both what to do and what not to do. On my stop doing list for this year: 1) Stop checking email more than a couple of times a day, 2) Stop working in the company rather than on the company 3) Stop my PhD and 4) Stop working on PriceFight. I've successfully done three of the four.

If you had a stop doing list on the back side of your "to do" list, what would it have on it?

Michael Griffin is the founder of Adlucent, a fast growing search engine marketing startup located in Austin, TX. Prior to Adlucent, Michael was the founder of PriceFight and the Coffee Research Institute.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bootstrappers will shine in the startup depression

Some really smart people have commented publicly about the US and global economic crisis at hand and what that means for startups. Jason Calacanis was one of the first, followed by Fred Wilson and Ron Conway (my good friend Ian Clarke has jokingly referred to me as the Ron Conway of Austin because I'm an early stage investor in so many different Austin companies). As I've been fundraising for OtherInbox, I've talked with many other entrepreneurs, advisors and investors and wanted to share a summary of what I've been hearing and how it's affecting my direction at OtherInbox. Each comes at it from slightly different perspectives.

Jason_calacanisJason, an entrepreneur, takes a very introspective view of how he wants to respond to adversity and who he wants to be as a person. He says the three main causes of startup failure are poor execution, a poor idea or external factors (in this case the market) and advises startups to focus on execution and make the most of the down time by being lean and acquiring good talent.

Fred_wilsonFred Wilson, a venture capitalist, explains the view of a well-funded company with cash reserves of its own and experienced investors with deep pockets to draw on in tight times. He points out that companies who are not profitable or growing could have trouble, but that companies that are doing well shouldn't have trouble because VC's have deep pockets and will invest more capital to help weather the storm.

RonconwayRon Conway, a prolific angel investor, looked from the perspective of entrepreneurs about to take the plunge and raise angel money. He cautioned them not to quit their day jobs until they have secured funding for at least one full year of operating capital.

Bioprofile_headshot_ajay_agarwal_2Ajay Agarwal, a venture capitalist from Bain Capital Ventures and friend from when we both worked at Trilogy software, pointed out that the typical Series A investment takes 7 years to mature and that 7 years from now is probably the right time frame for the economy to recovered and growing. Consequently, he thinks that the next year will be a great time for smart venture capitalists to make early stage investments. He cautioned that later stage companies that are not profitable and have a shorter time horizon are going to have a tougher time raising capital over the next few years.

My first company, SKYLIST, saw incredible growth during the last recession. I started it in 1996, but we really started to boom in 2000 as the dotcom bubble deflated. True, it was the first time when I was focused on it full time, and not going to college or working at Trilogy. But I think the reason for the growth was that we were riding the rising tide of online marketing and email marketing in particular.

Even though the overall economy was down, some forms of online marketing grew. Marketing budgets were scrutinized and cut. Broadband Internet became pervasive and online marketing boomed because the audience was finally there and it was more measurable than traditional advertising. Budgets shifted from offline to online. Even though the total budgets were shrinking, the total amounts allocated to online were growing.

One way to be successful in a down market is to find these niches that may be growing as a result of shifting budgets and priorities. With currency, when the value of the dollar goes down, the value of gold goes up. Where is the gold in the market now? What opportunities have been created as a result of the credit crunch?

As I've been fund-raising for OtherInbox, the current market conditions have certainly affected my goals and risk profile. I'm inclined to raise more a little more money and make sure that I give myself a longer runway. I'm searching for ways to generate revenue sooner than originally planned to cut my burn rate.

This is where bootstrapping will shine. All things considered, I'm kind of wishing I was bootstrapping a startup right now and am looking for every way to make OtherInbox more like a bootstrap company. Bootstrap companies are lean and efficient. Bootstrap companies delay every cost as long as possible. Bootstrap companies are resourceful. But most importantly, bootstrap companies are forced to focus on the Right Action at the Right Time because there is no alternative.

Joshua Baer is the founder of OtherInbox and blogs at The first 25 people to click here can bypass the line for the exclusive OtherInbox private beta program.

Friday, October 03, 2008

It's Like Riding a Bicycle

My first bike was a pink Huffy. I loved that bike. It was Mine. It had a cushy seat, handle bar frills, and a big flowery basket attached to the front. I was excited about riding it, but also fearful because I knew how much it would hurt if I fell. But having the encouragement of my father, I climbed on. Dad held it steady, and I made my first wobbly attempt down the driveway. As the day progressed, Dad held on less and less, let go sooner and sooner. I learned which muscles movements worked, I learned to put my foot down when I slowed, and after a while I could even turn before I hit the fence at the end of the drive.

In starting my own business, I realized that the experiences are the same. One day, I just knew it was time. I had a fledgling business that had customers, a mailing list, a website and a modest income. I had joined Bootstrap Austin two years prior and had seen others make the leap, had seen them struggle and then reach success. With encouragement from my friends, I made the leap - quit my job and never looked back.

Now that my livelihood was dependent on my business success, I said 'Yes!' to everything. I agreed to any opportunity to make contact with customers. Some things worked, some weren't so successful, and some were a complete waste of time, but I couldn't tell the difference at first. As I proceeded and gained confidence in my business model and my talent, I began to make better decisions. I narrowed my focus. I could look at an opportunity and say "that will take me too far off course" or "I know that is the right direction for me."

When I was in college psychology courses studying learning and memory, I was introduced to a model of learning developed by Fitts and Posner. They proposed that learning a task involved three key elements: watching others perform the task, getting experienced feedback, and continual elimination of unnecessary movements. The similarities between starting my business and learning a new physical skill struck me. The same principles that allow children and athletes learn and hone a complex action also apply to the stages of bootstrapping a business.

In Ideation, we watch and learn from our peers, we meet others who have been on their entrepreneurial paths, and we start developing the courage to trust ourselves. In the Valley of Death, we leave the security of our jobs, and start the conversation with the customer - learning what works, and what doesn't - the elimination of unnecessary action. In Growth, we know our customers, we know what they want, and we can start adding additional services that add flair and value.

The bootstrap community provided the essential components of learning along the way. In Ideation, I got my bike and met my peers and teachers. In the VoD, I wobbled off, ran into a few fences but eventually learned what worked, and more importantly, what didn't. Soon now, I will enter Growth and start doing really cool tricks, and maybe even help someone else take their first wobbly ride.

Marcy Hoen is the Founder of Austin Art Start, co-lead for the Bootstrap Art Subgroup, and lead the Bootstrap Ideation Subgroup for 2007.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Architecture of Education, Part 2

The first part on the Architecture of Education is here.

The conference I attended, 3 days in the woods in British Columbia, changed who I am. I was there as a result of one man, who bootstrapped what I think is the most forward thing happening in education right now. This is why I traveled all that way to meet him, and join his organization to help them bootstrap their global program, taking students outside of BC for the first time.

One dad, who so was so moved by his daughters learning process, and request to learn at home from her parents, he decided to create a unique program, to accommodate her. He held a meeting to share his vision with others who might want to participate in their journey. No one came. Many would have stopped there, but he held another meeting. One dad showed up, and between these two fathers, willing to be something different for their children, the educational movement which is SelfDesign, was born.

I plied Brent's partner for information, as I am always interested in the story behind the story. What was it that made him so passionate, that he was willing to follow his vision through 25 years of ups and downs, creating what I think is going to be one of the most important events in education thus far, a self empowered group of students, in control of their own educational process, in global communication with one another? Of course she could not give me a simple answer, because evolution is not a simple process.

In my own study of Greek mythology, I have always been fascinated that the Greeks took their children to Chiron, the Centaur, who taught these children of the gods in such a way, they would surpass their parents in greatness. This was an expected outcome, when the gods left their treasured children, in his charge. What she told me, mirrored this principle, that Brent wanted something greater for his daughter, than he himself had.

At the conference, I made a new friend, a former professor in the College of Education at Seattle University, and a Harvard PHD. When I asked him why he traveled north to the woods, to be there, he said that he thinks this is one of the most important things happening in education, which is going to impact humanity's ability to evolve.

Evolve. Yes, that is my dream. If there are enough adults, holding the space for these magical children on the earth at this time, modeling that failure should be celebrated, thinking outside of the box is most welcome, learning what your own internal guidance system sounds like and having the courage to follow it is personal transformation at its best, I believe we have the potential to experience the largest evolutionary leap in humanity our wonderful planet has ever seen.

In thirty years, I hope to be driving with my grandchildren, and see what looks like Mr. Plumbean's street, in my number one favorite book of all time (which is saying a lot as books are one of my most favorite things, and my husband is a children's book author, but he will forgive me, I'm sure) the Big Orange Splot**. If you have not read it, please, please do.

I want to live in a world, where I can see the architecture of the dreams of today's children, made manifest, all around me. And thank you Brent, for bootstrapping a business, that I so believe in, giving me the professional opportunity to help create my vision of a world where children are supported in being the fullest version of themselves. In helping you bootstrap this global program, I have realized that SelfDesigning is me and I am it, it is a way of being where I can be nurtured and supported, in fulfilling all of my dreams, and hold the space for my husband, and children, to do the same.

After Mr. Plumbean, is inspired to create the house of his dreams, replete with frangipani and a crocodile, his neighbors cry in exasperation, "Tell him that we all liked it here before he changed his house. Tell him that his house has to be the same as ours so we can have a neat street."

"My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my
dreams," was Mr. Plumbean's reply. Read the book and find out how one man,
modeling this, changed the architecture of his neighborhood, one person, one house,
one dream at a time.

*One of MJ Neal's projects, is featured in this month's issue of Dwell. He focuses on modern design, and
believes that great architecture, can be affordable.
**The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater, published by Hastings House by arrangement with
Scholastic Book Services

Ariel Miller, M.Div. leads the Bootstrap Education Subgroup. She is currently bootstrapping a home learning program with SelfDesign Global, an organization that has won several awards, and has a 25 year track record, developing new ways of supporting parents, and children in becoming joyful, enthusiastic, lifelong learners.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Extreme Bootstrapping - Part 1

I'm a naive idealist, how 'bout you?

In late 2005, my motivations were many to quit a six figure, 25-year, high tech career and launch TRACEe, a venture dedicated to applying technology to tracing lives for good; the good of the individual, society and essentially for eternity. Among the most significant of these motives were to release pent up entrepreneurial energy, to engage in work that kept me closer to home in hopes of shoring up family relationships that had begun to unravel and to produce results with more meaning and direct benefit to society. Little did I know these motivations would draw me into the "underbelly of Austin" narrowly escaping bullets, knives and a family catastrophe.

In early 2006, I thought I was bootstrapping when I joined Bootstrap Austin. But, attending Bootstrap Austin networking meetings does not a bootstrapper make. Submitting a proposal for a Homeland Security SBIR grant doesn't either.

Which makes me wonder...what constitutes real bootstrapping? Does applying for 20 patent claims make you a bootstrapper? How about stumbling on a technology partner willing to lend software for demonstrating your proof of concept - ala "demo/sell/build?" Or leveraging UTA and St. Edwards University internship program resources to validate the business model and design elements of the offering? Or becoming a distribution partner for companies whose products are components within your intended offering? Or freelance consulting in areas aligned with your company direction? Or formulating an advisory board by promising a future equity stake? Or selling the company soul to the Austin Technology Incubator and affiliated VCs hoping to secure "free office space and business mentoring services?" Or volunteering your time to community events hoping to make the right contacts? It turns out that all of these fall short of what I discovered to be real bootstrapping.

Don't get me wrong, many of the aforementioned activities should and are commonly part of a bootstrapper's journey, however, real bootstrapping for me emerged only when faced with an imminent catastrophe in my life: the breakup of my family; my wife of 20 years, 16 year-old daughter and 11 year-old son.

It cut deep to learn that appreciation for the prior 20 years of providing a steady, high standard of living for my family was short-lived as evidenced by my wife's June 2007 ultimatum to "get a real job by year end or divorce will follow." Frankly, this was not unexpected as my wife and our financial situation had been under considerable strain since TRACEe began. What broadsided me, however, was when she relayed my daughter's perspective: "Mom, when are you going to divorce Dad?" POW - a heart punch! You never expect your own child to want you out of their life especially when you've spent the last 16 years loving and nurturing her to young adulthood.

So, what was I to do? Give up on TRACEe and go back to the corporate world fraught with meaningless churn, greed and travel so that my family could return to having all the comforts they had grown accustomed to but at the inevitable expense of a broken family anyway? Or, continue the TRACEe venture that felt like the right path to be on relative to my life, my family and society?

After a few days of contemplation, prayer, counsel with friends & fellow bootstrappers and a coincidental read of The Dip by Seth Godin, the answer was clear: push on, go where most are unwilling to go; survive the dip! After all, how could my friends, family and a person with the moral stature of my wife fault me for doing otherwise? So, push on it was...but how? What could possibly position TRACEe as a viable growth (or at least sustenance) business within a six month window and hold my family together?

That's when the creative entrepreneurial mind coupled with personal spiritual influences kicked in. Without actually realizing it, my subconscious mind, heart and soul were formulating a survival plan. One which surfaced at a most unexpected time - while applying a fresh coat of white paint to our back door on a hot, sunny August day. On that day, at that moment, as that brush stroke spread its film of latex down, with bitter sweet emotion, I surrendered to the core concept of my survival plan - to become homeless via a six month immersion on the streets of Austin, my only companions being the poorest of the poor, my laptop and my cell phone both equipped with mobile, live streaming video, GPS and chat capability. The goals were (1) to explore social networking for the homeless via live interactive streaming of their stories to a global internet audience, (2) drive TRACEe technology development, assets and business partnerships, (3) garner TRACEe recognition and marketing lift, (4) generate modest cash flow and last but not least (5) keep the family in tact. Why not since I was likely to be homeless come December anyway? To quote a friend, "That idea is so crazy, it just might work!"

Somehow this plan incorporated elements of my entire life as if it weren't actually a plan but a destined road map. It leveraged many significant personal, family, educational, work and spiritual experiences whose purpose was now being revealed in tHis "Master Plan," one that had a clear lead up and a promising aftermath for family, company and society assuming I survived!

So, let the real bootstrapping begin!

Please stay tuned for future posts covering how it all played out. Alternatively, please feel free to explore and decipher aspects of it sooner by visiting archived immersion video at my latest alpha site, Homeless Coach. Note: the homeless immersion activity is concentrated within the date range of 3/16/08 to 4/25/08 which can be accessed by clicking the "archive" button that launches a date-based search dialog.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Architecture of Education, Part 1

Maxim V "To Teach, as the former of character, and the promoter of the collective happiness of man"
- A. Bronson Alcott, General Maxims by which to regulate the
Instructor's Practice, In Instruction, from the original Journal of 1826

Recently, I was traveling by bus from Seattle to British Columbia, for a business conference on education. I was so awed by seeing the beauty of the northwest for the first time, I would say I was having a downright mystical experience, until my heart sank, when we pulled into a strip mall to pick up some passengers.

It is not that I am so against strip malls, but this strip mall looked exactly like several I
frequently drive by in Austin. I saw a similar strip mall, when I traveled to where I grew
up in New England last year, and visited Indianapolis and Kentucky the year before.
Same strip mall, same architecture, same stores.

Education and how we regard our youth, is what I think about most of my waking moments (and in my sleep, as I dream about it too). I will admit, I am a bit of a zealot when it comes to educational issues.

My mind immediately translated this lack of uniqueness, what I was seeing several thousand miles from home, that looked exactly like what is down the street from me in the Lone Star State where I reside, as a reflection of our current education crisis.

Recently, I had several hours to sit and have a cup of tea with a mom who is married to a world class architect*, while our sons were shooting a movie, in which they had been cast. She is as passionate about architecture as I am education, and started cussing up a storm when she noticed the fake plastic moldings on the windows. She said, this was an attempt to make the building we were sitting in look like something it was not (a quaint European cottage). Her point of view was, why mimic something, with fake plastic, rather than just be uniquely what you are.

At first I thought she was acting a bit nuts, getting so upset over plastic window molding. When the bus pulled into that strip mall however, I realized she is right, and as passionate about authenticity in architecture, as I am about each child being supported in following their individual dreams, and passions, in education.

Upon having this realization, I remembered that in my own high school, there was a room in the center of the building, in which I refused to take classes. My mother was the guidance counselor, so I had access to the class list, and in which rooms classes would be held.

When she asked me why I so adamantly refused to take certain classes, I told her it was because they were being held in the dreaded room-with-no-windows. Pressing me further, as to why this was such a big deal, my answer was, "What if it starts to snow?"

In New England, once it turned cold and gray, I would hold my breath for the first snow fall of the year. I considered it an absolute crime to be stuck in a building where I was not allowed to go outside and dance in those first falling flakes, I certainly wasn't going to allow myself to miss the experience visually, if it happened during the school day.

While living in a small Texas town several years ago, my husband and I rode our bikes by a large institutional looking building. I stopped my bike and said, "I didn't know there was a prison in this town." He looked at me oddly, and said, "Honey, that is the high school." I started to cry. Imagine my horror, when I learned that many of our schools, are designed by architects, who also design prisons.

Is it that we are all forced into a standard system that has absolutely no reverence for who we are as creative individuals, that allows us to accept such conformity, such a lack of originality, and lack of authenticity in our surroundings? Is it that the majority of us are forced to spend year after year learning things that someone else has deemed important, the idea being that we have to be stuffed full of a certain amount of knowledge before we are ready to enter the world, rather than the adults around us holding the space for our own inner exploration and discovery of who we are as unique individuals? That the REALLY important information resides deep within each one of us, and EDUCATION needs to facilitate our own inner journey to bring this information out, to create our own unique dance with the world?

Ariel Miller, M.Div. leads the Bootstrap Education Subgroup. She is currently bootstrapping a home learning program with SelfDesign Global, an organization that has won several awards, and has a 25 year track record, developing new ways of supporting parents, and children in becoming joyful, enthusiastic, lifelong learners.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bookmarking Bootstrap

Brewster Kahle used to talk about the Internet as a huge book that everyone was collaboratively writing, and in that spirit, we adopted early on the metaphor of "bookmarking" to note online addresses we might return to for whatever reason. Bookmarking was crucial to evolving browser navigation, and soon enough we had web sites where we could store bookmarks. A site called del.icio.ous gave us a way to categorize bookmarks with simple tags. Any user of the system could create a personal set of tags - roll your own taxonomy. So why not share tags and bookmarks with others? That's the concept of social bookmarking, shared sites, navigation, and bottom-up taxonomies or "folksonomies." Social bookmarking became a popular way to share content, and to "vote" with your feet - using algorithms that rate content by the number of bookmarks and the number of links. This is all part of the evolution of a web-facilitated mediasphere where the line between content producer and content consumer is blurred, and crowds collaborate in making and extending stories and knowledge.

We can facilitate the social bookmarking of our own content by adding "blogware" that makes it easy to bookmark a site at one of the many social bookmarking and collaborative content sites that have appeared. We've done this at - we've added a drop-down menu to the footer of each post for bookmarking posts at, Digg, Furl, ma.gnolia, Yahoo, Google, Stumbleupon and Facebook.

Social bookmarking can be a powerful way for this community to share knowledge about bootstrapping with each other and the world. We strongly encourage everybody to read the Bootsap Austin blog ( and bookmark those things you find compelling at one or more of the social bookmarking sites listed.

Info about the social bookmarking sites (via Wikipedia):

Delicious (formerly, pronounced "delicious") is a social bookmarking web service for storing, sharing, and discovering web bookmarks.

Digg is a website made for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the Internet, by submitting links and stories, and voting and commenting on submitted links and stories.

Furl (from File Uniform Resource Locators) is a free social bookmarking website that allows members to store searchable copies of webpages and share them with others.

ma.gnolia is a social bookmarking site similar to Delicious.

Yahoo'a Myweb is Yahoo's social bookmarking site.

Google Bookmarks is Google's social bookmarking site.

StumbleUpon is an internet community that allows its users to discover and rate Web pages, photos, and videos. It is a personalized recommendation engine which uses peer and social-networking principles.

At Facebook, you can post bookmarks to you profile.

Note that these sites require registration.

Give the bookmarking widget a try!

Jon leads the Bootstrap Web Subgroup and is involved in two bootstraps, Polycot Associates and Social Web Strategies. He manages his web presence in multiple locations including his Weblogsky blog.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom

Twelve years ago, I was fresh out of college and found myself at a now-defunct Mac conference in San Jose. The keynote speaker was Guy Kawasaki. As any Mac zealot will tell you, Guy was (and is) almost as much of an icon for Apple as Steve Jobs himself. As I stood at the door to the hall, first in line, reading Guy's latest book, How to Drive your Competition Crazy, I felt a presence next to me. I glanced up from my reading and there was Guy!! I was nearly speechless, but managed to ask for an autograph. He graciously obliged and I was in geek heaven. As I sat there on the front row of Guy's keynote, I took pages of notes. A few distinct pieces of advice have stuck with me all these years and they find their way to the forefront of my mind now and then.

1. Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom
You never know which idea will take hold. Push hard to promote your product, service, or idea into as many areas as possible. Social networking makes this aspect of marketing easier than ever. This is one principle behind why we created The idea that you need to know which flowers are blooming before it's too late so you can nurse and cultivate these opportunities. Cast your seeds of knowledge far and wide. Encourage others to spread the word and share their experience. You never know which of these seeds will take root and become a major source of opportunity.

2. Focus On Your Customers
Many entrepreneurs will tell you that customer focus is key to success. They are 100% correct. This doesn't mean that the customer is always right. What it does mean is that you need to run your business from both sides of the counter. Put yourself in the customer's shoes. Look at your organization from the outside. What are the 5 criteria that you would use to evaluate a buying decision for a company selling your services? How would you honestly rate your company in each of these areas? How would your customers rate you in each of these areas? If you don't know, pick up the phone (don't email them) and ask them. They want you to know - I promise.

3. Make Mountains out of Molehills
Let's admit it. Not everyone has a mountain to claim their own. Most of us start out with molehills. That's ok, as long as you know how to turn those molehills into mountains. Entrepreneurs around the world will tell you that small is the new big, slow is the new fast, and cheap is chic. They are right, but only if you believe it too. Make your perceived weaknesses your strengths. What edge does your molehill give you? Find it, promote it, and flaunt it. Use it to your advantage and make it work.

4. A Safe First Step
It's human nature to be skeptical and want to "try before you buy." Give your customers a way to engage with you without a massive investment or commitment. Whether it be a limited trial, a money-back guarantee, or a free sample. Whether it's a new product or a slow-mover in inventory, offering the customer a taste of the experience will leave them wanting for more -- assuming they like the taste. If they don't, chances are they weren't going to like the whole package anyway and would have been a bad customer in the end. This gives you both a chance to have a dry-run before making a long-term commitment.

I learned a lot from Guy in that keynote, his books, and from many that he inspired and those who inspired him. A couple of years ago, Guy came to Austin for another speaking engagement. I got another autograph in his latest book, The Art of the Start. I got a kick out of a few pieces of his presentation when I heard much of the same material as I had ten years earlier. Mountains out of molehills, remember?

Andy Meadows is the founder of Live Oak 360, a web software company that focuses on content management, ecommerce, and social networking. Live Oak 360's latest product is You can learn more about Andy at