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.