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Archive for April, 2011

The Shackles of Freedom

23 Apr
Shackles of Freedom

Shackles of Freedom —photo: housingworksauctions

People idealize what it must be like to start their own company, thinking that they’d have so much time and freedom to work whenever and wherever they’d like. Anyone that is serious about their own startup knows that is not so easy; but that doesn’t stop me from trying!

Shackles

First, there are the typical responsibilities of life of family and kids. Most people quickly learn that, in practice, working at home can be challenging—barking dogs punctuating important discussions on phone calls; kids needing attention and banging indecipherable passages into your business plan or testing CD/DVD tray as peanut-butter sandwich toaster; or a significant other that assumes that since you’re at home, you must have a lot of free time to do chores.

Second, the demands of (again, seriously) starting a company means meeting with lawyers, bankers, designers, engineers, and, more importantly, maintaining and building your business network.  These demands keep you from straying far from home for long.

Balancing Act

Running a Startup is a Balancing-act

Running a Startup is a Balancing-act —photo daniele.vigna

As with anything in life, finding a balance is a challenge. A startup venture takes a strong commitment of time and energy. It is important to keep one eye on the business and another on your own life, lest you burn yourself out. The balancing point is rarely a comfortable trough—easily found and easy to settle into—but, rather, a razor-thin tightrope full of struggle and compromise. If you’re endeavoring to start your own business, you have been warned! And be prepared to perform your startup balancing act for the circus.

Living the Dream

But I like circuses. I do not have a dog (or fish) nor kids to tend to and my number one priority for the business is to focus on implementation issues. So I put myself to the challenge of mixing work with play.

Since I had put off use of my season pass to Squaw Valley in order to participate in the Founder Institute program, I shirked my networking duties and left Seattle for Lake Tahoe to use what was left of the pass. My plan was to get my skiing back up to snuff and work on the application.

I was fortunate that the snow was still good despite it being spring so I wasn’t too disappointed to have missed the epic snow of February. The mountain was my “gym”—though not as convenient as putting on shorts and grabbing my gym-bag—I would start most days with some time on the hill. Being springtime, the snow often became unskiable as it turned to sloppy, sticky mush, so I would head back and try to get some programming done.

Even play has its challenges

Even play has its challenges —Bill Lee, Squaw Valley, 2011

Settling into a rhythm of work and play was a challenge. Coming back from the gym, too tired to program meant many nights, working until 4am. But this was my personal challenge to “live the dream” and it was a balancing act. I was not as productive as I would have liked but I began to settle into a rhythm where I was able to be productive. Practice makes perfect, I will be better at it next time, as I strive towards my dream of building a successful startup company and earning my level III ski instructor’s certification.

If part of the reason that you want to start your own venture is to live your dream of independence, it can be done, but don’t expect it to be without its challenges. How do you want to live your startup-life?

 
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Posted in Startup

 

Blogging Regularly For Non-Writers

23 Apr

Writing with a blank slateHave you seen the infographic saying you should be blogging at least three days a week to keep people coming back to your site? When I saw this, I thought, “how could I ever come up with that much content, I’m not even a writer!” I’m going to share how I’m managing this internal perception by creating habits to help me “feel” like a writer.

The biggest challenge when you’re getting started or when you step into a role where blogging becomes part of your responsibility is making time to write. I get the best inspiration for blog posts as I’m driving, in the shower, or running. None of these situations make it easy for me to jot down my thoughts. Yet If I put a system in place to get these thoughts together the writing process would go so much smoother.

The other big challenge is I don’t think of myself as a writer. I tried video blogging as a replacement, as soon as I would turn on the webcam, every coherent thought seemed to leave my mind. I was able to post a couple of quick videos and the biggest challenge in video blogging from a public location was feeling awkward talking to myself. It’s sort of the reason why I hate those Bluetooth thingies and insist on speakerphone instead.

To overcome these challenges and to push myself to BE UNCOMFORTABLE, which is where growth happens, I’ve put together a couple tips for non-writers who blog.

Tips for Non-Writers Who Blog

  1. Schedule 30 – 60 minutes to blog everyday.
    You don’t need to post everyday. Scheduling the time with the goal of creating a daily habit to write will improve your writing skills.
  2. Write uninterrupted during your scheduled time.
    This sounds so obvious, why even point it out, right? The goal is to focus on writing, no email, no texting, and no instant messaging. If you’re like me, you might have electronic ADHD, jumping from IM to email to text, research that link or stat, tweet something, post to Facebook fan page and after an hour your blog post has nothing written in it. So when you’re writing, all distractions need to be turned off or muted.
  3. Put placeholders for statistics, links, or resources in your blog post.
    Remember the goal is to write for an uninterrupted 30 – 60 minutes. Once you’re writing time is done, you can go back and look for those resources to include in your post.
  4. Release your blog posts according to your schedule.
    You can proofread your posts and send it out to your formal and informal editors, the most important thing is to release according to your schedule. We all want perfect writing and besides getting those typos fixed, you just have to let it go. Know you will get better over time AND you can always update the post to fix errors.

Resources

Here are a couple apps I use to blog on the go.

  • Evernote
    I love Evernote when I’m driving because I can record a voice note on the go, then when I get to the computer I can type it up. I like that Evernote will sync to my computer or to the web without sync cables.
  • Dragon Dictate by Nuance
    One of the lawyers I’ve met in Seattle uses Dragon Dictate to dictate his blog posts. The app will turn your voice notes into text you can email to yourself. He would email the converted text, edit it on the computer, and post to his blog. I found I wasn’t successful at using Dragon Dictate because it needs an Internet connection to convert from voice to text and my Mifi card wasn’t getting a strong enough signal in my area.
  • WordPress app
    Our business blogs are self-hosted WordPress on our domain, once I complete a draft in Evernote, I can copy it all into the WordPress app for posting. I could write the draft directly in the app but it doesn’t have the ability to save voice notes, at least not that I’m aware.
  • Blogwriter Lite
    My personal blog is hosted on Blogger and I was hesitating to move it to WordPress because the app was preventing me from logging into one of the business blogs. Now that issue is fixed so I’m debating if I want to move to WordPress or host my personal blog on Tumblr for ease of use.

Do you have tips to get from beginning blogger to experienced? What are your favorite blogging tools on the go? Put them in the comments.

Note: I wrote and edited this entire post in Evernote on the iPod, then copied into the WordPress app to publish.

Image credit: http://m.flickr.com/#/photos/kristiand/3223920178/

 
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Posted in Marketing

 

Experiment: Turning an iTouch + MiFi into a No Contract iPhone

11 Apr
Turning iPod to iPhone Apps

Out of sheer frustration from the lack of AT&T service on the iPhone 3GS in some parts of San Francisco and at home, I started looking at alternatives in service without signing up for another contract. In this quest, I stumbled upon Virgin Mobile and their MiFi card for only $149.99 which is the exact same MiFi card as sold on Verizon and Sprint for much more. I thought I would connect through Virgin Mobile MiFi (uses the Sprint network) when AT&T didn’t have service. This is a reposted from my personal blog.

This post is long overdue, if you googled iPod Touch and MiFi together, you would have come across a LifeHacker article which details how to use this combination as a solution. While having two devices is not ideal, I find it’s much better than when I was using my iphone which had NO SERVICE at home. At best I had intermittent service to send and receive occasional texts but not enough bandwidth to have a conversation without sitting in perfect stillness or contorting my body by a window to get the signal. Ironically, I pulled the SIM card out of my iphone and put it in a Motorola RAZR and the RAZR received phone calls. The calls weren’t perfect on the RAZR yet I had enough of a signal to hear a conversation. On the iphone people would cut in and out that I would miss half the conversation and was completely frustrated between that and the dropped calls.

Apps to Talk & Text on the iTouch
First, I’ve tried several voice over IP (VOIP) apps on the iphone and forwarded my google voice number to the VOIP apps. These apps usually make you select a new phone number without the option to port in an existing number. I use google voice (GV) for the business and forward it to a phone number with a signal or answer calls on the computer. A previous guest post on GenJuice details how to make free voice calls, video chats, and texting.

Here are the apps I’m using to give the iPod Touch cell phone functionality.

Textfree with Voice by Pinger

Textfree with Voice

I was using the beta version when Pinger introduced voice-functionality at TechCrunch Disrupt last year, it crashed a lot and I received the servers were not available dialogs. It has since improved, then added the ability to received free incoming calls, send picture messages from a textfree email address which is [your_username]@textfree.us, and facebook chat from within this app. Sometimes, calls take a bit longer to connect because GV will route the call to all of my available numbers. I haven’t tested how quickly calls come through if you dial the number directly. The caveat with this free app is if you don’t use the app for 30 days, you will lose the number you selected and I still occasionally get the Textfree servers are not available message.

Pros:

  • Free incoming calls
  • Send picture messages
  • Facebook chat within the app
  • Notifications popup on the screen when you get incoming texts
  • Calls sound pretty good when using home WiFi
Cons:
  • Takes awhile for incoming calls to activate even after you click answer when using the MiFi card to connect to the internet.
  • Calls on 3G are still somewhat hollow sounding for the recipient.
  • Can’t receive MMS or picture messages to your iTouch unless the sender sends the message to your Textfree email address.

Skype

Skype

I pay $2.99 a month for unlimited outgoing calls to the United States and Canada on Skype. I don’t need to call internationally which is why this plan works for me. I also signed up for the SkypeIn or an online phone number which was about $12 for three months before I learned Textfree had the free incoming calls. Dropping the online phone number since I can receive calls via my computer on Google Talk.

Pros:

  • You select the number that will show on the caller ID for your outgoing call. I like this because my GV number is what people see call their mobile or landline either from my iTouch or the desktop version of Skype.
  • Video calls on the go when in a good 3G area or ideally on WiFi.
Cons:
  • Voicemail – there is currently voicemail on Skype and I don’t know how to get rid of it. I prefer the GV voicemail since it transcribes my messages.
  • Calls when in a non-3G area don’t sound very good.
GV Connect

GV Connect by Andreas Amann

Of the Google Voice apps I’ve tested, I like GV Connect over the app released by Google. In composing a new SMS or text message, you can type in the name of the person you want directly in the TO field, tap out your text, then send. In the Google Voice app, unless you have the number memorized, you have to go to the address book to select the person first, then select text, before you can even tap out your message. It was too many steps, come on Google, really!??

Pros:

  • Sending a text uses my address book without having additional steps.
  • Select which phones to forward calls and texts to from within the app.
  • Select do not disturb directly from the app.
  • Regular updates to the app to fix bugs and add features.
  • Integrates with Talkatone if using that for VOIP.

Cons:

  • Not a VOIP app.
MiFi

MiFi

This app doesn’t add calling or texting capabilities, I had to add it because I use it to check battery life on my MiFi card and to see the signal strength. It supports MiFi from Virgin Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint.

Measures:

  • Connectivity bars (0 – 5 bars)
  • Battery level (0 – 4 bars)
  • Data received and sent (in/out)
  • IP address
While the experience with the iTouch and MiFi is not ideal, it was good enough for me to put my AT&T account on hold until announcements of the iPhone 5. I will detail that later along with the other apps I’ve tried and ultimately deleted from my ipod because they didn’t do what I wanted well enough.
Have you tried these apps on your ipod or ipad? If you have better suggestions for a VOIP app let me know in the comments, I would love to try them out!
 
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Posted in Technical