Update: Ask500People is launched and sleep proves elusive.

October 10, 2007

After months of work we are finally off and running and boy does it feel good. The site is Ask500People.com – a tool for tapping into public opinion in real-time.

I hope you like it.

It’s 3:23AM by my laptop clock as I start writing this. I can’t sleep.

The East Coast is just coming online, and in a few hours we’ll have a much better idea if Ask500People is going to grow by word of mouth, and if so how fast.

Instead of an initial marketing blitz we’re doing a soft launch, telling a few friends about the site and hoping that word spreads. If it does take off, we’ll be happy we started off slowly because we’ll have more time to handle growth issues. There are technical challenges that we’ll encounter only once we start growing, and it’s easier to handle them when things are still moving slowly.

We told friends about the site to get things started, and initially we recognized everyone who came by to check it out. Ah there’s Jeremy. Oh, and Kim. Hey Kim.

After awhile we noticed a few people we didn’t recognize, which meant word was spreading a bit. “Hey, anyone know username X? No? Coooool.” On Tuesday we added a simple web counter so we could easily watch traffic and referrers:

Here’s visitors by hour. You can see where the counter was added to the page between 6-7PM PST yesterday.

Ok, I’m off to try to sleep again. (Yeah, right!)


Reuben Walks!

October 4, 2007

It’s been pretty neat to watch Reuben learning to walk. For the last couple months he’s wandered around the world holding onto people’s hands.

If you were to let go of his hand, he would immediately pursue the safest course of action and sit down. Instincts at work. Over a two day period he decided walking around on his own wouldn’t be so bad and off he went. This video is from day two of hands-free walking.

(video here)

We are so screwed.

Almost there…

September 23, 2007

We missed our self-imposed deadline of launching on September 20th.

Here’s what happened. In our application we want the community to be able to vote on which content is most interesting. It’s a core feature of the app, and while it sounds simple it’s tied into many other systems.

We could launch on time without it, but then we’d be trying to add it just when we want to be most responsive to initial feedback coming in. Just after launch we’ll want to be working on small features, which means we’ll have lots of good stopping places for the inevitable tweaks and adjustments.

Thanks for your patience!

Update & Count down

September 3, 2007

Making web software is all about iteration.

First you put out an incredible, world-changing product. Next, people tell you why it’s no good, and then you keep refining it until they change their minds or you run out of money, time or willpower. Usually money.

Because we haven’t yet opened the front doors and let the world in, we don’t know the answer to the only question that really matters; “Will people actually use this?

It’s easy to rationalize the delay. The longer we keep polishing, the less likely we are to make a bad first impression.

On the other hand we could realize we’ve been adjusting the rear-view mirrors while the rear axle sits waiting to be installed.

Anyways, we’ll have something to show the world by September 20th. These rear-view mirrors are almost right…

blue skies and business plans

June 13, 2007

I’ve always been proud of the fact that Wondermill has never taken outside investment.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but we have a solid business model and no debt.  We’re in good shape.

Bootstrapping for years has taught us to be careful with money and ensured we keep profitability in mind.  On the other hand we’ve had to pass up ideas with big growth potential but that might not fund themselves in the short term.

Now we’re at that fork in the road again with a new idea, and it’s time to choose the other path. 

Here’s what’s up.

We’re working on a new service, which we’re hoping to launch in the next month.  When we light the fuse, one of two things will happen.

A)  People love it.  Takeoff is explosive and we’re holding on tight as we go see what’s on the other side of the moon.

B)  The world shrugs, and we clamber out wondering what went wrong.  Then we either tinker with it and see if it’ll go, or go back to work on other projects.

I believe it’s going to be A. 

There are competitors already in the space, which is reassuring.  They’re proving a market exists, and they’re well-funded.  One has received $4M over two rounds and one started with $5M. 

We don’t need anything near that amount, but we do need more than we have now.  If the app is successful, we’d need three more people right away and more soon after that.  Ideally we’d be hiring for those positions now, as it usually takes six weeks to hire the right person.

Wondermill might be able to fund the new business at a survival level but there are other reasons to look for outside investment. 

I’ve got responsibilities now.

I’m married, and we’d like to buy a house someday.  I’ve got a kid who says “balababababrrble” but may someday say “hi dad, put me through college”, and I’d like to stop asking my wife if I can not pay myself again this month.

And so, for the first time in many years it’s time to make a business plan and see where this thing goes.

I’m a little nervous because it’s outside my comfort zone, but I’ll get over it.

Wish me luck!

happy mother’s day!

May 13, 2007

(Insert mother’s day video here)

imagine a real fresh start!

May 13, 2007

I enjoyed this video (1 hr, 26 mins), about a man with total amnesia rediscovering who he is and meeting all his old friends again for the first time. Lots of interesting questions are raised such as how much of our personalities are based on our life experiences and how much are innate. The film maker does a nice job of raising these questions and making you think but ultimately letting you answer these questions on your own.

It’s kind of long to watch on the computer though, it’ll be nice when it’s easier to pipe this stuff to the living room.

“What should I be working on?”

May 11, 2007

“What is the most important thing I can be doing right now?” is a powerful question.  For me there’s a direct relationship between how often I ask myself that question and how good I feel about my work that day.

Checking in and realizing you need to change directions can be a great feeling.  You can tackle the right project with glee, knowing that in some parallel universe you’re still plodding down the wrong path.  (That’s another key to entrepreneurial success.  Always do business in the right universe.)

Two recent experiences:

1.  We’re moving from four servers to nine, so I called our host (ev1.net) to see if we can get a better deal than the posted price.  The sales guy offered to reduce our price by 5%, and though their prices are already quite reasonable it didn’t seem like much of a deal.

We talked for awhile, and eventually he said there was nothing else he could do.  I kept saying we had to find a way to reduce our costs, and so we kept talking.

Eventually he mentioned that on that older hardware they match any lower posted prices if you send the right people an email.  Lo and behold, we knocked off $200/month off our server costs.  It’s a great policy, but no-one had ever told us about it.

I spent about an hour on the phone and faxing contracts, and between the discount and the new hardware prices we’ll save $3,000/year. 

2.  The other night I spent two hours trying to install software that would save one measly click when trying to post something online.  In the end I couldn’t get it to work, and now I’ll never get that time back.

Also, some guy in a parallel universe is laughing at me.

ruby loves the wind

May 4, 2007

I’ve always loved the idea that having kids would mean seeing the world all over again. When we’re with someone seeing something for the first time, we get to ride along and it’s always a bit magical.

With a baby this young it’s even more delightful, because he doesn’t hide his feelings. Everything you see is exactly how he feels it, with no filters between him and the world.

He loves to lie on the bed and feel the wind passing over him. He’s come to associate the curtain moving with the wind coming.

Watch his hands. They express the almost overwhelming feeling of what he’s experiencing as well as any words.

(Rueben under breeze video here)

Uploading this for Evgenya who’s landing in Australia on her way to observe there for a few nights… The pirate boys are flying solo, and frozen food never tasted so … so when are you coming home babe?


Joost throws open the doors, and a nice use of the private beta

May 3, 2007

A private beta is when a company starts with a small number of users, and expands by allowing those users to invite others. As Grant Storry describes nicely here, companies often use this technique to add buzz, and to grow at their own pace to ensure they can serve everyone well. 

Joost is a startup offering free TV over the internet, and until recently invites were doled out a few at a time. I’m guessing they needed enough users to prove their concept, but couldn’t push for wide adoption because they weren’t profitable without big-name advertisers.

Last week they threw open the doors, after this announcement:


Last week, Joost announced that it had signed more than 30 blue-chip brands, including The Coca-Cola Company, HP, Intel and Nike, as advertising launch partners. Beginning today, advertisements from some of the ad launch partners will begin to play on the platform. Advertisements from all ad launch partners will be on Joost later this month.

“Ok, we’ve got the money lined up, open the gates!”

Interestingly, while it’s pretty clear they want as many users as possible, the beta is still technically closed. You can’t download the app at Joost.com because they want you to hear about it from someone else.

Viral marketing at it’s best. A recommendation from a friend is more powerful than anything they can do.

It’s going to work, too. Joost is fun to play with and worth checking out. (It’s from the same folks who brought us Skype.)  Your geeky friends will know about it in 3-6 months and your mom might be watching in a couple years.

Congrats guys, nicely done. 

If anyone would like to give it a spin leave a comment below and I’ll send you an invite.