Tag Archives: design

The gift economy: Why I became a TWiST Producer

ThisWeekInStartupsWhen I decided to remove the shackles of the corporate cube and begin a career hustling software, my life changed forever. I worked for some great VC-backed companies for the next 13 years and became a denizen of the “friendly skies”, hotels and fast food. In October of 2002 I made a big decision, a decision that was made based upon the needs of my family more than my career aspirations.  I decided to buy a software company with a legacy product in south Florida where I was raised and focus on two things: 1). building a company in a niche industry and 2). spending more time with my family.

For many reasons, not the least of which is the special attention my son needs (A Life of Distraction), the decision to hang up my frequent flier wings was a good one. The impact on my career wasn’t apparent to me at the time, but as I look back at that inflection point I know in my heart it was the right decision. However it didn’t take long for me to become disconnected from the “techniverse”. My connections and knowledge of the industry began to atrophy.

My first blog post was in 2008, but it really wasn’t until Jan of 2010 that I decided to re-engage. I immersed myself in tech blogs and podcasts.  In March of that year I stumbled across Jason Calacanis and This Week in Start-ups (TWiST). My first listen was episode #46 whereby Jason interviewed David Heinemeier-Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and partner at 37Signals. Jason and David have very different approaches to funding and building start-ups, but the debate was brilliant as their passion and philosphies about business rang through with such clarity.

TWiST has had a profound effect on how I think about business. It helped drive me to co-found a company called DzineBox to build an online communication platform to help home and business owners connect with architects and designers. This lead to the incubation of a couple other socially-driven platforms that have viral characteristics. As for my “day job”, the ideas expressed on TWiST have helped me come up with many market driven changes that are transforming a business founded on a legacy based accounting system into a web and mobile consumer focused application for various recreation industries.

In a nut shell, TWiST has helped to re-energize my entrepreneurial spirit and broaden my thinking. Every episode is a jolt of intellectual energy.

In May of this year I became a TWiST Producer. I wanted to get closer to the action and contribute to the show in some way. Helping to produce the show and interacting with fellow Producers is a huge benefit. When I tell people that I pay a monthly fee to be a part of the so called TWiST List, I get some blank stares. “You mean you pay to work for the show?” or “you give them money and valuable feedback?”. These people completely miss the point about the value I receive in kind by being associated with such a dynamic production like TWiST and the talented people involved in this process. The “backchannel” as we call it of e-mails, discussion board threads and Producer conference calls are of great value to anyone who engages in the process. But at the end of the day it’s all about contribution. Like anything, postive outcomes require participation and engagement.

Architectural Crowdsourcing: Is it the end of professional design?

There has been a lot of talk (and even more tweets) in the architecture community about “crowdsourcing” and how it may be the end of the architectural and design profession. In a nutshell, crowdsourcing is the concept of making connections between customers (people with a need) and suppliers (people who can fulfill that need) using the Internet. The “crowd” fulfilling the need for the customer typically post their solutions in a contest-like format. The customer then selects the solution that best fits their needs.

The professional design community, e.g. architects, interior designers and landscape architects appear to be divided on the topic as to whether crowdsourcing is good for the industry, or whether it “commoditizes the art form”.

For those that believe their design practices will be commoditized by crowdsourcing and the Internet, our message is simple: “This is not for you. DzineBox and sites like it is for designers who are ready to step into the future of designer-client relationships”.

Crowdsourcing gives home owners a place to purchase quality design for small to medium sized project. Crowdsourcing is not a good platform for designing a 100,000 square foot office park, but it’s a great platform for someone interested in remodeling their kitchen, adding an addition to their house, decorating their living room or landscaping their backyard.

Today, many people wouldn’t consider a professional designer for these projects. Crowdsourcing gives people with home improvement and remodeling projects access to professional designers. The designer can use crowdsourcing sites like DzineBox to supplement their income.

At DzineBox we only allow professional designers to join our design team. We spend time getting to know our designers and vetting the “real” designers from those who simply know how to use Photoshop and AutoCAD. Secondly, we let the home owner and designer choose how they want to interact with. A designer is free to bid on any project anywhere they want. However they are not required to provide a complete design as part of the bidding process. DzineBox helps home owners and designers get to know one another online without having to travel to the designer’s office or the customer’s home.

In the words of Seth Godin, “We can’t please everyone, in fact, we’re not even going to try. Pleasing everyone with our work is impossible. It wastes the time of our best customers and annoys our staff. Forgive us for focusing on those we’re trying to delight.”

We believe this truly embodies our mission. We are design professionals ourselves. We are passionate about what we do. Our proverbial heads are not in the sand. We are going to upset some people. But we also hope to thrill our clients: both home owners and designers alike.

Are you running the right race?

“They’re off. Netscape is off to a quick start riding Navigator. Microsoft is trailing by two lengths riding Internet Explorer who had a little trouble getting out of the gate. Around the first turn Netscape has a huge lead, but wait a minute… Bill Gates is in the grandstand giving out his browser for FREE with Windows. Internet Explorer seems to be feeling the momentum and around turn two passes Navigator handily. Microsoft is widening it’s lead. What’s this?…Netscape is dismounting Navigator and gives up it’s saddle, bridle and stirrups to a new team of riders from Firefox, Google and Apple. Each of them gaining on Microsoft on different platforms. Through the third turn it’s Microsoft in the lead with Firefox close behind and Google and Apple trailing by more than two lengths…

OK…so overlaying the Browser Wars on top of a horse race may be a stretch. But I think it points out the interesting parallels between horse racing and business. This analogy was first brought to my attention many years ago by Paul Levine, a partner at Morganthaler Ventures and former CEO of Atria Software. In this analogy, the jockey is “you”. It doesn’t matter whether you are a manager or an individual contributor. You have control over where your company, department or career is headed. Like the jockey, you can slow down around the turns or dig in during the stretch.

The horse is the product or service that you market. The other horses and their jockey’s are the products, services and people that you compete with at various levels. The race is your chosen market. Are you running the Preakness or the Kentucky Derby, where the stakes are high and so is the competition? You can have the fastest horse in the field and the other horses may be weak, but if the race is a back woods venue with limited stakes is it really worth the effort?

At the end of the day it’s all about “the race”. The key thing to remember is that you choose the race you run. As you think about the New Year and begin to finalize your 2011 goals, ask yourself – “are you running the right race?” When the race is over was the experience worthwhile? When selecting your race, you need to look at the end game as well as the competition. Is the race you’ve selected something you can wholeheartedly bring energy, joy and excitement too?

Business is hard. No matter how great the odds of your success, you must have enough passion about what you are doing, day in and day out, that the race is worth it to you. Every successful person I’ve come in contact with will tell you it was not about reaching the goal so much as it was the experience of the race itself. If you can’t enjoy the journey, there is no reason to make the trip because the end result is often times anti-climactic.