Wednesday, October 30, 2013, by

Forget being an Entrepreneur, run a Small Business.

Starting your own business provides the best opportunity to create real wealth in your community and for your family. Instagram had 12 employees, no revenue and sold for $1 Billion. Great, right? Not really. You have a better chance of winning the lottery than creating the next Instagram. However, you have a much better chance of creating a successful small business than winning the lottery.

Many of the "entrepreneurs" I talk to scoff at the idea of small business. It's beneath them, too petty. They are "idea" people, big picture people. They are working on creating big businesses, not small ones. They spend months working on an idea, launch and ... nothing happens. Nobody cares. Failed, better pivot. Fail again, back to the drawing board. Time for more ideas, one of them will be worth millions!

The only thing worth less than your idea is the poor implementation of your idea. Ideas are free. Poor implementation wastes money, and worse, it wastes your time.

Want to start a business, "solve a problem" people say. Solving a problem is good, making money is better. Only the latter is actually required, the former is always subjective. Forget your big idea. Take a small part of that idea and get a customer. Just 1 customer.  A customer is not your friend, family member or mentor - a real "hey stranger" customer that pays you money. You create value for that person (or company) and they give you money.

Forget your millions, pay your rent or mortgage. Or just try and make enough to cover your car payment or some other bill. A $100,000 business puts $8,000+ in your hands every month. Cash flow is king. Cash flow is life. Cash flow is options. Cash flow is control. Cash flow is freedom. Cash flow is business.

Small businesses have customers that sign contracts. Small businesses send out and collect on invoices. Small businesses cash checks. Small businesses generate cash flow. Small businesses make money.

I'd rather have $8k more a month in my pocket than be an "entreprenuer" any day. Work on those "small" ideas, support them with process, and soon that $8k/month could be $80k. Then you have more options. Then being an entrepreneur actually means something.  "Entrepreneur" is just a title, the game is small business. Every business starts as a small business. Before you make your million, just try and make $10,000.

Sunday, August 18, 2013, by

The Slow Hire: How to Create Developers out of Thin Air

I recently read Is there a down side to tech startups in KC? and I was struck by how odd it was to read an article practically complaining about the creation of jobs. 

(By the way, I heartily agree with Chris Wood's quotes and believe the folks at Paige Tech know the KC tech scene better than anyone)

Instead of simply whining about the article, let me offer a potential solution:

The Slow Hire

Allow me to introduce you to Joseph Andaverde at SoftekI met Joe and his team last week during my job search. I was blown away that almost all of his developers have been with the company for 7+ years. After a little digging, I discovered most of them were introduced to the company via the high school/college internship program. 

Softek's internship program brings in extremely junior devs (sometimes high school students) and over time, transforms them into highly loyal, dedicated, rockstar programmers with high levels of domain experience that are committed to working for the company long term. 

It's a huge HR success story, but nobody knows about it. 

It's also the epitomy of The Slow Hire

I've read several articles in the tech industry lately about how tech companies should stop being so laser-focused on hiring rockstar developers and instead focus on their internal onboarding & training process, to instead create rockstars out of the junior devs they already have. 

Here's some examples: 

Joe and the folks at Softek have got this down to a science, more than any other company I know.

Of course, this solution doesn't work for everyone. Sometimes you need to ramp up fast. It also requires a lot of hard work, organization, time and effort. 

But I dare say it: 
If every company in Kansas City was practicing some form of "The Slow Hire", all of our hiring problems would disappear. 

This is a bold statement. How can I possibly back this up? 

Because the Slow Hire method creates developers out of thin air

Even if your own slow-hired-devs don't stay with your company for a whopping 7 years, the net effect across a city would be a dramatically larger pool of developers to go round, plenty for everyone. That means more devs for recruiters to source, more devs for startups to court, more devs for big business; everyone. 

The Slow Hire method also has the following additional benefits: 
  • It creates a better onboarding process for ALL employees (not just the slow hires).
  • It forces complex processes to be addressed and/or documented to aid understanding.
  • It creates a culture of mentorship where learning is encouraged. 
  • It creates employees that are more loyal, dedicated and have greater longevity.
Sure, it's not for everyone. After all, it's basically the opposite of immediate gratification. But over time, it might be just what your company needs. 

Friday, August 16, 2013, by

A Job Hunt Experiment: LinkedIn versus My Personal Network

I recently began a search for a new job and I wondered: which is more powerful: a person's real-life network, or their LinkedIn counterpart?

I decided to test six different ways of looking for a job:
  1. Using a single trusted recruiter
  2. Posting on Facebook
  3. Emailing the local developer user group
  4. Sending a single tweet
  5. Sending my resume to my neighbor
  6. Upgrading my LI account & posting a single LinkedIn status update 
For each of the above I recorded the following: 
  • The number of hits to my LinkedIn profile
  • The number of leads 
  • The quality of leads

1. Using a single trusted recruiter
I have an ongoing relationship with a fantastic recruiter named Andrew Alldredge with Paige Technologies. He's knowledgeable, well-connected, candid, honest and trustworthy. I initiated a conversation with Andrew and he immediately sent me 9 positions at 8 different companies for my perusal:

Leads 9
Lead Quality High
Leads Pursued 2
Job Interviews 2
Offers 2
LinkedIn Profile Hits 8

2. Posting on Facebook
I posted the following to the Startup KC Facebook Group (over 600 members): 

Leads 4
Lead Quality Moderate
Leads Pursued 0
Job Interviews N/A
Offers N/A
LinkedIn Profile Hits 13

3. Emailing a local developer user group
I emailed the KC .Net User Google Group (350 members) with the following message:

Leads 3
Lead Quality High
Leads Pursued 2
Job Interviews 2 by phone
Offers Intentionally didn't pursue
LinkedIn Profile Hits 5

4. Sending a single tweet
My personal @BenBarreth twitter account currently has 764 followers and my @HomesForHackers account has 854. I sent out the tweet below from my personal account, then retweeted it 5 minutes later from the Homes for Hackers account. I also learned a trick from an article somewhere that you always get more retweets if you specifically ask for them up front.

This was eventually retweeted 10 times to a total of 9,829 followers (not unique followers - many of those will be duplicates).
Leads 3
Lead Quality High
Leads Pursued 3
Job Interviews 3
Offers Intentionally didn't pursue
LinkedIn Profile Hits 6

5. Sending my resume to my neighbor
My neighbor passed my resume along to 3 different contacts. One of them immediately contacted me about some possible contract work.

Leads 1
Lead Quality Moderate
Leads Pursued 0
Job Interviews N/A
Offers N/A
LinkedIn Profile Hits No Impact

6. Upgrading my LinkedIn account and posting a single status update
Baseline: I have about 1,500 connections on LinkedIn and typically receive about 5 profile views per day.

It cost me $19.99 to upgrade my LI account to Job Seeker Basic. I elected to add both the briefcase and OpenLink Network icons to my account:

Then I also posted the following status update:

Leads 3
Lead Quality Low
Leads Pursued 0
Job Interviews N/A
Offers N/A
LinkedIn Profile Hits 19

After a little over a week's worth of self-promotion, my LinkedIn profile stats look like this:

Surprising Finding #1: LI profile views had very little bearing on the actual success of my job search.
I could have a large number of profile views, but very low quality leads. In contrast, one of the most effective techniques was emailing my local .Net user group, which had practically zero effect on my profile views, but yielded some excellent highly-qualified leads.

Surprising Finding #2: My trusted recruiter yielded extremely high quality leads.
During this experiment, it became increasingly apparent that a good recruiter does provide an extremely valuable service, doing all the leg work up front, matching my personality to a culture fit.

Surprising Finding #3: Twitter was my most effective job-seeking tool.
I always thought Twitter was a waste of time (although fun). It yielded 3 hot leads that resulted in 3 solid interviews: a 100% success rate on leads!

Ironically, the job I finally accepted was via a method I didn't even track: sending a random email to a friend in the industry. This personal email had zero affect on my LinkedIn profile views, but generated an extremely high quality lead, leading to a job!

So in conclusion, my personal network wins!

Saturday, August 10, 2013, by

Homes for Hackers gets a visit from the FBI

tl;dr:  Nobody gets arrested.

On Monday I received this text from one of the guys from Traveling Nuker (one of the startups in my hacker house as part of the Homes for Hackers program):
Hey when you get a free moment, you had a visitor that wants to get a hold of you. One Special Agent *** ****** of the FBI. Nothing to worry about though he's just reaching out, with great internet speeds comes a potential for higher cyber related crimes. So if we see anything fishy we have his number ***-***-****. He does still want to catch up at some point. 
(Name & nbr obscured because I don't want to get in trouble)

Needless to say, I called the guy right away. Apparently he showed up at the hacker house, very casually wearing shorts and a T-shirt, introducing himself as an FBI agent, not flashing a badge or anything, just wanting to know more about the program, kind of like exploratory research.

We had a very nice conversation and he said maybe we could go to lunch sometime in a few weeks time, when his schedule calmed down. I said "sure" and we hung up.

On Wednesday, he called again, this time asking to take me to lunch the following day. He said he might bring another FBI agent along too. I said "sure".

On Thursday at 11am, I met three special agents for lunch at Cupini's, right opposite the Google FiberSpace. No, I don't have any pictures. Just take my word for it. And yes: I know they were FBI for sure because I called the KC FBI branch to confirm the meeting and was routed straight to my guy.

I mention the Google Fiberspace because a) it's cool and b) apparently the agents didn't know it even existed and asked me all about it. I was dumbfounded. I don't know if this was an ignorance play on their part to get me talking or if they honestly didn't know about it.

Anyway, I ended up telling them all about the Homes for Hackers program and the KC Startup Village. I hope they understood that I give free rent to entrepreneurs, not black-hat hackers, but one can never be too sure.

I ended up walking them down the street and showing them the hacker house in person.

Now, in retrospect, there's several things I showed them that have me a little worried:
  • There's a big map on the wall, right as you walk in, of all the nuclear power plants in the US. 
  • Traveling Nuker is the name of one of my startups in the house right now.
  • TN has a small demo sample of naturally occurring Uranium, complete with Geiger counter, right there on a coffee table when you enter the house. 
  • There's a small wireless bridge dish rigged up on the front of the house. 
At one point, one of the guys asked to use the bathroom. I showed him where it was and went back outside the house. I remember thinking he had been in there longer than was normal. Either he had a genuine FBI turtlehead poking out or he was scoping the place out. I'm guessing it was the latter.

End of story, we gave them at tour of 2 other houses in the Startup Village and nobody has been arrested ... yet.

Stay tuned for more drama as it unfolds. Let's hope I don't get in trouble for this blog post!

[Aside: For more info about Traveling Nuker, check out their excellent presentation at 1 Million cups here.]

Monday, July 29, 2013, by

You care about something. Get after it!

What are we so afraid of?

Adults are much better at make believe than children. Our stories are more elaborate, the consequences more severe, circumstances more dire and most importantly - rational completely impenetrable.

It is shockingly rare to sit down with someone and have them say they're doing exactly what they want to be doing. Most people are politically correct, they "like" their jobs as they "like" going to the doctor - "work" is the medicine they know is good for them. Why are we so afraid to design our day, to take control?

"What if I fuck up?" That's what we fear. The moment has come, or will come, when we make the biggest mistake of our life. We will feel many emotions but the most important thing is not what we did (that moment is gone) but what we do next - how do we handle the moments we do have? Life happens one moment at a time - NOW is the only moment under our control.

The top 5 regrets of those reaching the end of their journey on Earth?

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Those all look the same to me, a regret of not taking ownership/acknowledgement to create your own path in life. Create. Create. Create. We too often forget, we are the only person doing the creation in our minds (or that our mind might need help). We certainly do create, but rather than create our moments we resort to make believe. I would do what I wanted but ...

But what? Seriously. You'll find a way. You'll make it work. You always have.

You don't know where to start? Well then, at least you're on the right track. New paths don't have a starting point - you're creating one, that's the whole point. It doesn't matter if it's the right start or not, the action of starting is infinitely more important than the how/what/where/why.

No one wishes they could be angry with loved ones more because they had something "more important" to worry about. No one wishes they could attend more insignificant meetings. No one would trade one more day on this beautiful planet for any amount of money. No one would trade anything for more life.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. - Oscar Wilde
 Scarcity drives value indeed.

Friday, July 12, 2013, by

The Daily Grind: The Least Sexy, Most Important Part of Every Startup

Startups seem to be in the press a lot lately and it seems like the "trendy" thing to do these days. But there's very little talk about the nitty-gritty that goes on, day by day, trudging through the daily grind of building a business.

It's not sexy to talk about making payroll, figuring taxes, calculating profits vs losses, balancing your accounts. So instead we tend to gloss over these boring & unsexy areas of business and talk only about the new idea a startup is bringing to the table.

The problem I have with this is that, over time, some people are lulled into the startup scene by the bright lights and shiny baubles without being fully aware of the daily grind required to keep the machinations of a business flowing.

This grind - the details nobody else sees - the minutia you have to work through when everyone else seems to be talking about their latest successes - these details are really, really important.

Let me say this again: The daily grind is really, really important.

So take Homes for Hackers for example. Everyone sees this program I've started and there is a lot of admiration about what I'm doing, which is really nice. But nobody sees what a person has to do behind the scenes to actually make stuff work.
  • Nobody sees you face-down in the mud, pulling a dead cat out from underneath your front porch.
  • Nobody sees you when you're on your hands and knees crawling thru cat poop in the basement. (yes, cats used to be a common part of my grind)
  • Nobody sees all the bills you pay to keep "your thing" going, family sacrifices, etc, etc.
It's not glorious. Not at all.

Yet somehow, magically, it looks that way to others.

... and I'm not even talking about a real business here, just my little thing I have going. I can't imagine the stress of making payroll for teams of people that have families with little kids that depend on that paycheck.

I'm not saying this to drum up pity for startups. I'm just trying to clue some people in that might otherwise think the Startup Life is a total breeze, filled with beautiful nights spent coding "in the zone", waking up to million dollar funding offers every day. That's just a big fat lie. Do your due diligence.

If you're reading this and you're ALREADY doing the startup thing, let me encourage you. Keep going.

Even though nobody sees the crap you have to deal with, don't give up. Keep rubbing that iron until it turns to gold. Keep spinning the wheels of your machine until it won't spin any longer. Keep grinding away the unsexy, unglorious stuff and getting it done.

Every pursuit that is of great value, is also difficult. That's why it's valuable.

photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc

Monday, May 27, 2013, by

Where are all the Developers, Kansas City?

I recently attended 1 Million Cups at the Kauffman Foundation. If you haven't ever been, it's a weekly session where 2 startups have 6 minutes to present their businesses to an audience of a couple hundred entrepreneurs. Each startup then gets 20 minutes of Q & A each. It's a lot of fun.

On the way home, I found myself asking the question:
Why isn't there "1 Million Cups" kind of event for developers
 in Kansas City?

Screenshot taken from

Matter of fact, where ARE all the developers in KC? Cerner, DST, Sprint all have armies of developers on their payroll, yet if you look at the local tech community you would think the opposite is the case.

Last summer at Hack the Midwest, I remember someone saying what they found most surprising was the companies that *weren't* represented at the hackathon, not the ones that were. There were only a handful of developers represented from the "Big Six", meaning Sprint, DST, Cerner, Hallmark, H&R Block and Garmin. Doing some rough math with wikipedia figures, I estimate that these 6 companies alone employ over 54,000 thousand people in KC. It's hard to say exactly how many of those employees are developers, but probably several thousand. But where are all these developers? It seems like these companies have such a strong developer presence on their payroll, but such a weak showing in the community.

On a related note: The Kansas City Developers Conference doubled in size this year to 800 attendees.

My first thought was: Yay!

My second thought was: This is the defining developer event of the year in KC, and 800 is only a small percentage of the developers. I wonder why the rest didn't come?

The fact is, most developers in Kansas City put in their time at their day job, clock out and turn off. They don't want to put in the time to attend events and conferences where they hear about the latest and greatest tech. They've done their duty. They've supported their family. They're probably exhausted. They want to watch some TV. I know this because I have a wife and 2 kids under 5 and I'm always finding it a constant struggle to put my family first before my career and other activities. But even I can find the time to get to an occasional events here or there.

So my question becomes: How do we energize developers in Kansas City, to become engaged & contribute to the KC developer community? 

... and by contribute I mean simple actions like meeting each other, building cool stuff and talking about it, helping each other, collaborating, just generally hanging out. I'm not talking about anything painful or that would cause regret later.

I don't know the answer to this question. I know of people like Mike Gelphman that are trying to fix the problem by starting The Disruption Institute, organizing conferences and hackathons and Hack & Tell sessions. People like Chris Cooley, that started Coder Capital in an attempt to increase the developer pool by nurturing & educating the hidden coding aptitudes of tech enthusiasts. People like Lee Brandt, known all over the KC tech scene for founding KCDC and his involvement in the .Net User Group.

All of this work is encouraging but I can't help but feel that we need to do more. If Kansas City has any hope of establishing itself as a renowned tech hub in the US (which I hope it has), we need more tech talent. We need fresh talent coming IN to the city, but we also need the existing talent already here to be ON FIRE. After all, almost any newcomers will merely assimilate the existing prevailing culture when they get here. Why not make that existing culture one that is exciting, passionate, engaged and on the forefront of development in our field?

It's going to take more than the efforts of just a few. It's going to take all of us.