Tag: Startup

Panels: Quintessential Portland entrepreneur Craig Barnes launches another startup

PanelsFew other entrepreneurs in the Silicon Forest have started and led as many high-profile local companies as Craig Barnes.

But that’s not stopping him from starting another.

Startups in his blood

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Craig’s track record, you should be. His record boasts a veritable “who’s who” of Portland tech companies:

  • Founded Now Software and in three years had grown it into the largest software company focusing exclusively on Mac software.
  • Founded Portland’s Extensis and grew the venture-backed business into a $100 million acquisition. Extensis recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.
  • Founded You Software, a Portland company that adds features and functionality to the software you already use.
  • Spun Attensa out of You Software, creating a company focused on building an attention-based RSS management system that garnered $12 million in venture backing. (For more information, I recommend reading Marshall Kirkpatrick’s write-up on Attensa, back when he use to write for a little blog called TechCrunch.)

Introducing Panels

Now, Barnes has founded another startup. And much like the other companies he’s founded, it’s designed to help you deal with a glut of information by making the products you already use better.

But this time, it’s all about the Web.

Designed for bloggers, Panels uses a small panel to provide additional information about companies that are being covered, much in the vein of services like Snap’s Snap Shots:

Panels appear for any company or organization ranging from the biggest public companies such as Apple, Ford, AT&T, or WalMart to up and coming startups such as WebDiet (launched at the Demo Fall 08 technology conference this week) and Yammer (launched at TechCrunch50 this week and chosen as winner!) By the time we go live there will be millions of entities in the system with improvements and features appearing almost daily.

But to me, the most interesting thing about Panels is the depth of content that it provides.

Panels example

Unlike traditional “additional information” popup services, Panels provides a multi-tab view of information, including:

  • “About” – Basic company and contact info, URL, logo, and summary [including details from Portland-based company-information wiki AboutUs]
  • “Site” – A full preview of the home page, stats, tags and other goodies about the actual web site/blog
  • “Map” – Beginning with Google Maps, and others to follow, a place for geographic data
  • “News” – Headlines, Blog posts, News, Press Releases and more from a variety of sources
  • “Jobs” – Employment listings across numerous providers such as monster and simplyhired
  • “Financial” – If a public company, real-time info and quotes appear in several sub-categories

So why use Panels? Primarily, to provide a much richer set of information on the companies to which you’re linking—while keeping people on your site.

Basically, you’re eliminating the blind clicks that tend to draw the attention-deficient Web surfers away from what you’re trying to convey.

Also interesting? The inspiration behind the development?

Panels were inspired by the nutritional panels found on food that are mandated by the federal government. Like nutritional panels, our panels have a standard text-centric user interface that delivers consistent, predictable, detailed, real-time information from a variety of data sources across several categories.

Now, if I could only tell if the link was going to be nutritional or just so much Web junk food.

Panels is currently in closed beta. For more information or to see Panels in action, see Craig’s post introducing Panels. Or to request a beta account, visit Panels.

Get ready for busy week in the Portland Web and startup scene

I’m happy to see that our beautiful summer weather continues to hang around. But from an event standpoint? It looks like summer’s over.

If this week’s event schedule is any indication, people are clearly ready to get back to business in the Portland Web and startup scene.

There’s a lot going on, so I thought it might be helpful to provide a round-up of what I’m tracking. And if I missed your event (it happens), please take a moment to comment below so that we can get it on folks’ calendars:

  • Monday at 6 PM, it’s Mobile love, Android style #5. This meetup is an informal opportunity to discuss all things android-related. The android space is heating up again. The HTC Dream phone received FCC certification in August and will be sold by T-Mobile by November if not earlier. 0.9 of the SDK was released with 1.0RC1 around the corner.
  • Tuesday at 9 AM, you’re invited to watch startups pitch at the FundingUniverse Portland LivePitch. The audience at LivePitch receives $100 of “fake money” to “invest” in their favorite entrepreneurs, with prizes awarded to both a panel and audience favorite. There will be 60 minutes of pitching, and 30 minutes for general networking.
  • Tuesday at 7 PM, the Portland Python User Group will be meeting, featuring Leo Soto, a Jython GSoC hacker, will be presenting his DjangoCon 2008 talk “Django on Jython.”
  • Wednesday at 5 PM, it’s the OEN PubTalk “Becoming socially responsible: Understanding your company’s role in the world of social media.” I’ll be hosting a panel featuring Josh Bancroft from Intel, Dawn Foster from Fast Wonder, and Marshall Kirkpatrick from ReadWriteWeb. Rest assured, I’ll be letting the smart people talk while I nod and smile. Not interested in coughing up the dough to attend? I’ve got a few free passes that I’ll be giving away, so stay tuned.
  • Oregon Entrepreneur Network not your style? Sorry, you don’t get to take a night off, because there’s also the first Refresh Portland starting at 6:30 PM. Refresh Portland is a monthly talk (held every 2nd Wednesday) about design, front-end development, usability and web standards. Sound interesting? Check out the new Refresh Portland site.
  • I don’t see anything on Thursday, for obvious reasons. But if that changes, I’ll let you know. I knew it. Thanks to Joe Cohen for the tip that Calagator lists a Thursday event to include in this list: Thursday at 5 PM is the Luz Codesprint. Luz is a Ruby music visualization playground, aiming to create a simple, beautiful GUI for artists, and simple, beautiful code internally! This event is open to Everyone, from coders to artists to musicians, everyone’s input and contributions will be super useful.
  • Friday, a bunch of local venture capital types will be gathering out at the Intel Jones Farm campus in hopes of seeing a Tesla Roadster. I hear there may be a conference there too. It’s called the Silicon Forest Forum, an event that features entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and management executives who know what it takes to create and run successful ventures. For more information and a speak line-up, visit the Silicon Forest Forum.
  • The one Friday fixture that needs no reminder—Beer and Blog—starts at 4 PM at the Green Dragon. This week is a “topic” week. So stay tuned for the details on the speaker.
  • And beginning Friday evening and running through Saturday its From Side Project to Startup. I don’t have to tell you that launching a business into the wider world can be daunting or confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. If you learn from other people’s experiences. How? Join this hybrid scheduled and unconference event designed to take the entrepreneurial conversations that started at BarCamp Portland and Startupalooza to the next level. To take a peek at the complete agenda, visit From Side Project to Startup.

Whoof. That’s a lot of activity. Even for our usually hyperactive tech scene.

I’m going to be trying to make as many of these as I can—especially the ones where I’m lucky enough to be “on the agenda,” as they say.

Hopefully, I’ll see you at a few of them, too.

Oh, and one last thing. If you’re interested in keeping track of what’s happening in the Portland Web and startup scene, feel free to join the Silicon Florist group on Upcoming. That way, you’ll always be up-to-date on the latest and greatest events.

Portland Start-up Index for September 2008: Did Vidoop get lost on the Oregon Trail?

Didn’t we just have a Techvibes Portland Start-up Index a few weeks ago? Yes, we did. But Techvibes has decided to change the publication date, so we’ll be getting these at the beginning of the month.

Techvibes has changed a few other things, too.

And while the listings might be a little more cryptic now—and unfortunately lacking in indicators in regards to movement this time around—this effort continues to provide a interesting way to assess and discuss the local startup scene.

The biggest mover on this edition of the index? Pheedo rocketing up 33 slots to crack the top 20.

Strangest part of the new list? Vidoop has completely dropped off the index during the week that they’re relocating the entire company to Portland. NetworthIQ (acquired by Strands), MyOpenID (JanRain‘s OpenID relying party), and Workplace2go also disappeared from the list.

Portland Start-up Index for September 2008

  1. AboutUs
  2. MetaFilter
  3. Kongregate
  4. Discogs
  5. Digital Trends
  6. COLOURlovers
  7. Frappr!
  8. Jive Software
  9. SplashCast
  10. Platial
  11. Clicky
  12. Pheedo
  13. Earth Class Mail
  14. Sandy
  15. Gone Raw
  16. eROI
  17. Stikkit
  18. Attensa
  19. Active Reload
  20. Walker Tracker
  21. Grabb.it
  22. GadgetTrak
  23. iovation
  24. UrbanDrinks
  25. KnitMap
  26. Pibb
  27. ChoiceA
  28. Art Face Off
  29. LUNARR
  30. WeoGeo
  31. Iterasi
  32. FreeRange
  33. fmyi
  34. GoLife Mobile
  35. Rocketbook
  36. Picktastic
  37. Kryptiq
  38. Jama Software
  39. MomHub
  40. GreenRenter
  41. Goboz
  42. Lightfleet
  43. Imindi
  44. Cendix
  45. Vocal Nation
  46. Box Populi
  47. GoSeeTell
  48. Collaborative Software Initiative
  49. YourList
  50. Techchex
  51. Avnera
  52. Kumquat
  53. IDP Solutions
  54. Worldwide Nest

As always, the official metrics can be found at Techvibes.

Interested in seeing your Portland-based company on this list? You now have an automated way to add it. And make sure to drop the Techvibes folks a note, too.

How do you get From Side Project to Startup?

So just how do you take a passion project and make it your full-time startup gig? It’s a common question. And a question any number of us have struggled to answer at some point.

And on September 12 and 13 at CubeSpace, a bunch of us are going to get together to try and figure it out with From Side Project to Startup.

The event will be a continuation of the discussion we started earlier this year at BarCamp Portland.

The seeds for ‘From Side Project to Startup’ were sown at a session of early May’s Bar Camp Portland. The conference generated a good amount of buzz, and brought up more questions than the time could answer.

And besides, I’d love to have you there as part of the discussion. So join us, won’t you?

You’ll notice the schedule includes a lot of ‘schmooze,’ snack, break and party time. With this as well as the unconference time to meet and discuss with people, it’s a goal of ‘From Side Project to Startup’ that a network of interested startups will form to provide each other with peer support and accountability. You can do it, keep going!

For more information, visit From Side Project to Startup. Or, if you’re already as excited about this as I am, go ahead and RSVP on Upcoming.

Portland Start-up Index for August 2008: Metafilter, Digital Trends premiere in top 10

It’s that time again. Time for the Techvibes Portland Start-up Index, the monthly round up of Portland-area startup companies and products, ranked by the average of their Alexa and Compete rankings.

Admittedly a work-in-progress, the Portland Start-up Index often premieres “new” entries that have been—in actuality—heavy hitters for far longer than some of the “old” companies and products on the list.

This month’s list is a perfect example of that dynamic in action, as MetaFilter (July 1999) and Digital Trends (2001) premiere in the top 10 at #2 and #5 respectively.

So how did the rest of the startup scene fare this month?

Portland Start-up Index for August 2008

  1. AboutUs
  2. MetaFilter
  3. Kongregate
  4. Discogs
  5. Digital Trends
  6. COLOURlovers
  7. Frappr
  8. Jive Software
  9. Clicky
  10. Splashcast
  11. MyOpenID
  12. Platial
  13. Earth Class Mail
  14. Sandy
  15. Gone Raw
  16. eROI
  17. Vidoop
  18. NetworthIQ
  19. Attensa
  20. Stikkit
  21. Active Reload
  22. Walker Tracker
  23. Grabbit
  24. GadgetTrak
  25. Iovation
  26. UrbanDrinks
  27. ChoiceA
  28. KnitMap
  29. Art Face Off
  30. Pibb
  31. Lunarr
  32. Iterasi
  33. WeoGeo
  34. FreeRange
  35. fmyi
  36. Goboz
  37. Rocketbook
  38. GoLife Mobile
  39. Picktastic
  40. Kryptiq
  41. Jama Software
  42. GreenRenter
  43. Imindi
  44. MomHub
  45. Pheedo
  46. Workplace2go
  47. Lightfleet
  48. VocalNation.net
  49. Collaborative Software Initiative
  50. Box Populi
  51. Cendix
  52. Avnera
  53. GoSeeTell
  54. YourList
  55. Techchex
  56. Kumquat
  57. IDP Solutions
  58. Worldwide Nest

To see the rankings, metrics, and movement within the list, visit the Portland Start-up Index on Techvibes.

The Startup’s Journey

[Editor: Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the pleasure of getting into a number of fairly deep conversations with the Portland-based Back Fence PDX crew, Frayn Masters and Melissa Lion, about the power of story. You see, that’s what they do. They help people understand and formalize their stories.

I mean, technology is great and all, but the stories of the entrepreneurs in this town—the folklore—is what really brings these technology stories to life. But I could never really effectively capture that concept.

So why not let a real writer—an author—step in? Enter Melissa and Frayn—two real authors.

Melissa was kind enough to swing by Silicon Florist to write a guest post about the power of story in the world of startups.

Do you like what she says? Disagree? Why not take the opportunity to have that discussion with her, in person, at Beer and Blog tonight, where Melissa will be the guest speaker. And the beer is free. That’s right. Thanks to TeachStreet. Win, win, and, um, win.

Now, on with our story…]

The Startup’s Journey

by Back Fence PDX

Storytelling is appealing at its core because it’s gossip—that delicious thrill of knowing a person’s hidden life a little bit better. The details of the person’s story stick in the listener’s mind to be retold to others due to the history and flawed point of view of the teller. And, like a game of telephone, as it gets passed on, the little details change making the story more and more enticing, adding to the lore.

Business plans, white papers and websites all tell a hygienic story—none have a distinguishing voice—they are the musings of robots. None share the shiver of a whisper in your ear, or the eyes-wide-with-anticipation surprise of what comes next. That gossip, that raw story, is the reason blogs and social networking sites bloom. They are a break from the bullet points and style guides. Voiceless PowerPoint presentations don’t make for juicy party chatter.

People crave a voice. People desire a story.

The Startup’s Story

There is the official story of the company. And then there is the lore. It’s the legend, the myth, what Joseph Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey. Campbell identifies the elements of the Hero’s Journey as the separation, the initiation and the return.

The separation is the moment the founder decided to do something different. Why the change? What was that moment? Was he or she on a bike ride? At dinner with a friend? Suddenly woken in the night? What did it feel like when the idea appeared?

The company is initiated through its initial mistakes, trials, additions and edits. It is the discovery of what works.

The return occurs when past life is melded with the present. When the business is at once, something totally new and yet blended with the past, with lessons learned and warnings heeded or ignored. It is the after shot of the makeover story—the person is still the same, but they are improved through the trials of the initiation.

Narrative Arc

Though storytelling is a natural element of humanity and the original social networking tool, an engaging and repeatable narrative is difficult to capture. The tools of the story from plot to character to voice can be unwieldy. The craft of narrative is one learned through years of trial and error. Skilled use of the craft is what separates lore from idle chat.

Professional storytellers have a trained ear for the details of the arc; they understand that it is not about perfection, but about flaws, the real humanity of the journey. They brush aside the static of the story, the starts and stops and craft a tale that is simple, compelling and easily retold so the lore is passed like so many legends through the community.

A story crafted by professional storytellers is the beginning of the buzz. There is a twist of the unexpected, or the make-over that engages the reader or listener. It’s the whisper that starts the cacophony.

It gives even the newest companies a past, a humanity that can never be felt through white pages. It is the history that all humans relate to. A well-told lore adds value to all companies, and invites a personal connection with those who hear the tale.

By creating a lore, a start-up invites others to become characters in the tale. The Venture Capitalist wants a role, they want to be character in the story. The Angel wants to be a hero. The lore provides a structure for people to better see their potential role in the start-up.

What’s your story? What’s the gossip passed around the community? What is the lore that is yet untold?

Back Fence PDX is a storytelling series in Portland. Co-producers Frayn Masters and Melissa Lion are professional storytellers, crafting the lore of Portland companies.

Melissa Lion of Back Fence PDX will be presenting at Beer and Blog, this evening. To RSVP, visit Beer and Blog on Upcoming.

OTBC reboots Founders’ Friday

OTBCAre you the founder of a startup? Beer and Blog not exactly your speed?

No worries, gentle reader. We have a Friday afternoon activity for you, too.

Steve Morris out at OTBC is bringing back Founders’ Friday, a networking event for entrepreneurs that focuses on those folks who have had the opportunity to found their own startup.

The event is held at the OTBC offices in Beaverton, located just off Sunset Highway and NW 158th. Plan to arrive around 4:30. A $3 donation is requested to cover food and drink expenses.

For more information or to RSVP, visit Founders’ Friday on Meetup.

Beaverton-based OTBC provides incubation services and entrepreneurship programs to help high-tech and biotech start-up ventures succeed. They can help you validate your market, develop your business plan, and help you understand what steps are required to get your company investor-ready.

Portland Start-up Index for July 2008: Clicky and Vidoop debut in top 20

Hard to believe, but it’s already time for another Portland Start-up Index from Techvibes.

For July, three new Portland startups have joined the listing, which is based on Alexa and Compete rankings. Clicky debuted at 6, Vidoop at 15, and GreenRenter at 46.

The top five slots remained static, but there was a great deal of movement further down the list. Kryptiq was the highest riser, moving up three slots to 37. Others slid substantially. GoSeeTell dropped 10 slots to 49, (my own) Kumquat dropped nine to 52, and IDP Solutions down eight to the last spot on the list.

Enough analysis. Here’s the list:

  1. AboutUs
  2. Kongregate
  3. Discogs
  4. COLOURlovers
  5. Frappr
  6. Clicky
  7. Jive Software
  8. Splashcast
  9. MyOpenID
  10. Earth Class Mail
  11. Sandy
  12. Platial
  13. Gone Raw
  14. eROI
  15. Vidoop
  16. NetworthIQ
  17. Stikkit
  18. GadgetTrak
  19. Active Reload
  20. Walker Tracker
  21. Grabbit
  22. Attensa
  23. Iovation
  24. Iterasi
  25. Art Face Off
  26. UrbanDrinks
  27. Pibb
  28. ChoiceA
  29. KnitMap
  30. Lunarr
  31. FreeRange
  32. Goboz
  33. Rocketbook
  34. WeoGeo
  35. Jama Software
  36. fmyi
  37. Kryptiq
  38. GoLife Mobile
  39. Picktastic
  40. MomHub
  41. Imindi
  42. VocalNation.net
  43. Cendix
  44. Pheedo
  45. Workplace2go
  46. GreenRenter
  47. Box Populi
  48. Collaborative Software Initiative
  49. GoSeeTell
  50. Avnera
  51. Lightfleet
  52. Kumquat
  53. YourList
  54. Techchex
  55. Worldwide Nest
  56. IDP Solutions

For more on the movement of these sites, including the Alexa and Compete rankings that determine position, see the Techvibes Portland Start-up Index for July 2008.

Community: The Secret Sauce of a Successful Internet Startup

secret_sauce.jpg

[Editor: Like many of you, I’ve long been a fan of Portland-based COLOURlovers, a site that fosters conversations around colors and palettes. We know about it, and have likely become fans, because of its vibrant community—a community that is the direct result of careful tending by its founder, Darius A. Monsef IV. And now, we’re lucky enough to have Darius sharing some of his insights on developing one of the most sought after features of today’s Web 2.0 sites, “community.”]

[HTML1]So many internet startups are trying to launch with “community” as the core of their business, but they seem to be flying blind as to how you go about growing a solid community. I’ve been asked to consult for a number of these startups. And while this could be a bad financial decision for my consulting business, I’d rather see more successful communities than fewer. So here are the basics of what you need to know and the rest you’ll just have to learn—albeit painfully—as you do it.

I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of building two great communities, one in the real world and one in the digital. The lessons learned in each worlds has meaning in the other and each can serve as a useful example to those who are working on nurturing their own communities.

My Community Director Resume

After packing up my bags and traveling without a specific destination to Thailand in the wake of the biggest natural disaster in modern times… I found myself in the middle of a micro-community of travelers who showed up to help with the Tsunami recovery work. Like any web community, people were from everywhere in the world and came from all sorts of backgrounds.

For five months I lived with this community. First as a volunteer, then as a project leader and eventually co-leading the group. From that experience we grew a non-profit that has since created volunteer centers to aid in disaster relief in six countries around world with the help of a community of 3,000+ volunteers.

Visit www.HODR.org to learn more and perhaps you’ll join us in a disaster zone sometime soon.

Before I packed up my bags and prepared for a place I’d never been to, in a disaster zone I couldn’t begin to guess what it would be like… I created a simple web service that allowed people to name colors and helped other people to rate and review those colors. Responding to early feedback I grew the concept into allowing people to put together combinations of up to 5 colors to also share.

I was the first member, but more than 100,000 have since joined. We’ve been nominated for Best Community Site in the Webby Awards two years in a row and have also received recognition for the quality of our community from several other periodicals and awards organizations.

Visit www.COLOURlovers.com to learn more or share your thoughts on whether silver satin is better than New Medicines.

Now that you have some insight into my experience, let me share some of the things I’ve learned.

Lessons for Building Quality, Thriving Communities

It could be the community in your five-person workplace, your blog readership or even a massive web community… but the lessons still apply. Here they are:

It Is and Has Always Been

One of the most important lessons that came from my time in Thailand was how in order to grow a solid community, you needed to be in the middle of it. The man who originally set-up the volunteer center to which we all arrived was a local who lived on the other side of the island. Since he was a family man, he made the trip to and from the volunteer center back to his house every night and morning. I can understand why he would, considering he had a nice comfortable home only 30 min away… but what happened in his absence almost tore the whole thing apart.

In the early days of a community’s growth, things change very rapidly. Because the group itself has only existed a short time and the early participants often cycle through in short spurts of time… there is no institutional memory. To the person who arrived this morning, we’ve always had a rule about eating lunch at 11:30… nevermind that we only made that rule up the night before. But to that new volunteer, who will in one week be an old timer to many more new people… it has always been so.

Within a week of showing up and seeing first hand the constant transition of ideas, cultures and people in our volunteer community… there was growing dissent about the so-called leader of our group who was never around and nobody knew what exactly he did. To them, he did nothing. Since they woke up in the middle of it all, went to work all day in it and laid down to sleep in the middle of it… this guy had no idea about anything.

Having since been the leader of a volunteer group, there are many things that go on above the ground that are not glamorous or all that fun… but are needed in order for the community to continue growing. For a leader, it is a constant balance of getting his head above the crowd to deal with long-term growth things while at the same time spending time shoulder-to-shoulder with the community.

LessonLesson: You must grow within your community, especially in the early days. Later, leaders will arise who can handle some of the day-to-day things and welcome new members. But in those first few days, weeks and months… you are the welcoming committee, janitor, house mom, judge, jury and banninator. Leading from the outside will only breed dissent and resentment among the early adopters… and without their early support your community will die before it really has the chance to grow.

Set an Open Border Policy with Your Neighbors

Immigration is a complicated and touchy subject in the real world, but online you need an open door policy from the beginning… even recruiting your first members from your related blogs, forums and communities.

When I launched COLOURlovers I was part of a thriving Flash development community at the time (www.Kirupa.com) and I shared my site with some members. These initial Kirupians served as the first dual-citizenship immigrants to my new community. Not all fully converted to COLOURlovers and few gave up Kirupa for COLOURlovers, but since the sites were related—but not mutually exclusive—we were able to get things rolling with their support without negatively affecting the Kirupa community.

These early members were providing ideas to enhance the site and voicing their critical feedback about what worked and what didn’t. I took all of their words to heart and worked feverishly to create and launch enhancements that would grow the community.

LessonLesson: Leverage your involvement in related communities to first seed your community with participants. You can’t force these people to join… just extend an invitation to people who might have an interest in what you’re building and be ready to respond to their feedback.

Cities Grow from Towns and Towns from Villages

Don’t worry so much about jumping right into being a massive community. You need to take the time to be a village and figure out how everything works before you get into issues like mass transit, pollution and housing shortages. You also need to foster leaders within your village who will eventually become your city leaders.

When I went to Thailand, I handed COLOURlovers to my early members and pretty much left them unattended for the five months. Sometimes, blessings come in strange packages. For when I returned, I found a lot of interest had been built while I was gone…

But unfortunately, the community wasn’t able to rapidly grow unattended. In fact, I made a pretty huge mistake when I was building the database for the site: I set the primary key for the users table to be a small int… meaning the database broke once 255 people had registered and no more could sign up. (We were probably one of the first web 2.0 sites to launch a limited user-base private beta site… although fully unintentionally.)

LessonLesson: Hey kids! Don’t focus so much on being rich, respected doctors someday… enjoy being a kid and take to heart the lessons you learn from the bumps and scratches you get exploring your surroundings and figuring out just what your body is capable of doing.

And as your community continues to grow. Problems will arise. And, at times, even your most vocal proponent may think that…

Your Community… Honestly Sucks

This is very key feedback that you need to be willing to hear. I consistently hear bad ideas for sites where people are continually talking about how people will love the service and flock to it… but who have no early adopters. “No worries, we know the idea is great and as soon as we get it out to the masses we’ll be flooded with visitors.” More likely flooded in the sense of your first floor being under water and no ability to use your kitchen to prepare food.

LessonLesson: You need early adopters and they may not like what you’re doing. Be willing to hear this feedback and be flexible in developing your community in ways you might not have imagined.

How do you get the feedback you need? The community is waiting to give it to you. And that’s why…

Engaging the Community in Decision Making is a Must

Ebay = Ebooo!!!! When eBay made a major change to their feedback system recently, some of their sellers revolted in protest. This decision had a major impact on sellers and a lot felt it unfairly hurt them. I honestly believe there are hundreds of ways to skin a cat (not sure why anyone would) and if you bring your members into the decision making process you could end up with a better solution then you could have come up with on your own.

LessonLesson: You need to at least let them feel like their feedback is being heard. Not every idea must be put into affect and you can’t let your members totally direct what happens with your community, but you’ll have a much stronger adoption rate for new changes if the members feel like they were a part of the decision making process.

But for all the brilliant feedback of your most vocal users, don’t let the many suffer at the hands of the few. Always bear in mind that…

No One Member is More Important than the Whole

This is something I’ve experienced with COLOURlovers, but it is a lesson I learned with my non-profit community. As they grow, communities need leaders to step-up and take on extra responsibilities. In almost all situations, this will naturally happen. You begin to rely on these leaders so much, that sometimes you think the community wouldn’t survive without them.

In one of my volunteer communities, we had a small group of leaders who were growing exhausted from the hard work and irritable with new arrivals. They felt since they had been around longer that they were entitled to more than others. I struggled for a while to try and keep this group happy and spent considerable energy dealing with issues that were being created by these leaders. It was stressful because I thought that if I asked the leaders to leave I would have no ability to send my work crews out the next day. Without my leaders everything would crumble and I was sacrificing the happiness of many for the comfort of a few.

It got to a non-pass point with this small group of leaders and they left. What immediately happened in the chaos of this change? People who had been around a little while and some fairly new people stepped up and assumed the leadership roles. I could have asked those troublesome leaders to leave ages before, and the organism that is the community would have replaced the roles on their own.

LessonLesson: There is always a number 2 or number 3 who is willing and eager to take on a bigger role. Your most active and valuable members will leave and a new batch will replace them.

The system, however, is not perfect. And it’s out of control. So sometimes, despite your best efforts, the whole thing will go sideways. Know that, as with most successful communities, someday you will be facing…

Pitchforks, Lanterns and an Angry Mob

If you let problems continue to grow a few disgruntled members will become an growing mob. If you don’t respond to this mob and address their issues personally you risk the mob becoming the masses… and if the masses revolt, you’ll end up with your head on a stick in the front lawn and a burning village.

If you’ve seen the animated film A Bug’s Life, you’ll have watched this lesson unfold in the form of grasshoppers and ants. The ants spend all year doing the work for the grasshoppers to gather a feast of food.

[Spoiler Alert] What the ants learn in the end is that they outnumber the grasshoppers 50 to 1 and if they unite they can run the grasshoppers out of town and no longer need to gather food for them.

09-f9-11-02-9d-74-e3-5b-d8-41-56-c5-63-56-88-c0
A web world example of this was when HD-DVD stories started getting removed from the social media site Digg.com. Members felt their words were being moderated by Kevin Rose and the Digg staff and they didn’t take to kindly to the moderation. What erupted were hundreds if not thousands of new submissions, comments and digs for the DVD key posts.

Having been through some similar experiences as a community director I felt simultaneously sorry for Kevin and highly amused watching the shenanigans unfold. I imagined how chaotic things must have been at Digg… The image that comes to mind is the scene at the end of The Matrix series where the millions of sentinels come flowing into the bay where the humans can’t shoot them down fast enough…

digg revolutions

Kevin eventually bowed to his community and submitted a blog post on the Digg blog with the title being the hacked key string.

LessonLesson: Stay in tune with your community and be transparent with them. If Kevin would have personally responded to why they were removing the HD-DVD keys posts sooner, he might have avoided the giant headache that was a major member revolt.

But for all of the consensus-building and listening to user input, it is important to remember that there must be balance. For, despite our best efforts…

True Democracy Doesn’t Work on the Web

At least not yet. Perhaps it is that with the enhanced ability to communicate more we haven’t enhanced the way people communicate. We have the same miscommunication problems we have in real life online… but they’re hyper sped up and 10x bigger. We also have way to much negative crap flying around the web and it is hard to stay in a constructive place when trolls, spammers and others pains in the ass keep dropping by to stir things up.

Your community needs to know there is a leader and they need to know you’re reachable and engaged. You don’t have to be the most active member but you need to be around. In the early days of your community you have to be everywhere as your community culture is totally you… but as more leaders emerge and the numbers grow, the culture will become partially directed by the community.

You need to be accessible to every member of your community. They need to know where to find you and to know that if they really need you… that you’ll be there. Maybe you only respond to emails or through in site messages… but I’d go so far as to put up your IM names and phone number. For three years any member of my site could have picked up the phone and called me on my cell if they had something to tell me. (The number on the site now goes to voicemail… but I’ll still call you back if you leave me a message.)

LessonLesson: Especially in the early days members of your community need to feel like they know you and that you are reachable. They also need to know that somebody at the end of the day will make a decision in a tough situation.

Sounds difficult doesn’t it? Well, it is. It takes a great deal of effort. And that immediately leads a number of folks to consider buying their way out of a difficult situation. This, too, is a mistake, because…

Buying a Community is Expensive and Will FAIL

You can pay to grow your community, but if you substitute the organic nature of feedback and enhancement that comes from the early adopter phase… you risk not learning the early lessons that will keep your community alive later on. Also, don’t confuse the passion and genuine interest of early adopters—who tend to join organically—for the participation of people who were externally motivated to join in.

Communities, like other organisms, are constantly rebuilding themselves. New cells are built and old cells die off… your early members will leave and new ones will join up. If your community does not organically grow at all and your numbers are growing only because of your paid efforts… you have no ability to continue the growth without spending more money. This is a dangerous position to be in.

LessonLesson: Exhaust your ability to share your community with possible early adopters for free before you start paying for traffic. You could pay to get 10x more visitors to your community early on, but feedback from people who organically joined and are contributing ideas and suggestions are 100x more valuable.

Hire No Consultants. Pay No Community Directors.

It is extremely important that you are in the trenches with your community when it is first getting started. I see startups all the time spending valuable resources to hire consultants to build their community and early buzz… but what they end up with is only a shot in the arm with no long term abilities to grow without paying for more help.

The pay to grow initially is a lot like the drug user who uses to be happy. As they use drugs they need more and more to continue to feel good. If you pay to generate growth, you’ll end up needing to spend more and more to create greater and greater results. Learn to be happy without drugs and you remain in total control of your happiness.

LessonLesson: If you spend the late and long hours in the early days of your community, pounding the keys, networking, promoting and sharing your community you’ll learn very valuable skills that will help your community grow in the future without needing to pay for outside services. Those outside services can be useful down the road when you use them to fill gaps in your growth strategies… and having learned the lessons early on you’ll better know how to direct an outside consultant to help you.

Final Lesson

You can’t buy lessons. Part of what makes you remember the important lessons is how much it hurts to learn them. Don’t be afraid to get a few bumps and bruises. Good luck and grow well.

Darius A Monsef IV, Internet AstronautDarius is an Internet Astronaut and the creator and editor of COLOURlovers.com. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Portland Start-up Index for June 2008: Some movement for the same list

It’s that time again. Techvibes has published its latest installation of the Portland Start-up Index. And while there’s a bit of jostling among the usual gang, no new companies and/or products appear on the list this time around.

The highest climber? Jama Software, followed by Iterasi. The biggest drop was Lightfleet.

So, without further ado:

  1. AboutUs
  2. Kongregate
  3. Discogs
  4. COLOURlovers
  5. Frappr (acquired by Platial)
  6. Jive Software
  7. Splashcast
  8. MyOpenID
  9. Earth Class Mail
  10. Platial
  11. Sandy
  12. Gone Raw
  13. eROI
  14. NetworthIQ (acquired by Strands)
  15. Stikkit
  16. Grabbit
  17. Active Reload
  18. Attensa
  19. GadgetTrak
  20. Walker Tracker
  21. Iterasi
  22. Pibb
  23. ChoiceA
  24. Iovation
  25. Art Face Off
  26. UrbanDrinks
  27. Rocketbook
  28. Lunarr
  29. KnitMap
  30. FreeRange
  31. WeoGeo
  32. Jama Software
  33. Goboz
  34. GoLife Mobile
  35. Picktastic
  36. MomHub
  37. fmyi
  38. Imindi
  39. GoSeeTell
  40. Kryptiq
  41. Cendix
  42. VocalNation.net
  43. Kumquat
  44. Pheedo
  45. Workplace2go
  46. Avnera
  47. Box Populi
  48. IDP Solutions
  49. Collaborative Software Initiative
  50. Lightfleet
  51. Worldwide Nest
  52. YourList
  53. Techchex

As always, this list comes with some caveats. The Techvibes index ranks Portland area tech start-up Web sites—sometimes a series of products from one company, sometimes the corporate site—based on an average of Alexa and Compete traffic rankings. And they don’t take into account widget activity.

Numbers, movement, and other details are available on the Portland Start-up Index page.

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