Lull Before the Storm

Here it is. Do you hear it? It is the sound of nothing happening. It is the sound that indicates that my video game is almost done, and has at long last provided a bit of that “end of project crunch” that the game industry has become famous for.

The game is preliminarily done tomorrow. It’s done in final form a week or two after.

And that’s when this party really gets afoot. Immediately following the conclusion of my regularly scheduled programming, two weeks of “vacation” follow. And by “vacation,” I of course mean discussing, designing, and maybe even developing, if that’s what it takes, to put the legs on this here hobby horse.

Stay tuned…

Buy! Buy! Buy!

I think I’ve hit upon a pretty apt analogy for the ebb and flow of getting one’s business rolling. It is the very indicator used by millions of business the world over. It is the stock market.

200_year_stock_chart.gifFirst of all — and you won’t hear me admitting this again at any point in the near future — a lot of what comprises “success” is stupid luck. I have spent hundreds of hours recruiting our team to this point, and the best people we have all 1) came from different sources 2) did not find out about Bonanzle through any of the numerous postings I’ve made to sites like Jobster and the UW Career Center. People routinely ask me (and I routinely ask other people) how to find the best people for a project, and the generally accepted answer is that nobody’s got a clue. You just keep talking to people and eventually get lucky. The stock market analog is the (fairly common) incident where a lifelong financial analyst is beaten by the S&P 500. Even seasoned analysts can’t generally compete with luck.

Second, no single day is very indicative of the overall trend. I think this is one those principles you hear a lot when talking about entrepreneurialism without really understanding it. It’s often worded as “you should expect a lot of adversity and challenges to overcome,” but when you actually experience these “challenges” (or less nicely: failures) on a daily basis, it is easy to get discouraged and lose track of the overall upward trend. What it feels like is that every time you get traction with a new idea or new recruit or well-executed maneuver, it gets negated by the Looming Unforeseeable Obstacles. But, viewed objectively, a business only needs to have slightly less failures than it has successes to win. In the stock market (and in my stock market, fantasy basketball), the same is true: trend trumps daily blips.

And the correlate to both the first and second principle? That the best you can do for either your business or stock is to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed, cross your fingers, and pray to the law of averages for a break. Oh dearest law of averages always comes to the rescue of the worthy. But eventually.

Slog Conquers Blog

Alas, dear blog, you have been whupped by the slog of this week’s tasks and obligations, but I’m fighting back as valiantly as can be.

Most recently, has had some of its content refreshed to reflect the current needs of the site (i.e., web designer), and to ensure that the most visited pages (i.e., “About Us”) have some information that is as useful as possible, without actually being so useful as to describe just what this project is all about.

In general, things on rolling. No two weeks are the same, and no one week is easy, but every week puts a few more tangible pieces into the puzzle, which is a most satisfying process to watch.

Pre-Alpha Signup

We are now collecting email addresses of those who’d like to help give feedback on the design of the site. We will probably begin our formal user testing in about a month, but I’d like to start rounding up participants now so that we can get as much feedback as possible once we’re ready to begin testing.

I’ve created an email address form on the main Bonanzle entry page that you can use to sign up if you’re interested.

I’m thinking that the user testing will probably consist of us watching you try to post and search for simulated items on the site. Coffee and appreciation will be included free of charge, maybe even lunch, money, or the gift of eternal life, as circumstances dictate.

Dear Faceless Masses

thrumaytraffic.pngDear Faceless Masses,

I figure it’s high time I offer a big “thanks!” to whoever it is that is visiting this blog. I thoroughly enjoy keeping it, but the traffic chart to date certainly doesn’t hurt my will to be consistent in my postings.

This also makes me curious just who has been coming here and why? You’re not all my mom, are you? (Incidentally, Dominic Canterbury had a great soundbite at Bizjam yesterday about the “Mom-pleaser” website. In his words, this is the site that doesn’t realize that “only your mom is going to think it’s really ‘cool’ that you have 30 web pages on your site. Everybody else wants it as simple as possible.’ I immediately laughed to myself as I considered the ‘Favorite Links’ page on my site. The secret’s out!).

Positive or negative, I’d love to hear what people have to say in response to the opinions voiced on 800 Steps. I am only at step 39 of 800 so far, and there is still much to be learned about how to manifest a vision. Let’s put our thoughts together and bang out these last 761 steps out real quick-like!

The Continued Adventures of Biz Plan v1

“Business Plan: Alpha Version” now complete and distributed. It’s currently about 10 pages of meat, and I’ll be quite curious to hear the feedback on it. Almost all of it right now is focused specifically on the business idea, the competition, and the methods in which it will be designed and launched. According to my official business plan book, that means I’m missing at least two of the four most important sections: the Executive Team and the Financials. Hopefully I’ll have those wrapped up in the next week. But I’m pretty satisfied with how it looks and reads for an alpha version. Tons of statistics (my bibliography citations take about 20% of the whole document!), which appeals to my quantum side.

And lots of graphs, charts, and pictures. If you are going to be writing a business plan, or an important document of any sort, you must buy the new version of Word. I’ve been using Word 2000 for the last several years since it was the last copy that could be easily warezed (whoops, did I say that or just think it?). But if you buy the Home version through a Microsoft employee (and who in the NW doesn’t have a Microsoft friend?) it’s only $35 for the whole Office suite, which is really a screaming deal, given the improvements that have been made to it since 2000. The version of Word I’m using has built-in, easy to find and use templates (stylishly stylized) for every type of diagram, table or chart I have seen fit to add to the document. Hand-drawn text boxes in Word 2000 simply can’t compare.

If you’d like to get your own copy of The Plan, holler!

Viva la Bill

Every day I spend with my nose to the grindstone, it keeps sneaking up on me. It started as “maybe someday,” and eventually progressed to “hopefully soon,” “maybe four months,” “about two months,” and now, three wee-little weeks: my (partial) liberation from the man as I transition to working a half-time shift!

I’m (partially) ecstatic. I don’t yet know exactly how calling my own shots will effect my day-to-day life, but it sure sounds terrific. Currently, I’m squeezing 25-30 hours a week between late weeknights and long weekend days. Time to meet with people is limited. Time to develop the site myself is non-existent. For all the time I’ve spent looking for someone else to give the executive branch of this project a shot in the arm, I’m now betting that in three weeks, I’ll be infusing the project with about as good a boost as could be hoped for at this point. For progress and morale alike.

I can still clearly remember the first morning I woke up in my own apartment after arriving in Seattle. The apartment was a complete disaster: cheap, run down, and littered with leftover food and partially emptied boxes. I woke up at about 8 in the morning after just a few hours sleep. Though I had thrown off my blanket when dusk broke a few hours earlier, I was still drenched in sweat from the sun shining through my window, baking me on my futon. I looked out my clear, sunny window onto the neighbor’s cluttered porch and an already bustling 15th Avenue. I deeply inhaled the pale smell of cigarette and newly washed dingy carpets, and pasted a grin on my face that lasted the rest of the week.

The independence was intoxicating, unlike anything I had felt in my life to that point. Every trip to the deathbed Safeway on 50th Street was a field trip where anything was possible. I couldn’t give a damn about yielding at crosswalk signals, paying bus fare, or doing the dishes.

girl_jump.jpgEven today, many of my favorite moments are those where I shun convention in favor of the freewheeling ethos that personified that time in my life. Given that, it is something of a wonder that I managed to do the 9-5 routine even for the three-plus years I’ve been at it. From what I have read and what I can sense, making the leap away from security and into a self-directed challenge that will engage me daily promises to hold the same clear air of possibility that blew by me as I baked on that futon almost 10 years ago today.

Synergy: Beyond the Buzzword

“Synergy.” It’s one of those words that resides alongside “Web 2.0” as business jargon whose power is diluted from misuse and overuse. But, linguistic connotation notwithstanding, I think it is a critical component of sites that are going places in the 2000’s. Don’t buy it? Observe:

Etsy. A site that, at its core, is doing the same thing as eBay: selling crafts between users. Given, they have done it with a better interface, but a blind decapitated monkey could create a better UI than eBay. Most sites have. What has made Etsy so much more successful than nice-looking sites like is the synergy it generates between items and artists. The preponderance of well-photographed (and thus visually attractive) items on the site exist because artists tend to be better photographers than the average user. Many of Etsy’s most unique and successful features “work” because the site is designed for abstract-minded individuals. Their “time machine” is a perfect example of this. The “time machine” is a flash application on Etsy that scrolls items of decreasing newness toward you through space. This feature succeeds resoundingly because of the synergies wherein A) people expect artsy features on an artsy site and B) art-related items are much more arbitrarily chosen than eBay items, so it is relevant to see random pieces presented. If eBay tried to do the same, you would get toasters and broken laptops and Nigerian get-rich-quick scams flying toward you. And it would not help you shop more effectively.

Biznik. A site that takes one part business, one part indy, and seasons to taste with charm. As Etsy::Classifieds, Biznik::Networking — that is, the world doesn’t need another business networking site. But powerful synergies exist when you take friendly, benevolent, like-minded indy service providers, and mix them with users possessing business acumen. The result is monthly get-togethers like “Biznik Happy Hour” which is a networking event advertised as “Not a room of business card pushing suits,” and which, over the course of the last six months, has nearly tripled in size, to the point that the event has outgrown the otherwise-terrific Liberty Cocktail bar. Why does Biznik work so well? Because its users naturally want to talk to and help each other, and if you’re talking to and helping someone, you want to get to know them, and if you get to know them, you’ll more likely to want to help them. And every time this cycle happens, the site itself becomes better because more people join and more advice is posted. The bottom line is that Biznik fosters an environment that perpetuates helpfulness, and is led by founders who embody the generous, user-first indy spirit that is manifest in so many members of the site.

As I continue to gather data and start putting the words into Business Plan 2.0, it has become very clear to me that this type of synergy is exactly the reason that Bonanzle will work. The classified ads sector is saturated, and the online auction space is beyond saturated. For a new site to make any significant inroads in this environment, there must be a strong synergistic undercurrent that leads users to the site and the site to users and users to users and the site to other sites. Fortunately, that is precisely how the plan is working out.

Back To Square One

After laboring over this site for the last five months, we’re finally back to step one: writing the business plan. This was the first step in Bonanzle’s infancy, and has again come to the forefront as our development process has reached the point of self-perpetuation. When I think about what the “best” first step to take would have been, I think “write up the business plan” is probably about as good of a guess as any: you are immediately forced to weigh yourself against competition and enumerate what it is that you think you’ll be providing. The catch is that, in all but the rarest cases, what you think your product will be in the first couple weeks is an educated guess at best.

So it was with Bonanzle. I started by noticing a problem in the way shopping worked, and identified a fix to that problem that could extend beyond solving the original problem. The more I analyzed it, the more apparent it became that this idea could in fact extend all the way to creating a new class of shopping experience. The next couple months I bounced between business planners, entrepreneurs, market savvy types, and all people in between, as the idea grew bigger and bigger in its potential.

Taking a notebook chock full of ideas, opinions, research and facts, I feverishly pieced together the plan that constituted Bonanzle’s best opportunity to make a significant impact on the online marketplace. The result? Our original idea.

It has become increasingly apparent through analyzing our competition and my further communications with the always wise Mr. Dalasta that it takes something either vertical or completely offbeat to tempt users away from a gorilla. Despite the pages of potential applications for this site that many well-versed web veterans have brought to my attention, it is my conviction that we need to start by solving one problem, and solving it superbly.3darrow.gif

What then have I gained from these months of analysis? Only everything that will go into the business plan. Even though the idea ended up the same as it started, it has only been through having the idea continuously scrutinized that I’ve been able to determine which combinations of words make eyebrows raise. Put all those raised-eyebrow answers together, sprinkle in the words “weave,” “synergy,” and “confluence,” then for good measure, toss in a couple 3d arrows and flowcharts to represent data, traffic or customers, and you can pretty much sit back and wait for the first couple mil to arrive in the bank. Am I right, investors?

The Joy of Rollin’

Good times in Bonanzledom.

We’re hitting on all cylinders. Web design is zipping along with geoffco delivering daily iterations of some of the site’s most key pages. Web development has proceeded at an impressive clip, with everybody getting their Ruby legs under them. Dan has pulled (and almost pulled) some pretty fancy tricks with the server. And we’ve been fortunate to continue getting significant contributions from a variety of other design and marketing sources. With this week’s progress, the tangible nature of the site is beginning to manifest, and I’m itching to keep it rolling so I can start using the site as a buyer and seller. I think this is the site that bridges the gap between my game and web experience in that it offers the productivity of a web app while it plays like a game. It’s going to be a surprising experience for the web masses who’ve become accustomed to visiting similar sites that provide either fun or needs-meeting services.