Go-Go Gadget Design!

Another milestone in Bonanzle’s history was reached this week when we finally found a design partner up to the task of imagining the site’s design future. So without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemens, I present to you Bonanzle’s deity of design: Geoff Harrison of geoffco. His site is filled with a number of attractive and well-thought-out sites that geoffco has created as part of its design portfolio.

In his relationship with Bonanzle, Geoff will help us lay out seven of the site’s most critical pages. He will also assist us in creating a design template that can be reused across the site as new pages arise during development. We like to believe that Bonanzle will be a defining site in geoffco’s portfolio, and that we can continue to work with geoffco as the site reaches its future development milestones, expanding its reach with each month that we draw closer to beta.

** Posthumous Update **

Summary. I see this is pretty high in the search results for “geoffco design,” so let me comment posthumously on the experience we had working with geoffco. First of all, we are a CSS-heavy, web 2.0 site whose design emphasis is on simple, simple, simple. When we worked with geoffco (from about March to July of 2007), Geoff was one of the most impressive designers I could find from the Seattle freelance mailing list. Plus, he gave us a great price on what we were doing. He stuck Adam Faja on our project, while Geoff worked in an overseer/advisory role. I will henceforth refer to the Adam/Geoff combination as “geoffco”, though I worked more closely with the former.

Results. I was very satisfied with the overall process of working with geoffco. I entered the relationship with geoffco only having a vague idea of what our site might look like, and geoffco was very patient with the many iterations it took to get the design looking the way I wanted it to look. Our process was usually that I would give geoffco a high-level overview of the requirements/goals I had for a certain page, and geoffco would send me back a PDF (presumably created with Photoshop) to get us on the same page. The first pass usually wasn’t what I was looking for, so I would either ask geoffco to revise things (which they grew a bit weary of toward the end, given that I did it quite a bit), or get into Photoshop and re-arrange things myself to send back something that was more in line with my vision (they seemed amendable to this arrangement).

After a couple design revisions, geoffco would create the HTML for the pages. At first this was something of a touch and go process, as I believe Adam didn’t have a lot of experience writing HTML (the HTML we received appeared to have been auto-generated… lots of font tags, spacer gifs, entirely table-based layouts, all the good web 1.0 stuff). After talking with Geoff directly about our needs (div-based layout, well structured markup with nothing extraneous) we reached a compromise and Adam started learning CSS-based layout. He was a quick study, and after a couple pages, the quality of the markup was consistent with other design-first web designers I’ve worked with (which is to say, not all that great, but serviceable without all that much tinkering).

In the end, I thought that for the price we paid, we got a great deal, and I would work with geoffco again. If we needed our design to ultimately end up in HTML, I would probably double-check that the designer we were going to be working with had some experience with tableless layout. But other than that, it was a good experience, and the design we ended up with was sound starting point, especially since they really had to start from square one in figuring out what our design was going to look like*.

* At this point, about 6 months later, we’ve revised (I believe) every page that geoffco had given us, but the skeletal layout for what-goes-where on those pages are still very similar to what geoffco had provided us, a sign of their knack for UI.

Forward Ho!

One of the quickest lessons I learned in mingling with the indy business persons is that being an indy business person sort of sucks. In many cases, you are vying amongst numerous able competitors for a tiny pie. Times are lean and times are fat. Potential clients treat you like old meat. Investors try to take over your company. So why do you do it? One of the most common reasons I’ve heard is some flavor of “I have no choice. I can’t stand working for some bozo. It’s in my blood.” Well, yeah, but… I can stand working for some bozo if it behooved me intellectually and financially to do so. Does it still make sense for me to wander up the path of most resistance?

Most definitely. And here’s why: because if, after maximizing my potential as an entreprenur, I still had complaints, I’d keep on a’movin. I think Oprah or someone said that the most important part of being alive is challenging yourself daily. To me, this doesn’t mean challenging myself to keep putting up with a situation I hate and have hated for years. It means “doing something exciting to me that I’m getting better at.” I can’t imagine a time in my life where I could be concurrently growing and discontent. I can imagine obstacles to growing: habit, excuses, and of course, contentment. But all things being equal, I think that, for both entrepreneurs and employees alike, feeling alive (and thus feeling content) is assured when you dedicate your existence to consistent improvement.

This Party Is Started

With six beers and one big-ass veggie/supreme pizza to mark the occasion, work on Bonanzle has officially commenced!

We spent a lively afternoon and evening in the basement on what I believe may have been an otherwise lovely Sunday afternoon. The first matter was applying some further tweaks to our fancy new Mac Mini Server (running Trac, Apache, and Subversion); then we began creating the model layer for the most integral parts of the site.

Hard to say after only using it for a couple hours, but Ruby seems to be a suitably high-octane development language. I was especially impressed with the very straightforward syntax by which the database layer was created. Also a lot of high-level programming concepts built into the language, which makes me optimistic that time spent programming will be more concerned with the meat than the mundane. For someone that was developing GBA games in C only a few years ago, I can particularly appreciate a language that takes care of the obvious stuff for you.

Meeting up with some web-designy types tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll mix a spark of creative content with this high-octane language and get ourselves some fire before long.

And So Forth

Sorry about the neglect, blog. I just haven’t been feeling profound enough I suppose. The idea orgy that typified the first month of business is over, and has been replaced with the part of the rollercoaster where you get hooked by the chain that pulls up up up toward the top of the coaster. Each of the clinks that you’d hear on the way to the top is one more piece that gets put together. But face it: when people talk about their favorite roller coaster, the trip up that first precipice is an oft-neglected component of their story.

That certainly isn’t to say that it isn’t fun and fascinating to look over the side at how high up we already are. In the last couple weeks, I’ve continued building information and partners, to the net effect that real live development should be getting underway in the next two weeks. We’re now three developers strong, and I can honestly say that if we were on the playground and I had the first three picks of whoever I’d want to be helping, I got ’em all three. Not only good for the project, but good for the developers themselves, because if there’s one thing that my day job has taught me, its that programming enters a whole new dimension of fun when you get to work with great people who can amaze on a daily basis. And if there’s one other thing my day job has taught me, it’s that the opportunities to work with people like that can be few and far between in the real world.



Productive evening! My business name, “Bonanzle,” is now trademarked with business cards en route. The basis of “Bonanzle” is the “Bonanaza,” but I couldn’t tell you what that means or why it is yet. So sit back and enjoy my newly-minted business cards. Thank you Photoshop CS trial version.

business card

Kill the Gorilla

I went to see Sujal Patel give an intriguing talk on “Introducing Disruptive Technologies into Mature Markets” this Friday. Listed as starting at 6:30 (it actually started at 8, but that’s a different story), my expectations were high as I dragged myself out of bed at 5:30, after a mockingly short 5 hours rest. It didn’t disappoint.

In brief, his three keys to dethroning your gorilla:

1) Possessing a “disruptive technology.” According to Patel, for a new product to make a dent in an existing marketplace, it must be at least 10x better than similar existing offerings. Not twice as good, not five times as good. The logic behind this is that a product anything less than 10x better will not be able to cross the chasm into the early majority, because all breeds of majority adopters (early, middle and late stage) are compelled to adopt only when a product is so overwhelming better that it justifies the investment of time to learn it. This matches my intuitive perception of user adoption patterns — I’m certainly unlikely to adopt something new unless I can clearly see high benefit and low risk (i.e., of the new technology disappearing) to doing so.

2. Tenacity. Though this one is somewhat obvious, the depth to which it is necessary is something that new or non- entrepreneurs may not understand. Patel gave the example of spending literally three months in VC meetings for “all but two days. ” In many of those meetings, he was assured that his idea “was like so-and-so’s idea,” but worse. Other challenges in his case involved convincing VCs that two late 20-somethings, who knew almost nothing about storage, could build a successful storage company amongst a landscape of almost 100 competitors. An illuminating example that he didn’t give was that, as he lectured us, his company had dropped in value almost 22% in the last couple months on news of poor fourth-quarter earnings. Nevertheless, he had to show up, organize an hour-long show, and preach the perfection of his company’s execution. Guts.

3. Partners=results. If there is a single, overarching requirement for success, it is surrounding yourself with the absolute best people that exist. He specifically mentioned the need to find “high ceiling” people who have separated themselves from their peers. When asked in the Q&A session why he’d failed to mention “adaptability” as one of the core needs of a new business, Patel responded that “adaptability” is really a function of who you have. Do you have partners that hear the needs of the business and work together effectively to ensure those needs are met? If so, adaptability is already assured.

Overall, it was an extremely relevant topic for me. Thinking about the features of the site that are truly 10x better than their alternatives helps to focus on the core of the business model. And the need to partner was one that I had already understood, but Patel’s commitment to not compromising on a less-than-ideal partner certainly resonates, as my search for able accomplices extends into weeks from what I’d hoped would be days.

Welcome to 800 Steps to Entrepreneurial Success

Business consultant Karrie Kohlhaas pointed out to me today that the really successful entrepreneurs understand that all that work done to build a business for success isn’t really building a business at all. It’s building you.

In that spirit, I now embark upon my entrepreneurial self/business building. My site proper details my steps to this point, but all I have left from the sum of those experiences is a bunch fragmented memories. With this blog, that changes. The idea here is to chronicle the process of how big stuff happens, bit by bit by itsy bitsy bit.

What I expect will result from this exploration is a series of observations on the challenges and thrills of hatching a plan. Ideally, these observations will form a pattern from which meta-patterns will eventually manifest themselves. Through the back and forth of coalescing and isolating the meaningful lessons I come across during this journey, I reckon I’ll end up with either 800 steps to entrepreneurial success, or freezer-burn.