Success: Actual Size

For the past 8 years, I’ve run my own company. A digital product consulting company. Across those 8 years, I’ve launched 3 products of my own that I’m very proud of – while doing interesting client work, that I’m also very proud of.

I’ve also become a father of 3.

As I write this, my third child is nearly a year old. Experience has told me – a newborn in the house is demanding enough – there’s no reason to purposefully add more. Whether that be the demands of launching a startup or anything else. It just makes everything that much more difficult and everyone that much more unhappy. I want more happiness – not less.

Thankfully – I’m able to work in a way that I’m most productive. On projects I’m interested in and still be there when the 5 yr old finds his first toad in the backyard.

This is why I live in Minnesota.

“If you can build a six-figure lifestyle business, chances are you can build a million-dollar business, but only if you want to. How big you build the business is up to you because you’re calling all the shots, for better or worse.” – Corbett Barr

“When you need thirty people to create a company, venture capital is important. When you need three, it isn’t….we’re three middle-aged fathers…we decided that we wanted to make enough money so that none of us had to change our standard of living.” – Dan Grigsby

“I’ve been doing one kind of startup or another for pretty much my entire adult life, so being an entrepreneur is really the only way that I know how to live and that’s with or without kids.” – Jason Roberts

The Runway Extends Beyond the Horizon

Once or twice a semester, I’m invited to speak to a group of students at one of the many universities in this area. Sometimes I’m asked to talk about a project like Kernest, sometimes I’m asked about web design / information architecture / etc. Tonight, I was asked to talk about my business – not the work. A refreshing distinction.

One of the most insightful questions asked by a student was: Why don’t I have more employees…why am I not focused on growing my business bigger and faster?

It comes down to question of horizon and longevity.

  • Give another listen to my conversation with David Crossland about the OpenFontLibrary, he talks about the OpenFontLibrary being a 10 year project.
  • Wal-mart is nearly 50 years old. It was 25 years old when I first stepped into one. Same for Target and Best Buy. My top-of-the-head calculations, it takes 20 years to build a retail business of any lasting significance.
  • People smarter at urban planning than myself have described public transit as a ‘100 year problem’.
  • The United States of America is only 234 years old.
  • The Japanese construction company Kongo Gumi Co., Ltd was liquidated in 2006 after 1,400 years in business.

Based on my lineage, I can count on another 4 decades – and with even modest advances in quality of life technologies – 2 more decades on top of that. That’s a lot of time to build and grow something to improve lots of people lives and persists beyond my direct involvement.



“Great achievements in knowledge are produced by older innovators today than they were a century ago.…This productivity drop is particularly acute if innovators raw ability is greatest when young.” – Age and Great Invention, Benjamin Jones [pdf]

“Everything you know me for I’ve done since I was 50.” – Doc Searls

“A point on the curve. I’m confident RSS wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t stuck with it. And I was 42 when I *started* work on RSS.” – Dave Winer

“A company with $200K per year revenue with a single person and no plans to “exit” would be a failure in [YCombinator], but a huge success for a single founder like me.” – Amber Shah

Stan Lee: 43
Jack Kirby: 44
Julia Child: 40

Pro Chair-sitter and Whiteboard Drawer

PREFACE: This post was sitting in my drafts since July, and it seemed to go nicely with the co-working post, so I hit publish.

After we returned from a refreshing holiday weekend1 at the in-laws, Cooper asked why we came home.

“Grandma, Grandpa, and Papa all have to go to work on Monday.”

“Where is Grandma’s office?”, he replies.

“Remember we drove past her office on the way to the petting zoo and car show?”

“Why isn’t her office in her house?”

I’ve worked at home since before the kids were born. I prefer it to an office outside of the home for a number of reasons. Primarily, I have greater control over my personal comfort (temperature, lighting, chair/desk/table heights) in my home office than I do elsewhere. Secondarily, considering how abstract my work is, having a home office makes me feel like the kids have some notion of what I do2 (even if that notion is limited to ‘drawing on whiteboards’).

Related: Merlin Mann’s The Richard Scarry Book of the Future [mp3]

1. Including a late evening pontoon ride, a chilly swim in the Wisconsin River, and a fantastic dinner at the recently opened Red Eye Brewery. I highly recommend all three.

2. My dad’s work took him away from the house for the entire work week – I know my a good portion of my attitudes about work are a direct response to that.

Twin Cities Co-Working Conversation Re-Ignited

UPDATE 27 May 2009
New url for this effort:

Earlier this week, I had a fairly thorough conversation with a St. Paul-based serial entrepreneur exploring starting a co-working business.

I’ve been writing about the “co-working” / “work club” concept off and on for a while now (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Bonus) and there hasn’t been any blips on my radar for more than a year. So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from him.

The notion of having access a low-cost office-y space with some of the amenities of ‘bigger’ offices is attractive. Unfortunately – like flying cars and carbon trading markets – there are a number of reasons why it hasn’t caught on. Some of those reasons are obvious (Herman Miller decor) others are less so (How is it different than Kopplin’s?).

In one of my earlier posts, I talked about these third places as transitional places.

“The third workplace is inherently a transitional place – a place to go until. Until the home office is renovated. Until the go-to-the-office habit is kicked.”

I predict 2009 and 2010 will be banner years for small business starts and a transitional space is exactly what these new entrepreneurs need.

If you’ve got interest in or experience with a temporary, shared office space, leave a comment or drop me a line.

What Have You Deployed Today?

Some of you have been around web design long enough to remember the 4Ds (Discover, Plan, Design/Develop, and Deploy) that were so popular in agency marketing materials in the late 90s.

At the time, I once asked my CEO about them (he wrote the marketing copy)

“Well, we don’t do them on all the projects. Clients actually only care about the last one.”


So, the rest are for showing how unfamiliar with the client’s domain we are?

A while back, Jason Fried recounted those days:

“In 3 weeks we managed to tell them exactly what they already knew while also burning through 15% of the budget.”


He continues in the comments

“…you don’t really know if something is right until you do the real thing.” – Jason Fried

On my internal projects (the ones that lead to interesting clients), here’s my process

  1. Sketch out the primary screen on a 3×5 notecard.
  2. Draw out the database schema (I understand more about an app via its DB schema than a wireframe or UI).
  3. Build the smallest functioning app possible.
  4. Deploy. Public or not, deploying makes it real.
  5. Build the app better.
  6. Repeat 4-5 indefinitely.

Eating your own dog food

“We starting doing release cycles that were only a few hours apart, re-releasing every time we fixed a significant problem. ” – Andy Hertzfeld on making the original Macintosh OS.

“So. We all know we should ship early, ship often. That small, achievable goals are the best. That having something useful and publishable within a day or two or three trumps planning everything perfectly to the nth degree.” – Amy Hoy

Two Rooms – Both Closed

Reviewing some year old files, I saw a note on the “third place”, Their idea was to combine a temporary office space and childcare.

Great concept. Alas, like Gate3 before them, TwoRooms is no longer.

Either there’s demand for a temporary office space thing and maintenance is really hard or there’s no demand. I’m leaning toward the latter.

The Future of Hiring

“I want to see evidence of video and audio skills. I want to see evidence of familiarity with CSS, RSS, HTML and every other acronym of new media. I want people who live online, consume content on mobile devices, use social-bookmarking tools and participate in Web communities. I want people who don’t think they need some gray-haired, middle-aged man like me to give them permission to create — I want bloggers and page designers and database builders who have made things even when they weren’t getting paid.” – Paul Conley

Blurring Identity to Clear It Up

“What if there was an agreed upon microformat…that would telegraph to others our capabilities, experience, strengths, knowledge and, especially, our availability to be hired?” – Steve Borsch

Must be something in the warm Janurary in MN air. A lunch earlier this week – unfortunately without Steve (need to remedy that) – was all about the need and value in increasing the visibility of expertise, availability, and reputation.

In a very primitive, rudimentary, and analog form – the barometer Steve asks about already exists; participation in peer communities like forums, professional organizations, and generally impressing people with how hard your rock – are all reputation builders and indicators. Primitive, because it’s still pretty hard to find people that can vouch for you. Google, LinkedIn, eBay, and the comments on your own blog, are all ways to others gauge your status.

For better or worse – all the measurement systems listed thus far are isolated and non-portable (pointing your eBay rating at a potential consulting client means little). Maybe I should dust off my Identity XML thinking. Managing access to a bunch of Identity.xml files sounds far more useful than YAIS (Yet Another Identity Silo).

Many of the attributes Steve lists in his question above are most accurately declared by others – verses self. The world…er…marketplace…creates my identity as much as I do.

So, Steve, I’ll declare what I know of you, if you declare what you know of me. 🙂

Re-reading this, I think RSS is the microformat in question.


“It took a few years, but it’s great to see software actually being built around the identities that aren’t vendor controlled.” – Dave Winer

I need to poke around MyOpenID.