Usability Camp

When Mira Jelic and Jyotika Malhotra told me about UsabilityCamp, I immediately signed up. Good thing I did, too. The event filled up quickly and more than a hundred people were on the waiting list. If last Tuesday is anything to go by, the next UsabilityCamp will probably fill up in a few hours! <laugh>

It was great crossing over into a different world and learning more
from user experience designers who focus more on user interactions
instead of code. My favorite presentation? I can’t decide between Ilona Posner’s demonstration of these very cool immersive devices that let kids (and adults!) experience what it’s like to be a cat, frog, or butterfly, or Michelle Ivankalc(sp?)’s talk about the physical design of objects.

I really enjoyed getting to know a bunch of new people, too. I met
Paul Forest, who’s on the steering committee
of the International Game Developers’ Association (Toronto Chapter).
He’s looking for a development job, and has experience in everything
from C++ to Java to .NET. Richard McCann
asked me about technology evangelism when he noticed it on my nametag,
and we ended up talking about his newly-fored company called
IdeaFarmer. I met Veau Trotter for the second
time (first was at Enterprise2.0Camp). I met Daniel Tsang again, too, and we chatted a bit about FreshBooks, a web-based accounts receivables system. He told me about monkeyonyourback, which I should definitely look for. I also got to know Robin Ward, and we got into an animated discussion of extensible software (Emacs for me, Firefox for him). I should ask him about the Firefox extensions he wrote…

I was particularly glad to have an opportunity to chat with Mira Jelic and Jyotika Malhotra, both of whom are very cool people (in both tech *and* style!). Kudos to them for organizing a great event, kudos to Ilona Posner for pulling in more sponsors and speakers, and kudos to everyone for making the event tons of fun!

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Not among strangers

It’s amazing, looking out over a crowd of some 70 people and realizing
that very few of them are strangers. It was my first
DemoCamp presentation. I
jumped at the opportunity to wear my beautiful white suit (I *love*
that outfit!), but neither the suit nor the stage (MaRS is big!)
imposed any distance whatsoever. It felt as if I was sitting around a
table with good friends who indulged me by listening to an
enthusiastic demonstration of my latest cool hacks.

It helped that there was a low table that I could put my computer on
so that I could do my demo without hiding behind the podium. (I hate
podiums and other things that stand between me and the rest of the
people!) The microphones were good, too. I left the podium microphones
in place, and my natural presenting voice was strong enough to get
picked up without effort. And of course, a warmed-up sympathetic crowd
was just *wonderful* to work with… =)

I can’t wait to work on a few more things. A lower voice might be
easier to listen to, as long as I can still keep my warmth and humour.
A slightly higher table would’ve been nice. More structure for the
hacks, maybe a clearer message? But it was a fun presentation, and I’m
glad I got the chance to show people something crazy and fun.

I’d like to refine this presentation even further. I have an important
message I want to share with as many geeks as possible. I want people
to push the boundaries, to imagine what’s possible when software can
be customized to that extent. Maybe the benefits will trickle down to
everyone else, the way wild ideas in research prototypes can be taken
into the mainstream…

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Starting your own business

@BarCampEarthToronto, Brooke Gordon, serial entrepreneur

  • Business plan. You are trading money for value. You need to be able to clearly articulate what you are translating money into. If you can’t articulate that clearly to friends and family, you will never be able to do that for investors or customers.
  • Find a mentor. Ask your professors who they know. Go to your local business development center. Find people who have started their own company. You’ll be shocked at how many people will spend half an hour talking to you. Camaraderie. If you ask for help, you will find help. You’ll probably find someone who can share with you best practices.
  • A business is a business is a business. Get yourself an accountant. Make sure that you’re following all of the business rules that apply to the industry. Find out what all the tax rules are and the task breaks are. There are some absolutely fantastic R&D tax credits that people don’t know about. I tried doing the books myself when I was starting out, and that’s a mistake, at least for the first time. Make sure that your accountant knows small business. Whatever you get, make sure you ask for a receipt. You must have copies of receipts. Keep good records of things. That’s what your accountant is there to help you with – your industry. Any time you ever hire someone, interview them, and interview more than one person. Do your due diligence. There’s a lot of risk, but there’s so much reward. You want to mitigate that risk. When you’re doing that mentorship, ask around. Do not ask a corporation. Ask other people who have their own business. Ask for referrals and references. Ask!
  • Do a lot of time at first with your wording. Value proposition. Your company name is an important thing. Try and think about things like common misspellings, pronounciation misspellings, how you want to be perceived. Everything you do, you test. Whatever you choose to do, write it down, go and tell someone. Take someone out for coffee and say “Here are my thoughts; what do you think?” Constantly ask, ask for genuine feedback, and ask for honest criticism. People you trust care about you and don’t want to see you fail. Other people aren’t going to give you that feedback. Good or bad, thank them for it, and take it to heart.
  • Don’t use your name as your company name.
  • There are free seminars that you have access to that you wouldn’t believe. Go to learn and listen and connect. Be very open to that and continue going. There are lots of things out there for free.
  • Government grants and loans for people under 29!
  • Check out TD and Royal Bank for programs for small businesses. They can mitigate their risk if they act as advisors. Don’t discount your bank.
  • Networking. Part of the reason why Dana and I met. Bag design. Women’s networking group.
  • BNI. Business Networking International. Givers gain. When you go to a networking group, don’t just talk – listen. Introduce yourself not just with your name, but with what you do.
  • “So, tell me about your business.” You can tell a lot about a business by how well they can articulate their value. “What do clients of yours look like?” Keep thinking about how your clients might be good clients for them. That’s what networking is.
  • For example, our value is phased implementations for projects.

Know what your value is. Know what your customer looks like. Create
scenarios. Find out what a typical customer looks like, so you can
tell other people what you look like. Make sure that you get involved
in networking. Get those government resources.

Dana: Clients.

  • People respond when you’re not aggressive or overbearing. Your product is not impressive. Treat people as people, not sales.
  • Keep a client database. I used to work for a customer-relationship management system. I missed it when I started my own business. I love Sugar CRM, which is online and open source. Get something so that you can keep track of your clients. Schedule your followups. That way, they don’t only hear from you when you’re asking for money. You want to show that you care about them. Make sure your clients feel valued. Send an actual paper thank-you.
  • You don’t want to be too close to your client also, because sometimes you have to say no. You really should say no. A project that you thought you should’ve said no will drag you down and kill you. If you have that feeling, don’t do it. Or get really good specs.
  • Get a lawyer to review your contracts. Do not do this yourself.
  • Put everything you can on paper before you implement it.
  • Protect yourself with sign-offs.
  • Don’t go into business with friends, if you can help it.
  • Go through scenarios in order to mitigate risk.
  • Engineering entrepreneurship and education at McMasters! Experiential program. ALWAYS take notes and offer to do the first draft. Then get your lawyer’s intern to look at the stuff for you. Ask lawyers what you’ve missed.
  • Outsource your overflow capacity.
  • Know enough to know if the people you’re outsourcing to do good work.

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Building a community

@BarCampEarthToronto: Search engine optimization

Terrific idea! Ryan McKegney identified the top 1% in his RedFlagDeals.com community, rewarded them with stickers and other stuff, and encouraged them to evangelize. Great! Also, you have another 1% who want to get more involved. As for the 1% who are jerks: do things in an open and fair way. Also, keep in mind that there’s a negative response bias in large online communities. People who disagree with something will be the loudest. Takeaway: You set the tone for the site, because you are such an integral part of the community.

Random notes:
Alan Hietala talked about bridging multiple communities in World of Warcraft. Event planning for MMORPG. Heatware – independent reputation system. Jason: no one makes the first post, so you seed.. but dependency? .. Also, start with existing communities.

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Win-win-win: The power of asking

The problem with conferences is that I always, always run into
scheduling conflicts. I really, really wanted to go to the two talks
about communities, the two talks about culture, one talk about
perception, and of course I have another session to run on information
overload.

Six sessions, three time slots. Aiyah. You don’t need a CS degree to
know that’s a problem.

So I convinced Mike and Quinn to merge their talks on culture. Then I
looked for the people responsible for the meta-community talk and
asked if they could merge with Ryan’s talk about building communities.
They agreed!

I couldn’t merge with Mike’s talk – thematically different, and I’d
probably run a long conversation – but hey, that was a great win. All
the people who merged said it would be a good idea because they needed
less than an hour. Everyone else gets a nice panel. And I learned that
if you ask, people will probably say yes.

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BarCampEarthToronto: Search engine optimization

@BarCampEarthToronto: Search engine optimization

I’m learning a lot from the session. Some points:

  • Primary domains are better than subdomains because Google tries to figure out what a domain is about, and something like blogspot.com is too large.
  • Research keywords to find out what people are searching for, and develop good material for these. Linkbait?
  • Structure an FAQ with forward-links and H1s.
  • Use keyword-rich headings.

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