Category Archives: Education

underpants-gnomes

Hardware Workshop – May 2-3, 2014

Step 1. Start a hardware company.
Step 2. ?
Step 3. Profit.

If it were only that easy. You can ask  PebbleInteraXonThalmic, Bionym, PUSH Strength, Kiwi WearablesClearPath Robotics among others about the challenges of designing, testing, manufacturing and distributing a hardware-based company. There are a lot of subtle , unexpected complexity in moving from bits to atoms. And one of the best ways to learn about complexity is from operators made mistakes and found a way to do it.

There is a Toronto based event happening called the Hardware Workshop happening May 2-3, 2014. The event is hosted by Marc Barros (Moment) and organized locally by Katherine Hague (Shoplocket) and Zak Homuth (Upverter). It features an amazing set of people with real world experience in all aspects of building hardware-based businesses, including:

It looks like a great workshop at an amazing price. Looks like the workshop costs are covering the out-of-pocket expense of the organizers for food to allow participants to focus on the content and learning opportunity. (Seriously, do the math $75 * 75 = $5,625 barely covers the catering costs).

“What makes this workshop unique is the quality of the content, the deep operational experience of the teachers, and the long term connections you will make. Hand curated, each teacher covers a unique topic that falls within the startup’s life cycle from an idea to reaching market fit.”

If you’re interested in learning about building a hardware startup and about the mistakes that others have made (so you can avoid them). This should be a fun 2 days. Apply to attend.

[Disclosure: I am an investor in Upverter. ]

Make stuff

Maker Faire

I’m really looking forward to Maker Faire Toronto. It is happening Saturday and Sunday, September 21-22, 2013 at the Wychwood Barns. This is an amazing opportunity to celebrate the Maker Movement. I’m excited to see the inventions, the creativity, the resourcefulness of people to solve problems, to inspire. To be proud of the things they’ve built.

“That is, no matter what the thing is you’re building, it’s deeply gratifying and incredibly educational to perform the act of creating something, anything.” — Christopher O’Brien

I am really excited about the opportunity to bring my kids. I’m excited to teach them about entrepreneurship. But even more importantly, I’m excited to provide them access to learn and to explore technology. My friends Tara Brown and Sean Bonner opened LA Makerspace focused on providing a kid-friendly space. My kids have asked me about building robots, making candy and taking apart their toys.  The eldest is now 6 years old, and her problem solving skills and attention are developing where this will be a transformational experience.

“We are making the tools for passion. When I look around, I don’t see any apathy here.” — Nolan Bushnell

Much of the DIY culture emerged out of the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley. And while not directly responsible for the success of many of the companies that emerged, it seeded a culture and the connections between folks that started Apple Computer, Osbourne Computer and others. This is the ground floor, the Mechatronics department at UWaterloo accepted their first class in 2003.  Bufferbox was started in 2011 and sold to Google in 2012. This is a very interesting space if you look at the emergence of other area startups like InteraXon, Thalmic LabsUpverterMatterform, Bionym and others. 

Bring your kids. These are very interesting times indeed.

A Perspective on Investor/Mentor Whiplash

CC-BY-NC-ND AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by nocklebeast
AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by nocklebeast

The other day Fred Wilson posted an opinion and some tips on Investor/Mentor Whiplash. He took the position that that is a big problem for accelerators as well as early stage and seed environments. Brad Feld took this as a bit of a misunderstanding on accelerators, he insists that TechStars creates an environment where early stage companies can learn to manage the whiplash. Brad Feld states:

I disagree with Fred. It’s not a big problem. It’s the essence of one of things an accelerator program is trying to teach the entrepreneurs going through it. Specifically, building muscle around processing data and feedback, and making your own decisions.

On the surface this seems correct. A problem (one of many) new founders face is the overwhelming barrage of mentorship (good and bad) and information mixed with the inability to filter. An accelerator should be able to provide the environment where a strong group of peers with some guidance can help to build the “muscle around processing data and feedback.” In the last 6 years I have noticed that is a common problem founders face and their ability to manage it is important to their success. It wasn’t until I experienced the whiplash myself a 2nd and 3rd time that I fully appreciated the damage it can do even if you are prepared for it.

Generally what I tell early stage founders:

  • Only talk to customers once you have something to show them — but that shouldn’t take you a long time, don’t go heads down for months. Asking people what they want and not focusing on something specific they can touch/feel is a path to busy work and infinite sadness.
  • Avoid the mentor parties/socialization. Find two (or three) good people with opposing views and bounce specific data off them but only when you have done something that requires fresh eyes to advise you how to interpret the results.
  • Focus on what isn’t working when getting feedback from mentors. Founders need to be positive but you need to focus on the bad things when talking to your close mentors that have been through it already. If they can’t help you with the tough stuff why are you spending a lot of time with them?
  • Don’t expect a direct answer. Experienced mentors know you are the best person to run your company, not them, and they have developed a way of not telling you what or how to do things but instead challenge you to figure it out in a positive way.

Whiplash from mentors doesn’t just happen in startups, it happens everywhere people are giving you advice or have something to gain by influencing the decisions you are about to make or the opinion you develop on something.

Being prepared and learning to manage the whiplash isn’t just the essence of accelerator programs, it is the essence of education that culminates in the top level you can achieve to filter information – a phd program. At the phd level the filter muscle is almost too strong but that is a topic of a whole other blog post.

The scary thing for entrepreneurs is that accelerator programs are too often run by people that don’t know how to effectively educate people and/or they have something to gain financially by the decisions founders make.

I think this *is* a big problem in accelerators. I wonder if the ability to teach that skill to founders (or select founders that already have that skill) is the difference between a successful accelerator (which is really only TechStars and YC) and one that isn’t (pretty much everyone else)?

[Editor's note: This post was originally posted on Jesse Rodgers' Who You Calling a Jesse blog on July 31, 2013.]