Archive for June, 2008

A Primer on Blogs for EDA Start-ups

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, EDA, Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

After I offered “7 Tips for Encouraging Bloggers to Write About a Conference,” Gabe Moretti, the editor of the DACeZine,  asked me to contribute an article on blogging (I guess that could have been my eighth tip). It appeared in the June 26 DACeZine. What follows is a version of the article appropriate for a blog post: same content, more links. I think these tips are actually useful for any software start-up.

History & Definitions

Blogs are a “new” social software technology that have been in use for more than a decade. The name “weblog” was coined by Jorn Barger in 1997 and shortened to “blog” in 1999 by Peter Merholz. Both describe a website with one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Permalink: each page or article has a permanent URL called a permalink that allows other sites to reference it uniquely for the life of the website. This inhibits link rot and allows useful references and backlinks to accumulate over time.
  • Reverse Chronology: there is normally an index that presents the articles in reverse chronological order (newest first) which answers the question “What’s New?”
  • Comments: each article has a footer that allows readers to add comments. Registration can be required to inhibit spam, but in effect, each article can have a forum thread associated with it.
  • Trackbacks: notifications to other blogs (and content management systems that accept them) that they have been referenced in a published article. These trackbacks may be appended as comments after the referenced article on the remote site to let readers know who else is referring to it.
  • Categories: may be defined in an ad hoc way for a site and appended as tags (metadata) for each article. Sometimes, these tags may be shared between blogs to facilitate easy reference about common events or issues.
  • Syndication Feeds: typically based on one or more versions of RSS and Atom, allow readers to aggregate content from many blogs. They are essentially a machine readable format of “What’s New” that tracks and displays a summary or the full text of the last few articles published.
  • BlogRoll: a list of other blogs that are suggested reading by the blog author(s).

There are many blogging systems and not all of them support all of these features. Not every blog has all of these features enabled, but a minimum feature set would normally include permalinks, a reverse chronological index, and syndication feeds.

EDA Blogs
There are more than 70 blogs relevant to Electronic Design Automation, and the first “EDA Bloggers Birds of a Feather” meeting was held at this year’s DAC. As a part of the preparation for that event, I developed a list of “Bloggers Covering Electronic Design Automation” that David Lin of Denali published on Netvibes.

Starting the Conversation
Tim O’Reilly has observed that a blog acts as a dial tone for a website: it signals a commitment for interaction and participation on the part of the authors. Current blogging activity substantiates that a start-up is open for business. This can be an issue when the website has not been updated for six months!

EDA software and consulting services both require an ongoing relationship for a customer to get full value out of the initial decision to engage. This means that a purchase decision, especially for start-ups, can look a lot like a hiring decision. By exposing your thinking and demonstrating your expertise on your blog, you allow your prospects to get to know you better even before they write that first email or pick up the phone. Whether they see you listed at a tradeshow, see an article you’ve written, or hear about you from a colleague, they will almost always check your website before contacting you. If you let them get to know you and proactively answer their likely questions, you allow them to make more productive use of their time and make your first conversation that much more useful for both of you.

Key Benefits From a Blog

  • Using permalinks for your content means that the highly linked articles accumulate a higher preference in search engines (e.g. Google) which means you are more likely to be found, especially if you are blogging about something of interest to your prospects.
  • Using feeds means that new articles will get into the search engine caches, where they can be found by prospects; in a matter of hours rather than waiting for an indexing spider to visit your site every two or three weeks.
  • A blog allows you to respond frequently and in real time to events, issues, and new information that are relevant to your prospects and your business. News releases still have a role but are better reserved for key communications.
  • A blog also replaces the “What’s New” page for your website with a much more powerful structure that’s better connected with other websites.

Tips for Better Blogging

  1. Plan ahead. Map out a calendar of subjects to cover one or two a week for the next month or two; this will help you focus on these topics in other media and help you avoid writer’s block.
  2. Offer Perspective. Don’t just rehash other articles, blog posts, and news stories. Add your own insights and expertise—and keep the content clear, focused and professional.
  3. Report. Tie your subject matter to topical events such as talks, conferences, seminars, or trade shows you’ve attended, adding your own insights from those events.
  4. Focus for effect. Pick a set of topics that are relevant to your business and your (prospective) customers. (For non-business-related topics, create a second personal blog.)
  5. Do it often. Shorter, more frequent posts are best (around 200 to 400 words and at least once a week). Try making just three points per issue relevant to your intended audience.
  6. Choose clear titles. Keep titles short and use words that are familiar and relevant to your readers.
  7. Cite references. Include links for your citations to increase your credibility and make your blog more useful, reliable and better integrated into the blogosphere.
  8. Write with Integrity. Disclose all relevant information about your financial interests in the topic and only write what you know to be true.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs – June 2008

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

Continuing my twitter experiment from April and May I try to select a good quote every couple of days that is applicable to the challenges of entrepreneurship.

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Here are my choices for June:

+ + +

“Starting a business? Don’t call VCs: call on customers and figure out how to solve a problem they are willing to pay for.”
Greg Gianforte
(slightly paraphrased from SandHill.com interview to fit in Twitter’s character count)

+ + +

“Create more value than you capture.”
Tim O’Reilly

+ + +

“Communities already exist…think about how you can help that community do what it wants to do.”
Mark Zuckerberg (quote from slide 29 of Neil Perkins slide show “What’s Next in Media“)

+ + +

“Identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”
Chartered Institute of Marketing‘s definition of Marketing

+ + +

“You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.”
Michael Jordan

+ + +

“Skrenta’s Law of VC Fundraising: seeking VC funding for a new market creates new competitors.”
Rich Skrenta

Condensed from this paragraph in his  “Spice Girls VC” blog post:

“I formed a theory that the process of seeking VC ended up calling your own competitors into existence. You’ll meet with many more VCs than the 1-2 who end up funding you. But after seeing a company or two get funded in your space, the VCs who passed or weren’t able to get in decide they want to have a bet in the space too. Fortunately they have the benefit of having heard your pitch and the opportunity to personally grill you at length on your approach.”

Be Careful How You Tell Yourself “The Story So Far”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy, Startups

I had a long conversation today with a startup CEO who has been bootstrapping since 2004. It was enjoyable and energizing–I always enjoy talking to folks trying to create something new. We talked about a lot of things that he had tried that hadn’t worked (I was able to recall a few of my own less successful strategies as well, once I put my mind to it). It can take a long time to be an overnight success.

As we were wrapping up I told him that I had one concern. He had referred to himself as “stubborn” several times. This may be accurate–or what his wife calls him–but it’s not a positive quality. A stubborn person does the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. The Germans say that “stubbornness is the energy of fools.”

I suggested a better phrase might be “persevering and continuing to experiment.” I think it makes a difference in your own outlook how you tell “…the story so far.”

You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not”
Isabel Allende

Two somewhat related posts from last summer:

Bob “GoDaddy” Parson’s Rules for Business Success

2. Never give up. Almost nothing works the first time it’s attempted. Just because what you’re doing does not seem to be working, doesn’t mean it won’t work. It just means that it might not work the way you’re doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn’t have an opportunity.

Startups are Hard Work and Require Planning

“…successful entrepreneurs can’t be convinced that any other startup has their troubles, because they constantly compare the triumphant launch parties and revisionist histories of successful companies to their own daily struggles.” — Glenn Kelman

Update June 27, Ray Salemi suggests in the comments that the word I wanted to use was “tenacious.”

Tenacious has a sense of steadfast holding on, retaining what you already have, with an implication of obstinacy. A defense can be tenacious, but start-ups have to play offense: they have to end up somewhere distant from where they started to thrive. Washington kept the Continental Army viable at Valley Forge, but he renewed their hope–and their vital re-enlistments–by persevering in crossing the Delaware and overwhelming the Hessian garrison at Trenton.

American Heritage Dictionary defines “persevere” as

To persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement.

Webster’s Revised Unabridged says

“To persist in any business or enterprise undertaken; to pursue steadily any project or course begun; to maintain a purpose in spite of counter influences, opposition, or discouragement; not to give or abandon what is undertaken.”

Structure 08: The Whole is Less than the Sum of the Parts

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy

I spent the day at Structure 08 and–at the risk of getting too mereologic–felt that the whole was much less than the sum of the parts.

The conference was focused on cloud computing which I believe is an important technology trend. They recruited several very good speakers–and many poor, or at least poorly prepared, ones.

One of the first presentations was by Alistair Croll who pitched a $250 briefing on cloud computing  that should probably have been made available to conference attendees or not mentioned. In any event taking the time to try and sell to us  from the speaker’s podium at the start of the conference was annoying. I always feel terrible when I have paid real money, in this case about $600, and have to sit through a sales pitch.

There was a video tape of Nick Carr talking about how important cloud computing is but adding nothing beyond praise for Om Malik’s team in putting the conference together. If I felt terrible listening to a sales pitch, I felt stupid watching a video.

That was another challenge, the sessions were not interactive in any meaningful way. I had the opportunity to chat with perhaps 20 folks who either sat next to me at breakfast, lunch, or sessions and was uniformly impressed. Take the time with at least a “show of hands” model to let the attendees learn more about themselves.

Many of the speakers seemed unprepared and unwilling and/or unable to be succinct in the time allotted. Some of the panels essentially ran out of time after the introductions, with little time for any questions or useful interaction among the participants. In a venue that participants have paid to attend I think you have to worry about whether it’s really appropriate for your marketing message to exceed 2-3% of your time as a “what we do.”

That being said there were two talks that were quite good:

  • The panel “Harnessing Explosive Growth: Infrastructure Strategies and Tactics” brought together a number of sysadmins who offered a wealth of practical advice. Sandy Jen in particular was low key but very well prepared, explaining the need to avoid any “trap door transitions” that you couldn’t undo and the value of making a series of small easily reversible changes to explore improving the user experience in a heavily loaded infrastructure for a rapidly growing user population.
  • The Level 3 talk was very interesting in its exposition of standards driven networks based on optical fiber acting as a basis for cloud computing.

It may be a while before I attend another GigaOm conference.

Tonight’s Cloud Computing Panel at VLAB

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy

Interesting panel on “Cloud Computing: Creating Value for Web 2.0 Apps” cloud computing tonight at VLAB. Here are a couple of key things I took away:

  • Jonathan Bryce, a co-founder at Mosso, gave the history of Rackspace’s incubation of a new model that can disrupt their existing business. At a starting price of $100 a month for a virtual server their price is 1/4 of the Rackspace entry point. It was refreshing to hear that they had the fortitude to follow through.
    • It’s clear that cloud computing is also creating value for traditional (web 1.0?) web applications as well.
  • Michael Crandell of Rightscale talked about porting apps to Amazon’s EC2 in a matter of a few days to two weeks.
    • A fully utilized Amazon virtual host will run about $70/month, Rightscale runs $500/month to manage 20.
    • Crandell was articulate and to the point in his answers on the panel, I was not surprised to find that he has written a succinct and informative overview of Cloud Computing (John Willis has a nice table “Cloud Vendors A-Z” that is mentioned in the comments and also worth reading).
  • One of the key advantages that a cloud computing infrastructure can offer is the ability to offer a rapidly scalable infrastructure in the face of skyrocketing demand. One success story that was mentioned was Animoto‘s ability to grow from 25,000 users on a Tuesday to 250,000 users two days later. Jeff Barr has the numbers in “Animoto Scaling Through Viral Growth” which shows them managing 400 hosts on Tue-Apr-15 and 3400 hosts by Fri-Apr-18.
    • But price/performance, robustness, and built-in disaster recovery should not be overlooked as drivers.

I think we are still very early days on this approach to computing. I was impressed by 3Tera‘s demo at Office 2.0 two years ago, but it was clearly very early days. Today it’s real: even though Amazon’s EC2 is marked beta, there are a number of firms in production and building businesses on it (and many other cloud platforms).

On a side note I had forgotten what an interesting mix of entrepreneurs the VLAB events attract. I had a number of excellent conversations with folks who were serious about enhancing or leveraging this technology in some way. It’s a shame this is the last event until September.

Uncle’s Day

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

I thought of my Uncle John today and some of the things he used to say.

“It’s generally accepted, so generally accepted, that it may not be true at all.”

Which I think is particularly good advice for an entrepreneur to look beneath the surface of the common wisdom to see what’s really going on.

“If we had cake, we could have cake and ice cream, if we had the ice cream.”

So many people wish for things, or say to themselves “if only” instead of “next time” or “starting tomorrow.”

He was a doctor and a Korean War veteran. I didn’t get to see much of him growing up, he had settled in Pendleton Oregon after the war and my family was in St. Louis.

The night of the junior prom I was backing out of the driveway to pick up my date and there was a bump and I looked in the rear view mirror and he was sitting in my grandfather’s car with an expression as surprised as the one on my face. It was a strange moment where I felt overjoyed to see him again, worry because I was late, and embarrassed because I had backed up without looking. We both hopped out and there was no damage so I went on to the prom.

The summer I turned 16 my brother and I spent fishing and camping with him. It was a lot of fun. I visited him twice during college and had great times. I always meant to call or write or visit him again. Perhaps I did once or twice. One day a few years later he was dead of a heart attack.

Don’t wait to reconnect with folks who have made a difference in your life.

“Everybody talks about a new world in the morning.
New world in the morning never comes.”
Roger Whittaker

Seven Tips for Encouraging Bloggers to Write About A Conference

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, EDA, skmurphy

Since I am at DAC this week I will use the DAC website as a representative example.

  1. Add a blog that allows (moderated) comments and (moderated) trackbacks.
    DAC: Not yet.
  2. Give every session and every event a permalink.
    DAC: This is actually true for the last seven and a half conferences (back to 37th post conference site). The URLs are a little funky but here is a pointer to session 1 of the 39th DAC
  3. Give every session and every event trackbacks so that you can see who has blogged about them.
    DAC: Not Yet
  4. Add RSS/Atom feeds for both events and announcements.
    DAC: Not Yet
  5. Link every presenter’s name to their home page (blog, personal site, IEEE personal page, or other they supply) so that it’s easy to learn more about them. Add a link to their affiliated organization (college, university, firm, government entity, non-profit). I actually did this for the 1995 HDLCon (admittedly a smaller show than DAC) and it added a lot to your ability to do some quick background research.
    DAC: Not Yet
  6. Realize that you are writing a website first, with content that may re-purposed into e-mail newsletters and print. This means using hyperlinks to provide pointers to relevant information.
    DAC: Not yet; while the DACeZine is a great addition it’s an on-line magazine that obeys all of the strictures of print.
  7. Make Wifi available ubiquitously at the conference.
    DAC: Yes! (at least for the 45th at Anaheim Convention Center)

My One Sentence Summary of DAC

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, Events, Quotes, skmurphy

The emotional ambience at DAC (the Design Automation Conference) is what you get when you pour the excitement of a high school science fair, the sense of the recurring wheel of life from the movie Groundhog Day, and the auld lang syne of a high school re-union, and hit frappe.

Some related quotes–at least I believe them to be:

A glimpse is not a vision. But to a man on a mountain road by night, a glimpse of the next three feet of road may matter more than a vision of the horizon.
C. S. Lewis

Knowing is not understanding. There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.
Charles Kettering

Knowledge comes by taking things apart: analysis. But wisdom comes by putting things together.
John A. Morrison

The first point of wisdom is to discern that which is false; the second is to know that which is true.
Lactantius

Maturity means reacquiring the seriousness one had as a child at play
Friedrich Nietzsche

Update July 14: I have joined  “DAC Fan Club” and reposted this there.

Two CEO Speeches I Still Remember

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

One of the most compelling and motivational speeches I ever heard when I was at Cisco was by John Morgridge in early 1994. The company had been growing very rapidly for several years and many employees were starting to view our success as inevitable. At a sales offsite Morgridge recounted a series of meetings he had held with prospects at InterOp (the big show for the networking world) and how each time he could look across the conference hall or the restaurant or the lobby and see Paul Severino, the CEO of Wellfleet (our arch-rival), talking to a different prospect or one of our customers. Morgridge observed that

“They may be beaten, but they don’t know that they are beaten, and they aren’t acting like they are beaten. Now, I am an old man, and I am doing what I can. But I need your help because I can’t do it alone.”

He put us all “in the box” with him: none of us would succeed unless we all picked up the pace. And Morgridge turned out to be correct, Wellfleet merged with Synoptics to form Bay Networks and continued to be a fierce competitor.

I remember similar remarks by Irwin Federman a decade earlier when I was working at Monolithic Memories. We were doing four day work weeks, well they weren’t actually four day work weeks, we were getting paid for four days but working five. At the time I thought it was a terrible alternative to a layoff because I hadn’t any experience with how wrenching and arbitrary and destructive and capricious most layoffs are. It was a company meeting where Irwin was outlining changes that we needed to make to become profitable enough to start paying people 5 days a week. And he closed with

“And I hope that you all act on this, because if you don’t, fewer of you will be listening to someone else next year at this time.”

A good leader puts himself in the same boat with his team, especially when times are tough.

Jerome K. Jerome on Work

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, Quotes, skmurphy

I had the pleasure of reading “Three Men in a Boat” and “Three Men on a Bummel” by Jerome K. Jerome last week, two great books that I heartily recommend. Although they are more than 100 years old (Boat was first published in 1889 and Bummel in 1900; many of his works are available from Project Gutenberg) they are proof we haven’t changed much in a hundred years.

This passage in Chapter 15 of “Three Men in a Boat” on Work captures the spirit of perfectionism and that can hinder startup founders, especially those that are bootstrapping out of a spare bedroom or study in their house.

It seemed to me that I was doing more than my fair share of work on this trip, and I was beginning to feel strongly on the subject.

It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do. It’s not that I object to work, mind you; I like work; it fascinates me, I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me, the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.

You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a passion with me; my study is so full of it now that there is hardly an inch of room for any more. I shall have to throw out a wing soon.

And I am careful of my work, too. Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a finger-mark on it. I take great pride i my work; I take it down now and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.

But, though I crave for work, I still like to be fair. I do not ask for more than my proper share.

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