Arkayne Recommendation Engine

When people claim Arizona is a technical wasteland they are clearly confused.  There are smart people here doing cool things.  I have been using Arkayne for several months and have been quite pleased.  Easy to setup, configure and manage.  While it is nice to get and give SEO using the plugin it helps bring relevant content to people in an unobtrusive way.  They have a nice social aspect that let’s you recommend people and exchange links.  My only real complaint is that I have not been able to get the recommendations into my RSS feed.  Congrats Arkayne for helping raise the bar in Arizona.

Thoughts on “What Matters Now?”

Several people pointed me to What Matters Now? (Download the PDF e-book version) arranged by Seth Godin.  I glanced over it and thought it looked interesting, but didn’t have time to read it.  I got around to analyzing it last night.  It is short, but longer than most people can easily digest like a blog post.  I have done a few things to help out.

  1. I created a list of all books cited in the document as a list called What Matters Now on good reads.  If you are on Good Reads it makes it easy to add them to your reading list.  If you aren’t on Good Reads you should be.  I am sure I missed some (and some were not in Good Reads as they are yet to be published).  Please help add what I missed.
  2. I created an What Matters Now RSS feed of all the authors blogs that were listed using Yahoo Pipes.  I am sure I missed some and probably have broken Yahoo as I have never used it before.  Help me get it right.
  3. I created a summary of quotes I really liked from the material.  I encourage reading the whole thing, but consider this a teaser that will motivate you to find the time to read the entire work.

Generosity
“If you make a difference people will gravitate towards you.
“The more you give, the more you get.”

Dignity
“Creating ways for people to solve their own problems isn’t an opportunity.  It is an obligation”

Meaning
“The best way to get approval is to not need it.”
“Merit can be bought.  Passion can’t.”

Enrichment
“You are only as rich as the enrichment you bring to the world around you.”

Speaking
“Be honest, be authentic, and speak from your passion. Yes, it means taking a risk. But the results might surprise you.”

Excellence
Wow. The whole essay was just, wow.

Strengths
“The beautiful thing about being on a team is that, believe it or not, lots of people love doing the things you hate. And hate doing the things you love.”

Autonomy
“After a decade of truly spectacular underachievement, what we need now is less management and more freedom – fewer individual automatons and more autonomous individuals.”

Poker
Everything here is awesome.  “Know When To Hold Them, Know When To Fold Them

Momentum
“FOCUSED INTENSITY over TIME multiplied by GOD equals Unstoppable Momentum.”

Power
“Power comes from an ability to build your reputation, create efficient and effective networks of social relations, act and speak in ways that build influence, and from an ability to create and employ resources—things that others want and need.”

Harmony
“In the true sense of karma, to achieve harmony, you must always do the right thing with no eye on a reward.”

Evangelism
“The future belongs to people who can spread ideas.”

Compassion
“Make compassion a core business value.”

Knowledge
“Storytelling is powerful. It helps us understand, make choices and can inspire us.”

Parsing
“It is time for us to rationalize the debate. Let’s parse the data and free the facts.”

Neoteny
“It’s time we listen to children and allow neoteny to guide us beyond the rigid frameworks and dogma created by adults.”

DIY
“Empowerment is the best prevention.”

Adventure
All awesome stuff.  No surprise it’s a theme that keeps coming up around Gangplank.

Nobody
“Never forget, a small group of people can change the world.”

Context
“Information in context makes smart systems smarter.” I still have a start-up idea around this concept. #someday

Passion
“You grow (and thrive!) by doing what excites you and what scares you everyday, not by trying to find your passion.”

Confidence
“Confidence is rocket fuel for your business life.”

Sacrifice
“Winning businesses have a common trait, an obvious and divisive point of view.”

Productivity
“Getting things done is not the same as making things happen.”

Iterative Capital
“Iteration is the medium for innovation.” Maybe agile is popular for a reason?

Social Skills
“What’s important is to be kind, and be gracious and do it in ways that make people want to do that for someone else.”

I’m Sorry
“Mistakes happen. How you apologize matters. Don’t bullshit people – just say “I’m sorry.” And mean it.”

Knowing
“There is no such thing as boring knowledge. There is only boring presentation.”

You Can’t
“More People Will Tell You Can’t Than You Can. Don’t Listen. Anything’s Possible.”

Gumption
“Declare war on passivity. Hush the inner voice that insists you’re over the hill, past your prime, unworthy of attaining those dreams. Disbelief is now the enemy, as is the notion of settling. Get hungry — hyena hungry. Get fired up. Find your backbone, and your wings.”

Importing Manufacturing.. Boon or Bust?

The largest Chinese manufacturer of solar panels, Suntech Power, has announced that it is opening a manufacturing plant here in Metro Phoenix.  This is fabulous news.  I think.  It is hard to tell what it really means.  What we know is that they are looking to open a plant in the area that will be somewhere around 80,000 to 100,000 square feet.  They will employ about 75 people right away and perhaps double that at the end of next year.  They plan to invest about $10 million.  Some have sighted this as little more than a brand exercise to alleviate concerns that green jobs will all be outsourced over seas.  Regardless of what it is the announcement saw Suntech Power’s value increase 13% or $2.7 billion.  You can see why this move makes sense for them.

This is very similar to the announcements of Google coming to Phoenix in 2005.  Everyone is trying to take credit for landing this whopper of a fish.  Arizona State University says that it’s awesome research prowess landing the deal.  The Greater Phoenix Economic Council is claiming that they were the ones that got this deal done.  Then there are the politicians that cite their aggressive tax credit deals are what made this announcement possible.

The truth is all of them are probably responsible.  The question is could they be doing things that are more productive for our economy?  As we saw, Google didn’t stick around.  They cited lack of quality engineering talent.  Maybe if ASU was less concerned with being an economic development engine and land developer and instead spent their energy on a top notch engineering school.  We lost a lot more than 75 jobs in the last 12 months.  If only, GPEC would have been more focused on strategies to diversify our economy in the last decade instead of traveling the world looking to recruit it in.  Politicians are quick to put out tax credits for large corporations to move operational arms here, but where are the tax credits for local job creation coming from entrepreneurs.  Short of the angel tax credit, there isnt much.

Suntech welcome to Arizona.  We are glad to have you.  We hope to help you succeed.  We hope to see you in the Southeast Valley.

Startups and Mind Camps and Crowd Pitches. Oh My

It is clear to me that we are not in Kansas anymore.  I expected today to be full of amazing as more days than not seem to be that way of late around Gangplank.  The morning got going by kicking off a new start-up that Integrum is working with from a group of Intel alumni.  The planning meeting for the kickoff was full of energy and was a setup for things to come.  Straight from that meeting had an Integrum retrospective that unveiled a new concept of transparent and accountable running of a company day in and day out.  I will probably make a separate post on the concept in the near future.

By the time we finished up there it was time for Mind Camp to kick off.  Four hours of heated debate on transportation, regional city planning and religion later it was time to break down and setup for Crowd Pitch.  I love the energy around Crowd Pitch and sitting on an investor panel is always fun.  By the end of the night I learned that Gnomedex is now part of Funding Universe and that there is a good chance we could see it coming to Chandler in the future.  Additionally, there is a reasonable chance that we could be launching Gangplank in a foreign country.  Possibilities are limitless when you stop putting boundaries on potential by planning too small.

Helping Find the Money To Make It

I read the Phoenix Business Journal every week as part of keeping up with business here in Metro Phoenix. I was floored when I read “Finding the money to make it“.  What was incredible to me were the connections back to Gangplank. Eleanor’s Garden is friends with StealthMode Partners who referred Eleanor’s Garden to Integrum.  Integrum brought Eleanor’s first e-commerce site online. Funding Universe did their last Crowd Pitch at Gangplank last month and is getting ready to do another Crowd Pitch at Gangplank this Friday. Funding Universe will be opening an office at Gangplank this month. It is absolutely awesome to see the community rising up in midst of a horrid economy to continue to see success! Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Chandler!

Five Arizona Companies That Got Some Funding

The other day I lamenting about “Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” and this week I noticed that the Phoenix Business Journal a list of entrepreneurs that found funding this year.

    1. $10M Sharp Equity – A resource for buying homes at trustee sales;  specializes in trustee sales, fix-and-flips, wholesale properties and rentals.
    2. $10M Flypaper Studios Inc. – Develops software applications to create, track, manage and share custom Flash projects.
    3. $11M iMemories Inc. – Transforms old home movies and pictures into digital media and gives their owners an online storage home for their digital mementos.
    4. $28M SDCMaterials Inc – Develops a nanomolecular compound that can help reduce emissions from diesel and gasoline, and another that provides composite material for armor.
    5. $43M Ubidyne Inc – Wireless radio company developing a digital system that uses a smaller footprint and less power than traditional mobile system.

      So that should break the myth.  It is possible to raise money in Arizona.  So quit complaining and start being awesome enough to raise some of your own. : )

      Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

      Last week at the Arizona Enterpreneurship Conference (AZEC), a panel from AZ TiE titled “Who Got Funded and Why?” talked for nearly an hour about the dynamics of starting up.  Steve Swedler, Chief Product Guy at Gangplank asked finally stood up and asked,  “Who Got Funded and Why?”.  The moderator  turned the question over to a panelist who gave a jumbled answer that barely addressed why, but completely dodged the who?

      Out of frustration I made a pretty knee jerk tweet and called this the same old bullshit investors in Phoenix hide behind.  As most of the groups haven’t funded anything in 12 months.  Later, Anil Jain one of the panelists let me know that they were not aware that was the topic and that was why they never covered it.  Fair enough.  It still would have been nice to hear which members of TiE had been funded or what the investors involved with TiE were funding.

      At Gangplank in the last 18 months we invested in Authority Labs, Simple Seating and Date Designer. Additionally, many of us have put significant resources into 5th DimensionIntegrum has invested significantly for minor equity positions in various local start ups, trading equity for serivces. Additionally, we have launched two products that have been released to others in the community (Glen Garry and Back Tracker).

      We currently have budgeted just over a $1 million to invest in the community over the next 5 years.  We have been working hard with others to make a home for Funding Universe and Sun Mountain Capital as well.  Between the two of them they could represent over $300 million in additional funding for the metro area. More information on this soon.

      So you can see why it is frustrating to hear Angel “groups” time and time again ride their high horse about why we (the lowly entrepreneur) should respect them.  When in reality the community is finding ways to fund itself.  Which in many ways is how it should be.  We believe in the community and we are willing to put our money where our mouth is.  We hope that these other groups will as well.  We wish we could be doing more.  Providing capital to entrepreneurs is exactly what this economy needs to rebound.

      Note:  The are companies receiving angel funding from individuals and there are some angel groups like ATIF that appear to be doing certain types of deals.

      Successful Startups Need Supportive Communities

      A while back I was reading Paul Graham‘s “What Startups Are Really Like“.  The whole essay is great, Paul has a way of really getting to the point and understanding the culture, pain and joy of startups. I am always grateful that he so openly shares.  There was one part of this essay that really re-enforced something that has been bothering me about our local scene.

      Here is an excerpt on community.

      17. The Value of Community

      … Others were surprised at the value of the startup community in the larger sense:

      How advantageous it is to live in Silicon Valley, where you can’t help but hear all the cutting-edge tech and startup news, and run into useful people constantly.

      The specific thing that surprised them most was the general spirit of  benevolence:

      One of the most surprising things I saw was the willingness of people to help us.  Even people who had nothing to gain went out of their way to help our startup succeed.

      and particularly how it extended all the way to the top:

      The surprise for me was how accessible important and interesting people are.  It’s amazing how easily you can reach out to people and get immediate feedback.

      This is one of the reasons I like being part of this world.  Creating wealth is not a zero-sum game, so you don’t have to stab people in the back to win.

      What does it mean locally?

      So how does this apply to Metro Phoenix?  As a community we fucking suck at supporting startups. People would rather talk behind each other’s back about a startup instead of give it valuable feedback.  They would rather disrespect what they aren’t doing rather than support the hard work being put into it what someone else is doing.  They would rather put time and effort into a product with hype coming out of Silicon Valley than support people doing something in their own backyard.  In a nutshell, it seems we would rather see each other FAIL rather than help each other succeed.  Frankly, it’s quite sad.

      So if you find yourself talking about a startup based here, I ask that you do some of the following.

      1.  If you are telling someone else how stupid the startup idea is.. Stop.  Find one of the founders.  Have the discussion with them directly.  Be brutally honest.  If you don’t know them, introduce yourself.  Even if it’s via email or twitter.

      2.  If you find yourself laughing at feature x y or z.  Stop.  Find one of the founders.  Have a dialog with them about what is keeping you from getting value out of their product.  You might be amazed at their response.

      3.  If you find yourself saying they don’t stand a chance.  Stop.  Find one of the founders.  Ask them how they plan to overcome what ever hurdles you see them having.  If there is anyway you could help them, do it.

      4.  If you find yourself liking a product but not getting involved. Start.  Find one of the founders.  Ask them how you can help them promote their product for them.

      The bottom line is if you aren’t finding a founder and being honest with them, you aren’t helping the startup community. You are only hurting it.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is be honest with someone.  I am not asking people to “cheerlead”, but instead engage with one another so that we can really start the process of community building.  We MUST stop attacking people and instead tackle problems.  So pretty please, with sugar on top, lets all do a better job of supporting those that are trying the near impossible task of starting up.

      Challenge Conventional Assumptions

      I have been reading “ThinkerToys” by Michael Michalko.  I am going to try to do one Thinkertoy exercise per day (or at least a few per week).  The goal is to help get my brain to be in a creative state more often than not.  I will attempt to share the exercises here.  Today I got in a debate on twitter challenging the local university system.  (thanks @ninky, @YuriArtibise and @jose602).  So when tonight’s Thinkertoy came up I figured that I would tackle the problem of “Lack of funding in Elementary Education”.

      Exercise: False Faces

      “All warfare is based on deception.” – Sun Tzu

      The idea of this exercise is to reverse all your assumptions.  “Obviously, many things have to be taken for granted, and the purpose is not to pretend that one has the time to challenge every assumption, but instead to show nothing is sacrosanct.  Once you truly realize this, you are open to all sorts of discoveries…. Reversing your assumptions broadens your thinking.  You may often find yourself looking at the same thing as everybody else, yet seeing something different.  Many creative thinkers get their most original ideas when they challenge and reverse the obvious.”

      To reverse a challenge:

      1. State your challenge.

      Lack of funding in Elementary Education is hurting education.

      2. List your assumptions.

      I think a little differently than most on this subject, so to make sure my guesses about the fundamental assumptions were correct I put a call out to twitter.  I got some good responses from (@acydlord, @casademora, @jivadevoe, @dr1665, @refriedchicken, @conrey and @claytonlz ).  From them I got the following list.

      Some common assumptions about more funding is necessary to improve education in elementary schools are:

      A. Lack of funds reduces effectiveness in reading, math, social skills, technology and the arts.

      B. Teachers will not stay if they are not compensated well. (teacher retention) (x2)

      C. Basic supplies are needed to properly educate.

      D. Need more teachers. (smaller class sizes increase learning) (x2)

      E. More technology in the class room makes education better.

      3. Challenge the fundamental assumptions.

      Each of these assumptions hold up to most arguments, except for assumption (A) which is fairly broad and vague.  Assumptions (B) and (D) are likely widely held.

      4. Reverse each assumption. (What is the opposite?)

      The reverse assumptions would be:

      A. The original assumptions are too vague.  Reversing them doesn’t make a lot of sense.

      B. Paying teachers less money would encourage them to stay at their current school and be more dedicated.

      C. Student learn better and teachers teach better without basic school supplies.

      D. Larger class sizes make for better learning enivornments.

      E. Technology in the class room hinders learning.

      5. Record differing view points that might prove useful to you.

      At least three respondents held the different view point on more funding.

      A. Current administration of schools has to change first.

      B. More funding won’t help at all.

      C. More creative use of funding is necessary, just more money won’t fix it.

      6. Ask yourself how to accomplish each reversal.

      How can we increase educational effectiveness in elementary schools without increasing funding?

      A. Skipping

      B. A school that pays teachers less money.

      IDEA: Reward the best teachers with the freedom to compile and execute their own curriculum and set their own benchmarks for success.

      C. Operate a school with no budget for school supplies.

      IDEA: Partner with private companies to let them provide school supplies and in exchange let them sell advertising space on the school supplies.

      D. A school that operates with class sizes of over 40 students.

      IDEA: Use educational techniques that require collaboration by the students and allow the strongest students to teach the weakest students.

      E. A school that doesn’t use technology in the classroom.

      IDEA: Offer a back to basics curriculum that specializes in the core concepts using theory instead of technology.

      Ideally, you should pick one of the ideas and work all the angles to implement it.  If I were to pick one idea to focus on it would be Item B above.  I think giving teachers back the creativity to teach how they see fit opposed to some government mandate would be far more appealing than more pay.  What are your thoughts?  On the exercise?  The assumptions?  The challenges?  The solutions?

      #PhxDreamTeam Part Deux

      Recently I put out a VERY informal set of questions for an experiment, that ultimately got labeled the #PhxDreamTeam.  I think activity on it has died down so I compiled the results and am sharing here. Note that it was largely influenced by who took and who retweeted the survey.  You could definitely boil it down to being little more than a popularity contest.  In no way should anyone take offense if they didn’t “perform” well nor beat their chest if they “ranked” well.

      64 teams submitted
      137 unique people placed on teams
      25 people placed on more than 1 team
      @chuckreynolds was the most desired team member being selected for 12 teams

      Top Ten Requested Members
      1.  @chuckreynolds
      2.  @jmoriarty
      3.  @iboughtamac
      4.  @tdhurst
      5.  @dneighbors
      6.  @brianshaler
      @bullybully32
      @markdudlik
      @wardandrews
      10. @seanriceaz
      @susanbaier
      @tysoncrosbie

      Teams I was placed on that I agree would be fun to be on!
      @markdudlik, @jmoriarty, @dneighbors, @bullybully32
      @tdhurst, @dneighbors, @jmoriarty, @evo_terra
      @dneighbors, @iamruinous, @chuckreynolds, @garyhoward
      @dneighbors, @chuckreynolds, @amylamp, @realjoe
      @dneighbors, @tryharter, @chuckreynolds, @bethcochran

      It is clear I need to work with @jmoriarty and @chuckreynolds in the near future.

      Teams submitted that I would love see do work together!
      @iboughtamac, @markdudlik, @strebel, @brianshaler
      @hardaway, @iamruinous, @wardandrews, @conrey
      @rtmfd, @kstaken, @andyrichter
      @tehcurtis, @kkzell, @jasonnewlin, @claytonlz

      Team Guaranteed to have the best time!

      @benleivian, @chuckreynolds, @acmephotography, @evo_terra

      Part Two of the Experiment

      If you are interested in doing product development, in helping put Phoenix on the map for having a strong start-up culture and are on this list below please email me at derek@gangplankhq.com.  I would like to invite you to participate in part of two of this madness.  If you happen to know someone on this list, please tell them that I want to talk to them about round 2!  If you are not on the list, there is nothing personal involved I am just using data from the experiment.  At the very least you should consider following these people on twitter!

      @chuckreynolds
      @jmoriarty
      @iboughtamac
      @tdhurst
      @dneighbors
      @brianshaler
      @bullybully32
      @markdudlik
      @wardandrews
      @seanriceaz
      @susanbaier
      @tysoncrosbie
      @chadwickfowler
      @conrey
      @evo_terra
      @hildebrant
      @iamruinous
      @jamesarcher
      @joshrossman
      @alandd
      @asuwebguy
      @benleivian
      @bethcochran
      @bwilley
      @chasers
      @chimpsahoy
      @chuckshaw
      @Cimmer
      @claytonlz
      @courdek
      @garyhoward
      @gtea
      @hart_actualized
      @hathfor
      @iamboz
      @JamesDCook
      @jannrandall
      @jasonnewlin
      @jdphillips
      @jose602
      @joshsprague
      @kathysacks
      @kdbdallas
      @krysvs
      @mathyou124
      @MatthewPhx
      @MeganMMyers
      @melaniewilke
      @mikeluby
      @mkosach
      @ninky
      @photomarketer
      @phxnerd
      @PuuChuu
      @rachelreese
      @rarmendariz
      @remitaylor
      @resound
      @rshavice
      @RyanNelson
      @samuelisaac
      @SerenaU
      @sietsema
      @sleeman44
      @StaceeAmos
      @strebel
      @sugargirlxox
      @sunnythaper
      @swedler
      @tannerwoodford
      @tryharter

      To everyone that has participated I thank you very much.  I know your time is valuable and as @tdhurst might say, “You are obviously awesome!”