Back Into Producing: Subpixel

Subpixel-Icon

In addition to working with the awesome team at App.io, I’ve rediscovered my passion for producing – that is, making house/dance music.

Creating music is an addictive passion which I put on hold years ago to focus on my role in tech startups & design. Reopening Pandora’s box is an exciting thing to do – especially when you realise your skills have somehow improved while being away. So here I am under my new artist name, Subpixel. Have a listen and let me know your thoughts!

Pacing Yourself

Right now, you’re driving a race car, slowing down to take a really tight corner. Braking around the corner is pivotal to whether you finish the race or not. In that moment, it’s important to gather your bearings, plan your next few turns and gradually increase speed. If you don’t do that while in the corner you’ll leave it on the wrong angle, your speed will be incorrect and you’ll be annoyed you slowed down in the first place. At the next corner you’ll ignore your instincts, go faster than you should – and most likely crash.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve often worked a ridiculous amount of hours driven by passion and commitment. Many times I have worked early into the morning, hunched over a dimly lit keyboard with heavy bags under my eyes. Rarely moving from my seat, pizza quickly becomes my go-to source of nutrition and drinking water seems like a distant past time (sound familiar?). As you can imagine, it’s easy to get sick.

But this post isn’t about the countless measures I, or other entrepreneurs can go to, to avoid the dreaded burnout – we all know what we need to do. It’s about mentally (and positively) accepting when we have to slam on the brakes and take that corner. The aftermath if you will. Owning our health failures and giving our bodies the fuel it needs to recover.

When we find ourselves in that position of burnout, we should apply the brakes. In amongst doing what we need to do to get back to full strength, we can take advantage of the speed in which we have to drive around the corner. Working our minds instead of our bodies is a great reason to start gathering our bearings.

Here are some thoughts & tips on pacing:

Taking time to heal correctly is imperative – it’s not efficient or logical to only heal halfway to then hit burnout again a week later

Remember that you didn’t get to where you are now on hard work and long hours alone

While some ideas appear through diamond-pressure, most come when you least expect it (shower, relaxing, partying with friends)

Stress will slow you down – learn to avoid activating it

Value is not based on action – it’s based on perception of action (So if you must impress by action, find efficient ways to do it)

Being healthy in mind and body increases efficiency

Helping others with no monetary gain (feedback, advice, design, coding etc) is a brilliant way to re-energize and/or break state

Taking some time out for yourself allows others in your network to step forward and grow

Embrace personal distractions (your minds way of saying ‘something needs to change’) and learn how to use them to refuel - It takes much less processing power to embrace

Listen to your body more – if you have a quick thought that you should drink some water, do it instantly (your work will be there when you get back)

When you hit a brick wall, ask/look for help

Network effects are real – if you are sociable/enjoyable to be around you will have more people willing to help during your burnout

If you are 100% effective before burnout, can you safely maximize your ‘burnout healing’ in the same way?

In that race track corner, I often think about how far I have come and what it has taken to get there. I notice the new people I now converse with, the new businesses I have connected to and the many opportunities that have been presented in front of me. I have the time to take note of the direction we’re going with Kickfolio. This is the moment where an objective view of ones progress can bring a moment of clarity, focus and inspiration.

If we spend that time in that corner annoyed at the slow speed, we may miss the chance to digest, reflect and learn from our experiences in the fast lane.

The Making Of A Team

In startups, passion is your best friend and your worst enemy. It can drive a team towards a solid future and just as quickly tear them apart. The great news is that passion has such a powerful effect when used in the right way.

We (Kickfolio) are a very passionate team. We all have different viewpoints, understandings and directions and passionately discuss them amongst ourselves. Sometimes the passion unites us. Other times, the passion is so strong that the other founder(s) don’t connect with it straight away.

This moment naturally creates a small wedge of opportunity for us all to learn, connect and grow. In that moment, we are challenged to find a way to work together and understand where the others passion is coming from. What is driving that opinion? What are the core values behind that passion?

During that time, we are heated. Professionally heated of course, in a way in which we can see the light at the end of the tunnel but we don’t know which steps we will take to walk towards it. Ideas are thrown around, concepts are carved into the path and actionable steps are taken towards a combined direction.

I’m not going to lie, at times it’s incredibly tense during those moments. Passion is intense. Quite often, the original passion is funneled into an activity that may only be present for a short amount of time before it can be merged into the bigger vision at a later stage. It can be overwhelming, frustrating and exhausting. But often (even during those moments) I am reminded that it has to be this way. We WANT it to be this way.

Without passion, there is a weak connection in any team. Without passion, the direction of a company can be pushed into a completely obscure path, straying close to immoral directions or fad-like areas. This is not what any of us want. We all want to direct the company towards a place that is held in high moral regard and value. We want something we can be proud of just as much as our customers.

This is why we respect our individual and passionate views. This is why we work everyday to align those various passions to strengthen the company from the ground up.

The alignment of passion – this is what really makes a team.

The Hustle – A 500 Startups Story

Disclaimer: Your hustle may vary.

“One day…” is a very common phrase amongst entrepreneurs. Dreams, hopes and ambition are boiled into a weird mix of passion and action and funneled into a personal fuel tank. The dedicated few push beyond minimal cash flow, worried family members and strive for something more, something ‘better’. The few stress through relationships, take risks and dive head first into unclear opportunities. It’s a life that few choose, but for us, it doesn’t make sense any other way.

In my world, I work with two incredible entrepreneurs and am connected to many more through our networks. These two co-founders (Ed and Chris) hustle harder and work smarter than many people I know – and I am thankful to live in a world where that connection is possible.

Our story started in the early days of a Melbourne (Australia) based incubator called AngelCube. We had come together by Chris and Eds invitation into the incubator with their previous startup ideas while I was mentoring the different teams on UI & UX design. After working with them on their first design, I decided to join their team (more on how I joined them here) and shortly after we had iterated the product again and headed across to the US to partake in various Demo Days in SF and NY.

We had a very large vision for where we wanted Kickfolio (Now App.io) to be in the future. With that vision, we knew we had to secure serious US investment or get into one of the various incubators – our first pick being the powerful 500 Startups.

On September 5th, the day of the first US Demo Day for AngelCube, we were up in the 500 Startups building pitching to a mix of entrepreneurs, investors and mentors from the community and the previous 500 Startups batches respectively. While we had some great feedback, our pitch was met with the most dreaded question ever, “So, what do you actually do?”. We were able to answer the question in the end but knew we had a lot of work to do to succinctly explain what we do without physically getting people to use it first.

On that same night, Dave McClure had dropped in to see some of the pitches, missing the first few including ours. We knew we had to get Kickfolio in front of him, at the very least to get his feedback. A few of the other teams decided to stay behind to speak with Dave also. We waited for 3+ hours in the 500 Startups building and managed to secure 5 minutes with Dave – (When you travel halfway around the world, an extra 3 hours wait for Dave McClure is kind of worth it).

In our brief discussion with Dave, he suggested something that stuck with us throughout the remainder of the trip. He mentioned that he would put us in touch with someone in his network, and if Kickfolio found its way back to him through that network we would be talking further. In hindsight it sounds like a simple lesson, but the trust put into network recommendations and connections in the US goes further (and makes a bigger impact) than we thought it ever would. After that, we knew the best way for us to get into 500 Startups would be to hustle our way into that network and have recommendations flying in from every contact along that line. So that’s what we did.

We focused on soft intros (and some cold) to anyone who had a connection to 500 – past or present mentors, entrepreneurs and investors. We managed to connect to about 5 or so relevant people who also provided great advice on moving forward. It was clear to us at this point that the various network connections we were building for recommendations (and advice) were similar to the basis of advertising and the repetition of multiple placements, which in turn transforms into trust.

A few days later, applications for 500 Startups opened via Angellist. We knew that adding another point of contact would only benefit our position of being noticed. From what we understand, our Angellist application was the icing on the cake for Dave McClure, which clarified everything Kickfolio was about and the direction we were planning to take it.

Then, Chris and I flew back home to Melbourne, Australia while Ed continued on to New York for another week of demo days and networking. Chris and I continued to define and discuss our next steps over that week, while Ed connected with some amazing people and added a strong and supportive advisor to our team (James Haft).

When Ed arrived back in Melbourne we were all ready for one of the biggest team discussions ever. In that whirlwind trip for the last 2.5 weeks we had met so many people, had multiple opportunities present themselves and learned so much about Kickfolio. Yet, instead of a discussion, what happened next blew us away.

On Tuesday the 2nd of October (the first Melbourne working day for Kickfolio as a team), while sharing a Google Hangout with James Haft, we got the call. Ed confidently walked into the room, casually sorted out his laptop to join the Hangout and shared the news. Kickfolio was accepted into 500 Startups. Below is a shot at the moment Ed told us we were in.

From the left: Chris clapping, Diesel smiling, Ed explaining and James clapping.

Here’s the awesome short email that Dave McClure quickly sent through:

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quick story…

good news: we’re going to make you guys an offer.

bad news: you guys need to get on a plane asap!

:)

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We went through every emotion right in that moment. We couldn’t (and wouldn’t) pass up this incredible offer, but we had to get back over to the US asap – slight freak-out! We pulled together everything we could, sorted out flights straight away and said goodbye to loved ones for a short while (5 months in the US). A week later, Chris and I were on a plane heading back to the US to start this incredible journey (with Ed to arrive on the 15th).

So that brings us to now – a few days into this incredible opportunity and what we believe will be the start of an amazing journey for us and Kickfolio.

I look forward to keeping you updated as the months go by. Now it’s time for us to learn, network and push Kickfolio (Now App.io) further than it’s ever been.

- Diesel Laws

Thankful

A few days ago I arrived back in Melbourne from an amazing business trip to America (namely San Francisco). The trip was part of the AngelCube program, which I attended due to co-founding Kickfolio (more here). In the US, we met with an amazing amount of entrepreneurs, spent time with potential investors and mentors and connected with some incredible future clients.

There was one word that kept circling in my mind during and after the trip – Thankful.

I’m thankful to have inspiring people around me who pushed me to find a way to make the trip work financially (before I was even a co-founder of Kickfolio). I’m thankful for my wife, whom encouraged and worked hard to allow me to enjoy this experience to the fullest (even though it would be the longest time we’ve ever spent apart in nearly 10 years). I am thankful for my co-founders who challenged, inspired and kept me going during our days on the other side of the world.  I am thankful for the friends who kept up to date and enjoyed my photos/anecdotes throughout the trip. I am thankful for the great support we received from entrepreneurs we had only just met on American soil. I am thankful for the dedicated mentors and investors who asked the hard questions and pushed us to better define our startup at every turn. I am thankful for the time invested into us by everyone, especially when there was no physical/monetary benefit to be gained.

I am thankful to the many that continue to inspire me indirectly everyday.

And most of all, I am thankful for the opportunity of choice. The choice for anyone to pursue their dreams with an almost infinite amount of direction, ambition and inspiration.

View the photos from the trip.

 

Why I’m Excited To Join Kickfolio

It’s been just over a month since Jay and I officially closed Barkles. Throughout that experience I learned some valuable lessons about startups, business and myself. Since then (and even a few months before) I have been involved within the startup scene in and amongst the various entrepreneur hubs around Melbourne.

Just over 3 months ago I started mentoring the teams in the AngelCube program, mainly on Design, UI & UX (more on that here). Ed and Chris (Kickfolio founders) were one of the teams that I helped in the early days of the program. It’s interesting to note that they were actually accepted into AngelCube on the strength of their skills and passion – as their original idea was thrown out (they’ve written about that here).

When they started throwing around random ideas about what they could sink their teeth into I helped them out as best as I could. It wasn’t really my place to offer direct feedback on their new ideas but they strongly encouraged the discussion. This way of thinking and being open to raw feedback so early on in the piece (admittedly from someone who had limited experience) instantly got my attention. It wasn’t their intention to impress me but their passion and confidence was hard to ignore.

After days of brainstorming new ideas (including the concept of building a hardware product within the 3 months) they locked on to KickfolioKickass Portfolios For Your Apps.

After hearing about the idea (and the great name) I was impressed again. I knew that it was a great solution to the ever growing problem of standing out amongst the other apps in the marketplace. Not to mention the effort and time saved for app developers who don’t want to build their own websites from the ground up.

When Ed and Chris asked me to design the first iteration I was excited. We worked together on brainstorming a few concepts yet the majority of the discussion they encouraged me to run with the ideas I already had. They were really open to my concepts and encouraged my creativity by their own passion for the project.

What impressed me the most however, was their speed from concept to development to launch. Within a few weeks Kickfolio’s main design was complete and already implemented. As time went on it was clear that Ed and Chris knew exactly what they were doing and were more than capable of rapidly brainstorming a feature, ironing out the kinks and pushing it live within a few days.

This combination of speed and skill is rare – especially with both founders. As such, I made it clear early on that I love the team, product and would love to join Kickfolio if there was a way I could add value.

As it so happens, that day has come. Ed and Chris officially offered me the position of Designer/Co-Founder after many weeks of discussing a potential role. I couldn’t be more excited to be part of an already strong team with a brilliant base product. Thanks Ed and Chris!

If you would like to follow our progress, check out Kickfolio.com, follow us on Facebook or on Twitter.

How To Start A Kickass Startup In Only 5 Steps

“How To Start A Kickass Startup In Only 5 Steps” slide deck cuts through the rubbish, breaks down confusion and gets straight to the important areas of focus when building a great startup.

Transcript: How To Start A Kickass Startup In Only 5 Steps

1. Write down 30 things that annoy the shit out of you.
2. Find a way to solve any of those problems with tech.
3. Tell anyone the problem and your solution, then listen.
4. Build it or rinse & repeat, depending on feedback.
5. BONUS ROUND: If people give you money to build it, you win.

Why We’re Closing Barkles

Today I sent out one of the hardest emails I’ve ever had to write. In short, Barkles is closing down on June 1st. Here is the email in full:

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Hello,

Today we bring you some unfortunate news and our last email.

We have decided to close down Barkles on the 1st of June.

To some, this may come as a shock, and for that we apologise.

For over 6 months Jay and I (Diesel) have been working behind the scenes on Barkles to build it to where it is. We have gone through many ups and downs and have learnt a huge amount about the way startups operate. In all honesty, there are a few main reasons that we would like to share with you as to why we are shutting up shop. Hopefully, others can learn from our mistakes.

1. What’s The Problem?

One of the main rules about starting a new startup is locking down the problem you are solving. Without a strong problem, you will have less people needing/wanting your product which will result in low traction/return rate. In many cases, Barkles was a cool solution looking for a problem – a reason for people to use it if you will. Had we of nailed down our problem before building the solution we probably wouldn’t have built Barkles in the first place.

2. Passion

Jay is very passionate about development. I am very passionate about design. Over time however we lost our joint passion for continually building Barkles when we started realising we had built a solution looking for a problem. We still enjoyed watching the debates come in and people using it on occasion – however for us to move forward and get that passion back it would require a big overhaul to the product, with the likely chance we would be pivoting far away from the product it is today. This pivot would have taken us 3-6 months to fully realise and even then we would not be any closer to working on a problem that people want solved.

3. Financially Viable

Building a freemium product is hard to do if you have low traction and have lost passion in the product itself. Often what results is the founders redirect focus onto paying work (hey, we’ve all got to live!) which pushes the freemium product into the background of their minds. For others in this situation we recommend financially securing a ‘runway’ (a bunch of cash you live off for a set amount of months) to give yourself that focus and dedication that is needed when building a long term freemium product.

It’s Not All Doom And Gloom

This process of creating a startup, getting members on board and iterating the product has been the most incredible experience. Jay and I look at the closing of Barkles as a “succesful failure“, a journey we have learnt a lot from. We have enjoyed over 1400 debates, met countless people who inspired us and now know what it’s like to run a startup.  We would like to thank our advisors, mentors and other entrepreneurs who have helped up learn and grow througout this journey.

What’s Next?

Barkles.com will be closed on the 1st of June.
Jay and I will continue freelancing in the areas of development and design and see where the road takes us. We will still both be actively involved in the Melbourne/Perth startup scene.If you would like to contact Jay (I can attest to his great development skills) you can get in touch: Jay’s email and you can contact me via my email.

Thank you for your involvement with Barkles,

Sincerely,

Jay Whiting & Diesel Laws

Hacker News Clean Redesign

One of the greatest things for a designer is the challenge of redesigning something well-known – just for the hell of it. Here is my take of a redesigned Hacker News. Please note: This redesign was just for fun, based upon various points of discussion from another redesign.

Here’s the details:

  • Everything fits on the one line which helps reduce the clutter and would allow more articles above the fold (in this design I have kept the standard 30).
  • The darkest items are now the titles taking the focus off the header and straight to the content.
  • Font used is Droid Sans (Google Webfont)
  • Secondary links (in header and next to titles) have been dulled slightly to be easier on the eyes.
  • Background has been lightened.
  • SUBTLE: Removed the dots from the position numbers (trust me, it makes a difference!).
  • SUBTLE: The More link is now orange. Yep, awesome.

Full size version here: http://diesellaws.com/HN.png
(Open this link in a New Tab to avoid the popup)

HackerNews Redesign by Diesel Laws

Why I Love Helping Startups

For the last 6 months I have been surrounding myself with incredibly passionate entrepreneurs. Throughout this time I have come to know many of them (and their startups) intimately.  It’s with this constant connection to the startup community that I have been able to grow my own self (and my startup) and really connect with what makes me tick.

One of the big things that has become evident to me is the love I have for helping other startups. Being able to offer advice when applicable, help in design when requested and offer a supporting shoulder when needed has inspired me in so many ways.

Throughout that time I have been fortunate enough to get to know Andrew Birt, Adrian Stone & Nathan Sampimon (the powerhouse team behind AngelCube) and have recently been mentoring their 2012 startup teams in UI/UX design at Inspire9. Although it has only been 1 week with the teams, I can already say that the collection of entrepreneurs in this years program are going to be powerful players in this industry to come.

You see, when you offer advice to someone, you get to know what makes them tick. You hear what drives them forward and watch as they implement their various strategies to do what needs to be done. Witnessing this passion close up is infectious. It forces you to look at yourself and ask the same questions you do them. It’s in those moments that you realise they are helping you immensely.

Whether they listen and action your advice or disagree and persevere on their own path is irrelevant – it’s all learning.

That’s the most important part.

Being able to learn from the people you teach.

And that’s why I love helping startups.