Onward

I’m transitioning from my day to day operations position as the Director of Business Development at the GBTC and will be joining  LocalUp Solutions as a Product Manager. I’ve been very fortunate to have the “why and how” conversation with a lot of people in the community, but I wanted to make a a more canonical, definitive post for anyone who’s interested in knowing. It’s really important to know what this means, and especially important to know what it doesn’t.

When I first came to the GBTC, I had three goals:

  1. Make the tech community more awesome,
  2. Make sure the organization was sound (to keep the community awesome,)
  3. And lastly, make sure I was in the right place at the right time for my next role.

I had no idea what I wanted to get into long term, but the GBTC gave me two pieces of priceless and universally transferable experience, hands on biz dev work, and an awesome birds eye view of the market.

The GBTC has been through quite a bit of transition, but I want to make something perfectly clear: I am not leaving due to any weakness with the organization, quite the contrary. The GBTC has meticulously put the infrastructure in place to become the platform through which Baltimore can explode (you know, in a good way.) The GBTC team is rival to any organization that I’ve been a part of, I’m especially confident in the execution and strategic abilities of our CEO, Sharon Webb (who it’s been an honor to work for!) One of the reasons I feel my departure from daily operations was acceptable is the knowledge that the organization is not just going to survive, but thrive at an accelerating pace. And its going to be a really fun process, we’ve made it though the business mechanics phase, and are now firmly into execution.

“So if things are so great, why you leavin’?”

First, a clarification – I’m not “leavin”. I have (in advance) accepted an advisory role with the GBTC, and will remain as involved as they’ll let me be, both as an individual and a startup.

When I started at the GBTC, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and didn’t even know there was this role of “Product Manager.” A goal was to be in the right place when the opportunity came along, and to do that you have to identify the characteristics of said opportunity. To do that, I thought back to my favorite unit of work: Cahoots.

Working with a killer team, coming up with new ideas, and then figuring out how to execute on them. Everything from BD to product management to creating strategy to team building, I had the chance to be involved in every facet. The only thing I didn’t figure out was how to make money (a minor oversight.) This to me indicated that I didn’t have particularly strong vision, but it showed that I really excelled in taking vision and executing on it. That’s the role of Product Manager in a nutshell, taking vision from the executive team and turning it into an executable strategy with the development, design, marketing, and sales teams.

“So you’ve decided on being a PM, why join LocalUp?”

LocalUp has two key things that have drawn me to them, team and product.

They have all the killer attributes I look for in a business: tons of vision, great sales and marketing, and awesome culture. They also didn’t have a dedicated product person, so this provides another huge asset; my role will have a large impact on the organization. Over the past few years LocalUp has grown very quickly, and have done it profitably along the way.

I was excited about LocalUp from the first time I’d heard of them, I told everyone I knew about them, introduced their employees to people I thought would be a good fit, and was thrilled when I was finally introduced to their CEO (via a friend who I had helped with an introduction earlier), and even MORE excited when we chatted about some product opportunities. I got the product right away, and was so excited I started working on wireframes about how the product could be improved, which I awkwardly presented at our next meeting.

In conclusion, I’m all around excited. The GBTC is going to charge on without me, and if anything I’m a bit bummed that after doing the hard, foundation building work that we’ve been engaged in for the past six months, I’m not going to be involved day to day with all the fun that will be happening over the next few years.  However, I’ve found my opportunity to put a dent in the universe, and could not be more thrilled to get to work with LocalUp.

More Info:
LocalUp Solutions – http://localupsolutions.com/
LocalUp Solutions Blog – http://blog.localupsolutions.com/ 

Posted in Baltimore, Business | 5 Comments

Successful People Are Happy

Because they are. And surely you’re saying “Brian, my dearest friend, is anyone making the argument that successful people are unhappy?”

Yes, but not directly. Allow me to explain…

One of the more awesome things about my role with the GBTC is that I get to meet a ton of very successful people, entrepreneurs from every walk of life. After meeting ten of these entrepreneurs, a trend started to emerge, and after the 50th the trend was fully established: 95% of hyper successful people are awesome to be around. Funny, engaging, and none of them take themselves too seriously, they’ve all learned that they don’t know everything, but are confident in what skills they have.

However, most ‘up and comers’ tend to be very serious, curt, confident in their ability but very slow to admit what they don’t know. Will not crack a joke, and make it known that they’re not here to crack jokes, they’re here to “get business.” But isn’t that contrary to the established trend? By acting grouchy and curt you’re actively dismissing the premise that successful people are happy – instead opting for the thought that successful people act “business like”… whatever that means.

Here’s the takeaway – If you want to be successful, emulate the habits of successful people. Quit taking yourself so seriously. This not only sets you back in likability (a key trait,) but you’re also probably stressing yourself out. Successful people are happy, you should be too.

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The Importance of Environment

If there were a device that was able to measure the annoyance of those around me, from the reading you’d probably be able to tell that I’m learning to code. Up until recently I’ve had very little success with making things stick, because I wasn’t working the way programmers worked. Very few people become great musician without using the right tools and observing effective practices, and the same goes for any cerebral skill.

Some Background

I’ve done IT work in some form for 13 years, and I often think: if I spent 13 years honing some coding skills, I’d be one bad dude. Here’s the funny thing; for most of that 13 years I romanticized coding. Frequently when I was working on a difficult problem, I would say “Man, if there was a program to do X, this project would be so much easier!” Being a programmer would have set my apart in my job, and I probably could have commercialized a lot of those solutions. Alas, most of that 13 years was without a single line of code written. Wait, most of that 13 years? That’s right, enter:

BATCH.

If you’re not familiar with batch, it’s a scripting language built into windows. I stumbled upon batch not out of frustration, but in curiosity. My first program did one thing; open the calculator (repeatedly.) When I delivered this file (via floppy) to friends computers, I got to watch as their screen spawned with calc windows, and I cackled as thunder resonated in the background.

Unfortunately for my malicious intentions, one of two things would happen, either they would close the batch file, or explorer would crash, effectively closing the batch file. Through several stages of refactoring, my script got up to a lofty TWO functions, first copying itself to their hard drive, then copying itself to another file which opened itself (so that closing any one file didn’t stop the onslaught of GOTO loops.)

As is apparent by now, I spent many hours as a youth thinking of ways to give back to society.

A New Hope

My magnum opus BATCH file opportunity presented itself during the time I was working with voice recorders. All voice files are written to DVD for backup, and older versions of the software didn’t have a mass import function, you had to bring files individually. Someone not very smart (probably me) had a GREAT idea (not great) to put the dvd in, move *.wav to the incoming folder, and the system would process them like new calls! This was a FANTASTICALLY, HEART-STOPPINGLY, SOUL-CRUSHINGLY poor choice, since each audio file had a corresponding metadata file with the same name. Also notice that I said MOVE, and not COPY, so now I have a stack of dvd’s with .dat files in nested folders, and a bucket of .wav files.

My options were to look through each folder, find the .dat file, match it to the .wav file with the same name, and copy the .wav file back into the correct folder – Or I could write a batch file! And write one I did, when all was said and done I had a highly optimized 3 line script that ran for 12 days, all to really bail me out of the problem I caused int he first place.

Not Rocket Science, but it was Real Programming.

Why is it that my early attempts to learn Python, then later Ruby failed so horribly? Had I not just expressed a modicum of aptitude and interest?

I hate to say it, but it was windows. Just as all the great guitarists use similar guitars and practice for many hours a day, great developers are on OSX or Linux (and practice for many hours a day. At the time about 5% of all Ruby gems work properly on windows, and I just plain didn’t get what Python was getting on about.

I was successful with batch because it was built-in! No compiling, just a .bat extension. The functions? Mostly dos commands, and there wasn’t much of them, 15 commands at my count: http://www.computerhope.com/batch.htm (the actual site I used.)

Since I’ve been using Ubuntu, my Python progress has exploded. I’ll be I’d be a Ruby guy if I didn’t try to learn it on windows first, because setting up git took me 3 months on windows, and takes about 14 seconds on Ubuntu. Also, since this is the environment that other developers are using, I understand the mindset much better now. Frankly, Ubuntu is not completely foreign, but there are some subtle differences that I now ‘get.’

Plus ipython, come on guys.

In Conclusion…

If you’re looking to learn one of these cool languages and you’re a window user like I am (still), you MUST start using Ubuntu. Please, do not proceed to learn a language on Windows, because you don’t know what you’re doing, and every step you have to translate between what to do AND how to do it. It’s easier than ever, you don’t even have to mess with all that dualbooting jazz anymore, Ubuntu has a nice little distro that installs like a program and can be managed in add/remove programs (Ubuntu has cooler ways to manage programs than this! Seriously guys!!)

If you want to shred on guitar, buy an Ibanez. If you want to learn Italian, go to Italy; if you want to learn python, use Ubuntu.

Posted in Programming | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Art of the Intro

A big part of my job is connecting people, I talk to people who’d be good to collaborate, and I enjoy connecting them. You should be doing the same thing – you’ll find that making introductions will make people want to introduce you, making everyone much more … introduced.

To give you an example of what I’m taking about, here’s a real introduction email I sent:
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Baltimore Exit Interview – Paul Capestany

Paul CapestanyFor those of you who don’t already know Paul, he’s been a great community figure, helping to energize Baltimore by being an organizer in Tech Crawl East, Innovate Baltimore, Startup WeekendCowork Charles, and a lot more. He went through the process of forming his first startup here in Baltimore, going through the complete life cycle – from idea to team building, fund-raising circuit to untimely demise. Paul represents what we need more of in Baltimore, both from his community organizing and from his drive to create an awesome company, we can learn from this experience as to how to attract and keep more Paul’s around.

Unfortunately, Paul Capestany is leaving Baltimore for San Francisco. I had the opportunity to chat with him to unpack his thought process on why he’s leaving, and what we can do to make Baltimore more friendly to Paul and people like him.

Listen to the full interview here:


Q+A Below 
(edited for readability and clarity):

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Posted in Baltimore, Business, Exit Interview | 9 Comments

Be the Cofounder You’re Looking For

Much has been said on the topic of finding a technical cofounder, ranging from what exactly to look for, to why you’re an idiot for hiring developers the way you have been, and basically everything in between.

I’ve been fortunate in having the opportunity to work with a fantastic developer/designer team, but the project ultimately fell apart due to lack of customer validation. It was a bit like spending a year building an amazing Voltron-esque team, only to realize that the task I wanted to accomplish was turning on a light switch. (Side note: if anyone would pay for a giant robot to turn their lights on, let me know.)

This seems to happen a lot, causing people to get hung up on the question of “how do I find a technical cofounder?” – I’ve learned that the best answer is to be the cofounder you’re looking for (callback to the title, nice!)

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Posted in Business, Programming | Tagged , , | 2 Comments