Hey Beavis, I'd like to "Just do it". Yeah! That'd be cool!

Back in 1998 I ran product and engineering for IGN.com. It was an awesome gig and I had a fantastic team — John Windberg (database), Scott Allen (design) and Ilen Zazueta-Hall and Genevieve Buckley (developers). My peers were top-notch as well — Simon Whitcombe ran business and sales and Julian Rignall ran editorial.  Simon, Jaz and I all reported to Jonathan Simpson-Bint.

Jonny had just had a great experience with the Stephen Covey “Seven Habits” seminar and sent all his senior managers. This involved what’s known as a “360-Degree Review” — Jonny, Simon, Jaz, and my whole team filled out long likert-scale-based surveys, rating every aspect of my professional person.  At the end of the first day of the seminar, we got the results of our review to take home and digest before the following morning.

My results were devastating.  I don’t know that anyone else has since received a score that low. Stephen probably has a picture of me at Covey HQ labeled “Don’t be this guy!” And as a special sort of torture, my self-evaluation scores were side-by-side with everyone else’s, showing just how little I had picked up on their discontent.  I scored high on vision, but anything related to actual management was baaaad. Thirteen years later, it still makes me want to crawl under a desk.

So, I did what just about any 25-year-old would do; I set out to learn everything I could about project management and fix all my management deficiencies.  I bought the PMBOK (the Project Management Institute’s “Project Management Body of Knowledge”) and learned all about “waterfall” and “Monte Carlo simulations”. I took classes. I read books. In the end I became a certified PMP (that’s “Project Management Professional”, not “pimp” for those playing at home).

What followed was four years of professional misery.  I got a job as a project manager (producer) at a videogame company called Cyberlore.  The company itself was great and I made some of my best friends I’ve ever had. I even did a decent-enough job; all my games shipped. But, good god, managing projects was so unfulfilling. I used to joke that project management was controlled failure — you were always going to blow your budget, schedule and quality, it was only a question of how badly. I spent four years desperately trying to prove that I could be a good middle manager.

Cyberlore eventually folded, as almost all independent game developers eventually do, and I put a second mortgage on my house and launched MyBlogLog with my great friend Todd Sampson. Since then, life has been a happy blur. After MyBlogLog there was also Gnip and OneTrueFan and a few others that I’ve been involved with. Truth be told, I imagine that if you polled my teams they would still say that I’m better at vision than anything else.  While I’d like to think that the wisdom of 13 additional years has made me a better manager, I’m not going to win any awards.  But I truly love the process of conceiving product ideas and working with great teams to turn ideas into a reality.  It’s what I live for.

So as I sit here typing this up at 2am after another great week spent with Todd and Steve and the BigDoor crew, working on some great products, I just wanted to throw some unsolicited advice out to the universe:

Figure out what you love to do and do it a lot. Do it all the time. Do the ever-loving shit out of it. Because you may not always find massive success, but you’ll always find happiness.

A shout out to Buckaroo Banzai

by Eric Marcoullier

Golden era of fashion, too!

Man, 1984. Perhaps the golden era of cinema. Check out the top 10 movies of that year:

  1. Ghostbusters
  2. Beverly Hills Cop
  3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  4. Gremlins
  5. Karate Kid
  6. Police Academy
  7. Footloose
  8. Romancing the Stone
  9. Star Tek III: The Search for Spock
  10. Splash

That may well have been peak comedy, with so many sub-genres well represented (family, adult, horror, slapstick and romance [weighing in at 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8/10 respectively]). but despite all those excellent choices, my favorite movie of 1984 was, by far, the absurdist masterpiece The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!, an “action-packed science-fiction adventure-comedy” about a physicist / neurosurgeon / rock-and-roller who battles communist aliens from Planet 10. Here’s the movie’s original trailer, a disjointed mess that doesn’t do any favors for the movie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDVFvVjW0SQ

(Have you noticed that the quality of trailers has increased dramatically over the past 25 years, while the movies themselves have gotten progressively worse?)

Buckaroo Banzai drops you in the middle of a story and expects you to catch up. As author Jason Henderson says, at any moment you look at the film, you feel as though you’re seeing a far smaller fraction of the movie’s reality than a normal movie would suggest. Like Harry Potter, Buckaroo Banzai created an alternate world of amazing depth, but it did it in 90 minutes instead of 4,000 pages.

How many movies can boast a cast of Robocop, The Fly, and Kurgan? Buckaroo Banzai starred Peter Weller, Jeff Goldblum and Clancy Brown, along with John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, Dan Hedaya and Billy Vera (of “and the Beaters” fame).

Looking for more information? The Internet was made for Buckaroo Banzai:

Some quick thoughts on Shaker

by Eric Marcoullier

If you don't like it, perhaps you should create something better?

Shaker won TechCrunch Disrupt a few hours ago and the tech community seems to be getting a fair bit of hate on for them.  I’ll be the first to admit that Shaker is not, in any conceivable way, earth shaking. But after playing with Shaker for just a few minutes, I think it was a solid choice for a few reasons:

1) Any product that seems obvious in retrospect is positioned for success

In general, I have three reactions to new startups:

  • This is awful!
  • What am I supposed to do with this?
  • This should have been obvious.

Color is a pretty good example of “this is awful” — most people tried it and walked away thinking “man, this sucks”. They weren’t confused by why it was useful — most people I talked to were pretty bullish on the general idea. Ad-hoc aggregation of location-based media is a brilliant idea. But the interface seemed to have been designed by Amish people.  Companies in this camp tend to die quickly in the marketplace.

Twitter is a great example of “what am I supposed to do with this” — most people initially tried it and didn’t understand why it might be useful to them. But over time, Twitter has shown that it fills an important roll in peoples’ lives, both in terms of one-to-many broadcasting with a low cognitive load and as a signal for important information.  Companies in this camp are often victims of being too early in the marketplace, but when a company succeeds, they tend to succeed BIG.

I put Shaker in the third category of “this should have been obvious” — where people look at it and go “well, duh!” What it means to me is that the product fills an obvious existing need and it does so in an extremely intuitive and polished manner. Shaker is not the first attempt at 3D Facebook chat, but it’s the only one that anyone in my peer group remembers because it’s the only one that is any good.  Companies in this last category don’t typically go huge, but they almost always have a fantastic exit.  So on this factor alone I think they were a great choice for winning TC Disrupt.

2) Identifying FOAFs and shared interests is fantastic

One of the hardest things for most people in both real world and virtual world situations is coming up with something to talk about.  Shaker does a great job letting the user know what they have in common with other people in the chat room. There were multiple occasions where I started a chat with someone with “How do you know Brenda Brathwaite?” or “Hey, I like Adam Ant too!”

The bigger Shaker gets, the less likely it is that you will know people in a random room.  They’ve done a great job in providing easy avenues to starting conversations with strangers and that could be a fundamental factor for sustaining long-term growth.

3) It does a great job of delivering presence

I chatted with three friends during my time on Shaker. In each case, when I left the conversation, the obvious thing to say was “nice seeing you”. This is incredibly powerful.

We were all using generic avatars in a virtual space. Texting one another. I chat with folks on Skype and AIM all the time and I have never been compelled to say “great seeing you”.  This implies that Shaker provides a much greater sense of tangible presence than other online chat mediums I’ve used. And it’s not just the fact that it’s in 3D — I never said “nice to see you” to anyone during those dark, early days of Second Life.

Now, some of this may be due to the fact that I don’t normally stumble upon people at random on Skype or AIM.  We seek each other out, typically with a specific need.  But so what, the feeling remains the same, regardless of the source.

So, yeah, Shaker isn’t going to turn your world upside down.  It’s not going to cause you to re-evaluate your life.  It won’t solve the jobs crisis, help educate the kids or fix global warming.  And the more time I spend online, the more I yearn to be a part of something meaningful.  But that doesn’t mean that Shaker isn’t objectively a winner.  Great job, guys.  You’ve earned the award.

Getting the band blog back together

by Eric Marcoullier

Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential -- Winston Churchill

I did a pretty shit job blogging at my last two startups. Actually, that’s putting it politely.

Part of my job as the “product” guy is to blog regularly and get the message out about our products and services, our goals, our values and our needs.  I should have done much better with this on both Gnip and OneTrueFan.

In general, I’ve found success in the philosophy of “do the fuck out of what you do well and leave the rest to someone else.” But I actually write pretty well, it’s just painful for me to do, primarily because I have a raging case of ADHD and focusing takes a ton of mental energy.

But the way you get better is to practice.  So this is me, practicing.