Should we celebrate more?

I think about this question from time to time. We don’t celebrate our successes, no matter the size.

Tomorrow, Camren has his last IB exam, effectively ending not just three weeks of the hardest exams he may ever face but also the end of high school for him. He’s going out for dinner with a buddy because we don’t really make a big deal of things.

I regularly see podcasts making a big deal of achieving some download target—maybe 10,000 or a million—or splashing all over their social media the fact that they were mentioned in an article somewhere. We did once when we reached 500 stories on one of our podcasts, but it was more a function of having nothing else to say.

Is this an essential part of promotion?

Sometimes, I think we are afraid of being seen and run away from any outward appearance of success.

The invisible podcast ad campaign

The 2nd of May marked the start of our first campaign to promote Sleep Tight Stories. While there was a wild disconnect between the dizzying dollar amount and impressions assigned to the campaign, we have never been able to do any significant promotion like this until now. We had high hopes for its success.

We prepared copy and spent hours producing audio spots for network and broadcast.

In the past, we were featured on Spotify in Australia and mentioned in a Canadian tech newsletter, which gave us a significant uptick in these regions.

It may still be early for this campaign, but our numbers are way down, not up. Either the campaign is not running as we have been told, or this is somehow staving off our disappearance from Apple Podcasts. It’s pretty disappointing.

Our goal this year is to broaden our focus beyond podcasting to include different platforms, including print, and introduce new products altogether. This is both to diversify our income and improve my mental health. There is no denying that without Sleep Tight Stories, these other efforts will become increasingly difficult.


This past week has been one of contrasts.

We recently invested in having Jaime Lee Mann write copy for us. The impetus was an ad run we are contracted to have for our Sleep Tight Stories show. And, I thought, wouldn’t it be great to have a writer lead how we move our efforts forward, by writing copy that identifies what we do. Often, product development is engineering-led or, in enlightened organizations, design-led. It makes sense for us to have words lead the way forward; she has a great imagination.

Jaime is a professional through and through and great to work with. She genuinely cares and is a nice person, to boot.

The others we work with could learn a lot from her.

To them, an agreement and pay schedule are but a guide. There is zero communication and regular mishaps. The latest is an ad running across all our shows that we didn’t approve. It’s loud, doesn’t identify as an ad, and is entirely out of character for our show.

When you work with someone as great as Jaime, you sleep at night comforted that someone you work with cares about the end result. Last night was an anxiety-riddled half-sleep, with me worrying about how our shows would be ruined tomorrow.

Big company’s ≠ professionalism.


I’ve taken some time to think instead of do. I like to dream, and according to my elementary school teachers I had a real talent for dreaming in class.

So, I have been dreaming up new ways to frame our activity to make it a sustainable source of fun and income until that inevitable day of cognitive decline arrives.

Ego gets in the way. I can’t just publish a kid’s podcast. I must publish five all by myself. I can’t just publish five podcasts; I must also publish a bunch of books with toys and other things. We will keep it tight and tidy, but we need some help to do so. So, I have been reaching out to people.

I am admittedly very cheap, and other than coffee, I find everything overpriced. Except it seems my time. That I have learned is grossly underpriced.

The plus side of selling yourself cheap is that it may open you up to all kinds of opportunities you might not have otherwise considered, like creating audio for kids. The negative is that you are poor.

Negative reviews

At the beginning of our journey, we received a rash of negative reviews of our work. Though it sometimes stung, we made changes over time to address these concerns and haven’t often received this kind of critical feedback since, which is a problem.

We aren’t so big that we get much in the way of online discussion or mentions in the press, so I went looking. With the interest in screen-free ways to access audio, like Yoto player, Tonie, and our sponsor Storybutton, I decided to dive into forums that discuss the experience of listening to audio on these platforms.

It’s important to note that these listeners have far different expectations than those sharing an iPhone or iPad with their kids. They also are not necessarily aware of what a podcast is or the community built around podcasts such as ours.

There were two criticisms I have found stated time and time again.

The first was advertising. It’s an understandable complaint. We have gone a few weeks without an ad, and then boom, there is an advertisement for bed sheets or meal delivery before every story. I don’t like ads much either, but without ads, there wouldn’t be stories like Bernice the Bear, which their kids seem to love. People don’t often realize that others have a mortgage to pay.

The other complaint concerned our birthday shoutouts. “Why the hell are there 100 birthday shoutouts before a story?” was one complaint. Kids love hearing their names on a podcast, and we are often surprised by how popular this part of the show has become. But it hasn’t scaled well. Even after charging $35US per shoutout, we still get inundated with requests.

We haven’t considered creating with these closed platforms in mind, but as I find more of these criticisms and the platforms increase in popularity, we’ll likely make more changes to how we produce our audio.

Just start somewhere

Whenever I mention to those with more talent and experience in writing that everything I release is essentially a very rough draft, I can see a slight grimace forming at the corner of their mouth. To release a story that is not perfectly formed is not best practice.

Our listeners don’t seem to mind too much, as children tend to possess an interesting combination of open appreciation, criticality, and forgiveness of the less-than-perfect.

This allows us to produce more stories on a tight time schedule. You can’t expect perfection if you only have 3 hours or so to write something new.

Eventually, some investment in time and money must be made in editing so that the stories can be released in different mediums for reading. Without the benefit of Sheryl’s voice and my music, the accuracy of the word becomes more important. With hundreds of stories, it is difficult to know where to start, but that’s where the uniqueness of our model comes into play.

I have access to the listening data, regular communication from listeners, and comments and reviews of all our stories, which tells me which resonates most with kids. So, while I may like the story about a Mermaid visiting Souris, it turns out that the most listened-to story was about a mouse in a barn. In fact, over the course of a year, Nibbles the Mouse has been listened to hundreds of thousands of times. I have no idea why.

In the Montague Community School writing class, we were asked to submit a story to share during the final banquet. The teacher graciously offered to edit each of our stories and then print off copies that others could take home. So I took the opportunity to send her a copy of Nibbles the Mouse, and now I have a far more complete version. I think she was slightly taken aback by my copyright message on the first page. It was a bit heavy-handed (it had a reprinted with permission message), and I hummed and hawed, but in the end, I acquiesced to the instruction I received from lawyers.

With a more polished version, I can find an editor and an illustrator and start creating prototypes to see what format best fits these stories.

Some local works

I’ve been collating the remote digital bits to my life of late. Online health checks, Montreal clinics for a doctor, mentors for design and business, online co-working, and Zoom-based social gatherings. These fill holes that I find can’t be filled in our remote summer paradise.

I signed up with the Start-up Zone again last summer in the hopes that I might use the space to fill that need to be around people during the workday. In the dead of winter, I find my Montague office very isolating, and the old men at Home Hardware can only be so accommodating. I never got to the Start-up Zone but made some great connections.

It’s not official, but that resource will cease operations at the end of May. It was always an odd place, but I found my year as a resident company incredibly useful. It was very active and busy, with plenty of opportunities to connect with people and learn new perspectives. It has never recovered from the COVID shutdowns and has received little direction from the board until now. Other organizations have been trying to fill the gap, like PEIBWA, a strangely female-only resource, and Innovation PEI, which has recently published some material to help would-be entrepreneurs. Neither have an environment conducive to the magic of a happenstance connection with a peer.

However, I have found a couple of other local organizations with programs I am starting to enjoy. Creative PEI is running a course I joined, which will follow Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. I particularly enjoy trying to write my Morning Pages every day. They also have an Artist’s Support group, which I attended. It’s comforting to be around people who live through the same challenges as you, who are not obsessed with leveraging real estate assets as their primary output, and who make things because they feel they need to be made.

I have been a member of the PEI Writers Guild for a couple of years(?), but I have never participated in any of their events. However, they have a monthly writers’ meet-up that I will attend. If I can summon the courage, I plan on reading at their monthly readings at The Gallery.

While so much of what I do seems to be increasingly done off-Island (relying on off-Island health services is an odd one), it’s wonderful that there are still some opportunities to connect here locally.

Is there an app for that?

There was a brief period before we realized that pursuing a passion 7 days a week required real income, where our work seemed stress-free and full of hope. We were growing, and the reviews from the stories I was writing were positive. I was dumbfounded that I could be so fortunate to pursue full-time something I had no training in or perceived aptitude at this stage of my life.

Then, we tried to make a predictable income.

We have partnered with the audio equivalent of a writer agent to handle ad sales, growth, and, in one case, language rights so that I could focus on creating cool stories and, if lucky, fund other projects that can allow us to escape the vicious world of kids advertising.

Each and every agreement has been a disappointment. Some, if I am in a mood, might be characterized as malicious.

My problem is not just wasted opportunities or not living up to our potential. It’s my inability to block the myriad of problems we face from my mind. I mull the problems over and over again. I lose sleep. And lose mindshare to problems out of my control.

Today, instead of writing stories, I am dealing with the fact that some asshole is using our name on Apple podcasts to try and game Apple’s search engine to get subscribers. He’s violating our trademark, and now I have to spend my time pursuing him.

Looking through Spotify, it’s amazing how rife the market is with people skirting copyright rules, with little to no scruples, in order to gain a couple more listens.

So, this would seem to be some kind of mindfulness hack or technique I don’t have. Blocking out the noise from the misanthropes of the world so that I can put my full attention on creating cool stuff. Is there an app.?

Turning point

I just want to make things. And have time to dream up new things to make. This is all I really want to do.

We are at a turning point. Most similar products like ours are created by companies with an org chart, or at least by a group of individuals. They might have a CEO, developers, writers, voice over artists, sound engineers, producers etc. We have myself, and Sheryl on the weekends. Our pace is too frenetic and the work we create, from my eyes and ears, is suffering.

The decision we have right now is, do we scale up and hire, or do we find a way to scale back so that we can focus on being better. Or is there a middle ground?

I don’t want to be a manager or a boss, and I don’t want to answer to someone else. I just want to make things.

Subscription nonsense

In trying to create a living out of our creative efforts, there are few things that annoy me more than credit card charge disputes in Stripe.

Yes, subscriptions are hard to manage, and some companies count on customers being absent-minded enough to continue subscribing to their service even if they aren’t using it. That’s not us. I want people who subscribe to our paid feed to listen and engage with us.

And yet I just spent 20 minutes filling evidence that we didn’t defraud a credit card holder of a $7 payment to our service. Win or lose, this costs me $15. Ridiculous.

This wasn’t the first time this happened, and it likely won’t be the last.

The Blackbox

We have had a tremendous run with our niche podcasting journey. I’ve been a part of a lot of projects over the years and helped create a lot of different products. What we have created here lacks the sophistication and all the moving parts of other products I’ve helped create, but none of them have had the impact that our audio has. Creating audio for kids to listen to and enjoy, is incredibly rewarding. And I love getting direct feedback from them and their families. Something not typically possible in a large company.

Another thing I have discovered while attending a writing workshop is the challenge of getting published and getting people to read your material. Every month kids listen to my stories millions of times – I’ve built an audience for my (albeit weak) writing.

Now here comes the but …

I’ve learned a lot about podcasting these past few years. From audio editing and sound design to growth and monetization, and everything in between. Despite this, some aspects are still a complete mystery to me.

There was a naive expectation on my part that if you create a product that people enjoy, and you get enough people enjoying this product that revenue will follow. Sort of build it and they do come.

It’s a simple formula: A (audio that people want to listen to) + B (scale) = C (revenue) In fact that’s all anyone ever talks about. When the inevitable question is asked, “how do I make money podcasting”, the answer is almost always the same. You need scale (or a very valuable niche).

We have scale. In fact, using the number of downloads we have as a standard, we may have one of the largest podcasts in Canada. We are not the largest globally by a long shot, there are many podcasts in our category which enjoy multiple more listeners than we do, but it should be enough.

My focus has been on creating audio, not ad sales. Our ad sales are handled by Advertisecast, RedCircle, and Gumball.

Last year at this time the future looked bright. We signed several family-friendly brands, which helped make this the first year I was able to pay myself and keep the lights on in our studio. The celebrations were short lived because since June there have been no new contracts and I have no idea why that would be. I’ve reached out to the ad sales companies above and implemented all their suggestions, but they have been not very forthcoming with any solid suggestions.

So I started calling others working in audio. The most successful creators are a part of networks, others take advantage of being in the US (Spotify), and others can’t understand what our problem might be.

It’s a black box.

Advertising is not our only source of revenue, but unfortunately, it is our largest. Without it, it’s hard to justify continuing, especially with the rising cost of doing things on this remote Island in the Atlantic.

The only real solution I have is to start doing ad sales myself. Then I might find more answers, but finding time to pitch brands will be difficult, considering I take very few days off now.

Pod Stats

Podcast directory stats and their mysterious algorithms provide an interesting window into who is spending more on podcast discovery.

A show appearing out of no where means a company has released a huge sum, and then because for so many companies content is a feature, the show will slowly fade. Then someone else will have a six figure budget and the process continues.

Our move to our new host has had some interesting side effects. The design of their stats interface has serious problems, to the point of being unusable. There is some interesting data contained within, but its hidden behind an almost indecipherable display. Why can’t American companies just do what the Chinese do and copy the best fitting example of a competitor?

The result of this poor UI is that I spend far less time worrying about numbers and more time on … anything else.


We passed a particular milestone recently as we reached 1,000,000 downloads over a 30 day period with Sleep Tight Stories.

Downloads as a metric of success are fraught with inadequacies; I could like others, shorten our episodes and publish every day of the week, and our downloads would certainly go up. Rankings on Apple Podcasts are somewhat the same, though supposedly more qualitative, they are but one measurement.

If you asked me how to create a podcast and get to even greater reach than ours I could tell you. If you asked me how we did it, I couldn’t, because we haven’t really done much of anything, other than to consistently create and improve our audio over a long period of time. My wife and are very “quiet”, so much so that you might think that we have a “we don’t talk about podcasting” rule ala fight club. Other than 2 cheap ads on Overcast we haven’t advertised, haven’t done any cross promotion, collabs, or been featured in any publications whatsoever. I seldom talk to other podcasters, nor do I network. And we live on PEI, which is not what you would call a hotbed of children’s entertainment, or a hotbed of anything really.

This is all a fault, and yet here we are.

We are not particularly ambitious. I like creating audio that kids enjoy, and that helps kids relax and get a good nights rest. And now that much of our current material is written by myself, I can tailor our stories specifically to their needs and interests. We aren’t setting ourselves up for a sale, or to join Amazon or iHeart, or be an “exclusive” Spotify podcast (they don’t advertise to kids anyway, so we wouldn’t be attractive to them), we just hope to continue making something meaningful to ourselves and our audience.

So, here’s to reaching 2,000,000 per month.

Inevitable death of Indie [insert activity]

Everyday I do much the same thing. I get up grab my phone to make sure there are no dumpster fires, drink coffee, prepare food for myself and others and read much the same news sources that I have been reading for 15 years or more. I used to run, and I sometimes go to CrossFit early, but these days I prefer to use this early morning caffeination for work.

On my 3rd cup I check stats and reports. I shouldn’t but I am competitive and want to see how our podcasts are doing (growth is flat btw). Lately, competition has been increasing, not from other Indie publishers but from large companies with huge marketing budgets. Companies who can afford to spend their way out of the discovery problem and later (maybe) recoup their costs by selling advertisers on their reach.

It’s sometimes disheartening. I’ve gotten past the times when the CBC would launch a show that competes indirectly with us, CBC has a sound that not everyone can identify with, and all our shows have more listeners than their’s 😊.

But it’s harder when a slew of private enterprises, with large investments, come in and flood the space with highly polished shows that feed off the category that small more personal creators have grown.

Indie creators are not competitors, they are colleagues. Many sound better, are more engaging, or have a voice that more people connect with. I learn from them.

Perhaps the larger organizations elevate the art. Give us goal posts. Jack Conte’s views aside, I do wonder if the same thing won’t happen to podcasting, that happened with so many other indie publishing movements of the past. Do many make money blogging anymore?


A lovely symmetry and elegance has been purged seemingly in the hope of serving a few more cups of coffee and sweets. There are other more subtle ways to bring your experience outside without building a structure such as this.

True Fans

I read this essay years ago and am rereading it after being reintroduced to it via an email list subscription. While the thesis of the essay feels true to me, getting these numbers of fans is harder than creating the work worth paying for. Time, patience, grit and luck are all required.

To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.

A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. These diehard fans will drive 200 miles to see you sing; they will buy the hardback and paperback and audible versions of your book; they will purchase your next figurine sight unseen; they will pay for the “best-of” DVD version of your free youtube channel; they will come to your chef’s table once a month. If you have roughly a thousand of true fans like this (also known as super fans), you can make a living — if you are content to make a living but not a fortune.

1,000 True Fans

Selling experiences

Commodities are fungible, goods tangible, services intangible, and experiences memorable.

The entire history of economic progress can be recapitulated in the four-stage evolution of the birthday cake. As a vestige of the agrarian economy, mothers made birthday cakes from scratch, mixing farm commodities (flour, sugar, butter, and eggs) that together cost mere dimes. As the goods-based industrial economy advanced, moms paid a dollar or two to Betty Crocker for premixed ingredients. Later, when the service economy took hold, busy parents ordered cakes from the bakery or grocery store, which, at $10 or $15, cost ten times as much as the packaged ingredients. Now, in the time-starved 1990s, parents neither make the birthday cake nor even throw the party. Instead, they spend $100 or more to “outsource” the entire event to Chuck E. Cheese’s, the Discovery Zone, the Mining Company, or some other business that stages a memorable event for the kids—and often throws in the cake for free.

Talking to my banker yesterday she asked, “Is this a non-profit venture?” I laughed and said that it wasn’t supposed to be.

Our current problem to solve is how to sell more of an experience, or how to get people to pay for an experience that was once free.

The audio stories we create fill a real need but it’s an emotional one, one that is currently being fulfilled by a free product. Our strategy thus far has been something akin to public radio – to support the continued development of the pod, please subscribe to our Patreon or donate a one time sum. In return you get ….. These CTA’s we developed were criticized as being amateurish. Though true, I think the real problem is that it appeals to their good will versus realizing that they are getting something of value in return.

But I am still not clear how to communicate this value.

We are now switching our focus to selling a premium feed but the problem remains. How to sell our value when the paid version is simply more, even though it fulfills a need stated by our listeners (more stories please!). I’m stuck on commoditization as a strategy, we give you more of the same, and we remove some pain points (ads).

How to sell experiences? How to create more value for listeners, so that it’s worth it for them to pay? How to sell this?

So many questions and so few answers.

There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make.
Steve Jobs quoted by Philip Elmer-DeWitt, The parable of the stones

I joined the Startup Zone’s accelerator

Last week marked the start of Startup Zone’s Accelerator Program for spring. They describe it as follows:

Our Spring 2020 Accelerator Cohort will be focused on the growth and development of the company’s involved, and we will specialize the program to fit your needs. Our focus will be on finding growth-focused entrepreneurs who already have traction in their business, and getting them in a room with like-minded entrepreneurs, and expert advisors!

The room in this case is a Zoom conference.

As the worlds worst capitalist I’m definitely the odd man out amongst all the others that are enrolled.

When I was approached to join I was sceptical at first, and jokingly asked if they were desperate to find participants. If there is one thing I have learned during my time hanging around the Startup Zone is that while I certainly appreciate people starting small (tech) businesses, I’m not so sure I am interested in the whole money focused culture that surrounds it.

Sheryl and I have a successful hobby and we are both pleased with the experience thus far. Our goal over the short term is to see if this hobby could occupy an increasing amount of our time. Hopefully the accelerator will give us some needed accountability towards doing all the activities required to help make this a reality.

The fact that both Sheryl and I are now at home throughout the day, it’s an ideal time to work on something together.

Simplicity is not about making something without ornament, but rather about making something very complex, then slicing elements away, until you reveal the very essence. After all the slicing away, you may realize, now that you can clearly see the idea, that it’s actually not very good.
Christoph Niemann, The Story of My App

The Positive Message Company

This Sunday past, as part of his participation with the Young Millionaires Program Camren got up and gave a short speech about his experience building a business over the summer.

It’s difficult to get up in front of a group of people and give a short talk. It’s doubly difficult when you get up in front of a crowd and share your challenges*, how you over came them and what you plan to do in the future. It was a proud moment and I admire his bravery. Speaking wasn’t a requirement and many kids declined.

While I am sure he would prefer to have more spending money at the end of the summer, I think he has learned more from failure than he could have if he had.

What the worst thing that could happen?

… other than public embarrassment

Thursday was the Start Up Zone’s 3rd anniversary and/or demo day and I volunteered to get up and do a demo.

I used this event to kick off a possible collaboration between myself and Pam Boutillier (Zoopothecary) on a new storybook app for iPad. To add some evidence of our collaboration I decided to give myself an added challenge to see what I could develop in an afternoon with some old bits and pieces of Gamekit code I had from an earlier project. There is nothing like a hard public deadline to give you some focus. It was the most fun I have had in sometime.

There are some common sense rules regarding any kind of presentation, demo or product introduction. Make sure the app or product works, create and practice your slides long before hand, and rule out any issues that will inevitably come up with the projector. I only did one of these – I grabbed a dongle for my iPad and made sure that we could easily switch between a Powerbook and my iPad.

Pam forwarded me some of her wonderful art and accompanying story late Tuesday (4am Wednesday) and I set to work early Wednesday afternoon. I sketched some basic wireframes as a guide, opened Sketch to create some high res pdf assets to import to Xcode, and got to work trying to tie together 4 simple screens. I spent most of my time having fun with adding some physics to the main menu animation, after which I somewhat successfully tied the 4 screens together, dealt with all the red bugs, and ignored the warnings. The only problem was that I couldn’t test on a device. My iPad was updated to the latest version of iOS, while I hadn’t updated Xcode for a couple updates. Updating Xcode always has the potential to add problems so I delay updating as long as possible.

On Thursday late morning, mere hours before the event I took the chance of updating Xcode, an update which took over 2 hours.

Luckily the update didn’t break anything, and the app loaded and launched without a hitch.

When I was told Startup Zone was having a demo day I was expecting a somewhat relaxed affair where we all gathered around to share what we were working on with a few guests. Not so different from team meetings in the past. Instead, the fishbowl was packed with far too many people to make an introvert like myself feel comfortable, so I stayed in the sidelines during most of the events networking and demo and pitches preamble.

Demo done, without any embarrassing crashes or glitches, I then slid to the back of the room, where I could stand in obscurity to hear what others were working on.

The Servant Economy

An unkind summary, then, of the past half decade of the consumer internet: Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance.

These platforms may unlock new potentials within our cities and lives. They’ve definitely generated huge fortunes for a very small number of people. But mostly, they’ve served to make our lives marginally more convenient than they were before. Like so many other parts of the world tech has built, the societal trade-off, when fully calculated, seems as likely to fall in the red as in the black.

The inequalities of capitalist economies are not exactly news.

Also, linked to in the above article is 20 Facts About U.S. Inequality that Everyone Should Know written by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.

When we first started discussing how we could survive in PEI with it’s limited employment opportunities, one of the main motivations for creating a business was the sense that by working as a remote teacher my wife would become nothing more than a glorified dog walker for the wealthy. Granted, it’s much easier to join someones else’s platform, but I felt that would be a complete waste of 25 years of hard work and her talent for helping children flourish as human beings. Sometimes good things take time.

Whats wrong with being super anyway?

When I was in college in Toronto my then mentor and teacher would often preach about the difficulties of life as a musician. One of his key concepts at the time was to not rely on any one income stream – or pieces of the pie (as in chart) as he called it – and to be sure to diversify your investment in any one of these areas. The logic being that if performance fees dried up you could then focus on your teaching business, or sub in the classroom, or perhaps like me, work more hours selling product. It’s a philosophy that works well at the micro or macro level for most freelancers or “solopreneurs”, and especially so for the seasonal life on PEI. How many people do you know on PEI who have a seasonal side-hustle to make up for the low salaries that are found here?

My main focus these past 6 months outside of slowing down and trying to fit into the cogs of life here, has been trying to build out a company for my wife and I that at the very least would help smooth out the rough edges of the high cost of living. Of course, building something you like can at times be fun, though to be honest many parts of following the training-to-be-a-CEO-for-dummies routine are boring at best. Unfortunately, our schedule to launch and subsequent riches has been stretched to the point that it’s time to include something else to the mix.

The next piece of my pie is focusing some of my time and energy on another business that has been on hiatus for the past 6+ months. For the lack of a better descriptor, and I’m searching for a better one, it’s a consultancy, focusing on experience design. What that means in common terms is that I hope to help SME’s fill in the gaps in their product design strategy by providing guidance on how to built things that work for their customers – coaching, qualitative research and heuristic analysis being the focus at first. Obviously I have a way to go in describing what I hope to do in a way that the average non-tech industry folks can understand. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and particularly enjoy coaching, but I know nothing of the market here so I will be taking my time to build out a local portfolio and gain some insight into the local mindset. As such I hope to focus on Startups first. Ultimately, I hope to include my wife in this (if anyone can “motivate” a group of kids during a test session it’s her), and perhaps another, as we fill a niche by focusing only on children’s products.

But my dream of being the Mr. Dressup of usability has already hit a snag. The name that I have been using, Super Lucky Elephant, and that has already been registered etc., after some informal in-person polling has been universally dismissed as being a bad idea. The following are a selection of the responses:

  • “the colours of your brand make me feel hungry” (not for design I presume)
  • “it sounds like a sushi restaurant”
  • “it’s too Asian sounding”
  • “you might not be taken seriously”
  • “it might make a good name for a diaper brand”

For some reason taking the super, out of super lucky elephant changes peoples opinion towards the positive. Somehow not being “super” changes everything.

The origin of the name comes from my favourite brand of Thai jasmine rice, which upon discovering that the .com name was available, I immediately registered. The name sounds nice in Chinese, and features 2 descriptors which is common in the Asian languages I am familiar with. At some point in time I knew I might have to change the name, but for now in Canada at least, I’m ok.

So for an hour yesterday I searched for a name with corresponding domain with no luck. I’ve thought of using the StartUp Name Generator but I would like something original.

My Startup Weekend PEI experience

The weekend started with me playing the role of the introvert, sitting on the sidelines, watching all the extroverts network, talk about school, and dev. related topics. In the sea of these people there was one other individual sitting by herself, ignoring the fray, and who I would team up with later to develop, or more accurately refine, a business plan she had.

I talked to a lot of people over the weekend, which for me is an accomplishment in itself, but which in combination with poor sleep, left me tired and required a morning respite in front of Netflix watching trashy TV.

My experience on the whole was very positive.

I’ve been apart of many similar activities, most involuntary and inside corporate R&D, and fuelled by crappy Dominos style food. It’s amazing how much difference the quality of food makes in an experience such as this. I’ve never attended any kind of design/dev event that has served food comparable to the lobster lasagna, fresh shucked oysters, sashimi, and hot sandwiches that were presented this weekend. There was copious amounts of fruit, fresh hot coffee and cold beer on tap. I commended every organizer that would listen, that the food served at this event was world class and absolutely delicious.

There was one aspect that proved to be a point of concern. Not everyone understands the whole pitch-startup culture and it’s rapid fire iteration and style of speaking. The people I teamed up with didn’t, and they are the people, in PEI at least, that may benefit from this kind of event the most. They were local, rural, and will stay such. The “CEO” of the team lives in the country, hires people from the area, and wants to expand. What better fit could there be for a startup event in PEI? Unfortunately, this lack of understanding, they registered at the last minute, meant that for much of the weekend I felt like an unpaid consultant, instead of someone practicing the development of a business idea. While it’s the responsibility of the participant understand what they are getting themselves into, some kind of quick refresher at the beginning might have proved valuable (not everyone reads all the text on a website).

Other than meeting so many interesting people, including our passionate “CEO” and the team, the highlight of the weekend was the opportunity to work with someone from an entirely different background, take them through an experience design process and come out of the process with agreement, understanding, focus, and new ideas for a business. I’ve worked with people in tech whose eyes gloss over when you talk about the value of personas, understanding your customers experience, and mapping out your customers journey through the use of a product. It can be very abstract to most and the value not readily apparent. While not applicable to every product, it worked extremely well in this context, and she, the CEO, understood its value almost completely. In the end, with the help of one of the many mentors, she came away with an entirely new potential revenue stream. I came away with some valuable new experience – it’s all too rare to have the opportunity to do this kind of work with passionate, strong people outside of the tech community.

I certainly look forward to participating again, in some capacity, in the future.

Startup Weekend PEI

I’m participating this year in Startup Weekend PEI which starts tomorrow evening and ends sometime on Sunday. I’ve had similar experiences, including a Yahoo Hackathon, but this is the first time I will be thrown together with a bunch of strangers in an effort to create something business like.

The event has been on my radar for a while but I am often a bit dubious about any experience that people speak about in such glowing terms. Despite my doubts I finally decided yesterday to pull the trigger, register, and participate as a designer.

My motivations are simple, I love working at the beginning of the product development cycle and I haven’t had much opportunity lately, outside of my own product, to design much of anything. There are risks of course, I am participating without any preparation and without any idea who I might be working with. So much depends on the personality of the group of people involved, and to a lessor extent our collective experience and ability (the outcome is only a demo, not necessarily a functioning app., so mad dev. skills shouldn’t be necessary).

I’m expecting it to be fun and at the very least I should get some experience drawing star people and meet some new interesting freinds.

Creative entrepreneurs need community, not just customers

Several months ago, a friend I hadn’t seen in years handed me a check for $300. She used to accept Paypal payments on my behalf, back in 2003 when I made jewelry and listed regularly on eBay. (She had set up a separate account in another bank. Things happened. They found her after a decade. Isn’t that remarkable?)

I was a fledgling creative entrepreneur, pre-Paypal, pre-Facebook. It was a struggle, especially because I didn’t know too many people who were doing anything along the same lines.

I joined local bazaars. Inevitably, I would be one of only two or three tables with handmade creations. Everyone else had mass-manufactured goods. Buyers would bargain and tell me, “But over at the other booth, necklaces are less than a hundred pesos!”

A creative entrepreneur is a creator, maker, marketer and retailer, all in one. It takes a lot more bravery to market and sell the products of your personal creativity compared to doing it for other people, or for a salary. Your self-worth can fluctuate depending on what people are willing to pay for the work of your mind, heart, and hands.

Back then, there were no visual social networks that let creators express their vision and purpose, and allowed people who might like what they made to discover their work. There was an audience for handmade, but there was too much friction and not enough serendipity between the creator and the audience.

Back then, I had customers. They couldn’t tell other people, easily, that they liked my work. They couldn’t selfie with my necklace and tag me and 10 other friends, one of whom just might have been a fledgling creative entrepreneur, too.

Today, social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are both serendipity engine and global marketplace. Never has it been easier to find and bond with the like-minded. And when that happens, we call that community. Community is a force multiplier for growth. Creators and audience can find one another faster, learn from a wider pool, and improve together.
Leigh Reyes on Creativity, Leadership and Limited FTG

Mastering the Problem Space for Product/Market Fit

The above video is from an earlier talk from a year ago and tends to have a slightly different focus than below.

The term Product/Market Fit was coined by Marc Andreesen back in 2007 and it’s been a key goal for any new product or startup ever since. But like any buzzword, it is often oversimplified and misunderstood.

For the next month I am spending as much time as possible addressing #3:

While each company and product is obviously different, this is a framework covering the universal conditions and patterns that have to hold true to achieve product/market fit. Each layer in the pyramid is a key hypothesis that you need to get right in order to build the next layer and ultimately achieve product/market fit.

1. Target Customer – who are we trying to create value for?
2. Underserved Needs – for that target customer, what are their needs?
3. Value Proposition – your hypotheses about which customer needs your product addresses, how the customer benefits from your product, and how you meet their needs better than other products
4. Feature Set – the functionality that conveys those benefits to the customer
5. User Experience – what the customer interacts with in order receive the benefits

Taken together, the first two layers – target customer and underserved needs – are the market. You don’t control the market – you can choose which customers and needs to target but you can’t change those needs. What you do control are the decisions you make at the next three layers in the pyramid – the product.

Mastering the Problem Space for Product/Market Fit by Dan Olsen