Private betas

I read about new web application launches frequently, and as you can guess it's always interesting to me to evaluate what others are building. However, it seems like more and more sites are launching under "private beta" status where you give them your contact information and may or may not receive an access key to try out their application. This is annoying on so many levels:

  • It feels like middle school all over again. Am I cool enough to get invited to their party private beta?
  • Why call it a private beta when it's not really private? I stumbled upon all the private betas I know about as the result of some publicity. If it's really private, they should keep it between themselves and their VC friends, not send out press releases or post the site to Digg and Slashdot.
  • It's arrogant. They achieved one of the hardest things to do on the web — capture my interest long enough for me to visit their site. But I didn't see anything, so they shouldn't think that I'm eagerly awaiting their launch and am going to keep coming back. Unless they're Microsoft, Google, or some other heavyweight, I'm probably not going to think of them again.
  • I don't register for anything unless I get something of value. Even then, I'll likely try BugMeNot to get around it. Sure, they tell me I'm not going to get any spam, but I've been told that before, and I'd at least like a little value before taking that risk.
  • "Beta" is just the Web 2.0 word for "Under Construction". Yes, I too had one of those animated GIFs of flashing yellow lights and a construction barricade on my homepage. But that was 10 years ago, and we've all since learned that every website is always under construction. The word "beta" is getting to be as gaudy as those animated GIFs.

The only benefit to doing this that I can think of to doing this is that you don't want to be deluged by new customers because of support and infrastructure costs. But I can't see a new site getting hit like this unless it's launched by one of the aforementioned heavyweights. And in that case they should be able to absorb that cost pretty quickly.

All this being said, I'm finishing up development on a second web service, and have a true private beta up for anyone who's interested. I think it'll be especially interesting for anyone that uses RSS pretty frequently. There a number of finishing touches left before I release it possibly in the next week couple weeks, but it's otherwise stable, and I'm using it on a regular basis now. Shoot me an email or IM if you want to try it out.

My other dream

Even startup owners need a hobby, and mine's poker. I've been playing cards since I was a little kid, and started to get into poker seriously a few years ago.

Therefore, I'm overjoyed to realize my other dream, and that's to be able to play in the World Series of Poker main event this year. For those that don't know, the WSOP main event is by far the top event in the poker world each year.

I won my seat + expenses online by winning a cheap satellite tournament on PokerStars. It was a thrilling night to say the least.

The main event is getting capped at 8800 entrants, which would make it the largest live poker tournament ever. I'm not holding my breath to cash in the event, but I'm definitely going to do my best. I'm mostly excited about the experience of it, and the chance to take the family on an inexpensive vacation even during these bootstrapping times. Winning the estimated $10M top prize would be nice too though. :)

Recommended reading:

My brother, the slightly more attractive one

This is a public kudos to my brother who's graduating this spring, and is getting showered with awards like:

  • Top 100 IUPUI students (out of about 30,000)
  • Top Finance student
  • Top Kelley School of Business student

It's amazing to see the number of community service and leadership responsibilities he juggles along with a full course load and a job. Well done.

And speaking of which, I invite you to come to a benefit he's put together on April 21st for the Damien Center. It's a silent auction at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. It should be a lot of fun, and of course all the proceeds go to a good cause.

The first month

I thought I'd write a bit about how the first month on my own has been for those of you that are curious.

The Routine

Oddly enough, it's taken some time to get used to a new routine. One of the things I like the most about working on my own is that I don't have to adhere to a 9-5 schedule, and can make the best use of my time as I see fit. However, I can't just work when I feel like it because some days I'd work an 18 hour day and others not at all (probably more often the former than the latter).

I've been experimenting with different schedules, and think I'm getting close. I'm trying to split my day so I can work some during the normal business hours and also in the evening since I'm very much a night person. But then of course adjust that appropriately so I get to spend quality time with my family.

I've touched on this a little before, but along the same lines it's interesting how much time I've spent doing things other than development or support — filling out insurance paperwork, filing for an LLC, getting legal contracts together, working on web design, learning about search engine optimization, and so on. I knew I'd spend a lot of time on this kind of stuff, but underestimated the time. I could probably spend the next week crossing off things on my todo list and not touch a single line of code. I'm constantly trying to find the right balance with this because it wouldn't be prudent to spend the whole week coding or the whole week not coding.

Morale

One of the tough things about working on your own is dealing with all the emotional highs and lows. I've experienced it before, and was somewhat prepared to go through that again, but that doesn't mean it's any easier. While I'm happier with my work situation than I have been in a long time, I frequently beat myself up with questions about whether or not the business will work, if I'm doing the right things, and so on. A little bit of this is healthy, but I might cross the line sometimes.

But again, I'm happier than I've been in a while. The highs have been higher than the lows have been low. I still feel energized, and at the end of the day think I'm on the right track. I'm really having a blast for the most part.

Recursive Function

The custom development work is going at a steady clip. Acquiring new business is slow, but that's to be expected just because the normal time cycle for the kind of work I do is almost always measured in months, not weeks.

I'm still somewhat struggling with finding the balance between custom development work and working on products like Formstack. Long term, my plan is to use the custom development to fund such products, and then as the business grows make it a smaller and smaller piece. In starting out, I focused a lot less on developing and marketing the custom work than on Formstack — it took me a while to even settle on a name, build a website, etc. I frequently ask myself if I'm under-marketing and setting myself up for a long dry spell, or over-marketing and setting myself to over-commit.

Formstack

It's still way too early to see how Formstack will do in the long term, but I'm pleased with how things have gone so far. I set the very modest goal for the first month to acquire one paid customer that I didn't know personally, and met that pretty quickly. Traffic is still holding steady since the buzz a couple weeks ago, and new accounts (not necessarily paid) are being created daily.

Other Thoughts

  • I definitely don't miss the I-69 to downtown commute, especially when there's snow on the ground. It might even make up for the drop in income all by itself.
  • I've rediscovered my love for barefoot coding. The mind is so much freer without the restrictions of socks and dress shoes. I think there needs to be a study about this.
  • I really feel like I learn something new every day, and that's a lot of fun.

[Updated references to Formstack to prevent confusion about the name change]

I am not a designer

I finally got some copy up on the Recursive Function site and redesigned the Formstack site as well to integrate the new logo. It's funny how four people in the last two days have asked me when I'm going to add copy to the RF site. You guys are so impatient. ;)

Actually, I'm glad people kept asking because it spurred me to do it. I know I said it was a high priority, but that didn't mean it was what I was most apt to jump on at the start of the day. I've been working on the design and copy off and on for the last couple weeks and need to just go with something. I need to live up to one of my mantras, "release early, release often."

I am not a designer, but I've always enjoyed tinkering with website design. I've always been in awe watching the designers I've worked with crank out really incredible designs with ease. Me, I typically start by trying to find gold at sites like OSWD, hacking at a great template until it's completely butchered, then starting again at the beginning with a new template.

I am also not a copy writer. Though I've enjoyed writing creative fiction since I was a young kid, in my eyes writing website copy is akin to writing a self-evaluation during review time.

Part of the frustration with me doing both of these tasks is that I feel strongly enough about what I don't like, but don't quite have what it takes to produce what it is that I do like. And to make matters worse, I think I know enough to maybe get 75-95% of the way there, but don't quite have the skill to add that expert touch. This is quite unlike programming for me where once I know what I want, the head to code process is painless, and usually pretty quick.

But even though both don't come easy to me, I enjoy the experience. That's part of the MicroISV fun — wearing all hats in a business, and learning in the process. If I didn't ever have to play designer, copy writer, marketing guy, lawyer, accountant and janitor then work would be pretty dull.

Of course, sometimes I have to concede and let someone else do the work that a) I'm not very skilled at and b) is critical to the success of the business. But there's been no shortage of people who have accurately pointed out that I'm a control freak and a tightwad, so it's sometimes a struggle to let go. :)

[Updated references to Formstack to prevent confusion about the name change]