I used Storify to collect a number of the reactions that have been ricocheting around the web in response to Microsoft’s announcement of the all new Surface tablet. I am puzzled by their pre-announcement, happy to see more competition in this space, and really hope they succeed in shipping.
My first experience with node.js was following the ‘hello world’ tutorial on the front page, which I then extended to experiment with writing in Markdown and creating HTML pages on the fly. Not quite a static site generator, but a fun experiment in learning during the Mozilla Polyglot Hackathon.
I’m currently using Octopress to power this site as well as bmannconsulting.com (see my migration write up), but one of the things I’d like is the ability to not have to have access to my dev environment in order to publish pages. That is, right now I can create/edit Markdown files anywhere1 since my blog source is in Dropbox, but to compile / publish it, I need access to a machine that has the development environment installed.
I am hoping to use a node.js-based static site generator running on Heroku or Nodejitsu to have the best of both worlds. A minimal http server to serve up the baked HTML static files, plus the ability to connect to a Dropbox folder with Markdown posts in it and bake them on demand.
In the past, the starter stack for web programming was LAMP. The ‘P’ originally stood for Perl, and then became mainly PHP.
Today, with $5/month shared web hosting and thousands of PHP-based scripts & applications, this success is hard to argue with.
But the truth is, managing even a shared hosting account is hard, never mind an entire VPS. You need to know the OS, the web server, the language, and the database.
Revision control? Especially because of PHP’s ease of deployment and editing, revision control is an advanced topic. This leads to things like “just edit it on the server”, lack of updates, and even lack of upstream contributions.
So what do we teach beginners? what is the stack we should be promoting to web makers?
I think the new hack stack is already here. Git, Ruby or Node, and a PaaS for hosting.
Moving from services work to having a successful product is probably one of the hardest things to do. Well, perhaps no harder than doing any startup from scratch, but the benefit in doing it from a services company is that you have a built-in way to bootstrap yourself.
As a single consultant or small development shop, you work for a number of clients on different projects. You might become known as an “X” shop, where X is some particular framework or programming language, being the go-to team when the complex or large projects come up. You get to learn about different verticals and different problems, coming up with technical and design solutions to fit. And you make consistent income 1 with a high flexibility around work hours and location.
With a product of your own, you get to invest in the things that matter to you - the design, the vision, the care given to the technical smoothing, or perhaps the user experience of contacting support. Really, you can invest in whatever parts of the product that you’d like. There is no client to wreck the design or insist on the wrong features or really, any of that other complicated dealing-with-clients stuff.
Brad Feld is finding a lot of noise in the system, saying he is noticing:
…lots of drama that has nothing to do with innovation, creating great companies, or doing things that matter. I expect this noise will increase for a while as it always does whenever enthusiasm for startups and entrepreneurship increases. When that happens, I’ve learned that I need to go even deeper into the things I care about.
So, he identifies areas that he is obsessed about, and is going to dive deeper into them.
It’s pretty easy to tell what I’m obsessed about. It shows up in my tag clouds and the theme of my link blog. But it’s useful to reflect and broadcast these areas as well.
Here’s what I’m obsessed about:
Brent Holliday writes about what is needed for BC’s technology industry to succeed, which is itself a follow on to Jevon’s StartupNorth post on Canada’s next 5 years. I have some further thoughts on the five areas that Brent discusses:
Last Thursday, Jesse Heaslip wrote ‘Two Problems with (Vancouver’s tech community) and Three Ways to Fix it’. If you don’t know Jesse, know this: he’s crazy-irrational-passionate about the Vancouver tech community. For proof, I offer the fact that he organized 40 tech events that were attended by 1600 people in 2011. Talk about impact!
Jesse lists the two problems as:
1. How do we get companies to the stage where there is interest from acquirers?
2. How do we get those companies to stay?
First of all, for a really great backgrounder on startups in Vancouver and the various funnels that are in place, read Greg Aasen and Danny Robinson’s post on the BCIC blog1. Money quote:
The only way to get more anchor companies is to start more companies. Some fail, some exit and some anchor. There is no shortcut.
For Problem #1, I first want to re-state the problem as “How do we get more companies to the Series A and/or acquire stage?”.
I added “more” to the statement, since I think that’s what we want.
Secondly, focusing on only acquirers is probably the wrong goal. Series A (before everything turned into super seed rounds etc.) used to be the first step of going big. Large VC funds2 earmark millions not only for Series A, but to support companies in their Series B, and so on. We definitely do want anchor companies that grow big right here in Vancouver.
Jesse’s answer is “build a better community”, phrased as weaving the threads we have together very tightly. Allen Pike’s response focusing on homes for startups goes one step further and suggests shared spaces as the tactic to get us there.
I think the answer is simpler, and more like web traffic or a funnel as Greg and Danny wrote about: build more startups. Will a tighter community help us get there? I’m sure that is part of the puzzle.
Problem #2 is “How do we get them to stay?”. Jesse’s answers here are really three problem areas with suggestions on how to work on them. Academic-industry ties, #WeAreYVR community pride, and Hack Hut (a new coworking space).
I’m not convinced on school / industry issues, other than promoting startups as a place to work for new grads. As far as I am aware, new grads are not the main creator of new startups. As a counter-example, instead of accepting offers with Google / MSFT / Facebook etc. Cristian & Mircea turned down offers with those companies to do their own thing.
However, A Thinking Ape took those offers after graduating in Canada, moved away, then did their own thing, and then ended up in Vancouver. Time will tell if they stay.
I left after graduation in 1999 because the local opportunities that I could find in Vancouver were small and sleepy. I came back in 2004 because it was my home, and it just so happened that things were looking up.
Do we need to raise the profile of startups as a career option to keep some of this great talent in the local pool? You bet!
WeAreYVR. This seems to have the same goals as #MadeInVan. As I said in my blog post in response to that effort - great idea, how about we not re-invent the wheel - AGAIN.
This has been done badly again and again and again. A non profit entity like Vancouver Is Awesome could be the long running entity that might make a good home for this effort. But focus on the brand, on telling the story of local companies, not on the directory-done-badly.
On Hack Hut. Allen’s comments on this are excellent. Allen mentions The Hive. They look like an interesting organization, and I think working with them might accelerate this initiative. Also as Allen said, WorkSpace was the first hub, and it worked. I wish it was still here. Let’s vote with our dollars and support the spaces we already HAVE before deciding we need to create a new one.
Lastly (still on problem #2), I also don’t think “getting them to stay” is an issue. We need them to COME BACK. Stewart Butterfield and Avi Bryant are coming back. A Thinking Ape came back. We need experiences (and money and connections) from elsewhere to come back. So we can close the loop and do it all over again.
OK, now that I’ve made lots of commentary on Jesse’s post, let me say … I agree with him!
I think working together to raise awareness of the community and having shared spaces are the two strongest areas where the community itself can make an impact.
Other than that, the only thing I can suggest is to build more startups in Vancouver.
1 It looks like the original Greg Aasen & Danny Robinson blog post has been truncated / removed / edited. I am going to try and find the original, since it clearly spelled out the stages and support systems of the BC tech ecosystem.
2 I had a brief chat with someone from a large VC fund the other day. Accelerators and the collection of angels and super-angels around them are often focused on acquisition as an outcome: turning a couple of hundred thousand dollars into a couple of million dollars is a big win. For large VC funds, they NEED companies that want to go it alone, so they can put in millions that turn into 10s or 100s of millions.
I give larger VC funds a bad rap most of the time, but in this case the goals are aligned: they want companies to go big.
May 4, 2013: This was first posted in February of 2012. In the meantime, Hack Hut is now Launch Academy, which is over a year old. It is a non-profit, and so a great home for all sorts of initiatives. My Reinventing the Wheel One Directory at a Time post has also been updated and has more details.
Allen Pike posts about how important homes for startups are and what his experience has been like here in Vancouver. Here’s the closing sentence:
Bringing startups close to one another is, dollar for dollar, more helpful to the Vancouver ecosystem than tax breaks ever could be.
Once again, I realize that my gut agrees with this 1000%, and it has for years.
Now, I definitely think we can do more to celebrate being based here in Vancouver, as we digital creatives go out to sell to the entire world, but I hate seeing us once again starting yet another directory from scratch!
What other directories could we re-use the data from?
How about Crunchbase (143 companies listed)?
Or Angel List (172 startups listed in just Vancouver)?
Or the StartupNorth Index?
Now, of the four, I think only CrunchBase has a Creative Commons license that easily encourages re-use of the data. (And yes, I’m still waiting for StartupIndex.ca to publish what their license is, and I’ve bitched … err, “suggested” … to Techvibes that they should have an open license, too).
But it means that companies have an incentive to fill out and keep the information up to date. Both StartupIndex and CrunchBase are wiki-style, meaning anyone can help keep the information up to date.
So, let’s re-think creating directories from scratch. Talk to some of these existing sites, and by all means make http://www.vanmade.ca an interesting hub to tell the stories of these companies.
But more stale directories is not what we need.
(ironically, this might have been just a brief comment on the GrowLab site, but comments are turned off)
May 4, 2013: I originally posted this in February 2012, so the listings of startups in those other directories has only gone up.
StartupNorth did the right thing and now have a CC-By Attribution NC License on their index (still need to have that listed somewhere other than a comment, and non-commercial is less free than just going ahead and making it by attribution).
We want to enable local startup communities to collect, curate and display their city’s data anyway they want.
I’m working on a couple of things with Vancouver startup open data and Startup Genome, and had a super encouraging meeting with the Vancouver Economic Commission. Stay tuned!