Code.Coffee.Cows

Code.Coffee.Cows: Prototype Mindset

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It’s Tuesday, which means another installment of my Code.Coffee.Cows column. And the first one of the new year to boot! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s holiday. Holidays and entrepreneurship don’t mix very well, as I’ve discovered. Somehow it’s harder to enjoy vacation when you know it’s simply sucking money out of your (perhaps meager) bank account. But it’s important to get away, to spend time with family and friends. Get a new perspective on things.

Today I’m going to talk about getting into the prototype mindset. I have been building a Minimum Viable Product for a new venture over the past couple of months, and I have learned to think very differently than I have in the past when working on product development. Reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (see our review on NBS here) has been very helpful in maintaining that specific focus.

Here are three takeaways I’ve learned as I’ve embarked on this venture.

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Code.Coffee.Cows: Never Talk About Faith and…Startups?

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These are some of my personal thoughts about being a person of faith and hustling in the world of biz/tech.

At the risk of sounding like a postmodern cop-out, I don’t consider myself to be a religious person, yet I am keenly spiritual and take my faith seriously. I was raised Christian and, while I never outright rejected the faith and would be happy to admit to anyone who asked that I was a follower of Jesus, most of my teens and early 20′s I lived as a hypocrite. On the outside, sure, I seemed like I had it all together, but on the inside I was a hollow, prideful soul capitulating to my inner demons.

Various life events, some tragic, led to me go though a time of epiphany and I ended up rededicating my life to Christ. Since then, I have been more conscious of living out my life during the “daily grind” in a way that honors God and is sincere and worthwhile.
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Code.Coffee.Cows: Growing Up in the Field

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I’m a native. Yes, I was born and raised in the North Bay, first living in Marin County (San Anselmo and Novato) and then when I was around the age of seven my family moved up to Cotati. I’ve been in Santa Rosa though for all of my adult life.

I wasn’t raised in a startup culture, per se. I didn’t know any entrepreneurs, any business moguls. My dad was a computer programmer (like father, like son!), but he bought into the job security idea of working many years at one job and then retiring. To his credit, he did join a startup at one point (I must have been around 10 at the time) that was going to introduce handheld electronic devices and networks to the restaurant industry. Cool idea, unstable founders (not my dad, the other guys), and the thing never went anywhere. It’s too bad, really.

My mom on the other hand was an Artist with a capital A. She was an innovative, demanding, perfectionist who could never hold down a regular job because, frankly, learning a new langugage or studying 13-th century Scottish poetry was far more engaging. I’m not the scholar she was, but I attribute much of my creative drive to her. She passed away several years ago, died of cancer. (Aside: the recent loss of Steve Jobs, also due to cancer, hit me rather hard. The similarities in personality are rather striking.)

So I was raised in a creative culture, yes. But it wasn’t like being in the Valley, or Harvard, or even New York. I knew nothing about how to structure a business. I didn’t even know what venture capital WAS until a few years ago. Still learning how it works (from the outside — I’m still bootstrapping).

I’ve become a voratious reader of tech startup news. If I don’t get my TechCrunch fix, I’m a wreck. But it’s frustrating too — like I said in my last column, I don’t want to move to Silicon Valley, or Boston. I worked in San Francisco for two years and enjoyed my big city experience, but it’s just too noisy and crowded and expensive. And the valley, while less crowded in an urban sense, nevertheless is just way too much civilization in one spot for me. I love driving from Santa Rosa to my office in Sebastopol and seeing the grassy fields, the oak trees, the wildflowers, and — of course — the cows. I love the grape vines and the quaint little villages. I’m a native North Bay-er and have no wish to change course.

The frustration is the ways we are behind the curve in this area when it comes to startup infrastructure. There’s probably a bit more going on in Marin County than up here in Sonoma County, but otherwise I can tell you in one word what is the dominant business paradigm up here: wine. Yes, if you are into the wine industry, this is the Epicenter. Ground zero. This is Wine Country. Sonoma and Napa are to wine and gourmet food what Silicon Valley is to tech. So if wine is your thing, here is where you need to be.

But walk away from wine, and it’s slim pickings. And that’s a shame. You see, I happen to be a huge believer in the tech industry being an agent of change in so many other industries. In other words, you can build a business on top of a tech core that solves problems that are totally unrelated to technology per se. Do you have a passion for Fair Trade goods? You can use tech to build a business around that desire to lift the third world out of poverty. Do you have a passion for wildcrafting, using herbs to promote greater health? You can use tech to build a business around that need for more education and support of natural medicines.

In short, we need more startups to innovate, disrupt, and grow the new economy, and tech is invariably a huge aspect of that. And that’s why we in the North Bay must continue to trumpet this reality and do whatever we can to support the entpreneaurs in our midst.

And if you disagree with me, I will have a cow. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

Code.Coffee.Cows: Out of the Office and Into the Pasture

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This is the first post in my new weekly column for North Bay Startup. So why the name: Code.Coffee.Cows? Everyone has been asking me that question, and the answer is simple.

I was trying to think of the best way to describe what it feels like to be working as an entrepreneur in the online technology sector here in Sonoma County. The first idea that came to mind was wine — after all, this is the “Wine Country” now famous the world over. But honestly, I don’t drink wine often and if I do, it’s off-hours. The next idea that came to mind was coffee. I work at coffeehouses and drink lattes all the time. Then I thought, OK, what am I surrounded by in this area if not grape vines (which certainly are everywhere)?

Suddenly it hit me: cows! Yes, we have a lot of cows in Sonoma County. And everyone in this area is familiar with the laugh-out-loud ad billboards by Clover dairy farms. If you’re lucky, you can even smell the manure out in the fields.
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