“It seems to me that you have a huge opportunity to “do it right” in the eyes of professionals and move quicker than Ancestry.”—A well-respected genealogy blogger in a Twitter direct message to me today. He was commenting on the APG message board discussion of Ancestry’s new “Expert Connect” service, a direct competitor to Genlighten.
“I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down”—Nehemiah 6:3, as quoted by Elder Dieter Uchtdorf at the Priesthood session of General Conference tonight. Am I doing a great work? Or is what I’m doing a sign that I’ve been “distracted” from the great work I *should* be pursuing?
Working hard to whittle down the list of To-Do tasks to get ready to pull back the curtain a little on the Genlighten Rails Alpha. Definitely feeling the pressure to get it out there, combined with the realization that the many “little” remaining items represent a large amount of effort that will probably drag on much longer than I’d like.
“What can you possibly do to be productive as a family history researcher in 20 minutes per week? Our studies suggest that currently the answer is, “Nothing.” In 20 minutes a would-be researcher can’t even remember what happened last week, let alone what they were planning to do next.”—Knutson, C.D. and Krein, J. “The 20-Minute Genealogist: A Context-Preservation Metaphor for Assisted Family History Research”, in the proceedings of the BYU Family History Workshop, March 12th, 2009.
The Three Words that Every New Bride Wants to Hear
A sister in the Val Verda somethingth Ward sacrament meeting I attended yesterday told a funny story. She and her husband had been married less than a week. The bishop of their new ward in Arizona asked him if he and his wife would speak in sacrament meeting. Husband said yes. Wife hates to give talks. Was mortally ill at the thought… dreaded it every moment. Sunday morning, she just can’t overcome her fear and tells her husband she’s not going.
"And then he said the three words that every new bride wants to hear."
[So I, for one, am thinking “Aaahhhh… he tells her he loves her, how sweet.” But noooo!]
"Tough it out."
In Made to Stick, the authors explain the power of the unexpected element in a story. If you know that your audience has a “defective schema”, and you know how it’s defective, you can “pull the rug out from under them with a well-structured surprise” and your message is likely to stick with them.
That’s what this sister did for us. She then went on to explain how “Tough it out” had become a theme in their family and had helped them deal with many forms of adversity over the years.
Determined lady who had to have her drawing entry stamped right this second and couldn’t wait until I had my Genlighten sign duct-taped up. She eventually came back while I was talking to someone and snuck around behind me to get to the stamp. Forgive me, but I sure hope she didn’t win anything.
Strong attendance in each of the three talks (especially the Geni/Ancestry Family Tree one)
Energy level in the first two (Geni/AFT and Twitter)
Surprisingly high interest in Twitter for Genealogists
Several strong afternoon booth discussions with people who *get* Genlighten
A nice steak/shrimp dinner at Sizzler brought the day to a nice close.
Caught the redeye back from Las Vegas late last night, slept most of the way. Managed to get the black monitor box home without paying United’s oversize fees or shipping it via FedEx.
Now on to preparing the two new talks for the South Davis Family History Fair next week: one on Twitter and the other on Ancestry Family Tree vs. Geni. I want to make these really enjoyable and worthwhile for the audience — above and beyond what they’re used to experiencing at these conferences.
I feel like, with effort and practice, I should be able to become a sought-after speaker at genealogy conferences, to the point where I no longer need to pay to attend them and can in fact have my travel expenses to them covered. A modest goal, but one which should help us publicize Genlighten more readily.
About 6-8 attended the Genlighten talk. I didn’t sense much response from the audience, but several seemed to get the idea. Unfortunately, the extension video cable I’d bought wasn’t high enough resolution and the screen image was blurred (i.e., double… poor sync of some kind.) The top was cut off the screen as well.
The Footnote talk felt a lot better. For one thing, around 80-100 attended in one of the smaller ballrooms at the Dixie Center. Almost all were FHC Consultants. Essentially none of their patrons used Footnote, based on their hand-raises in response to my question.
There was a fair amount of interaction, and the flow of the talk seemed to go well. I felt like I had good material, and enough of it to feel like I was delivering something substantial.
The director of the Regional St. George FHC asked me for a copy. I’ll have to visit her booth tomorrow to give it to her.
I’ve had some good conversations at the booth as well, though only a few seemed particularly enthused about becoming providers.
I’m off once again to a genealogy conference. This time it’s the St. George Family History Expo. I’ll be staffing the Genlighten booth and giving a talk on “What Family History Consulants Should Know about Footnote.com”. I’ll also give a presentation on Genlighten itself, hopefully to a room full of interested potential providers. The following two weekends I’ll be in Bountiful and Provo, respectively, doing much the same thing at the South Davis Family History Fair and the BYU Computerized Genealogy Conference.
My goal is to recruit additional lookup providers prior to the launch of our private beta sometime in April (assuming all goes well).
By now the routine is pretty familiar to me: print the flyers; pack the monitor, the booth sign and the projector; buy the candy, remember the laptops and all the associated gear. Schlep the black box to United oversize baggage check-in and hope they don’t charge me the oversize fee ($100!).
This time I get the added treat of driving from Las Vegas to St. George through the beautiful topography at the Utah-Arizona-Nevada border.
I’ll arrive back in Chicago Sunday morning after taking the redeye from Las Vegas Saturday night. Ah… the perks of being the founder of a bootstrapped web startup!
Justin’s got PayPal Web Payments Pro integration working on the Genlighten staging site as of today. Still plenty of glitches, but we can now place lookup orders in our cart and checkout using either credit cards or PayPal.
Setting up a test account in the PayPal Developer Sandbox was a bit painful, but once the process was completed I had no problem paying for a lookup with my (test) PayPal account. In fact, it was almost too easy, since the test account had a zero balance.
The credit card side works for ordering, but when the lookup is delivered (and the charge is captured) there’s some sort of authorization problem. Justin’ll get that fixed soon.
I also worked on generating more e-mail notification content, mocked up revisions to the cart page and the thank-you/receipt page, and built a list of new buttons, tabs, etc. that we need to generate.
“Take leave of this doubt, cull,
although the best also decays,
and keep your full belief
in this world despite this world.
Take a look at a woman’s features,
which look at the infant with a smile,
and feel: it is not all lies,
that life brings and sends to us.
And heart, if you will recover completely,
be true yourself, be pure yourself!
That which we read in world and man,
is only our own reflection.”—Theodor Fontane (1819 -1898)
Found in the March 2008 issue of “Der Steckverbinder” [“The Connector”] the internal newsletter of German connector manufacturer ODU, p 24.
For months my status updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and elsewhere have said something like “preparing for my upcoming Footnote talk”. Tonight was my first attempt at giving that talk, albeit to a small and friendly audience at our local Family History Center here in Wilmette. Six FHC patrons attended, along with one of our volunteers. Considering that I was still generating slides up until about an hour before the talk, and that I was still writing narration text this afternoon, I thought it went reasonably well.
Now I have the luxury of refining the draft prior to my more intimidating presentations in St. George Utah and Bountiful, Utah over the course of the next month.
We’ve been planning on using Braintree Financial’s gateway, vault and APIs to power our payment processing routines for Genlighten’s back-end. But they’ve grown selective about working with tiny startups, and merchant banks apparently don’t like to do business with what they call “Third-Party Payment Aggregators” (TPPAs), so Braintree’s CEO strongly suggested we try an alternative approach.
That led to an intense day of studying PayPal’s “Web Payments Pro” offering. It appears to have some real advantages (they don’t mind dealing with small startups) and some significant disadvantages (charges even when clients cancel a lookup, higher fees to transfer money to providers). After reviewing our options, it now looks as if we’ll have to go with PayPal until we generate enough revenue and transaction volume to qualify for a better deal elsewhere.
While it was scary to have to deal with this when Justin had already put in lots of work on the Braintree interface, I felt confident in assessing our options, making a decision, and moving forward. These kinds of tests are what it means to be an entrepreneur — tough, but tremendously rewarding.
Takeaways from Braintree’s lack of interest in us? Momentum’s important!
Momentum is mass * velocity
velocity => get your startup up and running quickly
mass => commit to it full-time
When you’re demonstrating momentum, people take you seriously
We may have to embrace some non-ideal approaches to get things moving
“Noca is building a new online payment system to provide significantly reduced transaction processing rates for online shopping enabling efficient processing of micro-transactions for digital goods. Current payment systems have high fixed as well as variable costs and do not scale for online transactions. Noca’s system offers merchants virtually free transaction processing. For the consumers Noca is building a ‘consumer experience’ and incentivization strategy which will allow consumers unprecedented choice in incentives and provide for a radically improved way to transact online. Identity theft will be a thing of the past.”—A description of the payment-processing startup Noca.com, from www.killerstartups.com.
“"I want to go to Williams College," I continued. "And with all due respect, I think the admissions committee has made a mistake. And I’d like to work with you to correct it. I am formally rejecting your rejection. I’m coming to Williams. Not next year perhaps, but at some point. I’m in no rush. I have all the time in the world, and I plan to send an application in to Williams every year until I’m accepted."
There was another long silence. At this point, I figure Corny is either going to play ball with me or transfer my call to the police. Corny cleared his throat and said, “I appreciate your desire to attend Williams. I’m not sure I’ve ever received a call like this, so let’s see what we can do.” For the next few months, I worked with Corny to build a yearlong program during which I’d remedy several of the deficiencies (read: B’s) he saw in my application. That next year, I re-applied to Williams, and was granted early admission to the class of 1994.”—Bo Peabody, in Lucky or Smart, via Gabor Hits Send.
I had the privilege of meeting Micah Baldwin of Lijit at the Techstars Chicago Meetup last week. He was fun to talk to and offered some good advice about what Techstars would be looking for in a promising startup.
He was nice enough to send a follow-up e-mail today encouraging me to apply. I’d love to, but after thinking about it quite a bit I’ve concluded that we’re not quite ready. Two main reasons. First, our market is small enough (remember the title of this blog!) that I think we need some customer traction before we’ll be taken seriously and have a chance of being accepted. Second, we’re just not financially ready to quit our jobs and live on ramen money for the summer in Boulder.
In another year, we’ll probably either be squeaking by with just enough revenue to stay afloat, or have started to see some real adoption. Either way, Techstars would still be highly relevant to us and we’d be more ready to stand out from other highly-qualified applicants.
Because I’m always adapting, almost unconsciously, to the different grain directions and densities, it’s so easy to forget how easily the blade cut through the wood when it was newly sharpened. I find myself thinking, “it’s still plenty sharp, I’ll go a few more minutes and then hone it.” Always just a few more minutes. One more cut. Just need to finish this one section…
When I finally sit down and run the blade over the strop, it only takes a few passes to hone it. Four or five trips down the leather, maybe about thirty seconds total away from the project. But what an amazing difference it makes. Those four or five runs across the strop are enough to bring the blade back to its original keenness, and it never fails to amaze me how easily the blade cuts through the wood, compared to just before stropping. I thought the blade was plenty sharp before. I had forgotten just how sharp it could be, and what a difference that makes.
”—Jamis Buck on why he left a comfortable job at BYU to work for 37Signals.
Late last year, my family found a line-a-day diary maintained by my great-aunt from 1937 to 1941. She was in her early teens, living on a small farm in rural Illinois with her two brothers, one of which was my grandfather.
It’s a fascinating account of life in a bygone era, a time when my family’s only connections to the world were schoolhouse chatter and a neighbor’s radio.
Looking at the terse journal, my sister quipped, “This is the Twitter of the 1930s.” We glanced at each other and almost immediately began planning the Twitter account that would become Twitter.com/Genny_Spencer.
Spent the afternoon and evening building a few more Genlighten mockups for Justin. Balsamiq continues to be a great tool for laying out UI elements, sizing text blocks, and just visualizing how an entire page can come together. Focused on “Provider Settings” and “Lookup Offering Preview” pages.
I attended an informal Techstars meetup at Threadless in Chicago tonight. Micah Baldwin of Lijit and Chris Wand of Foundry Group were there to give us the scoop on the Techstars program. Harper Reed, CTO of Threadless, was our host.
We first got a quick tour of Threadless’ office/warehouse/game room… including the resident graffitti artist’s half-pipe. Then Chris and Micah answered questions about Boulder, the Techstars experience, and what they’re looking for in a founding team.
I was grateful for the chance to ask Chris lots of questions about Foodzie, a Techstars company from last summer’s program. The word for the night was “artisanal” — of, or about, artisans. I explained that Genlighten was a kind of Foodzie for genealogy research… (a marketplace for artisanal genealogists?). But Chris seemed stuck on viewing us as “Mechanical Turk for Genealogy” instead. Oh well. Need to hone my elevator pitch some more.
Harper seemed a little more positive… he really likes Geni (so do I!) and I got to explain to him how we hoped to let our customers export the documents we helped them find to their family tree on Geni.
As networking events go, this has to have been one of my all-time favorites. No smoky bar with wall-to-wall people, no noisy music that made it impossible to hold a conversation. And easy access to the people you really wanted to meet.
Will we apply to Techstars this year? Probably not. I’d love to live in Boulder for the summer, the mentoring is just what we need, and it’d be cool to have a chance to talk to real angel investors. But I don’t think our team could afford to live in Boulder for the summer on ramen money… at least not given our current financial commitments. Still, it’s definitely something I aspire to. Maybe next year! [No, not the Cubs… Genlighten!]
I’m signed up to give a presentation on lifestreaming web resources at the South Davis Genealogy Fair in March. One of my goals for the presentation is to explore microblogging services like Tumblr and discuss what I learn with my audience. So here I am, trying it out!
So far, the selection of default themes seems appealing enough. I haven’t yet figured out how to easily customize the theme I chose. Hopefully that’ll become more obvious after I create this post.
The big news in our family today was from our son Lowell, who’s serving as a missionary for our Church in Donetsk, Ukraine. We found a picture of him on Picasa posted by another pair of missionaries who are serving there with him. And we heard a letter he had written to his friends in our Church congregation read over the pulpit today by our Bishop. It was gratifying to hear of his excitement and his enthusiasm for the work he’s engaged in. It was also reassuring to sense his unique personality shining through in his words. I’ll try posting the photo of him here in a subsequent post.