"Is that your disapproval face?"
According to Alan, I have taken on too many side projects which do not directly contribute to the growth and success of VIVA. I knew that... but I tell him the side projects are necessary for my mental stability.
As I was saying to Hasmukh from Earth Hour this morning, "Do you read The Oatmeal?"
"Umm... no. What is it?"
"It's a web comic. They are the same people who did the game Exploding Kittens. I read one last week that talks about creativity like it is breathing. When you are creating something, it is exhaling. Once in a while, you have to inhale in order to survive."
Alan is right though - of the seven side projects I am running, only two of them directly contribute to VIVA - the others are taking time away from the most important few months in the life of VIVA so far. And even though the tasks relating to VIVA is becoming highly repetitive, we are getting better and better at doing those things.
It's time to focus.
I forgot to take a photo of this morning's meeting with Syed!
Instead, here is a photo of Joyce and Olly from Friday afternoon - capturing her in the midst of explaining one of her research findings. I cannot remember what it is though.
I don't know why I have been forgetting simple things recently. It isn't due to a sense of being overwhelmed. On the contrary, even though there are many more things to be done, I feel in control of things that needs to be done.
Maybe this is blind optimism.
At the back of my neck is a vague tingling feeling. Maybe I have forgotten to do something important. I haven't updated my whiteboard for a few weeks, and so the dwindling number of outstanding tasks may be giving me a sense of false comfort.
Alan and I have a coffee scheduled for Monday, so I will have to update our Asana project spaces tonight. Perhaps this stocktake will catch the niggling bug... or confirm I have a terrible blind spot.
Olly discovered a bug on the iOS app tonight.
Saturday morning, and here I am back in front of the battle station. I am calling my home office the "battle station" to give it a fantasy ring, in my head. I am still in my Qantas pajamas - the battle uniform - that I got when I used to flying to Mozambique every month. Those were great times. I wish I had saved more of these Qantas pajamas!
"I am going to be at home on Saturday night doing client work," Andrea lamented at the end of our Friday marathon marketing blitz.
I want to create a shared office where only approved people (like Andrea) are allowed to work there, so that everyone can help each other and do amazing things together. I think that idea has already been implemented by the folks at Work Club where Matt and Anthony have their offices.
(Wait a minute. Isn't that a bit elitist?)
Two more of the junior lawyers are leaving the law firm in the next week, and so they organised an informal farewell drinks last night at Uncle Ming's in the city (they have a very cool YouTube video on their site, which I only just discovered - I am now rocking out to the music in my battle uniform - what do you call this genre of music - 70s rock? Country rock?).
I miss those guys a lot. I think the big reason I want to create a Work Club environment is so that we could have a big family of work peeps again.
Ian and I went through the current algorithms we are using in VIVA on Friday morning, and we talked a little about our secret weapon - the algorithms that figure out whether any event is going well or not well in real time. That secret weapon won't be live for a little longer - at least not until we have gathered more data for the predictive model. I had been trying to learn Python in my spare time to prepare for when we have gathered enough data - for those who are not into computing, Python is a coding language. It is not the animal, though I could probably learn parseltongue a little faster than the coding language.
This division of labour makes sense - Syed and Hassan take care of the apps, Ian takes care of the server and web side, and I take care of the machine learning coding.
After nearly two days of being locked indoors working on content and a multitude of other things for VIVA, it was a blessing to leave the house for a few secret hush-hush meetings today (and even though I call them "secret hush-hush projects", about half of them are still directly related to making VIVA better).
Kory from Academy Xi asked how my week was when I saw him this morning.
"Pretty good. Productive. It is funny though, Thursdays and Fridays are usually when I get the best ideas, and by the time I want to implement them, it is the weekend and everyone is taking a break!"
Yikes! It is Thursday afternoon already!!
Rather than writing about my coffee with Ben and Kory, or the other meetings I had today - partly because it is pretty boring to be recounting the proceedings of meetings and partly because so much of those conversations are commercial in confidence, I want to write a little bit about the things we have planned for VIVA over the next few months.
One story at a time though - today's is about the progress on our web management portal.
The web management portal is a vital piece of the VIVA puzzle.
Since our goal is to give people personalised recommendations for events they will love, it is vital we make it easy for event organisers to create and manage events on the VIVA platform.
The history of developing our web management portal is a little crazy. The only reason I am not writing about the full story is because I do not want to besmirch the name of the team involved in that build (they achieve that outcome without my help). Due to their efforts, we had to rebuild our web portal from scratch in July and August this year. The build continues to this day.
When I first told Ian the story in September, his reaction was, "You have had some really bad luck with developers!"
While Ian might be right, I am really glad we have the team that we do today. It almost feels like we had to go through the trials to appreciate the reward; like fighting dragons to appreciate the gold. That is the great news - our tech team is adding new features to our web management portal every week, and at this rate, we should have the first fully functional product in January 2018, just in time for Sydney Festival!
We spoke for another 15 minutes at the entry to World Square after we were kicked out of the cafe. It was already past 5pm, but I could sense that Lee's work day was far from over, and I guessed he sensed the same about mine.
"The end game," I continued, "is to show someone just two or three events when they open VIVA, and for them to react, wow, that is exactly what I wanted!"
Lee is one of the founders of Giggable, and along with Ricky, introduced us to Syed. In that way, Lee and Ricky are the heroes who saved VIVA from a slow and miserable development path.
I met Ricky months ago, but Lee and I had only ever emailed or called. He indirectly introduced us to Ticketek, and I had not thanked him in person until today.
They want to build a platform that turns the traditional technology consultancy model on its head - giving the consultants who do the work the bulk of the financial rewards, rather than giving them a small fraction - so they created Giggable.
Ian and I caught up with Anthony from The Last Pickle on Friday morning for a coffee - shout out to the database geniuses!
VIVA is nowhere near ready for Cassandra yet.
"What's a good transition point?" Ian asked.
"Probably when you are getting into the terabytes. You should start planning when you have 500 gigabytes of data," Anthony replied, without flinching at the size of the databases.
For the layman, myself included, a terabyte of text in a database is about:
I do not know when VIVA will have or need that much data, especially since we designed the whole system to capture the least volume of data for the maximum amount of information. Maybe if you include pictures and videos, then we will hit that threshold a bit faster, but the design of VIVA at the moment is not to store pictures and videos on our own database.
I am sure Ian, Syed and I will have lots of fun designing the next evolution of VIVA's backend.
Joyce and Oliver have been spending every Friday with us at Pyrmont for the last few months. They have been amazing marketing interns!
I realised last week that I have been spoon-feeding them information, rather than getting them to run their own research... and so I have taken them off the task of producing creatives, and set them running on a deep dive task into researching market segments in Sydney.
We only managed to chat for an hour or so between my meetings, and it was then I realised how many of VIVA's algorithms are based on the same principles as those brain teaser questions that management consulting firms ask at interviews, things like, "how many ping pong balls can fit in a 747?" That is a blog post for another time.
Some days feel really fast, and some days feel really slow.
Recently, when my friends ask how it feels to run a startup, I have answered, "We have great days and we have terrible days. On terrible days, I feel like the world is falling apart and I don't know what to do. On great days, I feel like I cannot possibly improve on what is happening and I don't know what to do. Sometimes, we are in the comfortable zone between great and terrible, and so at those times I know what I am doing."
This morning, I had an awesome chat with Gen George, the founder of tamme.io and Skilld. She was such an amazing business person, with such a grand vision for what she is making. As a result, I feel that VIVA is not making enough progress fast enough, and so it is terrible, and I do not know what to do right now.
Nicola and I always meet on Thursday mornings to go through the business development agenda for the next week. Since she works from home to look after her two boys, she can be responsive to clients when I am roaming about Sydney.
Today, I felt the grim sense we are not maximising the value from our time. I think it was because I met Gen.
At times like these, I always return to assess the fundamental building blocks - what we can do to improve each of the three key pillars in our business - product, organisers and consumers.
Today, the most pressing need is to focus on our organisers, to make sure that we are giving the best service possible.
Sometimes, trying to create the perfect user experience feels like a game of spot the statistical correlation - find what most people like most of the time and reduce that down to one design decision. Then, I wonder, is reducing the statistical correlation down to one single decision compromising on the experience of every user?
Is this designed for everybody, and therefore nobody?
The latest user experience question is about the default search range in VIVA - this is currently set to show a personalised list of all events inside a geographic radius of 5km and within a timeframe of one week.
We have had a lot of feedback from different people about VIVA's default search range. Some people say that it is too much, like Dan at Town & Country Bar suggested reducing the distance radius just 2km, and Lurnea suggested reducing the timeframe to just one day. Some people say that it is not enough (though, they are very much in the minority, but if more users had seen version 1.0 of VIVA, I am sure they would tell me that showing just the top 15 ranked events in a search range is not enough).
The app already gives users a way to tailor the search settings inside of the app, but it is one tap away from the home screen, and requires users to make a thoughtful decision... so it is too much effort. The default settings matter.
I don't have an answer yet, and I will probably need to spend the weekend conducting user surveys and sketching Venn diagrams.
"Are you going to put this up and tell people I was rude?"
"Yes. I am going to tell them that wasn't, like, even a work call."
Ricky and I have been friends since law school, though I cannot remember how we became friends. I suspect it was through our mutual friend, Harshan, who is on the other side of the world saving people at the ICC (or something similar).
We shared personal news a bit before we jumped briefly into business - PayPal, Braintree and all that.
PayPal had been ready for VIVA since July... but we are not yet. Our small little team at VIVA is awesome, but it feels like we are always juggling the last thing to land on our desk, rather than prioritising all the things on our desk. So, I am going to have to make sure we pick up our slack ahead of January.
"I like your blog. It has authenticity," Adam said on Friday last week.
We stayed on the phone for a bit longer after Andrea dropped off the call to talk about some of the strategic business stuff beyond the scope of marketing.
Everything in the business has been tracking well. I have been focused on the product and marketing, so sales and business development have slipped a little in the last few weeks. This slowness has weighed down my conscience.
"You will never get anything if you don't ask, Horace," Beau said to me in the cab today. "I'm serious. It doesn't matter how uncomfortable you might feel. This is sales."
"So my natural position, and I am not saying I can't be more assertive, is to drop hints and hope the other side volunteers."
"You have to ask!"
We caught up today about our secret project for 2018. Beau had some great ideas that will mean I must go exploring the back streets of Waterloo and Redfern in the coming weeks.
Sometimes I feel like Beau is the bad cop to my good cop. It isn't so much that I am not forthright, but rather I tend to become overly friendly with people a little too quickly. As a result, I tend to treat every relationship like a friendship - and friends do not take from friends. Friends give, with only the hope and no expectation of reciprocation... and this is not a good thing in business, especially not when we are approaching the stage of VC funding. I keep forgetting that VCs do not see us as coffee buddies (yet). We get one shot with each VC, and we have to make the right impression from the start.
That reminds me. I really must make more time for my friends... that too has slipped a little in the last few months. How bad is it that I am the founder of a social startup and I cannot find time to be social myself?!
After weeks of deliberation and redrafting, we finally sent our first quarterly newsletter to our venues and event organisers this morning!
I spent too much of my childhood immersed in video games, and so it is appropriate for me to declare: