“Creativity takes courage.” Learning from Matisse

Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, Tom Nora, venture

“Creativity takes courage.” –Henri Matisse

This is one of my favorite quotes about innovation, by an innovator who is still revered 100 years later; it’s the first thing you’ll see if you go to my personal website http://tomnora.com/ . Matisse was an amazing innovator, and his innovation and originality

Innovation, Originality, Creativity – why are these things so important in the tech startup world? And what do they have to do with art or painting?

I have the opportunity to visit many secondary and tertiary startup markets in my travels, meaning not Silicon Valley or New York, and one of the things that always strikes me is the lack of originality in almost every company pitch I see or hear.

I can see that the entrepreneurs I meet are sincere, have usually put a ton of work and pride ion their invention or product. Often they have put a fair amount of personal or family capital into the venture (these days that’s usually their parents money).

The major flaws in their planning process are denial and ego fortification – they don’t do enough homework to see how many are already doing something similar because they don’t really want to know; and they highly overrate themselves as amazing entrepreneurs.  This is a bad combination for success, but I see it daily.

I get it; I know it’s more difficult than ever to build a real career and easier than ever to start a company. But the very core of creating an interesting and new business should be the concept of originality. Some originality, enough to be different, unique, without being too weird.

Real originality comes from within, because it is inspired, comes from adrenaline and emotion, not from a spreadsheet or desire to merely make money. Finding the mid point between originality and capitalism is what I define as business innovation.

There’s nothing new under the sun, so you must critically modify, hack, or turn sideways existing systems with a truly new vision. Instead of just copying or slightly modifying something you see, try to take it a few steps further.

One of the quite innovative methods Matisse and his peers used was finding inspiration from other skills they already knew, leveraging their expertise as craftsmen. Matisse was a draftsman, a printmaker and a sculptor, and you can see these influences in his paintings.

Part of the magic of great business innovations is knowing which rules to break. Matisse broke some of the rules, but kept many intact. The rules about the way business processes flow are too often just accepted, but if you can analyze them, find an achilles heel, then innovate a better answer. Get rid of the obsolete rules without breaking the good ones, and great things will happen. It’s about where to hack and where not to.

I went to a pitch fest in one of those secondary markets the other day. Most of the presentations were weak delivery, boring, been done before and uninspiring. But there was one that was pretty amazing, by an 18 year old who had become deaf at 12. He has developed an exercise system for handicapped people; you tell by his excitement and thought process that he was inspired, and created true innovation. He wasn’t polluted by how corporations work or the rules of business – he was still in high school.

Another Matisse quote is There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” Look carefully, take the extra time and find the uniqueness in any idea you want to realize – it’s there.  Find me on twitter at @tomnora

 

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What is Drupal? or, My retraining in Software Development

Angel Investor, Business Development, Hiring, Jobs, PHP, SaaS, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

Confessions of a Drupalvangelist

Anyone who’s been around me for the past 6-12 months has been inundated with my evangelism of eCommerce in general and Drupal + PHP. This is actually a bit strange for me, as a 20+ year software industry professional, I’ve spent most of my time in the world of extremely sophisticated software tools and languages – several of the startups I’ve worked at and/or launched were based on software tools to build software, so I’ve been in the middle earth of software for awhile.

The So Cal engineering gap?  I’ve been able to study the Southern Cal software dev scene as an insider for over 2 years now. As a native LA person, I’m gratified to see so much code and code talk flying around my town. But, there is a serious gap in the discipline, number of developers and community around real software development here.  Also lot’s of fake, wanna be CTOs here. (So L.A.) This imbalance keeps L.A. from catching up with Silicon Valley and New York as a stronger startup region. In my career I’ve seen many times the positive effect of a rich software development discipline, full life cycle, QE vs. QA, test driven development, all the “other” parts of SW dev.

The strongest impact on improving this situation is Silicon Valley and Seattle companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and others are making enormous investments in building So Cal as a software town. They bring with them confidence, tools, brilliant people and believe it or not, Drupal and PHP.

Drupal has a worldwide engine of real software discipline. The So Cal Drupal scene is highly regarded and has several free meetings every week to teach advanced software life cycle issues. The Getty, USC, The Grammys, MTV, and many more giant websites built in L.A. are built on Drupal.

What is Drupal?  Drupal works at all levels of software development. Drupal and PHP were tools I’ve acknowledged for a decade but never studied much. Then last year I decided to re-educate myself in software development, but this time as a regular ol’ coder. Although I have an EE and CS education, my best contribution to technology businesses has been in strategy/sales/marketing/leadership. I’ve had 7 jobs in Silicon Valley in software development companies, but 6 of the 7 were in business development.

When I dove into development with a focus on the future and e-commerce I quickly saw that Drupal and thereby PHP are taking over the scene. Sure you have Ruby, Python, many others, but PHP is winning because it’s so accessible to newbies, and it manipulates the server side continuously, allowing e-commerce, social, geolocation and other apps. Big boy applications.

The world has changed – software development, app dev, and software engineering are taking over the center of the conversation, and Drupal/PHP is taking over the lead. You can actually have a successful startup now with just developers, with just one (although I don’t recommend this), if they’re savvy and humble enough.

What is Drupal?  Drupal is prevalent in the Silicon Valley ecosystem? In the birthplace of Java, BSD, SQL and many other critical software technologies, Drupal and PHP are spreading like a California wildfire. Drupal has recently permeated places like Stanford; there are over 1,000 sites on campus now. Ther are 20+ major Drupal dev shops up there, they have BAD Camp every year, one of the top Drupal camps in the world.

What is Drupal?  Drupal can make a non-developer earn $60-100,000 per year within a year of study. A Drupal or PHP developer here can make from $50 to $200 per hour; I see it all the time. The problem in So Cal is that the discipline part is weak; we’re just not steeped in the cmplete range of what full cycle development, test, etc. are as a region. PHP and Drupal are partly at fault for this – people who never attended Engineering school can learn these tools in less than year without learning formal computer sciense discipline.

What is Drupal?  Drupal is an overly friendly community of helpful people and ample free training and coaching.  Drupal is also free open source software with functionality for every possible web application. When I moved back to L.A. in 2010, I gradually saw that among our weaknesses we were very strong in E-Commerce, Fashion Commerce, Mobile Commerce, Content Communities, dynamic sexy websites and it was all based on varieties of PHP/LAMP. Drupal’s weaknesses as a software language tool (push button programming, configuring, too easy, more IT than software dev) are actually its strengths. Even the best software hackers should hack less and use that time to build more functionality and usability.

What next?

1. Go to drupal.org, join up for free, find me there I’m tomn  

And contact me if you want my help on anything Drupal or PHP…

How SaaS + Mobile has changed our world.

Angel Investor, early stage, founder, Hawaii, SaaS, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora

In 2008 I was working on a post-merger integration project for a small company being acquired by a Fortune 100 behemoth. We looked at several SaaS based systems for accounting, sales automation, calendaring, product management, scheduling our company airplane, travel, etc. At the time SaaS just wasn’t mature enough and people at the company weren’t comfortable enough to make the change; too many old habits of installing software.

Because of this reluctance, almost every business process we depended on required the manual intervention of humans. The difference in efficiency between then and now is pretty amazing.

Today, only 5 years later, almost every task we performed then is gone, a complete turn over of an industry. These are now done either transparently in the background, in the cloud, or done using minimally invasive mobile apps. Spell-guesser, auto-fill, travel, accounting, calculating company valuations, facebook, pinterest, dropbox, codecademy, me writing this blog are all managed by a SaaS platform.

PaaS, IaaS and other derivatives of SaaS are proliferating but are just that, derivatives. Today SaaS is pretty much the norm; many, many human processes have been displaced more rapidly than ever in our history. We wouldn’t be able to imagine our lives without it, auto-save, no software loads, freemuim, mobile, access anywhere. I can even build server based websites with Drupal and MySQL now on an iPad in a coffee shop.

But more importantly, the labor of moving software around by humans and physical media and even the Internet has been taken down to almost zero. The software just doesn’t leave it’s cloud hosts anymore. This saves energy, mistakes, cost, time, client computer memory and bandwidth. It vastly reduces computer waste.

ewaste2

SaaS is the culmination of over 20 years of changes from ASPs, client-server, the web, higher speeds, always on, mobile 2.0, cloud computing, laptops HTML5 and many more innovations to finally reach the moment we’re in now. This speed of innovation has never been seen in history – not in automobiles, education or any industry.

The way we do things today is very different because of SaaS and the Internet. 80 year olds can build a Facebook page of their family’s photos or create a new business using a cellphone because of SaaS, without ever knowing anything about the guts underneath. I wonder where it will go next, what the next big change will be to make todays capabilities obsolete. You know it will happen.

> Connect with me here and on twitter @tomnora

Recent Interview for Workbridge

Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Launch, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

After a recent speech I gave for startups, I was interviewed by Jennifer DesRosiers (love that name!) about tech startups. Here are my answers…

When did you first discover your love of technology?

>> When I was a 11 my brother built a homemade crystal radio. It was fascinating to see him assemble these inert parts and then hear sound come out. From then on I was hooked on technology and electronics.

What is your favorite part of your job?

>> The unknown factor, the challenge to create the future and make something grow from nothing.

What sparked the idea for NeoRay?

>> The original idea for me came from seeing people use their cellphones to buy from vending machines in Japan. Simultaneously Alessio watched his father create a PayPal competitor and he wanted to make something more futuristic for mobile payments; he then saw a WIRED article “Kill The Password!”. We compared notes and decided the timing was right for mobile payments without passwords leveraging advances in biometrics..

What in your opinion is the next big thing in technology?

>> The 15 Minute Website and Personal Website “Portfolios” – soon anyone will be able to build multiple personal sites with full e-commerce, payment systems, community, social networking, SEO, and big data analytics with no coding and very easy manipulation. Currently there is a barrier to this – you must know some coding to optimize this and it’s difficult to manage multiple sites. People and companies will have a portfolio of websites and not even think about it.. Most of the tools already exist but need a lot of refinement; it will take another 2-5 years.

What excites/interests you most about tech startups and what makes them successful?

>> The Scalability challenge. Much of my career has been dedicated to trying to create the alchemy of continuously growing a company. The progress of E-Commerce, HTML5, CSS3, PHP and Javascript have made it so any startup idea, tech or non-tech, can become reality with very little money or work. The difficult step has shifted from launch to revenues, scalability, growth.
This is exciting because it allows so many people to give it a try which equals more great ideas coming to light, but still requires a great idea and great execution to have larger success and growth. Pretty soon the most important people at startups will shift back from developers to those that can create and sustain growth.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself (If You’re Trying to Convince The World That You Have a Hot Startup)

Angel Investor, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Launch, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, Uncategorized

1. What are people doing now because your product doesn’t exist, what is the pain you will solve?

2. What is it that you know about your specific niche that other companies do not?

3. How and when does this make revenue and profits? What is the growth graph?

@tomnora

What does it feel like to be the CEO of a start-up? 3 FULL TIME JOBS.

Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Launch, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

Being the CEO of a startup is crazy, fun, very hard work, inclusive, humbling and of course can be quite rewarding. Weekends are meaningless. There is a continuous decision stream where each decision informs the next. Your mind is thinking 24 hours a day, even when you sleep.

When you’re the CEO of a startup, a real startup with product and some cash in the bank and/or revenue, there are 3 FULL TIME JOBS.

1. Raising Money – you are constantly doing this, preparing for this and thinking about this, whether it’s pre-seed, seed funding, debt, revenue, partnerships, IPO or other.

2. Managing and Properly Growing The Business – this includes several things, depending on the size of the enterprise: managing employees, administration, hiring, firing, leases, expenses, unhappy employees, fixing other problems, etc.

This piece is what often kills an otherwise great business, which justifys the case for less is more when it comes to employees and infrastructure.

3. Selling – The CEO of a startup must ABS, always be selling. You start every day working this, just like #1 above, they’re closely related. Using the CEO to close sales no matter what size the business is, is vital to success.

This piece emphasizes the importance of having an awesome, mature VP of Sales, if you can afford it; it takes a lot of pressure off and frees up the time of the CEO.

Overall, it can be the most exhilarating experience you’ve ever had, especially when things work. And it’s more accessible to most people than ever before. But it’s not for everyone – you must decide what your #1 goal is. If it’s to create a successful long term business, being the CEO should be something you’re willing to give up if it threatens goal #1. If your #1 goal is to try it out to see how it feels, then by all means do it, get professional help, and make the most of it. Contact me if you’re dead serious and I can help you. The Startup CEO by Tom Nora

A Million Failures

Angel Investor, audio, Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, Hawaii, Launch, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora

About a year ago, during a speech I was giving for a Hacker News group, someone in the audience brought up the notion that “Failure Is Good”, i.e. Fail Fast, Fail Often. This is a major change in thinking from the past, due to many factors, and it makes a lot of sense. Rapid prototyping of web apps and mobile apps now means rapid prototyping of startups.

Since everything in life is becoming an app and MVP is good enough to actually attract revenue and/or funding, you can actually try something and throw it away within a few weeks. The cost for this is from $0 to $5,ooo.

The problem is when someone tries this over and over with the same result – junking it. I see a lot of this in my circles There is a price for doing this; you wer yourself out, lose credibility, waste peoples money and time, lose friends, etc.

A better option is to vastly improve your odds each time by getting smarter, refining, capitalizing on mistakes, getting help in the areas where you’re weak, have less ego and more focus on not accepting failure.

If you add up all the attempts to launch startups over the past 2-3 years by all participants, there are probably at least a million failures. Many of these were stepping stones to better things and/or a quite valuable learning process, maturity, personal growth. But over half were probably unnecessary ego bursts and fleeting ideas where deep down inside the founder knows it ain’t gonna happen but keeps going for many reasons.

Most people are very good at one thing at a time, not five so pick ONE and try that role and let as many others as possible help prevent failure number one million and one. @tomnora

Southern California #Angels and Their Investments

Angel Investor, early stage, founder, Launch, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

Southern California Angels on Twitter and Facebook

Are you a southern California angel (or do you know one) who’d like to be on our list?

Click here to add an angel.

 

Jason Calacanis (Los Angeles)
http://www.twitter.com/jason
http://www.facebook.com/jcalacanis

Sample Investments:
http://www.twitter.com/backupify

http://www.twitter.com/gdgt

http://www.twitter.com/blippy

http://www.twitter.com/rapportive

http://www.twitter.com/gowalla
http://www.twitter.com/challengepost
http://www.twitter.com/chartbeat

Matt Coffin (Los Angeles)
http://www.twitter.com/mattcoffin

Sample Investments:
http://www.twitter.com/answers
http://www.twitter.com/demandmedia

http://www.twitter.com/rubiconproject
http://www.twitter.com/docstoc
http://www.twitter.com/ebureau
http://www.twitter.com/cyberrain
http://www.twitter.com/inadco
http://www.twitter.com/unsubscribeme
http://www.twitter.com/adlyads
http://www.twitter.com/hautelook

Paige Craig (Los Angeles)
http://twitter.com/paigecraig
http://www.facebook.com/paigecraig

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/betterworks
http://twitter.com/dealquad
http://twitter.com/backtype
http://twitter.com/kiip
http://twitter.com/mobileroadie
http://twitter.com/contextlogic
http://twitter.com/styleseat
http://twitter.com/plancast
http://twitter.com/klout
http://twitter.com/postling
http://twitter.com/takelessons
http://twitter.com/metricly
http://twitter.com/livematrix
http://twitter.com/ecomom
http://twitter.com/indinero
http://twitter.com/socialrewards

John Greathouse (Santa Barbara)
http://twitter.com/johngreathouse

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/rightscale
http://twitter.com/appfolio
http://twitter.com/frontiertech

Sean Jacobsohn (Santa Monica)
http://twitter.com/sjacobsohn

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/linkedin
http://twitter.com/offermatic
http://twitter.com/strongtech

Paul Kedrosky (La Jolla)
http://twitter.com/pkedrosky

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/mozes
http://twitter.com/firstrain
http://twitter.com/xpenser
http://twitter.com/stocktwits
http://twitter.com/weathertrends

Clark Landry (Los Angeles)
http://twitter.com/clandry
http://www.facebook.com/clarkwlandry

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/edgecast_cdn
http://twitter.com/burstly
http://twitter.com/ecomom
http://twitter.com/citymommy
http://twitter.com/310labs

Beau Laskey (Los Angeles)
http://twitter.com/beaulaskey
http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1039099299

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/playdom
http://twitter.com/photobucket

Peter Lee (Los Angeles)
(Baroda Ventures)
http://twitter.com/ptlee
http://www.facebook.com/ptlee

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/steelhousemedia
http://twitter.com/gamecrush

Howard Lindzon (Coronado)
http://twitter.com/howardlindzon
http://www.facebook.com/howardlindzon

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/tweetdeck

http://twitter.com/blogtalkradio
http://twitter.com/betaworks
http://twitter.com/bitly

http://twitter.com/foodzie
http://twitter.com/stocktwits

http://twitter.com/zentact

http://twitter.com/mytrade

http://twitter.com/limosdotcom

http://twitter.com/buddymedia

Thomas McInerney (Los Angeles & San Francisco)
http://twitter.com/tgmtgm
http://www.facebook.com/tgmtgm

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/klout
http://twitter.com/mochimedia

http://twitter.com/blockchalk

http://twitter.com/gamesalad

http://twitter.com/cyberrain

http://twitter.com/shopflick

http://twitter.com/socialpicks

http://twitter.com/postling

http://twitter.com/burstly

http://twitter.com/mogotix

http://twitter.com/flingotv

Farhad Mohit (Los Angeles)
http://twitter.com/farhad667
http://www.facebook.com/farhad667

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/bizrate
http://twitter.com/shopzilla

Brian Norgard (Los Angeles)
http://twitter.com/briannorgard

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/adlyads
http://twitter.com/q_angellist
http://twitter.com/flowtown
http://twitter.com/grockit

Talmadge O’Neill (Prague & Los Angeles)
http://twitter.com/talmadgeorion
http://www.facebook.com/talmadge.oneill

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/pollenware
http://twitter.com/bluebeam
http://twitter.com/kijubi
http://twitter.com/linkedin
http://twitter.com/chegg
http://twitter.com/eharmony
http://twitter.com/teslamotors

Michael Parekh (NYC & Los Angeles)
http://twitter.com/mparekh
http://www.facebook.com/mparekh

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/stocktwits
http://twitter.com/eqal
http://twitter.com/seesmic
http://twitter.com/scanscout
http://twitter.com/dogster
http://twitter.com/loomia

Mark Suster (Los Angeles)
http://twitter.com/msuster
http://www.facebook.com/msuster

Sample Investments:
http://twitter.com/ecomom
http://twitter.com/gendaigame
http://twitter.com/laughstub

It’s The Profit and Growth, Stupid.

Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

I’m paraphrasing a Clinton/Carville line “It’s The Economy, Stupid” in the title above. They used this to win the 1996 election by rallying people who were tired of such a weak, debt ridden economy. Sound familiar?

The Bubble Begins To Pop

Today it was announced that Betterworks is shutting down after $10.5 million in investment and 18 months of operation. Incredible but not. Around town people have been saying that BetterWorks is one of the strongest startups in L.A. They actually threw a party a month ago “The Silicon Beach 500”, celebrating the amazing growth of local startups.

Betterworks is one of many companies these days that aren’t really companies, they’re an idea, good hype, the ability to trick the public while they’re trying to work it out (We’re doing Great, We’re killing it. We’re hiring.) and the arrogance to say we don’t need any help. I could name another 20 startup in L.A. alone that are in the same boat – they are failing and will shut down eventually, but right now are promoting the facade of success and growth when they’re not either. I won’t names names, but I see their ads on the web. “we’re growing”, “dog friendly workplace”” We Love Startups!”. What about REVENUE and GROWTH and PROFIT and PREDICTABILITY? These are the definitions of Scalability.

Currently early stage startups all want the Facebook model – L U C K. Mark Zuckerberg invented something by accident that grew so far beyond his wildest dreams that it could cover a thousand mistakes. He got funded while wearing jeans and a hoodie. But eventually Facebook had to make Revenue and Profit. Be Scalable.

Most companies aren’t like that. They require good decisions and actions DAILY for YEARS.

Betterworks actually has/had a great idea, they just didn’t quite know how to properly build a business for the long term, and refused to listen to advice. I know that’s harsh, but another few hundred companies are doing the same right now. These companies stifle innovation, not promote it and teach the wrong skils – they need to be called out.

The result will be thousands of pissed off, unemployed people sitting on the beach in Santa Monica wondering what the hell happened. After the 2000 crash Profit and Revenue came back into style, spawning and reinforcing real companies like Google and Salesforce.com which are Profitable and Grow. 2013 will repeat the cycle, so let’s all change our thinking, get back to basics, put the egos aside and respect the expertise available to us.  Contact me if you’re in this camp. @tomnora

Updates on Startup Workshops and the Startup we’re launching

Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Launch, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

I started a new group 2 months ago in Los Angeles – Startup Workshops – #SUWSLA to teach startup success concepts and try to launch new startups.We have over 100 members now, have had a few meetings and are in the process of launching a new startup with some of the members. Below is my update to the group today. Please feel free to join (it’s free to join) even if you’re not in LA, you can get involved in the discussion and we travel to many other places. And if you are in So Cal, please join us for one of these events. The next one is a Happy Hour Thursday night in West Hollywood.

Message to group 5/14/2012:

This group now has over 100 members, with minimal exposure – pretty cool.

I never had a goal of maximizing overall # of members, just to provide tools that can be used immediately as well as a network where members actually help each other to start and grow startups. So far, so good – we have some pretty amazing people in the group and we’ve (almost) started a startup.

HAPPY HOUR – looking forward to this, 16 rsvps so far plus a few more I know of. The goal of this is to make connections and hear about the startup we launched together in April. There’s a lot of frustration in trying to get a business going, especially when it relies on technology to succeed, so please come if you can and bring a friend who is interested in the startup thing.

STARTUP #1 “LAUNCHED” – WE’RE STILL EARLY EARLY STAGE – Last week we had our second meeting, this week we’ll have our third, with home work assignments, so it looks we may be actually doing something here. It’s an experiment so stay tuned. We have a strong team, but we’re still looking for more development skills.

NEXT GENERAL MEETINGS – I’m getting ready to announce this, leaning toward Funding The Startup as a topic. I’m trying to finalize sponsors and the venue. Not sure if we should try to launch another startup after this one, what does everybody think? Starting to look like an incubator here. Also working on an Orange County meeting for late June, details coming. Also looking at Palo Alto, Scottsdale, Boulder, Austin from inquiries there.

Hopefully I’ll see/meet you Thursday night or soon after.    @tomnora