Friday, February 29, 2008

Bill French speaking at EntConnect in four weeks

One of the regular attendees and speakers at the EntConnect Entrepreneurial Connections Conference has been Bill French. Bill was one of the inventors of LapLink (yes, that Laplink!) He also created one of the early GUI WYSIWYG editors for web site creation (QuickSite.) In recent years he was co-inventor of the MyST Technology Partners, Inc. MyST Blogsite blog site management software and service, a high-end (costs more than I earn in a month) product and subscription service that makes it easy for busy businesses to quickly and effectively establish and maintain a high-visibility profile on the Web with minimal effort on their part. Bill has a wealth of knowledge and experience with the Web and technology in general and is always on hand to share it with us at the conference. This year will not be an exception.

I personally got started with blogging after repreatedly listening to Bill patiently explain the value of high-quality content blogging for enhancing findability on the Web and in Web search engines.

Bill is both an entertaining and insightful speaker. One of my favorites: "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon." He is also qlways quite patient with those of us who ask annoying questions because we just don't quite "get it." Ignore what Bill has to say at your own peril.

Listening to Bill speak is well worth the entire price of the conference, and then some. And, becuase of the open and interactive nature of the conference, you get plenty of time to interact with Bill as well as listen to him speak.

The conference runs from Thursday, March 27, 2008 through Sunday, March 30, 2008. Thursday and Friday are reserved for skiing and other group activities. Friday evening is the kick-off dinner. Saturday is the main body of the conference sessions. Additional sessions are held Sudnay morning. A group lunch for the lingering diehards is held early Sunday afternoon. See the official EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections Conference web site.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Former readers of Midnight Engineering magazine to gather in a month

One of the functions of the EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections Conference that is coming up in exactly a month is to serve as a meet-up for former readers of Midnight Engineering magazine which was published by William E. Gates (Bill Gates, but not the Bill Gates of Microsoft infamy) back in the 1990's. Back before the Internet and the Web became a dominant media for entrepreneurs to communicate and exchange ideas, "The Magazine" was a monthly must-read for electrical engineers and software developers who were running their own small technology-based businesses or hoping to bootstrap such a business working on their own projects at night and on weekends as they slaved away at so-so day jobs until they were ready to strike out on their own.

In 1992 Bill held his first conference, ME SKI '92, up in Breckenridge, CO. A combination of skiing and a weekend of conference sessions, the idea was that "The Conference" would be like "The Magazine", but in real-time.

The Magazine has not been published in a number of years, but its spirit lives on in the form of the EntConnect Entrepreneurial Connections Conference held every year on the outskirts of Denver.

-- Jack Krupansky

Being in touch with your market at an intuitive level

I have blogged recently about entrepreneurial skills that I feel that I need to develop (Skill development and More entrepreneurial skills) and I did in fact mention the need to be in touch with your customer needs at an intuitive level:

In touch with customer needs - beyond basic market research and technical requirements, what is it that the customers in your market segment really need to feel that your products and services are worth paying for, as well as your intuitive sense for changing needs without the need for market surveys

I keep coming back to that skill as one of the biggest skill deficits I have that holds me back the most.

That is all well and good, but identifying a deficit is not the same as effectively addressing it.

How does one go about developing that intuitive sense for a market?

Other than the obvious approach of spending a lot of time with customers in their environment, I do not have the answers yet.

-- Jack Krupansky

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wi-Fi at EntConnect

I was just talking with John Gaudio last night and he assured me that one way or another there would be Wi-Fi connectivity available at the EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections Conference that is coming up in just over a month. Alas, the hotel charges about $8 a day for Wi-Fi in guest rooms, but we should have something "free" in the conference meeting room.

Not that many years ago it was unheard of for anybody to be online at the conference, but these days it would be unconscionable not to have always-on connectivity.

I actually find it helpful to follow along a presentation by visiting the presenter's web site and any web sites they mention, or to simply lookup terms that they mention for a definition or examples.

-- Jack Krupansky

Turning off the alarm clock

Although I like getting up early and getting up with the sun, I had chosen to get up at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m. every day of my brief career at Microsoft. Although there is a portion of the year when the sun actually is up before 5:00 a.m. in the Seattle area, much of the year it is dark at that hour, so I cannot depend on the sun. I used my old Sony Clie PDA for its alarm clock feature to assure that I would be awake in time to catch the earliest bus from downtown Bellevue to the West Campus of Microsoft in Redmond at 6:05 a.m. and be at my desk by 6:35 a.m. every weekday. I enjoyed the quiet and getting a lot more work done by the time a lot of people came in at 10:00 a.m. or so.

No more now that I am once again independent.

I am going to revert to my old form and simply rise when I happen to, whether it be due to the sun or construction noise across the street (at 5:30 a.m.?!), or simply that I have gotten enough sleep. In truth, I have frequently woken up by 4:30 a.m., but there is no sane need to punctuate the bliss of the early morning with the shock of an alarm clock.

Actually, I have no idea how my work habits and sleep patterns will evolve, but I do intend to get back to a more natural rhythm that makes sense for me.

Alarm clock be gone!

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Getting my weekends back

As I transition from full-time employee at The Evil Empire on Monday to working as a part-time independent software development consultant/contractor for a stealth startup on Tuesday, one of the transitions I will have to cope with is the prospect of getting my weekends back as free time. For the past 21 months I have been working 12 to 13 hours a day during the week at The Empire and have been simply too tired to engage in any of my own projects during the week, so my weekends were the only time that I had the time and energy to "work" on any of my own projects such as blogging. Sure, I got in a little relaxation such as watching a movie or two, but I inevitably consumed a fair number of hours on the weekend on activities other than idle relaxation.

Starting Tuesday, I will have plenty of time to pursue my own projects every day during the week, so the odds are that by the weekend I will want to focus much closer to 100% of my weekend time on relaxation, or at least on personal projects that don't feel as much like "work."

Alternatively, I can easily take off an entire day or more during the week for relaxing activities, and shift only a little if any of my work-like activities (e.g., this blog) into the weekend.

Another activity I would like to bring back into my life is to spend a fair number of hours each week simply reading books. Lately I have crammed so much into a seven-day week that I have had zero time to simply take out an hour or two a day for reading books. The closest I come is stopping by the local Barnes & Noble store and leafing through new books for fifteen or twenty minutes.

-- Jack Krupansky

Things to know about the Semantic Web

For future reference, Bernard Lun on the ReadWriteWeb blog has a post entitled "11 Things To Know About Semantic Web" that makes a number of key points about the current state of affairs with the Semantic Web. One that stood out as far as potential for me personally was:

3. If you have a firm grasp of the theoretical underpinnings of the semantic web, things like RDF, tuples, Sparql and OWL that make my brain hurt, you will be able to charge a fat premium in consulting fees for a while, as not many people really understand this stuff. But make hay while the sun shines, as some entrepreneur will surely figure out how to abstract this stuff and make it accessible for the masses.

Yes, that is what I aim to do: "make it accessible for the masses." I want to be that entrepreneur, or at least one of them.

There is a lot of great research work going on with the Semantic Web, and some initial industrial and commercial uses (e.g., RDF for blog web feeds), but most of the true power of the Semantic Web is still very far from being ready for general consumption by "the masses."

Consumers are the ultimate audience that I am really after, with software agents mediating the interface between consumers and Semantic Web data.

I will have more to say about this once I start my new blog dedicated to Semantic Web technology.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What can I talk about at EntConnect?

I am now wondering what I can talk about at the EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections Conference that is coming up in just over a month. I could have talked about what it feels like to be an entrepreneur "trapped" in a full-time job, but since I will once again be independent after Monday, that topic is moot. And since my initial part-time independent work will be for a stealth startup, by definition I will not be able to say even one word about it.

It was not my intention to speak at a formal session, but there is usually some sort of informal session where everybody is given a chance to say what they are up to.

Actually, I was thinking of proposing to moderate an informal, purely interactive session focused on the question of what skills attendees feel they need to work on over the coming year to take their business (or ideas for a business) to the next level. A secondary question might be the extent t which we can build a thriving online community cased around the concept of helping each other work on and build those skills that we as a group identify as high priority.

I may propose this interactive session for Sunday morning when the conference traditionally starts to wind down and the energy level tends to dissipate.

-- Jack Krupansky


Monday is my last day as a full-time employee at The Evil Empire. Tuesday I will start doing some part-time work for a "stealth startup" -- which I of course can not talk about. But, this should still give me plenty of time and energy to get involved in other projects of my own.

Although plenty of projects instantly come flooding into my mind, the immediate question is which projects will deserve my attention and have the best potential to deliver real business value.

One potential project that has at least some business potential is that I am seriously considering getting deeper into the Semantic Web, especially since the technology and tools are beginning to mature and there is significant, real, long-term potential. At a minimum, I will start watching this field a bit more closely. I actually have been subscribed to a number of the relevant email lists, but not really paying close, deep attention for the past two and a half years. I may start a new blog dedicated to my efforts following Semantic Web developments. Whether this becomes a primary project for me or just a sideline remains to be seen.

One thing I do have to be careful about is to do a better job of firewalling my true business ventures from research-oriented projects which simply do not have short-term business profit potential.

In any case, it is good to be getting back to an entrepreneurial state of mind.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Made my hotel reservation for the EntConnect conference

I went ahead and made my hotel reservation for the EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections Conference. Ultimately I did succeed, but I ran into a couple of potholes along the way. I used the link on the conference web page, but the hotel web page then insisted that there were no available rooms. I then tried to make a reservation directly on the Starwood web site, but I could not find a way to request the EntConnect group rate. I gave up and directly called the hotel reservation number (1-800-325-3535, which is not listed on the conference web site.) Starwood had the $75 EntConnect special group rate for Thursday through Sunday nights, but claimed to be sold out for Thursday night and could only offer me a $125 rate for Thursday night. I went ahead and made the full reservation over the phone and then sent an email to John Gaudio to try to get him to get the hotel to adjust the rate on Thursday night to our group rate.

Incidentally, the tax rate is 10.60%, so that $75 rate will actually be $82.95. Corporate reservations was unable to tell me what the fee was for Wi-Fi access.

-- Jack Krupansky

Ted Goff cartoon

This is just a test to see how a Ted Goff cartoon displays in this blog:

Newsletter Cartoons Presentation Cartoons
Business and Safety Cartoons by Ted Goff

Sales and Financial Cartoons by Ted Goff

-- Jack Krupansky

More entrepreneurial skills

In addition to my previous list of skills and skill areas that I must improve to be a top-notch entrepreneur, here are some other entrepreneurial skills:

  • Morale - how to build it, maintain it, and grow it
  • Team building - not all interesting ventures can be accomplished by a lone entrepreneur
  • Community - customers and partners can provide a foundation for growth of your venture far beyond the financial value of business transactions
  • Inspiration - how to help people feel that they are part of something special, an opportunity to be a part of something much more satisfying than their financial compensation and work environment
  • Inspiring faith and trust - the ability to get people to accept your vision and apprach because they really believe in you rather than strictly because you sway them with detailed logic
  • Vision - beyond simply the product or service ideas at the heart of the business, an entrepreneur needs to supply the aspiration for the business, in "big" terms, what the business is really trying to achieve
  • Creativity - the ability to handle the unexpected and even thrive when operating in uncharted territory
  • Energy, reserve energy - just when you think you have no energy left to give to your venture, you need to have the ability to find more more energy than you thought you had
  • Balancing long and short term - some people are good at focusing on the long term and some are good at focusing on the short term, but really good entrepreneurs figure out how to balance both
  • Decision making - discarding cherished options and pursuing risky options can be devilishly difficult for many people to do
  • Delegation - figuring out what responsibilities to retain and wish to offload to others can be painful as well as uncertain
  • Pricing - putting a financial value on your products and services, especially if they are new and innovative or your cost structure is non-traditional, or especially if you lack the confidence to ask for more money
  • Confidence - even if you have the right answer or product or service, lack of confidence destroys its value
  • Self-motivation - not needing to look to others for your motivational energy or inner drive
  • Leadership - the ability to set out on a path and get others to follow along with you because they find your vision and approach compelling
  • Building value - beyond the value of your core innovation, how to layer additional product features and services and package them in a way to maximize total value
  • Focus - pushing aside all manner of good and interesting ideas and approaches in favor or a core set of ideas and approaches that will lead to rapid success in your chosen market
  • Cherry-picking - no person or business can do it all, but the ability to sort through the many options and select those options that will really matter is a critical skill
  • Flexibility - ability to change and discard what may be intensely cherished as change is warranted for maximizing success of the business
  • Partners - always looking for partners to leverage your resources into a larger business success than
  • When to walk away - persistence is a crucial skill, but sometimes it really is best to cut your losses and move on to greener pastures
  • In touch with customer needs - beyond basic market research and technical requirements, what is it that the customers in your market segment really need to feel that your products and services are worth paying for, as well as your intuitive sense for changing needs without the need for market surveys
  • Peripheral vision - ability to avoid being blindsided by new competitors, new technologies, and other emerging changes in your business environment
  • Improvisation - even the best of plans can go astray, as well as the emergence of unexpected opportunities that demand a response faster than normal planning would permit
  • Mentoring and coaching - sometimes you or people you work with simply do not have all the answers or all of the skills, so you want to leverage the skills and insight of others or to help others leverage your skills and insight
  • Good enough and excellence - sometimes good enough really is good enough and sometimes aspiring for much better than good enough is really what is needed, but balancing between the two is the critical skill

All right, what else am I missing.

-- Jack Krupansky

Bought my plane ticket for the EntConnect conference

Since the EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections Conference does not start until Thursday, March 27, I wasn't planning on buying my plane ticket for another two weeks or so, but I figured I should check the prices to get a handle on my budget. I was even thinking of using the "Name Your Own Price" feature of Priceline to get an even cheaper fare. I checked Expedia to get a ballpark view of air fares from Seattle to Denver. I could get a round-trip for a decent schedule for $247. Priceline is a little cheaper, typically about $5, and came in at $243 (tax and fees included) for the same flight schedule times. With prices this cheap, it hardly seemed worth the trouble to get involved in a bidding process that would likely end up with schedule times that would not be optimal for me and I figured prices would probably move up over the next week or two. So, I went ahead and booked the flight directly on Priceline at their published price of $243. Actually, Priceline showed me a fare of $221, but then told be it was no longer available. Ditto for $241 and $242. Then it finally gave me the fare for $243. This morning I see that my flight is priced up in the $270 to $290 range.

My flight from Seattle is very early, at 7:20 a.m. I will just barely be able to make it taking the earliest bus at 5:09 a.m. that gets to Sea-Tac airport at 5:46 a.m. I usually do not like to cut flights that close, especially since even a modest traffic problem can cause a significant delay, but at that hour there is unlikely to be any significant traffic issues on the way to the airport. The flight arrives in Denver at 11:00 a.m. I haven't decided whether I will wander around Denver for the afternoon or go up to Boulder for a few hours. My plan was to go up to Boulder on Friday.

My return flight is on Monday morning, at 4:07 p.m. That allows me to enjoy Sunday afternoon and evening and part of Monday in Colorado and take my time getting to the airport. I may in fact go to the airport a little early and then hang out in the Continental President's Club to catch up on email and news with their free Wi-Fi (and breakfast as well.) Monday is another possibility for my desired visit to Boulder if I choose alternate plans on Friday.

Now on to the hotel reservation. The conference hotel has a very cheap conference rate of $75, so it is simply not worthwhile looking around and getting a hotel that is less convenient.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thinking of starting your own technology-based business venture?

Starting your own technology-based business can be a very scary and daunting task. Sure, it can be very appealing, very seductive, and possibly even very successful, but there are many pitfalls and potholes and curves along the way. One way to help you get started or to help you deal with the inevitable challenges along the way is to attend the annual EntConnect Entrepreneurial Connections Conference that is held near the end of March every year out in Denver, CO. It is less about collecting information, but much more about having a great opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs of all skill and experience levels.

So, whether you live in the Denver area and just want to drop in, or even if you live far away and simply want an excuse to go skiing or check out what Colorado is all about, EntConnect is a great way to pursue your entrepreneurial passions.

Sure, you can succeed in your entrepreneurial quests without EntConnect, but the conference is a great way to share expertise and experiences with a great group of like-minded individuals.

And even if you had not been considering a new business before you read this post, ask yourself whether you are really confident that being an entrepreneur is not a role that would you would ever consider. Even if you have no entrepreneurial experience, this conference might just give you the push that you need to break out of your "day job" (or no job!) and become a master of your own destiny.

Just to be clear, this conference is not about franchise opportunities or MLM or any kind of get rich quick scheme. Rather, it is all about building real value that real people will be willing to pay real money for.

For details and to register online, check out the official EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections Conference web site.

Oh, and venture capitalists are welcome as well -- provided that they bring some of their venture capital with them!

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm registered for EntConnect 2008

I am now officially registered for the EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections Conference at the end of March. I used the new online registration system. I haven't made any travel arrangements yet, but I should try to get a cheap airfare ASAP.

From the conference web site:

Need a single word to describe EntConnect? Serendipity.
You'll discover something you're not expecting.

I really do appreciate the number of "Oh, really? Wow, that really is interesting" moments that occur at the conference.

I will probably travel on Thursday in time to arrive for dinner.

I do not intend to participate in Friday's fun activities but will likely head up to Boulder to wander around and see how things have changed in the past two years and make do a little walking in the foothills.

I intend to get back to the hotel by 4:30 p.m. or so to help greet Friday arrivals while the Friday activity people gradually straggle in from all of their exciting activities.

Meanwhile, I am in the middle of arranging for some part-time software development consulting for a stealth startup. Also known as "moonlighting." I look forward to returning to more of an entrepreneurial mindset. Alas, they are in stealth mode, so I won't be able to blog about them or even very much about my experiences with them. But at least this help me get into the spirit of EntConnect.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Keywords for entrepreneurial ventures

I was thinking about how to come up with a set of keywords to describe the EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections Conference. Those keywords might be used for an AdWords advertising campaign, categorizing the conference for event listings, searching the web and blogs for web sites with similar interests, etc. Although obviously a lot of keywords are used to describe the conference, the real question is what keywords relatively uniquely describe it in a narrower sense to minimize overlap with unrelated events and topics.

In any case, here are some of the initial keywords and phrases that I came up with.

  • Entrepreneurial conference
  • Learn from other entrepreneurs
  • Meet with other entrepreneurs
  • Meet with technical entrepreneurs
  • Meet with entrepreneurial engineers
  • Networking with entrepreneurs
  • Technically-inclined fellow entrepreneurs
  • Technically-inclined entrepreneur
  • Technical entrepreneur
  • Technology entrepreneur
  • World of entrepreneurs
  • New venture
  • Startup
  • Garage strartup
  • Bootstrap business
  • New business
  • New technology business
  • Grow your own business
  • Start my own business
  • Start my own technology business
  • Start my own technology-based business
  • Entrepreneur
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Entrepreneurial activities
  • Entrepreneurial business
  • Entrepreneurial business opportunity
  • Entrepreneurial connections
  • Entrepreneurial engineer
  • Entrepreneurial engineering
  • Entrepreneurial friends
  • Entrepreneurial insight
  • Entrepreneurial interests
  • Entrepreneurial intuition
  • Entrepreneurial network
  • Entrepreneurial networking
  • Entrepreneurial opportunities
  • Entrepreneurial pursuits
  • Entrepreneurial serendipity
  • Entrepreneurial startup
  • Entrepreneurial training
  • Entrepreneurial venture
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Entrepreneurship conference
  • Share entrepreneurial insight
  • High-tech entrepreneur
  • Technical entrepreneur
  • Technology venture
  • Small technology venture
  • Self-funded venture
  • Midnight engineer
  • Engineers interested in starting their own business
  • Run your own company
  • Run your own business
  • Your own company
  • Your own business
  • unconference
  • Bar camp
  • Open space conference
  • Share ideas
  • Small business
  • Small business camp
  • Small technology business
  • Business opportunity
  • Marketing
  • Marketing effectiveness
  • Technology trends
  • Networking event
  • Networking opportunity
  • Technology networking event
  • Technology networking
  • Entrepreneurial ecosystem
  • Entrepreneurship summit
  • Entrepreneurial development

That is an initial seed set to get the process started.

Any suggestions?

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Skill development

If I am really going to get serious about being an entrepreneur again, there are a number of skills and skill areas that I must improve:

  • Sales and salesmanship - at least starting with a more positive attitude
  • Communications in general and interpersonal communications in particular
  • Empathy for whoever I am dealing with as well as customers
  • Negotiation - when to push harder, when to back off and give a little, and when to walk away
  • Ambition - how badly do I want something, is it achievable, is it worth the costs, how to manage it
  • Patience, persistence, and pacing - going the distance but not off into the weeds
  • Demographics - deep understanding
  • Popular culture - deep understanding
  • Buzz - how to get it, promote it, leverage it, how to do something with it, how to manage it, how to keep it alive
  • Passion - understanding its role, but like fire mishandling can lead to either an incendiary disaster or dead lack of activity
  • Trends - which ones matter, how to measure, what to watch
  • Hits and blockbusters - do they matter for a given business, how they matter, how to get them, and how to manage them
  • Appearance, perception, and image - understanding their importance, cultivating them, managing them, exploiting them, evolving them as the world evolves
  • Reputation - what factors are controlling it, what forms of influence do you have, responding to weaknesses, responding to attacks
  • Public speaking ... ugh!
  • Graphics design - their role, achieving competence and credibility, measuring value
  • Brand - conceptualizing, creating, cultivating, managing, and evolving
  • Value proposition - getting the elements right and then getting the formulation right, how it manifests itself in every aspect of the business, products, services, and reputation
  • Generosity - role in making a business a valuable part of society as a side effect of delivering great business results and how that perpetuates a "virtuous cycle"

Obviously there are many other aspects of starting and running a business, but these are some that I would definitely need to improve dramatically to achieve a reasonable level of business success.

-- Jack Krupansky

Friday, February 08, 2008

Logo for your business

I personally am quite "graphically-challenged", but even I recognize the need for the visual aspects of a brand, which includes both a name and a logo. Nominally a name is non-graphic text, but they do have a visual factor. Logos are clearly 100% visual. How to conceptualize, visualize, create, and refine a logo is a process at which I personally have no apparent skill. Nonetheless, I found the blog post "The Evolution of Tech Companies’ Logos" quite interesting, although I have only skimmed it -- mostly for the visual aspects!

I suppose even a blog should or could have a logo or at least a recognizable visual theme.

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, February 07, 2008

More EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections conference details

The official EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections Conference web site now has updated details as well as support for online registration (button is at the bottom of the page.)

The really good news is that there is once again really cheap early-bird pricing of $99 for a few more days.

See you at the conference!

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Have I been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug again?

I have a suspicion that I have been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug again. After 20 months of slaving away at The Evil Empire, I have finally decided that it really hasn't been working out that well for me and that I need to "get out of my little box" and once again consider entrepreneurial opportunities. I intend to continue at The Empire for at least another year or so to finish off my current assignments and consider some part-time moonlighting opportunities during that period, but a year or eighteen months from now I expect that I will be on my own again. There are lots of interesting projects inside The Empire, but the overall style and approach just isn't such a great fit for me. There are plenty of people who fit in fine (tens of thousands of them), but I have never been much of an organization man.

I do not have any clue what sort of entrepreneurial opportunities I will pursue or even consider yet, but I do intend to keep my eyes and ears open and to be willing to be patient to wait for something which will really "sync" for me.

My initial thoughts are that within a couple of months I will seek to take on ten to fifteen hours a week of part-time work of some form. I do have to be careful that such work does not conflict with my current assignments or otherwise conflict with my employment agreement and company rules, but moonlighting is permited. You used to have to ask permission, but they changed that policy so that you do not need permission but are nonetheless expected to assure that outside work does not conflict with company policies or otherwise interfere with your work for the company.

There are four main approaches I might take:

  1. Hook up with a start-up company as an employee.
  2. Continue my old mode of freelance work (possibly at a start-up) to pay my bills, while contemplating my own ventures.
  3. Focus on my own ventures exclusively.
  4. Take a part-time job as a skill-building exercise.

There are lots of advantages and benefits to working at The Empire, including the opportunity to work with a lot of really smart people, and I will really miss them, but I find myself way too constrained (and pressured) by the organizational structure. I need a bigger box to work in. There are plenty of different boxes for a very wide range of opportunities, but each is still a relatively confining box, at least the ones that I can aspire to.

One additional option is that after leaving the company in a year or so I could in fact turn around and continue to work at the company on a contract or "contingent" basis. It is amazing how many people do this. It offers additional flexibility, albeit without a lot of the direct and indirect benefits of being a Microsoft "FTE." I do not think I will go that route, but it is an option. Sometimes, people even go from FTE to contingent and then back to FTE again in a different group. There are so many different groups within the company and opportunities are popping into existence on almost a daily basis. These really are great opportunities for a lot of people, it is just that I am not one of them.

BTW, managers at Microsoft frequently post ads in Craigslist, which is how I found my job. Also, another path into the company is by getting a position at one of the firms that supplies contract staff to the company and then apply for a FTE position once you have established a track record inside the company. Craigslist is useful for those positions as well.

-- Jack Krupansky

Crucual Conversations: Do your communications skills really suck or what?

Well, do they? Do your communications skills really suck, or what? Not to boast, but mine really suck.

Sure, some of us are truly gifted "communicators", and a lot of us have fairly decent communications skills or at least a "mixed bag", but some of us are really lacking in key skills when it comes to crucial conversations, those high-stakes situations when there is a yawning chasm of expectations between the parties and emotions (of at least one of the parties) are extremely high. These are the situations when your "natural" instinct may be to get very angry or to totally withdraw from the situation, either option causing a potentially great loss on your part. Sure, all too often one of the parties is instigating the sense of confrontation for their own gain, but that is not a very acceptable excuse for failing to meet your own goals in such a situation.

There is actually a book by the title Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High and a training series run by Vital Smarts that focuses on helping people understand and develop skills to excel in such crucial conversations. Such skills are applicable to our personal lives and relationships as well as business and public life, but are especially essential for ambitious entrepreneur-types, or anybody who want to accomplish anything where you run into situations where the communications are "sticky."

I would dearly love to say that I have mastered all of these skills, but in fact I do quite poorly at them.

I have not yet read the entire book or taken the training, but I have read the first chapter which is online. The summary from that first chapter tells us that:

When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions start to run strong, casual conversations become crucial. Ironically, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. The consequences of either avoiding or fouling up crucial conversations can be severe. When we fail a crucial conversation, every aspect of our lives can be affected -- from our careers, to our communities, to our relationships, to our personal health.

As we learn how to step up to crucial conversations -- and handle them well -- with one set of skills we can influence virtually every domain of our lives.

What is this all-important skill-set? What do people who sail through crucial conversations actually do? More importantly, can we do it too?

I only ran across this book and approach to communications yesterday, but it certainly seems worth pursuing as a big bang for a modest buck.

Here is the book on Amazon:

-- Jack Krupansky

EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections conference details trickle in

As promised, the EntConnect 2008 Entrepreneurial Connections conference will be held from Thursday, March 27, 2008 through Sunday, March 30, 2008. This is an excellent opportunity for engineers with an entrepreneurial interest to get together and share ideas and experiences related to starting and running your own technology-oriented business. It is not restricted to technology types per se, but that is the main focus and primary interest. Many of the attendees are former readers of the now-defunct Midnight Engineering magazine.

Finally, at least a few details have been finalized (as if that word had any meaning for an unconference!) by conference MC John Gaudio:

  • Once again we'll be staying at the Sheraton Denver West. Rooms are $75.00 per night.  They now have a workout facility, lap pool, hot tub and steam room, all available at no additional charge to those staying in the hotel.
  • Skiing will be Thursday, March 27th, followed by drinks in the hotel bar.
  • Friday is still open, though we're looking at possibilities including go cart racing, (with some pretty serious go carts!) shooting a little trap, and/or geo caching.
  • Friday evening will be the Italian Feast at Valentes!
  • Saturday and Sunday we'll have sessions
  • There will be some sort of fun and entertaining events on Saturday evening.
  • John Gaudio's pictures from last year are up on Flickr.
  • Dave Shaver's pictures from EntConnect 2005.
  • Dave Shaver's skiing pictures from Entconnect 2006.

In addition, there is a rumor that registration will be online. Pricing is hidden somewhere on the official conference web site.

For nostalgia sake, here's an old cover of the magazine:

This is not a large conference and may total fifteen to thirty participants, but that gives it a more personal and interactive feel. In some sense, it really should be categorized as an unconference since it is fairly informal and the participants help to structure the conference based on their interests.

FWIW, here is the definition of unconference from the Wikipedia:

An unconference is a conference where the content of the sessions is created and managed by the participants (generally day-by-day during the course of the event) rather than by one or more organizers in advance of the event. The term is primarily used in the geek community. Open Space Technology, however, is an unconference process that has been around since 1985 and is now in widespread use. Open Space Technology is an energizing and emergent way to organize an agenda for a conference.[citation needed] Those coming to the event can post on a wiki ahead of time topics they want to present about or hope others will present about. The wiki can also be used as an attendee list.

There are parallels with science-fiction fandom, in which a low-key convention with less structure is called a Relaxacon.

As unstructured as EntConnect is, it is in fact somewhat more structured than a pure unconference or Open Space Technology event.

I have my own web page for the conference, EntConnect 2008, which includes some info about past conferences, including pictures, but there is also a  Official EntConnect Entrepreneurial Connections web site as well. Also, you can check John Gaudio's A Better Blogsite for information as it may become available. John runs the conference.

The audience is primarily technical, engineer types, but also non-engineers as well as students who have an entrepreneurial interest. I would say that the audience is "eclectic." So, if you are entrepreneurial in any way and in the area or just want an excuse to go skiing in Colorado, check out this conference.

-- Jack Krupansky