Great Debut. SXSW

SXSW (or “south-by” as everyone refers to it) was sorta the spring break that most of the geeks in attendance didn’t fully experience back in college. But they were making up for it. Anyway, highlights for me included Eric Ries’ Lean Startup sessions. In a fortuitous moment, VC-and-impressario Dave McClure called mapOmatic to the stage for a 5 minute pitch; it was the first time anyone got a chance to hear of the product, first time i had spoken of it outloud. The reception was positive. I announced mapOmatic would be released in two weeks. Beta signups soared. But then Eric Ries dangled an impossible offer to me on stage: he said that if i released the product that day, he would use all his clout to put the product before his tens of thousands of followers. It was a one-time offer. Holy crap…

Ries was trying to make the point that people like us over develop product we don’t even know will be good. We spend too much dev money with too little feedback. Instead, his mantra goes, get it out there raw, unfinished, immediately, and tune it. Of course he’s right, but what he didn’t understand was that mapOmatic would not work at all… and certainly not be useful at this point… we still have a solid week of back-end work to do to make it even function. Yes, I used it throughout the SXSW event, but it wouldn’t work for a normal human. Not that day. The cons simply outweighed the pros.

But it brought up two important lessons of entrepreneurship. First, luck is key. My name was drawn from a hat, and suddenly was offered a rare opportunity – and if I had been ready for it, could have been an outrageously lucky break. But i wasn’t ready to take it. Luck, as we all know, is the union of preparation and opportunity – his offer was precisely what amazing opportunities look like. But i wasn’t prepared. It’s the truth. Not a damn thing I could do about it.

The other lesson, however, was about focus. At mapOmatic we have a plan. We are building with great efficiency and plan to learn and iterate just as the “Lean Startup” describes. After years at Netflix, I think this is the only way I know how. Our plan is to launch at the EG Conference on April 7. And we need every day between now and then to get the basic bits working. We have a plan. We have focus. We’re working super hard. And what frequently happens to entrepreneurs is that they get distracted. So many shiny objects along the road that try to swerve you from your best execution. A business opportunity here, a competitor’s feature there, any number of things that gets you to take your eye off the ball, move too fast or too slow or shift to a different direction for the wrong reasons…

This was one of those: a siren’s song to lull me into doing something that I knew was wrong, as great as it seemed.  SXSW was fantastic and I had wonderful feedback and encouragement from the assortment of folks who tried the product. Because in the end, this will only be about one thing: is the product useful? Is it elegant? Is it easy? I have a hunch i know the answer, but i won’t know for sure for a few more weeks. Still work to do. For years I may look back at that single decision as the moment of truth, and i missed it. I don’t think so, but that’s the risk.

As a bonus i noticed an international blogger used one of my photos to illustrate his story on SXSW. It made me smile.

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