September 6, 2006 in 3 out of 5 stars, A person, An interview

What is it?

nPost: Another great resource for entrepreneurs, a collection of interviews with CEOs and Founders of small and startup businesses.


Who makes it?

Nathan Kaiser

Why is it the killerest?

Kaiser has collected almost 150 intelligently conducted interviews, including some favorites of mine like Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia (how awesome is he?) and Joe Kraus of Jot Spot. Clean site, searchable, or list them all.

What could be improved?

It appears that he records these, might be nice to have the audio versions as well.

The search is a bit iffy.

How much does it cost?



Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Guy Kawasaki's Blog

January 10, 2006 in 5 out of 5 stars, A blog , A person

What is it?

Guy Kawasaki's Blog: Guy, the premier entrepreneur's inspiration and expert finally (FINALLY) has a blog. It started at the end of Dec '05 and I was compelled to immediately post about it here. But I put my emotion and admiration for the man on hold long enough to see if he was going to do a quality job. Well, it probably hasn't been long enough yet, but his stuff is just so gosh darned good that you've got to get over there while you can start at the beginning and read it all.


Who makes it?

Guy Kawasaki

Why is it the killerest?

Guy's book, The Art of the Start is the best book on entrepreneurism I've ever seen. He's a veteran, a realist, and a great writer. He's a VC with an entrepreneur's heart and his blog is chock full of that goodness. Take this excellent entry from 1/8/06, with this snippet:

I'm saying it's okay to ship crap--I'm not saying that it's okay to stay crappy. A company must improve version 1.0 and create version 1.1, 1.2, ... 2.0. This is a difficult lesson to learn because it's so hard to ship an innovation; therefore, the last thing employees want to deal with is complaints about their perfect baby. Innovation is not an event. It's a process.

What could be improved?

His design is a template! Come on Guy, hire someone to make it sexy. (ok fine, so he's practicing what he's preaching in my quote above).

How much does it cost?



Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Interview with Paul "Scrivs" Scrivens of 9rules

September 12, 2005 in A person, An interview

9r_rounded_whiteIt always bugs me when people younger than me are way smarter than me. Especially when they're nice guys. Paul "Scrivs" Scrivens is barely 25 years old and already has a productive entrepreneurial effort underway building a loose network of high quality blogs under his "9rules" banner. When I asked him if he'd be up for an interview he replied simply: "Sure, I'm down. I'll try my best not to look retarded."

For those unfamiliar, blogs are becoming big business. Heavyweights on the scene like Nick Denton (Gawker, Gizmodo, etc) and Jason Calacanis (Engadget, Cinematical, etc) have proven that there can be big money made from highly trafficked blogs. Lone power blogger Darren Rowse announced to much attention recently that he's personally making well over $10,000/mo ($15K in July) in Google AdSense revenue from his blogging ventures. recently become a member of the 9rules family so it seemed appropriate to ask Paul a few questions about what he knows best.

Hey Paul, thanks for taking a few minutes to share some of your ideas.

Not a problem at all Carson. We love your site and we are here to help our members in any way possible.

1) You've managed to gain a fair amount of visibility online and I now see bloggers all over who are clamoring to become a part of 9rules. How were you able to drum up this kind of interest?

In all honesty it was a lot easier than we thought it would be. We were very nervous before the first round of submissions opened up because we figured we would only get a limited number of sites that wanted to join. To our surprise after that first 24 hour round was over we received over 120 submissions. Once we began adding sites to the network, many people understood that we really were going for quality and some of the sites were already well-respected in their communities. This led to a lot more interest from other bloggers that wanted to join the network.

Not everyone that blogs is willing or able to generate a lot of traffic or earn 4-5 digits per month from their blog and being part of the network helps you a tiny bit if you wish to achieve those goals. The main aspect of the network though is the community that the members have built around it. I would not be surprised if you see some new projects coming out in the next couple of months from our members that have been collaborating within the forums.

Quality is rewarded everywhere we look. Quality products get buzz, but how many times does a quality blog get the buzz that it deserves? I think this is a big reason why many people are wanting to get into the Network. Our values match theirs and the same goes for our readers.

2) For a while you were building a group of your own blogs, much like Darren Rowse, and you had some respectable success. You were making north of $5,000/mo just with that, you sold CSSVault for some nice change (5 digits I think you said). What caused you to change your model with 9rules?

Making money from blogs is not easy and making that much is really not easy. The effort I put in really didn't match the rewards in my mind. I have always wanted to be part of something big and simply working on my own sites was too limiting. There are only so many hours in a day and so much time and effort I am willing to spend on sites that I run. I enjoy tackling new challenges and running the CSSVault was no longer a challenge and I was quickly losing interest and I could see the decline in quality so I figured it would be best to sell it to someone who had more passion to run it.

The 9rules Network is a small part of the vision I have for something much larger and much more challenging to achieve. With this concept I was able to bring together a talented group of individuals and receive feedback and ideas from a much larger group of people than I would have if I tried to continue doing everything myself. I never thought to myself I want to be financially okay. I always thought that I want to be a millionaire and blogging for myself wasn't a path I saw that happening with.

3) You recently changed your agreement terms for 9rules members shifting from an ad revenue split, to not sharing any ad revenue that a site generates. Are you nuts?

It only made sense to make this transition because the sites were putting in the work to generate the money so they should be the ones earning it. It also sets us up for implementing a project we have had in our heads for a long time now. The real driving force behind this decision though was the fact that we knew we could get even higher quality sites into the network without the worries of a 10-page agreement or complicated revenue structure and it has already paid dividends.

It was a choice between adding a couple more dollars to the bottom line or investing in a greater number of high quality sites which increases the value of the network in the long run. We chose the latter.

4) What advice would you give other bloggers out there trying to build traffic so they can cash in on advertising revenue?

Hmmm, I get asked this a lot and there is never one definite answer.

  1. Be true to yourself. As cliche as that sounds it is the first thing you must always do as a writer. On too many sites you will see people write what they think the public wants to hear instead of writing about what they really think. If you have nothing interesting to say then maybe you shouldn't start a blog, but I have yet to find someone without anything interesting to talk about.
  2. Never think there isn't competition. You will find almost everyone says that you should find your niche, but unfortunately every niche is usually filled already. That's not the problem. The problem is not standing out. Too many people create copycat sites that do nothing different from the competition. How many Engadget/Gizmodo sites can you name? I can only name those two, but there are plenty of them out there being ignored because they offer nothing different.
  3. Be controversial. Not all the time, but some of the time. Don't say something you don't believe yourself, but say something that is bothering you that many people fail to discuss. My Ignoring the Hype series did this and it was a huge success.

5) Can you share some of your favorite sources of business inspiration and ideas? (e.g. certain blogs/books/magazines)

Wow, there would definitely be too much to list if I decided to list everything. Books I recommend anything by Seth Godin (and his blog) and Tom Peters. Both offer common sense advice, but it's stuff that we overlook so often in our lives.

Magazines I enjoy Wired and Business 2.0. Wired simply because it helps you see trends in the mainstream that you might want to try and jump on. In the blogosphere we are usually the early adopters so we tend to think every new trend will be hot, but it isn't really mainstream till it hits Wired and other publications. That usually gives you an idea of if it will really be successful or not.

As for blogs there are really too many to list because I think a lot of business minded individuals are seeing the value in maintaining a blog. Of course I would have to put WorkHappy on that list. 

Honestly though, the best thing any person can do is read everything they can get their hands on. I run through multiple books and magazines a month and am constantly reading blog entries. I don't pretend to know everything and it's amazing how evident that is when you read a VC's blog for example.

Finally, experience is always the best teacher. There is only so much you can read without actually trying it yourself.

Thanks Paul!

Anytime Carson. Thanks for keeping a kickass site for everyone to read.

Paul has agreed to respond to a few reader questions in the comments of this post if you'd like to ask him something I missed.

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Interview with Josh Williams of Firewheel Design, IconBuffet and Blinksale

July 25, 2005 in A person, An interview

Firewheel_1Unless you've been under a hibernating bear you're aware that the brilliant chaps over at Firewheel Design are about to release something that should have every freelancer/entrepreneur drooling. The product is called Blinksale (our review) and looks poised to take the headaches out of invoicing. I can't wait. (Rumors have it that Blinksale will be released this week).

Josh graciously agreed to offer some wisdom and thoughts here for us. So without further babbling...

1. First, tell us a little bit about how you got started as an entrepreneur. You've built a very impressive and successful company in Firewheel Design and IconBuffet and now you look poised to conquer the world with Blinksale.

Ha ha, well... world domination wasn't the number one goal with Blinksale, but we'll see how it does. I'd be fine with domination of north Texas. But seriously, both of my parents were entrepreneurs, and I grew up working in the family business (a landscape company and retail gardening shop).

My parents split the business when they divorced, and shortly after I was out of highschool my mom lost an eight-month battle with cancer. So I ended up with her company at the ripe, old age of 18. Gratefully, as the company had been around my entire life, it was pretty much a machine. The core employees all knew me, and were able to handle the day to day operations while I got my bearings with the ins and outs of the business.  My mom also did an unbelievable job of bringing me up to speed on most of the business details before she passed away.

When it was all said and done, I ran the landscape company for another three years before selling it off. That time was invaluable, as I was able to learn so much about running a corporation. It was like getting thrown in the pool and being told to swim. When I decided to start Firewheel, a lot of the details that can be a bit unnerving when you're starting a business, like contracts, taxes, and balance sheets, were already old hat to me.

2. Branching from a services oriented company to a product/software-oriented company is something you've done before with IconBuffet. I think it's probably every service-oriented entrepreur's dream to "go 37signals" and do that. So what prompted you to build Blinksale besides perhaps wanting it for your own use?

IconbuffetBoth IconBuffet and Blinksale have been born out of some flavor of necessity. A few years back, we realized that there was no way we could keep up with all the requests for custom icon design work we were receiving. We also realized that a large portion of the requests we were receiving were for the same kinds of icons (email, copy, paste, music, etc.).

So it made a lot of sense to launch a stock icon site. If we weren't able to take on someone's job due to our schedule, at least we could offer them the opportunity to still purchase icons with the same Firewheel quality, albeit stock images. Of course, for a lot of software developers and web designers, the stock work was perfect for them.

The idea behind Blinksale came to fruition early this spring (2005). The idea bluntly grew out of my frustration with the current small-business financial offerings as it pertained specifically to invoicing our clients. We've used MYOB to manage our finances at Firewheel since we got started and it has its place. I used to use Quickbooks for the Mac back in my landscape company days, but when they dropped payroll support, we jumped to MYOB.

All that to say, regardless of what you think of its other features, MYOB is downright crappy when it comes to creating invoices. It's extremely difficult to layout custom templates, and then you're forced to take those nasty-looking invoices and print them out or attach them as a PDF to an email.

Then, if a client goes AWOL on you, or accidentally throws away your invoice, you have to repeat the entire process. Attach a new (crappy looking) PDF, send a new email, and then follow up again if the invoice is still past due. I guess at some point in February or March I finally snapped. There had to be a better way... only I couldn't find it. Sure, there are other invoicing apps out there, but none were easy to use, and none solved my problem with crappy looking documents.

So one evening I'm at home with Rachel, my wife, and I grab an orange pen. I start drawing out my ideas for how I would design my ideal invoicing application. A handful of hours later I had finished mock-ups for about 80 percent of the primary pages in Blinksale. And I looked at Rach and said, "We need to do this." And she looked back and said something like, "Uh, yeah, hello?"

I had been to 37signals' Building of Basecamp workshop last fall to help solidify some ideas for IconBuffet (which are still coming, mind you). I knew that a lot of the work that went into Ruby on Rails, the framework that Basecamp and Backpack are built upon, would definitely ease the development of our yet-unnamed invoicing app.

So I looked at my pages of orange-pen sketches and said, "Yeah, let's make this happen." At that stage, it wasn't necessarily about creating a salable web-application. It was simply about a challenge to see if we could actually solve this problem. So Scott Raymond of redgreenblu came on board the project as our developer, and here we are, about five months later. Blinksale is ready to go 1.0 in a couple days, and we have huge running list of ideas for taking the application forward in the weeks and months to come.

3. The question I'm dying to ask is in reference to the way you're marketing Blinksale. You've managed to foment a frenzy like few I've seen. And maybe it's because I'm in the froth of frenzy myself, but it seems pretty genius. You've given beta slots to some pretty high profile members of the community, and now you're all scratching each other's backs in public about it. Was that a deliberate marketing move? And what else are you doing to help spread the word?

We definitely wanted people to know what Blinksale was before it hit the public. To be honest, the Firewheel website, having been through three revisions in less than 2 years, wasn't the ideal venue to initially spread the word. We're largely known for our icon and UI design, but not for our blog. With the most recent redesign, we're hoping to change this a bit. That said, we're really grateful for the handful of bloggers who have helped us build interest in Blinksale.

Regarding the beta, we pretty much went straight to a small handful of people we know personally who, to one degree or another, either manage their own business or engage in freelancing on continuing basis. Small businesses, freelancers and contractors have been the primary focus of Blinksale since day one. We knew that these individuals would be a good measuring stick on whether or not we've created a solution to the invoicing problem.

It's a risk. We're certainly not paying these folks anything to beta test Blinksale. If it works, they'll hopefully tell their friends it works. If it sucks, they're going to tell them it sucks.

4. What can you tell us about how you built Blinksale and your development philosophy? You'll have to forgive the inevitable comparison to 37signals, but it's quite interesting to read how they built Basecamp with Ruby on Rails, their "quick, solid, less features, fewer buttons, easy to use, 'get real'" philosophy. Any thoughts you care to share about your approach/technology/philosophy?

I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for 37signals and the Get Real philosophy. Basecamp did a ton to educate the masses on what a web app could be. We certainly took some cues from the usability of 37signals' products.

Regarding our own approach and philosophy, I'm a firm believer that if it's not fun you shouldn't do it. When it came to building Blinksale, this was a huge principal we kept in mind. I wanted it to be clean and usable and whatnot, but I wanted it to bring a smile to people's faces. I mean, let's face it: Making money should be fun. Getting paid is a good, happy thing.

Blinksale2Billing clients and creating invoices can be a bit anti-climatic. You've spent all this time and effort to finish a project for a client. You should feel rewarded at that point. You shouldn't feel like creating the invoice to bill that client is a project in and of itself. Blinksale aims to be fresh, quick, easy, and fun. And as the application matures, this will only become more and more apparent.

5. What advice do you have for other aspiring Josh's out there who want to build a business with the kind of following and success that you've created?

Ah, advice... that's always a tough one, because everyone comes from different backgrounds and circumstances. For me, I was very fortunate to have had a lot of people pour a lot of time and energy into my life, especially while I was in highschool. The landscape company experience was extremely invaluable as well. All that said, there are definitely a few key things that stand out as reasons why Firewheel has become a success.

First, we've focused on a few core niche-type services. If you're a small shop looking to get started in design, web development, or whatever, it's a lot easier to sell yourself if you're an expert at one specific discipline than it is to sell yourself if you're semi-competent in a variety of disciplines. If you only focus on one or two core services, you're more likely to become highly regarded as that expert that people seek out. There are a ton of design companies out there. What specific service is going to set yours apart?

Second, we've developed a visual brand that people know and recognize.  People know Firewheel because of the name itself, its flower-like logo, and the orange and black color scheme. Crafting your visual brand isn't always easy to do, but it's crucial for people to know where to place you in their mind. Khoi Vinh's Subtraction website is a wonderful example. It's stark black and white visuals stick in your mind. Greg Storey's Airbag is another great example. That Zeppelin and the hula girl are really hard to forget. It's difficult for me to see a blimp now and not think of Airbag. Cuban Council is a final great example. Their single page portfolio with the somewhat kitschy (and often updated) San Francisco street scene speaks volumes about their attitude. You have to have a strong visual brand and persona, and you can't rip that off of someone else. You have to look down deep inside, discover your style, then stick a giant magnifying glass over it for the world to see.

Third, learn everything you can about business. This usually means reading a lot. I'm speaking a lot to designers here, but it applies to anyone. Us creative types tend to suck when it comes to business stuff. We can make things pretty, but we don't know much about contracts, business communication, or managing our finances. And if you need to get help in this area, get help! Find a business owner or entrepreneur who is willing to mentor you a bit in the finer things of business. Join a professional organization like AIGA. You can learn a ton from the people you'll meet.

Finally, if you grow the the point you have to hire additional talent, hire the best you can find. Gratefully this is not a mistake we have made with Firewheel. A couple years ago when we hired our first outside employee (besides Rachel and myself), we went straight to the person I felt like possessed the best skills for the job. Even though John Marstall, our first hire, lived hundreds of miles away in St. Louis, I knew he was the man for the job. Gratefully he was up for the task. Now, there's a caveat here... the best person is usually not the cheapest. But remember, you get what you pay for. If you're looking to hire someone just for the sake of hiring somebody, you should take a step back and reevaluate your needs.

Ok, 3 quick fire questions:

Speaking of Firewheel Design, IconBuffet and your existing business success:

6: What advertising or marketing venture has been more successful than you anticipated?

Word of mouth... and that includes direct referrals from clients as well as people who stumble upon our website because they randomly found a link somewhere else.

7: What advertising or marketing effort has been less successful than you anticipated?

Certain types of paid banner advertising. It depends on the site—some sites work well with banner ads and some don't. We've paid money for a handful to advertise IconBuffet, and they'll turn out to be bombs.

8: Do you come by all your smarts naturally, or do you read any magazines/books/etc that you might recommend?

I do naturally like to read, and I read quite a bit.  I've enjoyed reading both Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell recently, but really my list of books could go on a while. In terms of magazines, we keep the usual suspects around the office (Communication Arts, HOW, Step) but lately I've been enjoying Metropolis, a great architecture and design publication. Dwell is also a staple here. For business periodicals, you definitely need a subscription to Creative Business. And that about rounds it out.

Thanks Josh!

You're welcome Carson. It's been fun.

Well, as mentioned by Jason Fried when he threw down the guantlet about Side-Business software the time certainly seems ripe for an application such as this. We wish you all the best Josh!

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Scoble interviews Ballmer

July 7, 2005 in 4 out of 5 stars, A person

BallmerYou know what? Ballmer just impressed the heck out of me. He is one goofy mother, but seriously, he owns his goofiness and who can argue with the results? I love this guy. (That and he's hilarious, I'm not sure if I'm laughing at him, or with him, but I'm laughing.)

Things I dug:

  • First question Scoble asks? What's with "Developers, Developers, Developers!" (Scoble, you win for asking that first). Ballmer repeats it, and owns it! I love it.
  • His take on employees blogging en masse - in a nutshell: It's no different than an employee out talking to folks in person, just that they'll reach more customers that way. Duh, yeah, exactly. Listen to the rest of his take -- great model for any company.
  • Gives Google their due. i.e. they're doing some innovative stuff!
  • His resolve about "winning" is inspiring (and interesting, they're slipping! Interesting to see him resolute.)
  • His optimism and excitement about the future are contagious. (The goofy mother). Encouraging us to set "big bold goals." Who doesn't love that?
  • Mostly wants to be remembered as a great dad and husband. K, that's cool. :)

Man, what a case, but what energy and enthusiasm.

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