In Defense of Moms – a startup rant

Okay, I admit it, I sometimes use my mom as a definition of the general American population when discussing things like developing an app. I might say “my mom wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.” or “My mom would stop using it before she got that far.” She’s not a rocket scientist (that’s my husband), she’s not a doctor (although I think she belonged to Future Nurses of America Club in High School), she calls me when she can’t figure out how her flashlight on her phone got turned on, and she has no idea what API, MVP, or CSS means. But she is capable of finding an app to make her life better, googling something she doesn’t understand, fixing a broken garbage disposal, and diagnosing strep throat over the phone. So, when I use my mom as an example, I mean a fairly competent person who isn’t necessarily interested in learning the code or reason behind something for future advancement.

I’m a mom, and I know what API, MVP, CSS, HTML, SAS, GSD, DTFO (Draw the F&*& Owl) mean. I do want to know the reason behind it, I understand it more often than not. More importantly, I probably want to take that information and do something else cool with it.

So why do we keep getting stereotyped into the dumb, useless, and non-society-contributing role? Sure, there are dumb moms, and ignorant fathers, stupid teenagers, and mostly-out-of-it siblings, but can’t those be exceptions to the rule? Can’t we just expect that people are smart, engaged, and interested until they prove otherwise?

I saw this on Mashable.com today:

http://mashable.com/2014/11/05/moms-inception-plot/

Yes, it’s pretty funny. And yes, I know people like this. But giving birth to a child does not actually cause this “actor-switching” disease and an inability to understand theater.

And then there are things like this:

picture of a stick figure having a phone call with their child

via themetapicture.com

Please stop making moms the butt of jokes. We are doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, researchers, clerks, caregivers, teachers, and so much more. Like Dads, we’re juggling those things and the responsibility of bringing up children to be valuable members of society. Oh, and we all have a mom, some of us have step moms, adoptive moms, mother-in-laws, and god mothers. You don’t immediately have a child and become dumb and irrelevant.

I’m almost done with the rant, but perhaps I should stop to mention why I’m feeling so strongly about this issue, and how it ties into the Startup scene.

Let’s start with the fact that I am the only mother attending the Startup Institute. (There are 4 dads there, too!) And I started to wonder why I felt like herding sheep, picking up wrappers, straightening chairs, asking people to be quiet when a speaker was trying to get our attention, and then I realized, I’m bringing my “mom-game” with me to class. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just something I realized. There is a nurturing aspect I bring to the table. I’ve spent 15 years nurturing children so far, and 23 years nurturing a relationship with my husband. These are things I can’t stop doing. I do need to be okay with everyone doing their own thing, and not solving problems for them. I frankly need to do this with my 15-year-old, too. Habits can be good and bad. Some you keep, and some you need to leave behind. Some you just check at the door.

In thinking about my position as the only mother, I started to feel inadequate. I didn’t want to talk about my children in class, because no one else was. When in all actuality, they weren’t talking about their kids because they aren’t parents! Duh. For a while I also thought people might think I’m less capable of taking on big challenges because I have this crazy responsibility called motherhood, holding me back.

But then I realized that I was making my own drama. Stereotypes might say I wear high-waisted jeans, ugly glasses, and can’t find the control panel, but in reality I’ve got a fairly powerful CV, a happy marriage, two independent and sometimes challenging teenage daughters. I own a power drill and a high-end sewing machine. I can carve a turkey and carve a stamp. I can read a book, and I’ve written 6. I am an artist, and I’ve launched artists’ careers. I can be M.O.M. and I can be C.E.O.

So, when you’re out there telling jokes, could you maybe think twice before you use “mom” in the punchline?

I am a mom. Hear me roar.

picture of a dog in a t-shirt from Startup Institute

Startup Networking for Newbies

Week two at Startup Institute Boston–Done. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. No, really, got a cool t-shirt. I’m saving it for a day when I really need the street cred. As the oldest female in the Cohort, I was worried–but I’m doing okay so far.

Which brings me to my post topic–networking for newbies. I am not an expert on networking in the startup world, but I am an expert on being new to the startup world. Here is a list of newbie tips I’ve developed.

  • Keep an open mind. You never know who you might meet.
  • Networking doesn’t have to be cheesy–stop comparing it to what that creepy “financial planner” guy you know does.
  • Take a friend. Chances are you know someone who wants company on a networking event.
  • Have business cards. They’re cheap. Get them from Moo, Vistaprint, or nextdayflyers. Now.
  • Keep a pen in your pocket. Use it to write a note on the card so you remember what you talked about or what you can follow up on.
  • Agree to meet with people to talk more at a later date. If you’re at a networking event, your goal is to network–not spend the whole evening with the same person.

Many of these tips work for general networking, too, but I find these key to maneuvering through startup events, panels, discussions, and lectures.

What other networking tips do you have?

Photo of an Owl painting

5 ways to “Draw the F#N Owl”

Week one at the StartUp Institute introduced me to my new favorite phrase and concept: “Draw the F#N Owl!”

Starting of the painting

Getting started…

Owl drawing started

Next step: drawing some circles. Technically step one.

The idea is that step one of drawing an owl picture is to draw a couple circles. Step 2. is to…”Draw the rest of the F#N Owl!” There are no instructions, just figure it out. Move forward. Be brave if necessary. Be inquisitive if needed. Be curious as the matter requires. But DON’T, no matter what, sit around and wait for someone to tell you how to get it done.

Another owl in process

More Steps Figured Out

I put a little thought into it and tried to come up with a list of 5 ways to use this methodology, here it is:

  1. Make the best chocolate chip cookies – Don’t go looking for the best recipe and never bake anything. Bake something and iterate.
  2. Make your own website – don’t wait for your kids to go up and learn html to help you. Take a class, read, try it.
  3. Fix the hole in your screen – Don’t know how? Put on your big girl panties, google it, go to Home Depot, get what you need, and fix it.
  4. Repair you faucet – too scared? read this post and give it a try.
  5. Make a movie – Figure it out, youtube it, shoot some footage, upload it to your computer

So now it’s time for you try! How can you Draw the F#N Owl?

Tell Me?

Idea Hack – A long look and a quick project

Our fantastic Cohort geared up for our first IdeaHack. We want to pump–you up!

Day 4 and 5 wrap up our first week at The Startup Institute with a fantastic trip into the world of 24 Hour Hacks.

What I’m going to share with you is not about the fantastic Women’s iLab who allowed us into their world to exercise our startup chops, or the inside secrets of Startup institute, but instead I’m going to be brave. SUPER brave. I’m going to go so far out of my comfort zone that I’m packing a suitcase and bringing waterproof matches–just in case, to share what it’s like inside the head of at least one kind of hacker. I am NOT representative of our entire class. We are all so amazingly different (SI’s specialty is admissions!). So if you’re reading this, infer nothing but what I’m saying as a journey of my own self discovery. It’s kind of like a roller coaster so if you’re not in for loop-d-loops, I’ll meet you later by the funnel cakes.


IdeaHack eve:

So by the day before, we knew a little of what was coming. One fellow hacker did a little due diligence and we had a very ROUGH idea of what to expect. I always wanted to participate in a hack. I always thought I didn’t have the technical expertise to be much help. I always wished I did.

Fears:

  • Who will my teammates be?
  • Will they work well together?
  • Will they have fun?
  • Will people think I’m a bossy-pants?
  • Should I sit back and be quiet and only speak up when it’s really important?
  • Should I share my expertise or should I let my teammates learn it on their own so they can really own it?
  • Can I ask for help from my teammates if it gets too technical?

Happy thoughts:

  • I’m supposed to use this 8 weeks to figure out how to do things “I suck at” like “managing up.” I think there is a way to do some of that in this project by looking at conflict and teamwork
  • I really want to lead my group in a way that everyone gets to rock and OWN what they love, and we all share the S*%tty parts. I think I can do that!
  • I LOVE A CHALLENGE!
  • I finally get to be part of a hack!

IdeaHack launch

First we found out about our challenge. It was great, and I think the whole cohort loved that we were spending our efforts on a worthwhile mission. Then our teams were unveiled. Every team had either 3 or 4 members. We only had three but I was super okay with that. I was also excited to be working with both a team member that I had spent some time with and one that I hadn’t.  We worked into the night and then I went home and worked a little more (there was a lot of design presentation work so I signed up to work a little more on that)

Fears:

  • Who will take the lead? I’d love to but I hate conflict. (I really want everyone to just read my mind and ask me to lead.)
  • Will everyone do their fair share?
  • Am I being bossy or insensitive?
  • Am I making sure everyone is getting what they want out of the process?

Happy thoughts:

  • OMG, this is fun
  • OMG, we’re working really well together
  • I really love doing this.
  • If hacks were a drug, I’d be an addict.

Day 2

I was the first one in the next day. I always feel super old for being the first person in. Like really, do people think I also like to do the early-bird dinner service? I’m so paranoid sometimes. I love being the first one in, and having a few quite minutes to myself to get centered for the day.

I think we all felt really good about our progress. We had a solid plan, a solid presentation, everyone was participating, we were having fun. Other teams seemed to be at all different stages, so we felt confident that we were on the right path.

We finished up the presentation and started practicing the pitch. We did it three times and came out at the same timing (within 10 seconds) all three times–we were on a roll. We came back to the space and everyone else was finishing up. There were a few last-minuters but generally the teams were on the jovial side.

Fears:

  • Am I going to mess this up?
  • Will we talk too fast or too slow?
  • Did we do enough to win?

Happy Thoughts:

  • We couldn’t fit anymore into our pitch and everything we put in is great–so we’re probably good.
  • We really had fun.
  • I think we’re going to NAIL this.

Pitches

This took a while but it was really interesting and surprisingly fun to watch. We were the fourth team (out of 10) to go. I loved seeing the more quiet members of the cohort really step forward and own the assignment. I was so proud of them. I was thinking about the fact that even I get all nervous and shaky at first and I LOVE public speaking. I can only imagine if you get that feeling and don’t like it–how hard it must be to move forward. We were ready when our turn came and we did a great job at presenting our idea. We were high energy and happy–we felt good.

Fears:

  • Is it enough?
  • Did we answer the right questions?
  • Will they like the others more than ours?

Happy thoughts:

  • We came in right on time.
  • We answered all of the questions.
  • We felt good.

Winners announced

We lost. I’m surprisingly devastated and yet really happy for the winners.

Fears:

  • I thought I was really good at this.

Happy thoughts:

  • none.
graph of my happiness level

My level of happiness fell and threw me into an emotional tailspin.


I am at a loss for words. I have a little work to do before I leave, but I’m just stunned. But I don’t understand my emotions at all.

Fears

  • Am I not actually good at this?
  • How will I ever find a job if I can’t do this?
  • If I thought I was really good at this, and I’m not, is EVERYTHING else I think also wrong?
  • How will I ever find a new, big, and meaningful way to contribute to the world?
  • OMG, I’m so lost.
  • OMG, I’m so F’n conceited.
  • What did I do wrong?
  • Why didn’t I put in back up slides, mention our metrics, do a survey, smile more, be more low-key, be more high energy, support my team more, support my team less, ask for help, stay up later, get in sooner, eat healthier, donate more, take the dog for more walks, fix better dinners, get the laundry done, finish illustrating my childrens’ book, finish any ONE of my app ideas, paint something in the last 3 months…
  • why?

Happy thoughts:

  • None.

Deeper thoughts

  • This was a super fantastic experience.
  • I loved every minute until they announced the winners.
  • I don’t want this to be like kids soccer where EVERYONE gets a damn trophy. I want to learn something. I did.
  • No one likes to lose: 
  • I am honestly happy that the other two teams won and I don’t think they weren’t deserving.
  • I know I could do better next time.
  • I don’t want to make excuses for why we didn’t win.
  • Go forward. “I’m always thinking forward and not backwards. Innovation is like gasoline. Without it, you stall.” -Ryan Shanks
  • Get over yourself.
  • Grow.

I woke up this morning (the day after) and really wished I could go into SI. I wanted to pick myself, dust myself off, and get started on “what’s next” (aka my favorite line from West Wing). So it took me a day to recover but I’m even more motivated to learn, to fail, to learn some more, and to find successes all along the journey.

There is no success without failure…right?

Day 3 – Venrock and Fresh Tilled Soil – mind blown

Today we talked “company culture” with Corey McAveeney of Kulturenvy, and “getting to know the startup ecosystem” with Jay Neely of @bostonstartupsguide–but today’s highlights for me, were definitely hanging with @AaronWhite of Venrock and Richard Banfield of @freshtilledsoil.

Some highlights of the highlights include:

  • Working with groups of 27-35 is an intense and amazing way to work effectively (Think Strategic Ops groups!)
  • When investigating Startups, inquire about investment stage. Good to get in before the money comes, but hard to get hired before the $$ comes.
  • Bridge loans can get you through a rough spot but can also help you hold out for a great round of funding.
  • Be a Maker.

Don’t you just love when a talk really speaks to you. It’s like you’ve had your own Ted Talk. I think I could have listened to Richard Banfield for another 4 hours. For those of you who know me from the creative world, you will understand why his statement “Be a Maker” actually brought tears to my eyes.

Now we’re on to an Idea Hack that will sat through day 5 so stay tuned! I’m utterly giddy to get started. What does this say about me?

(answer nicely!)

Day 2

I probably shouldn’t start every post with WOW so today I’ll start with Holy Cow.

I’ll try to pick a different aspect of the startup world and the StartUp Institute in each post so that I can offer you some value. How about today we cover a first look at networking?

At the end of the day we had an event with StartUp Institute. It was great to hear from so many people about their experience, their job search, and what they loved. Unlike a lot of networking events which seem to be like social cocktail parties, this one was all business–with the atmosphere of a frat party. FUN.

My top 3 tips for networking a real networking party:

1. Know what you want to learn – I wanted to know about the alumni’s experience, what point in the process did they get their jobs, and how did they make the program work for them. Then ask those questions!

2. When you’re “done” talking to someone, tell them you want to introduce them to another person you know there. It makes the transition less awkward.

3. If you’re really enjoying talking with someone, be considerate of their networking time and keep it short. This gives you the perfect opportunity to suggest a coffee meet up for another time!

 

What are your networking tips??

Day One – StartUp Institute

WOW.

I’m sitting here in the early morning of Day 2 just thinking about what we’ve done so far, and how much fantastic stuff we still have to work on here at StartUp Institute Boston.

Here is my list of highlights of day one:

  • Awesome collection of diversity (Old and young; men AND women; Asian, Pakistani, Australian, Malyasian; techies, Wall Street, Makers, students)
  • Marshmallow project! (21 pieces of spaghetti, masking tape, string, marshmallow -> build!) We weren’t the winners but we were first to market, in half the time. Dying to iterate.
  • Fun fact time: Can’t share much about this but…fun!
  • “What I suck at”: Can’t share about this either but cool session–talk about group therapy
  • Bahn Mi – for 20

What a fantastic day. There was a lot more but what blows me away is the potential of what can come from this 8 weeks for not just me but for the 40 some other members of my amazing cohort.

StartUp Highlight – WeGush.com

Today I’m going to share my first StartUp Highlight, and I’m so excited that it was started by a dear friend of mine. Martha Huntley, good friend, school supporter, thank-you guru, and thought leader, has developed this site that makes it easy for a group to thanks someone special in an easy and meaningful way.

We Gush solves the problem of collecting and organizing kind words and delivering them.

Here is my personal list of opportunities to Gush!

  • Teacher
  • Coach
  • Workshop
  • Retirement
  • Graduation
  • Milestone Birthday
  • Baby Shower
  • Wedding Shower
  • Illness or injury

Do you have a favorite occasion that you would add to my list? Share it here!

Have a great weekend!

J

illustrate of two computers and book.

Choose your weapon – Finding your html learning source

I’ve been wanting to make this post for three days but I really wanted to finish the Lynda.com training I was doing so that I could speak intelligently about my self-training so far.

I wanted to dig into some HTML training before I started at the StartUP Institute Boston next week. I’m a bit nervous about “going back to school” and cramming everything into a brain that is used to spitting stuff out at a fairly high level of detail and complexity. So into the information I dove.

I started with three different teaching methods: book, online video lessons, and online tutorials. The book is HTML & CSS by Jon Duckett. The online video was HTML Essentials Training (2012) by Bill Weinman on Lynda.com. And the online tutorial was HTML and CSS at Codecademy.com.

You might be reading this and think that this is overkill. Yes, it probably is. But what I know about attending any lecture or class is that you may only retain about 10% of what is being said. Or you have to put in your 10,000 hours which Malcolm Gladwell talks about here–and the Huffington Post disputes (sort of) here. So I started the clock and did all three, and here is what I found.

HTML book

Recommended reading for the Startup Institute

The book:

Coming from a very old (college days) design background, I really appreciated the beautiful layout of this book. Code book, beautiful?? Say WHAT?! Yes, beautiful. Something my graphic design hero Paul Rand would have approved of. There is plenty of negative space around the clear and succinct code examples and explanations.

It was easy to read and easy to understand and I can see myself referring to this as a great resource for some of the lesser-used HTML syntax. Even thought it has over 500 pages, it reads super-fast. The index is well done, too. Overall, I’d say the UI/UX on this book is very good.

What it doesn’t offer is actual tasks or voice which the other two options do.

lynda.com

Online Training Courses on EVERYTHING can be found here.

The Online Video:

I’ve used Lynda.com for a number of training courses and really like this resource. I think it has it’s pros and cons, and if you can work around those, you’ll be a happy customer.

Pros: You can find just about anything you want to learn about here, I swear, it’s just missing “How to change your oil” and the “best way to make a hardboiled egg.” Kidding aside, there are more classes on here and in my “playlist” than I’ll ever have time to get to. Another pro is that you can change the speed of the video. If there are parts to a lesson you know or maybe you just want to review, you can watch them faster, and get through them faster.

Cons: You definitely want to download your exercise files if you have a membership that includes these and try to follow along. Not really have work-alongs makes it difficult for me to retain what I’m learning. Now, in fairness I will say that they uploaded a newer version of HTML Essentials Training (Sept 2014) after I had already started the version in my playlist. The newer version has some “Challenge” projects which I will probably go in and try when I have time. I would recommend this version and not the 2012 version. Another Con is cost. This is a subscription-based service and if you use it regularly its a steal, if you don’t remember to use it, it can be an expensive subscription to upkeep.

codecademy

Suggested resource for the StartUp Institute.

The Online Tutorials:

If you like earning badges, positive reinforcement, and hands on learning, then Codecademy could be just what you’re looking for. The 7 hour lesson was broken down into very small manageable bites. You could easily add 15 minutes of training to your lunch hour or morning routine and work through this lesson in no time. I started the JavaScript class and I would say that not all classes are created equal. There is a lot less guidance on the JavaScript class than I found on the HTML. The set up is rather ingenious, you just type in the code and you see the results. When it isn’t right, you get a red pop-up warning. Unfortunately, the warnings could use a little UX intervention as they aren’t really written in everyday english so that you can understand what to look for. Patience is a virtue when using these tutorials and you get stuck–but you’ll figure it out. Best part of Codecademy? It’s free. Now that’s totally affordable!

In Summary

I hate to say it but I really liked doing all three learning styles in combination. If I had to change anything, I would have done the newer HTML Essentials Training on Lynda.com, but it didn’t exist when I kicked this cram session off. The Codecademy and the book are the more affordable options but if there’s a lot of stuff out there that you want to learn about, Lynda.com is not a bad deal.

How do you like to learn?

Picture of an HTML & CSS book and snacks

Training and Traveling

Today I’m headed back home to Michigan to visit with family before I start the intensive Startup Institute program, but I can’t leave well enough alone so I brought a little home work with me for the plane ride from Boston. I can’t help but wonder if people who are looking over my wonder what the HECK I’m reading. Oh well, let them wonder…I’m busy debating <hgroup> and why you would or wouldn’t want to use it.

The other thing I’m debating is whether or not I want to go back in and tweak the profile that I created per the StartUp Institute prep work assignment. I like the idea of revising it now that I’ve had a couple days to live with it. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the students’ profiles. I’m looking forward to getting to know them soon.

Tomorrow I’ll probably dive head first back into Lynda.com so that I can get some time in under my belt. Looking forward to it. I’ll let you know what class I focus on and what I think of it, incase it’s helpful.