Using Non-Violent Communication for business

I’m just getting started reading the Non-Violent Communication book. I was in the middle of chapter 2 when I put it to work, with amazing results, in a business setting. Needless to say I’m sold on the idea and I’ll continue reading the book, perfecting it and recommending it to other people. This is what happened.

I was doing market-fit research for a new product called Glycast, which is like AdSense for Podcasts. Some years ago I built the core tech for it, but the timing was wrong and it sat on the shelf until now. Now I want to put this tech to good use, so I recorded some videos explaining how it works for podcasters and advertisers and started reaching out to talk to them, get their feedback, refine the product, validate the idea.

Shortly after setting up the landing page I got a message from Dave Jackson of School of Podcasting. In his email he asked a few questions about the service and linked to a YouTube video. I clicked the link to find a video recorded by him, with the title “Clueless Podcasts Advertisers”.  I though maybe this was about things to avoid, to watch out for. Nope, that video is about me. He never mentions me by name but he describes my operation and quotes me verbatim.

My blood started to boil. I’m not trying to harm anybody. I’m just searching for feedback to build a product podcasters and advertisers are happy with and the first message I get is attacking it. In my 6 years or so of running startups I been constantly attacked, so this wasn’t new to me. I don’t understand the mentality of people that when they don’t have a use for your product, they attack you, insult you, spread false information, etc. I normally just move on.

My first reply to the Clueless Podcast Advertisers video was, well, clueless. It went something like this:

I really don’t appreciate you posting a video, calling us clueless. We are not trying to harm anyone blah blah blah and you are attacking us. You are saying this and that and your are wrong, WRONG, WRONG.

Thankfully, I decided to stop and apply the principles of Non-Violent Communication I just learned. The first thing we have to do is observe without evaluation. We often mix the two. The books gives a few examples, such as:

You are too generous.

which is a mixing of observation and evaluation. On the other hand

When I see you give all your lunch money to others, I think you are being too generous.

is separating the two. Me, feeling attacked, was an evaluation of the situation. It was time to ignore that painful evaluation and observe. I re-read his email, I re-watched the video, observing, like an impartial third party and what I found surprised me.

David is helping people get into podcasting. These people are in a vulnerable position because they don’t yet understand the industry they are getting into so they can be subject to scams and abuse by unscrupulous third parties. I bet David is constantly exposed to people that signed up for the wrong service, bought the wrong microphone and now they are coming to him for help. And all he can do is break the bad news: you wasted money, you wasted time, you lost your audience, you are re-starting from scratch. I constantly see entrepreneurs making similar mistakes and I have to break the news and every time I wish I was there earlier, to warn them.

From David’s point of view, I was an potentially unscrupulous third party that was trying to pull off a vendor lock in. Podcasters needed to be warned about me! At this point, I felt I was on David’s side. How weird! It was a fast onset of high level empathy. I re-wrote my answer to be:

About the video. I’m not here to harm anyone. I’m here to make a product to help podcasters and advertisers connect, be more efficient. I’m building whatever podcasters will need to be happy. I understand your worry and your desire to warn your audience that might not understand RSS distribution and make a bad decision now that will cost them a chunk of their audience later on. That’s not something I want to do and I wouldn’t be happy with any company holding an audience hostage like that. I do want to work with you, and other podcasters, to make sure I meet your needs of an excellent platform that will help monetize your podcast, whatever your size is, whatever your topic is, and focus on your craft, on what you love, on podcasting.

I sent the email and I felt immediately better about it. Much better than if I sent the previous version. I consider it a success for Non-Violent Communication and I moved on. Shortly after he asked me for permission to publish this email and I said yes. What I wasn’t expected is that he was going to record a podcast episode reading the whole email and commenting about it:

Among other things he says, referring to us:

I’m completely blown away by their response

About our solution, he says:

interesting, creative and I like it

He particularly refers to the paragraph I re-wrote as “the coolest part on the email”.

What a phenomenal result! I’m completely sold already on the principles of Non-Violent Communication and I can’t wait to finish reading the book and possibly reading other books too, to learn how to apply them.


Happy New Year

Happy New Year! Up to now, Marty McFly has showed us what to expect, but from now on, we are in uncharted territory. It’s time to start making our own future, our own decisions. We can now focus on things more important than hoverboards. Just kidding, hoverboards are cool.

More than four years ago I co-founded Carousel Apps and since then I’ve been the CTO and now I am the CEO. I, like many geeks and entrepreneurs, can super focus on one thing and ignore all others. This can be very productive, but it can isolate you.

For example, I forgot how much I enjoy sitting down with someone and being the bounce board for their ideas or providing my technical expertise on how to execute those ideas. I ended up doing just this recently, which was a reminder, and now I want to do it more often. During 2016, I want to do it once a week.

I’ve been coding for 25 years, I used around 17 different language in many different operating systems and countless frameworks. I worked for Google. I co-founded two startups (or more, depending how you count). I had production systems in both Linux and Windows. I use a Mac and I used Linux as my desktop. I’m the CEO of a distributed company. If any of these things or the many others I’ve done make it sounds like it would be useful for us to sit down for an evening and talk about your startup, let’s do it!

During 2016 I want to spend one evening a week helping a different entrepreneur each time, specially non technical ones, with their issues, specially the technical ones. I want to do this for free, just because it’s fun. I’m located in London and I want to divide my time roughly equally between face to face meetings in London and remote ones with people from all over the world. By the end of 2016, I hoped to have helped 26 London based entrepreneurs and 26 from other places.

If this is something that you want, fire an email to and tell me a bit about yourself and what do you want to talk about.

Happy New Year!

Startup Weekend Lausanne 2011

Picture of the Eneo team

The Eneo team

This past weekend I participated in the Startup Weekend Lausanne 2011, my first startup weekend ever. It was amazingly interesting. I worked on an application called Eneo. Eneo allows you to talk with people around you using your mobile phone, people that you don’t know, so the next time you are stuck at the airport waiting in a 3 hours delayed flight, you don’t have to eat alone. Find someone else in the same situation and go for lunch.

I think the application has great potential and I was told that the jury didn’t understand it. I don’t know, they spoke in french. Supposedly the event was going to be in french and english but was all in french… I was bored when I wasn’t coding.

I’m thankful I didn’t present an idea, I would have done a poor job of doing it. I now wrote a list of things to do when presenting an idea. I was going to publish it, but it’s gold so I’ll keep it to myself, at least, until I use the techniques. Muahahaha.

I chose a company to work with, but the guy with the idea decided not to work on it because he didn’t get enough people. It was him, one designer and me, a programmer. I was surprised. Then I saw most groups were more than 5 people, some may have been even 8. For me that’s absolutely crazy. The startup sizes that make sense for me are 2, 3 and 4. Any less and it gets lonely (tell me about it!), any more and it gets crowded.

When the group I was in disolved, I turned into a free developer and the four or five groups that didn’t get a developer already started to pitch to me (now they did speak in English ;), at the same time. It was crazy. I think I got a glimpse of how investors feel. At any rate, immediate ego boost for a developer. If you are a developer I recommend to attend this events, is great for you and great for the event.

While working on our project I did make some mistakes. One was working on a mobile application. I haven’t done mobile in a while, I’m not fast at it; not weekend-fast at least. Give me a week and I’ll be rocking your phone, but in a weekend, no. I decided I wasn’t going to code, but I’m a coder and in less than two hours after joining Eneo I was writing code. I paid a step price when I tried to make the application look mobile by using jqtouch. I never used jqtouch before so there were a lot of things not working and I wasted precious hours on it. Big mistake.

My second mistake was trying to make a product. I wanted to woo the jury by showing an active product with users already. I failed to do that. I should have gone straight to coding a demo, not a finished product. What we ended up with was half product half demo, not good at either.

Here’s the app running in a desktop browser (imagine it’s a phone):

Next time I’ll do better.

What is a "startup project"?

I’m (hopefully) creating a term: “startup project”. A startup project is a project done on the side, not setting up a company, with or without partners, with the intention of one day becoming a startup.

I don’t have a startup, but I have many startup projects. Many silly little ideas with great aspirations. I need a term to separate that from non-startup project (like writing free software or build a house for the dog).

My startup projects are:

Many of them are dead or inactive. With .gitignore and .hgignore I believe I’m already getting as many visits as I possible can and it’s not that many (understandably, it’s extremely nichy).

RadioControlPedia is there, providing the information it has and open to anyone to contribute. I have some plans for it in the future but for now, I’m putting my time in other ideas. I really want to stay away from content for now.

Restraq and Hear a Blog deserve posts of their own, so wait for it.

Meanwhile, what do you think about the term “startup project”?