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Posts from the ‘TeamCamp’ Category

Too Much Structure Can Kill Creativity

September 30, 2013

Chris Schmitt

When I think about the best collaborations I’ve been involved in with TeamCamp, the collaborations where we ideated, prototyped and produced something, were by far the best.

The richest collaboration was definitely on a web service we developed called Twegather. The idea was born from a problem that we personally experienced, and it allowed our diverse group apply our skills. We rapidly prototyped a service, from a quick and dirty MVP, to a full fledged service. We pivoted through three UI designs, and constantly innovated to make the service easier to use. Ultimately, we closed the service down because we really couldn’t see a way to monetize the service and we all got busy with other things. But it was an incredibly fun and rich learning experience and I never regretted a minute of it.

On the other side of the coin was the 3 months we spent trying to find a niche market. In this case, we followed a set process to test ideas and determine of there was a sufficient market to turn the idea into a business. We rushed the ideation stage and hurried to get to the point where we could test the idea through Google Adwords. Despite meeting weekly, we never did come up with anything and while we learned a lot, it felt more like drudgery than fun.

I think what killed our enthusiasm was quite frankly the focus on finding a way to make money online, rather than serve an untapped customer need. Searching for a niche market isn’t always about doing something you love; it’s more likely about solving a grinding problem, something that people are will to pay for, but not necessarily something that you’d be excited to wake up for every morning. All of the niches we stumbled across seemed mundane; it was simply hard to get excited about it.

For me, it isn’t just about making money. If that were the case, then there’s far easier and less risky ways to do that. I already have a great job at a great company. I love web developing because you can create neat and innovative things. Some of those things might not be practical, but who cares if your doing it for the enjoyment? I think the other TeamCampers on the team probably felt the same way.

A main theme of the Creativity, Innovation and Change course is getting to know yourself. Personal reflection tools like CENTER add a character development dimension to the course that is an important first step towards unlocking your creative potential CENTER is an acronym, that stands for Character, Entrepreneurship, owNership, Tenacity, Excellence, and Relationship. For me, my CENTER is:

  • Character: I love learning about new ways to do things and trying them out;
  • Entrepreneurship: I’m unhappy with the status quo (especially when it’s not working) and I like to change things up (even if sometimes if sometimes it doesn’t work);
  • owNership: When I choose to do something, I learn everything I can about it to do it really well, be it cycling across Canada, learning to program in Rails or R, or oil painting;
  • Tenacity: I tend to get discouraged easily, so I need to put negativity and setbacks behind me and just keep going. Intelligent Fast Failure is helping me to overcome my fear of failure. In fact, it’s kind of find it fun to try things that have a slim chance of succeeding just to see what happens;
  • Excellence: I plan to keep learning and creating and staying healthy for as long as I am able;
  • Relationships: My family is my wife and my kids who mean everything to me; my community is the Ottawa startup community who are always enthusiastic, supportive and creative.

Before you try something new, it’s important to understand yourself and what motivates you. It’s easy to get distracted from that and occasionally follow the wrong path.

Learning from these experiences I now know that for TeamCamp to be successful we need to:

  1. Brainstorm and constantly come up with many, many more ideas;
  2. Follow-through on the ones that have a high interest level for yourself and are aligned with our collective CENTER;
  3. Build it! Don’t worry about whether it’s going to make money. Rather, focus on making people happy through what you create (the money will come);
  4. Lead or join a team that has similar values to yourself.

– Chris


Support Me in The Weekend to End Women’s Cancers

April 26, 2011

Chris Schmitt

On June 4-5th Vicki and I will be participating in The Weekend to End Women’s Cancers. The “Weekend” is a two-day, 60-kilometre walk through the neighborhoods of Ottawa. This is my third year participating in the walk.

We all know someone close to us whose life has been turned upside down by cancer. Your donation would really help to make a difference. Funding goes towards providing access to research and new therapies, reducing wait times, improving quality of life and providing care closer to home. Did you know that Ottawa is leading the way in cancer research?

60kms is a long walk so Vicki and I have been training hard, walking up to 15kms every Sunday. Soon we’ll be increasing our training walks to 20kms and then 25kms. It’s challenging and takes a lot of time, but it’s nothing compared to what women diagnosed with cancer go through.

If you’ve enjoyed TeamCamp over the past two and half years why don’t you consider supporting me? As you know I don’t charge anyone to participate in TeamCamp; it’s my way of giving something back to the community. This is your chance to do something special. Together, Vicki and I have committed to raise over $4000 for the Weekend. Any donation would be appreciated.

The easiest way to donate is on my personal page.

Thank you and God bless.

Predictions for 2011

January 6, 2011

Chris Schmitt

We now have a “tradition” at TeamCamp: everyone has an opportunity to make predictions about the year to come. It doesn’t have to be about technology; it can be about anything. Last December we gathered around the proverbial table, shared some Christmas cheer and shared our insights for 2011. But first, let’s take a look at our predictions for 2010:

Eric – Google Web Toolkit will take off making it easier to develop web apps:

Outcome: Well, yeah, I guess a few people use Google Webkit. Eric, we’ll give you that one.

Mike – 1. Oracle will have a challenging time trying absorb the Sun (and mysql) 2. Mashups.

Outcome: For sure the Oracle/Sun merger has been controversial. Should we be worried about the future of Java? Probably. On the other hand, there are lot’s of other/better opensource platforms out there.

Bryan – 1. HTML5 – Flash and Silverlight applications will start moving to HTML5. 2. ChromeOS

Outcome: Good one Bryan! More and more websites are deploying HTML5 and Apple decided not to support Flash on the iPad. Who knew? I guess Bryan did!

Fred – Real time video will start to appear on wireless devices. Other countries already have it, why not Canada?

Outcome: Yup, that’s happened too. For example, both “The March to Fear Alive” and the “The Rally to Restore Sanity” were both made available live on wireless devices. In addition, Apple launched Facetime on iPhone4.

Ian -1. The economy will “double dip”. 2. Twitter will figure out how to monetize its service – or suffer a steady decline in valuation.

Outcome: The economy definitely convulsed: Ireland, Greece… need I say more? Twitter has started to monetize its service. But I think the jury is still out on that one.

Cory – 1. There will be more angel and VC money and as a result more startups will stay in Ottawa rather then relocate to Silicon Valley. 2. The web will leverage people-power to greatly improve recommendation engines. 3. Google’s biggest threat will be the US Justice Dept.

Outcome: Another good prediction: example – Shopify received a 1st round of VC money, Protus was acquired for $213M.

Len – Social networks will dramatically change the way people search for and find work.

Outcome: Good call! More and more people find jobs through Twitter. LinkedIn has introduced social networking plugins. GitHub Jobs.

Chris – Hyperlocal web ecosystems will take off.

Outcome: While not an “ecosystem” there’s no doubt that Groupon has figured out how to tap into the Hyperlocal market and created a plethora of copy cats.

Although we hit some pretty good predictions, that were lots of things we didn’t predict:

– Curated content – applications like Flipboard has done a great job of providing beautifully formatted layouts of your Twitter feed.

– Netflix – Finally access to decent entertainment over the Internet at an affordable price. But who knew it would be so popular us to generate as much as 20% of the bandwidth on the Internet?

Now, predictions for 2011:

Ian – Sarah Palin will announce her attention to acquire Blackberry One (i.e. run for president). Well, she hunts – what more can we say? Also, she’s Glen Beck’s first choice. This prediction, by the way, is a direct outcome of the “Rally to Restore Fear” (or was in “Restoring Honour” – oh well, whatever). Against the advice of everyone, Ian’s second prediction: next year Rim’s global sales will flatten – this is the “end of the beginning”.

Filip – First prediction: Mobile devices will outsell PCs and laptops. Second prediction, native apps and web apps will unify into a single marketplace.

Mike – Small developer shops that develop apps as a craft will flourish. It will be a new “cottage industry”. Mike’s second prediction: 2011 will be the year of the app store, but there will be a big mess and a lot of failures.

Denis – Smart phones will become commoditized. Other smart phones will become “good enough”. Denis’ second prediction: we’ll see a regime change in South Korea or a war with North Korea.

Jean-Claude – As an outcome of WikiLeaks all diplomats throughout the world will be required to take extensive training on RSA AES256. (Mike’s prediction: they’ll still screw it up.)

Brian – The Playbook will crash and burn (within North America anyway). It won’t make a big dent in the enterprise market because companies are already thinking about moving to another platform. Brian thinks the Playbook will do OK globally. Brian’s second prediction: Poor offers on group buying sites will drive competition and lower margins.

Madhi – Nokia will rise again.

Chris – iPad will break into the enterprise market. Enterprises will start to deploy single purpose apps that access enterprise applications well suited to mobile platforms. related to this prediction, Chris predicts that the general purpose PC in the enterprise will be replaced by platforms that provide single purpose applications.

Bryan – Oracle will continue to screw up open source. Open office will not survive. Java will be screwed up. Bryan’s second prediction: The will be a lot of changes in banking. For example, Banksimple.

How will things really turn out in 2011? I guess will have to wait until next Christmas to find out. Stay tuned!

– Chris

Start-up Guide to the Galaxy

November 15, 2010

Chris Schmitt

Start-up Guide to the Galaxy

Ha, you don’t know how long I’ve be waiting to use that line! Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but over the last couple of years we’ve learned a lot, collected some great resources and listened to fantastic speakers. For this 2nd anniversary edition post on the TeamCamp blog I thought it would be nice to provide some background and round up some of the of articles that are worth a read.

First things First

I still remember that day when I naively cold-called Ian Graham at The Code Factory (TCF): “Hi, I’ve got this idea for a web service. Do you know of anyone that might be interested in building it with me?” Ian’s response: “Come on over. The first hour’s free.” Still not sure whether he was serious or not, I headed over to TCF and demo’d my very first web application, GiftMyList. Ian seemed impressed, enough so that he suggested I demo my application at DemoCamp. Then we had this notion that perhaps there are other people out there want to join the fun. Thus was born TeamCamp.

Where it all started – From zero to 60 in 6 seconds.

What is TeamCamp? – TeamCamp in slides.

The grand strategy – The kind of stuff our speakers talk about

Great ideas – they’re everywhere

Every great business starts with an idea. A germ of idea that gets tested, and then warped, then chewed up and spat out, so that you barely recognize what you started with. But don’t fret: all the best inventions started that way.

Tip of the ice berg – So you think your idea is so amazingly fantastic that you can’t share it ’cause someone might steal it – GET A LIFE!

What’s a good idea? – How do you know when you’ve got a great idea; something that you could actually sell?

Work it! Work it! – Collaborating to develop your idea (PS – this is where Twegather was created).

Life of a TeamCamper – This is what happens when you get really hooked.

Finding people to work with you

So you’ve got a great idea, or two, or ten.  So what? Unless your friggin Einstein you’re probably going to need some help. And believe it or not, most people aren’t going to think much of your dumb-ass idea. You’ll need the 3 P’s: persistence, passion and patience. Keep at it. Show people that you’re idea will work. Build a Minimum Viable Product (see below). Pretty soon you’ll get your own tribe.

Do you have time to start something new? – Busting the “I don’t have enough time” myth.

Start your own “Camp” – Find a tribe to join and if you can’t find one then start your own.

Forming your first team – More expert advice on finding the right people for your team.

Bacon and Eggs – Important advice from some farm animals

Building a Start-up

Now you’ve got an idea, and a small team to work on it with you. What’s next?

Minimum Viable Product – The most import thing you need to do before you go any further.

Business Planning – How do you write a business plan for a web-based business? Clue: The back of a napkin works particularly well.

Business Models – Abundance vs. Scarcity – this will blow your mind.

Um, or you could just charge for it – A simple way to determine if your product/service has legs.

Change the rules baby! – Don’t simply settle for offering the same thing your competitor offers.

Dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s (or shit you may never need)

If you reach this point your really moving. You’ve got a working service, with some real customers, and some wild ass concept of a business model, and

Structuring your business – Everybody thinks this is the first thing they have to do. Reality: wait until you get your first paying customer.

Raising capital for your start-up – The absolutely best presentation ever on raising capital from the genius John Shannon (just don’t use the word “funding” in front of John).

Intellectual Property – You’re really motoring if you need this shit – and you will. PS – see the link for Neil Milton’s book. I’m sure he’ll give you a copy if you ask nicely.

After thoughts

For those of you that have been to TeamCamp, I hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane; For those of you that have never been, you now should get the gist of some of the things we do.

Care to join us? Our next meeting is this Thursday, Nov 18th at 6pm in The Code Factory, 246 Queen St. Help us plan the 3rd year of TeamCamp. RSVP here.

Parting thoughts: becoming a “linchpin” – No matter what happens you’ll become a better person for trying.


TeamCamper Chris.

Getting a Better Job Doesn’t Mean Quitting

May 1, 2010

Chris Schmitt

Note: this post was originally posted in The Code Factory’s blog The Road Less Traveled.

For me, one of the biggest revelations that came from reading Seth Godin’s latest book Linchpin is that getting a better job doesn’t mean quitting.

In the fall of 1997 I returned to work refreshed and energized after a year long sabbatical. I was (and still am) eager as hell to execute my vision of bringing telecommunications into the 21st century; in particular, moving a traditional telecommunications company toward a more collaborative, innovative, agile and open environment; one that partners with it’s suppliers and customers to build a better service.

Technically speaking, I’m not in a position of power within my company to actually do any of those things. I’m basically middle management. I started TeamCamp in the fall of 2008 because I was quite frankly bored with the content and seemingly glacial progress I was making at work. I decided to take the matter into my own hands and find other like-minded people that were interested in building web apps and learning about what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

A funny thing happened. Not only did I learn about starting my own business, agile development, minimum viable product, open source, etc., I also got better at my day job: I took more risks, I aggressively pushed my peers, my staff and management to think “outside the box”. I pushed the IT department to modernize the development process, I pushed Marketing to become more customer-focussed, I pushed our Technology team to become more agile, I pushed HR to introduce a better learning and development environment.

Still, I was afraid that if I pushed too hard I was going to piss somebody off and get myself fired. It didn’t happen. I started getting more challenging projects and more recognition.

Then I started pushing more; I cautiously started telling folks at the office about TeamCamp. Again, initially I was concerned that telling my boss and other key executives that I run a group that turns good ideas into startups might end up getting me the ‘boot’. It didn’t happen. Instead, I got put on a team to develop my company’s 2020 vision and strategy.

Suddenly, I feel like I’m beginning to achieve the vision I that had when I first returned to work in 2007. In doing so, I feel good about myself, and I believe I’ve become more valuable.

The lesson I learned is this: If you’re unhappy with your job then for God’s sake do something about it. If you think there’s a better way to do something: learn about it. Write a proposal. Ask to try something new. If you think you can do something better yourself then try it. Only good things will come of it. Do these things and you will become a linchpin, and you’ll be a hell of a lot happier with yourself.

– Chris

PS – If you’re interested in becoming a linchpin, Seth has posted a 45 minute-long live recording of a master class session he did last week in New York. Download LinchpinSessionSethGodinApril (Used with permission – see this post by Seth Godin)

Is Your Web Site Effective? Find Out With Google Analytics

February 5, 2010

Chris Schmitt

You have a website, but is it working the way you intended? Are your customers using your site as you expected? How are they getting to your site? How are they finding you? Is your “call-to-action” button on your front page effective at creating conversions? You’re putting a lot of time into content, but is it getting read? Measuring is the first step in making smart decisions.

I’m very pleased to announce that Pascal Laliberté will come talk to us about Google Analytics, a free tool that tracks the visitors to your site. In his presentation, he will cover:

  • How Google Analytics works
  • Drilling-down into the data to get specific answers
  • A close look at key concepts such as:  Conversions, Bounce rate, Traffic sources, Segments, Event tracking and Campaigns
  • Setting up goals for your web site
  • Comparison with other analytics tools, such as ClickTale, Crazy Egg, Mint, and an introduction to Google Website Optimizer
  • Best practices on setting up profiles for multi-lingual sites (e.g. government domains)

Knowledge level: beginner to advanced

About the presenter:

Pascal Laliberté has been making web sites for the past 13 years. He currently works at the University of Ottawa as part of their central web services team, where he implemented Google Analytics for the University’s entry pages and developed standards-based templates for the University’s more than 90 website owners. He also contributed to the design of Twegather, a start-up project initiated by TeamCamp members. Pascal has a passion for the web, specifically for iterative, task-oriented web design.

When: Feb 18th, 2010 at 5:45PM
Where: The Code Factory, 246 Queen St., 2nd Floor (ring the buzzer)

While an RSVP is not required, it would be great if you could let us know you’re coming via Twegather:

Tweet Yes ›
Tweet Maybe ›

See you there, and don’t forget the cookie jar.

Tweet this event

– Chris

$1 for a 30-Day Evaluation?

February 3, 2010

Chris Schmitt

I came across this company’s website today. AWeber provides email marketing software to help small businesses automate email follow up and email newsletter delivery. Check it out – it’s an impressive website, informative and the software looks very easy to use. It seems like a “no-brainer” to give them a try.

What I found interesting is that they charge $1 for a 30-day trial, and then charge a higher monthly fee afterwards. What I like about it is it gets you to think twice about signing up for an essentially free trial. Even though it’s only $1 and you can cancel, it still feels like you’re committing to something. At the same time, you feel like the company is confident that you’re going to like what they have to offer. I think the conversion rate (people converting to fully paid accounts) would be very high.

With all the talk “free” vs. charging your customers, I like the approach this company has taken.

What do you think?

TeamCamp Dec 17th ’09 Christmas Theme

December 12, 2009

Chris Schmitt

Does Santa Claus use the web to keep track of children’s wishlists? Does Mrs Claus monitor Facebook to sort out who’s naughty and nice? What is Frosty’s Twitter ID? Can you use foursquare to check in at the North Pole? Can you use Twegather to plan your New Years Eve party?

Debate these questions (see my answers below) and many other commonly asked questions at the next TeamCamp. Plus that’s not all: listen to webentrepreneurs pitch the latest and greatest ideas and speculation about the “next big thing” in 2010.

Coming? Bring your favourite Christmas treat and let’s make it a party!

When: This Thursday Dec 17th, ’09 @ 5:45pm – 8:00pm

When: The Code Factory, 246 Queen St, Ottawa – use the buzzer to take the elevator up to the 2nd floor

Let us know if your coming via Twegather
Reply Yes ›
Reply Maybe ›

Or just show up!

And don’t forget about the “cookie jar”…

Answers to questions above:

  1. Yes – Santa has a web site:  Another interesting fact:  Santa created Linux (with the Tooth Ferry’s help)
  2. Maybe – But would you take the chance? Be careful what you write in your status, you never know who’s watching (adults only). Also, watch out for Facebook Santa scammers!
  3. Possibly – There are a large number of Twitterers  named Jack Frost.  Could one of them be the real frosty?
  4. Sorry, no – The North Pole is not yet been added to Foursquare, but check again soon!
  5. Yes, absolutely – Twegather is perfect especially if you want lot’s of your Twitter friends to come.  Ask to retweet your invitation and you might get their friends too.  But make sure you have lots of room – you might get more party goers then you expected!

Do You Have the Time to Start Something New?

October 29, 2009

Chris Schmitt

Do you have the time?Believe it or not, there are only 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week.  You should make sure you have the time to start a new business, or a user group, or a new hobby, our a tribe, or anything that’s “new” and you’re passionate about.

Last weekend I went through a very simple exercise to make sure I really had the time to work on my project. I made a list of all the important things that I need to allocate my time to: work, sleep, family, friends, chores, travel time, learning, rest and relaxation, meals, exercise, commuting etc.  I concluded that I had 10 hours per week to spend on my project. I’ve been using Bubbletimer to test my assumptions.

Is ten hours a week enough time to start something new? David Heinemeier Hansson created Basecamp in 10 hours per week, and by the way, he also created the Ruby on Rails framework at the same time. Believe me, 10 hours per week is a lot if you’re focused.

There’s also “hidden time”. I plan and strategize while I run; I catch up on reading while I’m sitting on the bus; I listen to audio books; I listen to music or catch up on important family time while I’m in the car; I catch up on work while waiting in the airport terminal.

What if you’re on a team with 3 others and everyone is spending 10 hours a week on a project? That’s 40 hours per week – the equivalent of a full time employee. Actually, if you think about it it’s really more than the equivalent of a full time employee.

Your circumstances may be different. You may be a full time student. You may be starting a family. You may have a 60-hour work week. You may have other more important priorities.

Just trust me, go through this simple exercise: do you have 10 hours per week to do something that you are passionate about?

– Chris

Abundance vs. Scarcity

September 14, 2009

Chris Schmitt

Recently there was a thoughtful post by marketing guru Seth Godin on using free as part of your business model. In particular, I was drawn to the line:

…you need to make something else abundant in order to gain attention. Then, and only then, will you be able to sell something that’s naturally scarce.

I have been thinking about some of the ideas pitched at TeamCamp: while it’s challenging enough to come up with an abundant service offering that would grow your user base, it’s the scarce component of the service that’s really the hard part. What aspect of your service would be so scarce (i.e. insufficient to meet a demand or requirement) that customers are willing to pay for it? In other words, what aspect of your service solves a problem so well that customers are willing to pay for it because they can’t get it anywhere else?

I think the particular challenge with offering a service that is fundamentally free is that it makes it even harder to find the scarce aspect of your service that you could charge for. In an advertising-based business model the abundant (i.e. free) aspect of the service has to bring enough relevant (and scarce) eyeballs to your website that would earn you enough advertising revenue to make it worthwhile. The problem of course is that there is no scarcity of options for advertising these days, and your service is likely competing for limited advertising budgets.

Of course advertising is only one way to make money from a web application: you could earn revenue from premium users (i.e. the “freemium” model), through affiliate sales of goods and services, or by selling analytic data are a few other ways.

But I think it’s a great way to look at it: don’t stop at identifying the abundant aspect of your service; make sure you can sell something that is scarce as well. For example, think about one or more aspects of your service that would solve a problem: is what you plan to offer scarce enough that someone would be willing to pay for it?

It’s not hard to find out: ask someone within what is your target market whether they would pay for what you plan to offer.

The next TeamCamp meeting is this Thursday at 5:45PM The Code Factory, 246 Queen St., Ottawa. It’s a great place to pitch your ideas and work with a team of like-minded individuals to help you develop your business idea.

Hope to see you there!

– Chris