Everything I Needed to Know About Entrepreneurship, I learned from Star Wars

Star Wars. The original Star Wars. Perhaps those movies were defining films of our time. Though the first title (aptly numbered Star Wars IV) was filmed in the late 1970s, it continues to define movie nerddom today. Of course, Star Wars has seen somewhat of a renaissance due to the licensing of the intellectual property for the creation of video games like LEGO™ Star Wars and the continual memeage (is that a word?) of Yoda and Darth Vader quotes.

Nonetheless, it, like any good story, is successful in no small part due to the parallels in life that can be drawn. Much like how Office Space taught me about Public Relations, Star Wars taught me about entrepreneurship.

Don’t doubt me. The nuggets of wisdom are strewn throughout. In fact, I’ve developed my entire professional life around Star Wars. 1 You don’t believe me? Check this out.

Always Two There Are, a Master and an Apprentice

No matter how good you are in your professional life, there is always someone better. Yoda reminds me that, there should always be someone I look up to for learning. Sometimes this person (or people) is better than you at what you do. Other times, this person (or people) is someone who excels in a complementary way.

One of the founders of WP Engine, Jason Cohen, is one of these guys. Jason is amazingly technically (if I can keep him away from Javaisms while writing PHP code) and is the brainchild behind our infrastructure. More importantly, the dude is one of the savviest businessmen around in a completely unassuming way. He is not the guy who is going to walk into a meeting a toot his own horn like some investors or entrepreneurs do. He simply is and carries chutzpah. I have not known Jason very long but in the time I have, I’ve developed a real appreciation for him.

Likewise, Geoff Livingston has become a close friend but he’s also an incredibly focused entrepreneur. I’ve known Geoff since his early days where he was running a social media PR firm out of Alexandria, VA. Geoff and I became close but it wasn’t until I lived with him for six months in 2008-09 that I realized the drive this kid had. He frequently asked for my advice on things that were happening professionally, all of which will remain off the record in the circle of trust.

However, he has demonstrated since that he knows how to make tough decisions and go after what he believes in. Earlier this year, Geoff co-founded Zoetica to assist non-profits and socially conscious companies in their communications efforts. His drive has led him to lead in the CitizenGulf effort to raise money for oil spill cleanup in the Gulf, and to raise awareness and change in the policy world.

His dedication to his cause is something I’m watching and learning from.

Yahoooooo! You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home

Remember when the Death Star invasion was happening in Star Wars IV? The X wings were being pursued down the trough by TIE fighters. Darth Vaders fighter was on the hunt to blow Luke away. Han Solo brings his Millenium Falcon into play at the last minute and with some perfectly timed shot, knocks Vaders fighter into oblivion allowing Luke to handle his business and blow the Death Star away.

In business, the ultimate goal is always to have an exit. If it’s not, you’re holding it wrong. You don’t want to stay in a job forever. You may want to delay because you have more you want to do with the startup before selling it, but at the end of the day, if you’re putting blood, sweat and tears into a startup… you want the big pay day at the end.

This is what drives many entrepreneurs to settle for less money in exchange for more equity in the startup. Get less cash now for way more cash down the road.

Like the Death Star invasion, startup mode will have you fighting a guerrilla war at times… fighting for your survival… skirmishing to get a leg up. Once you’re clear and have done everything you can to get the company to a specific place, cash in! Blow this thing and go home. Live to fight again another day.

Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?

One of the more hilariously ridiculous quotes from Star Wars IV came from Leah when Luke rescued her from being executed by the Empire.

The takeaway from this quote is pretty simple… never let anyone denigrate what you do as an entrepreneur. There will always be second guessing and there will always be other entrepreneurs who feel like thy know better and can offer advice. You know your company better than anyone else. You know your decision-making fiefdom better than anyone else. Own your offense and maintain confidence in what you do, and what you are building.

Luke, there is another Sky….walker…

The dying words of the Jedi Master Yoda. These words were the clue to Luke that he had a twin. That there could be another Jedi candidate. That there could be another Skywalker to defeat the evil Empire.

In the Lean Startup mode of starting businesses, the idea is to fail and fail fast if you’re going to fail at all. That way, if you fail and fail quickly, you can learn quickly without having put a lot of time and effort into something that will never work. Taking lessons learned, you can move on to the next startup and try again. Keep in mind that, statistically, 9 out of 10 companies fail. There is nothing wrong with failure as long as you realize there is another around the corner.

There is another Skywalker. There is another idea. There is another startup. And there may be another failure.


We don’t know specifically what Chewbacca was talking about when the Millenium Falcon’s hyper drive system failed. If there are any Wookie translators in the audience, please step to the front of the room. However, we can deduce that, based on what we know of Chewie, that he was doing tactical consulting.

In other words, it’s my opinion, that Chewie was making sure Han knew that there was a lot of problems with the Millenium Falcon and it wasn’t like they had the money to fix the bucket of bolts. Chewie was suggesting solutions for Han to fix problems quickly without spending a lot of money. I mean, can you imagine if Han had to take a VC round to fix the Falcon? What would the valuation on that sucker be anyway? I’m sure it would be a diluted round.

Instead, Chewie was helping Han realize what he needed to do to fix the problem on a budget. Maybe even in bandaid fashion. As entrepreneurs, use your creative juices to find ways to self-fund and not take stupid money just so you can extend runway. Find ways to be revenue positive now instead of later. Find ways to cheaply outsource problems so core team members can focus on the core solutions.


See. Everything you need to know about entrepreneurship can be learned from Star Wars. It’s a geek favorite for a reason. I’m sure there are lessons you have learned as well. Feel free to share those.

In the meantime, may the Force be with you.

Photo by xtyler


  1. Not really. No, really.. not really.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Copyblogger Brian Clark Leaves DIYThemes/Thesis Theme

A few weeks ago, Brian Clark of Copyblogger.com confided in me that he was leaving DIYThemes, and splitting paths from the embattled Thesis theme and lead developer Chris Pearson. He agreed to do an interview with me exclusively about this news. This is the entire transcript of that interview.

Technosailor.com: Brian, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Obviously, the timing of this announcement and interview are interesting considering the discussions that have been happening in the WordPress community as it pertains to licensing and DIYThemes, the creator of the Thesis theme. You’ve been with DIYThemes since its inception and have championed the theme. You’re leaving the company now. Can you describe the reasoning that has gone into this decision?

Brian: Chris Pearson and I have been discussing an amicable way to split for the last 3 months. The very public disagreements Chris recently had with Matt Mullenweg were ugly and embarrassing, but that’s beside the point.

The reason for the split is more fundamental than that one issue. For the last year Chris and I have had completely different opinions about the direction of the development of Thesis, the running of the company, and our relationship with the WordPress community. And there really hasn’t been any way to resolve those different opinions given that I’m the minority owner of the company and what he decides goes.

Technosailor.com: Well, when you say “our relationship with the WordPress community,” that’s got to mean the GPL issue, right?

Brian: That’s part of it, but also, fundamentally I think Chris really wants to build something new that has nothing to do with WordPress. Trying to force his development ideas into a WordPress framework creates a whole set of issues. I wanted him to go build his thing on a separate development track and simply be okay with Thesis being a great framework that extends the power of WordPress — because that’s what it was supposed to be.

As for the GPL, I took steps from the very beginning to make sure we never issued a license that was in contravention of the GPL. We used a membership concept since 2008 after I came on board. Our terms of service said you follow the rules of your Thesis plan and get the benefits of membership — support, updates, etc. If you don’t follow the rules, you get kicked out. It was never a problem, because most people are honest.

My last official act with DIYThemes was drafting the Thesis split GPL license after Matt Mullenweg publicly committed to suing Chris. I thought that was the right move for Thesis going forward, and Chris eventually saw the light. But we were going our separate ways no matter what.

Technosailor.com: There’s a lot more to the story than that regarding the GPL. I know the story because of our conversations over the years, but other people don’t. Can you elaborate?

Brian: Okay. At the very beginning, I was completely in the dark about the GPL. I’m a content guy — I’m busy writing and producing content, not following WordPress politics. But once Chris asked me to partner with him, I naturally had to educate myself. What I found out about the GPL didn’t make much sense, frankly, but it was the way things were with WordPress. So I made sure we never took an intellectual property position in our membership terms that opposed the GPL.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Matt Mullenweg made a big push for the major WordPress premium theme developers to expressly declare themselves GPL. I think Brian Gardner of StudioPress was the first to go along. About that time, I told Chris I saw no problem with going expressly GPL, since we’re selling way more than just code and again, most people in our particular market are honest.

Chris told me to go talk to Matt and Automattic CEO Toni Schneider about going GPL and being welcomed into the WordPress community with open arms. It’s important to remember that due to the Copyblogger audience and my personal relationships, we never needed the blessing of WordPress for marketing purposes. But Matt was offering prominent exposure on WordPress.org, so why not?

Long and short is, I spent a lot of time discussing things with Matt in the early summer of 2009. We had everything worked out. I went back to Chris and he said he had changed his mind and didn’t want to go GPL after all. I thought that was a mistake, and looking back, we started diverging on just about everything from that point forward.

Technosailor.com: Now, you’ve argued with Matt publicly about whether the GPL is even legally enforceable. How do you explain that?

Brian: Oh, don’t get me wrong – as a former attorney, I think the odds of the GPL being shot down in court in this context are pretty good. A lot of practicing attorneys think so too (if you’re interested in that kind of stuff, you can read this and this).

But the law is not the point. If you’re going to develop on a massive open source platform like WordPress, it makes sense to follow the rules of the community that’s developing it. If you don’t want to, go build on something else, or build your own thing. I see the point behind the philosophy of the GPL, and I’m fine with it. I don’t like people trying to assert that it is “the law” and that non-GPL developers are “breaking the law,” because that’s just not accurate.

The GPL is a license (a contract) that has never been judicially tested in the way WordPress says it applies, and that position probably wouldn’t survive a court case. But I got out of law because I hate litigation, so why would I want to fight about it? Just play according to the home court rules and you can still make money with a great offer.

Technosailor.com: So you’re selling your stake in DIYThemes or are you maintaining your interest and stepping away from daily operations and intervention? Is there an advisory role here or is the relationship done?

Brian: At first, around 3 months ago, we explored selling the whole company. Then I floated the idea of me buying Chris out along with some investors. Chris said he wasn’t interested. We finally settled on Chris buying me out over several months of installment payments. The paperwork was drawn up, Chris had a few minor questions, and he told me it was no problem getting it done by the end of July.

Apparently now Chris has changed his mind about that as well. So things are in limbo, but I no longer have any active role with DIYThemes, operational, advisory, or promotional. Like I said, my last official act was preventing him from getting sued by WordPress.

Technosailor.com: What’s the future then for Copyblogger? You have been running Thesis for as long as Thesis has been around. Do you continue doing that or move to a different framework?

Brian: We stopped using Thesis as a development platform for pending projects months ago. It’s perfectly fine for some people, but it doesn’t play well with WordPress enough for our needs. So I’m sure I’ll move Copyblogger to something else soon. And that was part of the reasoning for my departure — I can’t promote something I can’t use.

Technosailor.com: What about Scribe? Is that part of DIYThemes?

Brian: Scribe is a separate company with a different partner and has nothing to do with DIYThemes. It’s exceeding all my expectations after only 6 months and we’ll be releasing version 3.0 this month. So it’s not all doom and gloom. ;-)

Technosailor.com: Now that Thesis has gone Split GPL, do you feel like the damage that has already been done in the community can be fixed? Is it possible for Thesis to have the prominence and success it has had prior to the public “altercations”?

Brian: I don’t know. I just know I no longer have to wake up each morning worried about what “altercation” has broken out overnight. That’s a good feeling in itself. Life is too short to be involved in things that make you unhappy.

Photo Credit: Wendy Piersall

I’m Pro Choice. I’m Android.

We in the tech world are a fickle bunch. On one side of our brain, we scream about openness and freedoms. We verbally disparage anyone who would dare mess with our precious Internet freedoms. Many of us, especially in my WordPress community, swear allegiance to licensing that ensures data and code exchanges on open standards.

Yet one thing stands out to me as an anomaly on this, the opening day of pre-orders for the iPhone 4.

Photo by laihiu on Flickr

Ah yes. The iPhone. The gadget that makes grown men quake in their shoes. The thing that causes adults to behave as if they left their brains at the door. At one point in time, I called this behavior “an applegasm” and identified the Apple store as the place where intelligent people go to die.

And it’s not only the iPhone. It’s the iPad too (I bought one 3 weeks after release and only because I needed it for some client work). In fact, it’s any Apple device. Apple has a way of turning people into automatons controlled by the Borg in Cupertino.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Apple and I love Apple products. However, there is a degree of hypocrisy (or shall we call it “situational morality”) that comes into play here. There is nothing “open” about Apple products. Sure, Steve Jobs famously points out that Apple encourages the use of open web standards like HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript, but the devices are nowhere near open.

In fact, the devices are so closed and guarded that strange things like lost stolen iPhone prototypes make huge news. There is only one device. There is only one operating system. There is only one permitted way of designing apps. There is only one carrier (in the United States).

And the open standards, web-free, maniacal tech world that is ready to take off the heads of closed entities like Microsoft, Facebook and Palm, whistle silently and look the other way when it comes to Apple.

In another few weeks, I am going to be eligible for an upgrade with Verizon Wireless. As a longtime BlackBerry user (I refuse to give money to AT&T ever), I will be investing in a new Android-based phone. I won’t be doing this with any kind of religious conviction about open source. There is a legitimate place for closed source in this world. I’m doing this because the culture of openness (which supersedes the execution of openness, in my mind), allows for more innovation and creativity.

In the Android world (which is quickly catching up to the iPhone world), apps are being created without the artificial restrictions placed by a single gatekeeper. There are more choices in phones. Don’t like this one? Try that one. There is a greater anticipation around what can be done.

Apple had to have its arm twisted to enable multitasking in it’s latest operating system. It had to have its arm twisted to allow cut and paste. It still hasn’t provided a decent camera, despite consumers begging for one. In the Android world, if Motorola doesn’t provide it, maybe HTC does. You have choice. Choice is good.

I’m pro choice.

Battle of the Titans: Premium Theme Framework Smackdown

I have provided updates for the problems reported with each theme on their pages in this report. We can provide one update per framework as long as something significant has changed (as in a new release of the theme).

For a few days now, I’ve been looking closely at the four major theme frameworks. There are many premium themes. I, in fact, for the time, am using one from Woo Themes that I’ve modified to fit here. However, there are only four that I see as worthy competitors among the elite theme frameworks.

I will be using affiliate links when referencing all of them just because, if you choose to use any of them based on this article, I don’t mind collecting a commission fee. This does not indicate my endorsement of any of them. In fact, quite the opposite. I expect you’ll find me to be a hard, but objective critic of all of them.

The four theme frameworks: Thesis 1.7, Headway 1.6.1, Genesis 1.1.1, and Builder 2.3.11.

Report Scope and Prism

When I went about gathering data on this post, I heard a lot of back and forth from those in the WordPress community about why they liked or disliked each of these themes. Some of the issues were restrictive licensing that flies in the face of the open society that is WordPress. Other things were lingering effects from the Great Premium Theme Pissing Matches™ of 2008. Still others were about how user-friendly the themes were for users. In this report, I put all of that aside and look strictly from the perspective of infrastructure, data, security and WordPress core feature support.

All metrics that have been taken were created equally via a local installation of WordPress (eliminating network latency), with no plugins installed, 10,000 blog posts and 10,000 pages. The data points were taken in the context of a stress test and may or may not reflect actual usage. However, large scale stress is something to be concerned with for any site that is large or plans to become large. How the server handles database transactions, and file load is an integral part of a long term strategy. Each theme was deployed with no configuration changes beyond default settings provided by the theme. The results are fascinating.

This is a seven page article so click through to each new page to read the analysis of each theme.

Photo by icantcu

The Most Expensive Question

The most expensive question you can ask a consultant is, “What else do you recommend?”

This seems like a simple thing. At least if you’re a consultant. Potential clients approach you and they know they need something done. They may have a good idea of what that something is and they may even be able to provide a wish list of things to get done. However, for all that preparedness they ruin it all for their budget by asking, “What else do you recommend?”

Now some consultants do business this way. They are paid to help the client understand their needs and map out a solution. However, understand that this is a very expensive proposition in most cases. Hours of meetings and calls and emails exchanged back and forth can go into defining the scope, as we call it.

What's the Point?
Image by skipnclick on Flickr

We’ll usually approach the client with open ended questions to get a high level view of the client project.

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What is your ideal end result?
  • What problems are you trying to solve?

Once I get a broad picture of the project, I can schedule conference calls with relevant parties to discuss each answer to each question. This is for the purpose of defining the details. Each call could take an hour or more and might span more than one call. This is all billable.

At the end of these series of calls/meetings, we still might have a bunch of email exchanging to do. This is even before we begin doing actual work. You can easily rack up thousands of dollars during this process.

The next phase of the project involves deliverables. Having defined all the scope details, the project probably goes on Basecamp or some similar project management service. Most consultants have a “floor” that is a minimum threshhold. I know people who will not work on projects below $50k. Others won’t work below $25k.

At this point, if the client is still not mentally committed to a path, there can be a lot of potential for “Scope creep”. That is, when the scope of the project slowly expands to incorporate other areas not defined in the agreed upon scope. Good consultants see this coming and can either agree to it pro-bono (bad policy), agree to it as an added service/feature (billable) or convince the client the idea is bad (it might be).

Scope creep is rarely good for the client, though. You’re definitely going to get billed for it when working with most consultants.

Bringing this full circle, however, you can mitigate your costs when dealing with consultants by having a really firm idea as to what and why you want to do from a high level. Leave the details to the consultant to work out, but strategically know where you’re going. If you can define the scope (wireframes are always helpful), you can lessen your cost even more.

The more we as consultants have to do, the more you’ll pay. We don’t mind helping, but if money is an issue, be careful and come prepared.

And for God’s sake, don’t ask “What else do you recommend?” We can make a mint off that question.

First Mariner Bank: A New Shining Star in Social Media PR

For all the fuss that has been made about Dell, Zappos, Comcast, JetBlue and a whole host of other big names utilizing Twitter and other forms of social media for their messaging and client support, there is one that stands out to me as the most impressive. I say this because of my own personal experience in the past few days. These encounters with my bank, 1st Mariner Bank, are fresh in my mind and, to me, demonstrate a truly productive means of “doing the job” with social media tools.

As an independent, self employed consultant, times can sometimes be tough. In fact, in many way, it’s a feast or famine game. You go through spells where clients don’t pay, they pay late, or you just can’t get the business going enough to generate the income needed to run the business, and sadly, sometimes to pay the bills. So bank runs are important. They are pivotal moments where you might go from pennies in the account to plenty of money to fill the reserves. Those bank runs are always personally fulfilling because it’s a statement that, hey, I don’t have to go find a “real” job now… I can continue to press forward pursuing the dreams I’ve tried to find on my own for these past years. That deposit of some check is a rewarding thing that, honestly, sometimes makes the difference between having the will to go on or just quitting outright.

On Wednesday, I finally received one of these very important checks that was long overdue from a client. With a diminishing bank account, I jumped in the car late in the day and trucked the 45 minutes through rush hour traffic just to get to the bank and find they were closed. When I called their customer service toll free number, I was informed (inaccurately, as I later discovered) that the drive through was still open. Since there was a problem with my Visa debit card, I couldn’t simply make the deposit at the ATM machine so I thanked the representative and tried the drive thru. As I said, I discovered it was closed as well.

Irritated, I jumped on Twitter and went ballistic, venting about how I was going to close my account and find a bank that was closer. I was livid and was letting the world know. These bank runs are not small things for me. They take gas and money and time away from my book. I have kept this account because I always valued the 1st Mariner Bank Customer Service, though, but even that wasn’t going to be enough to keep me banking 45 mins away from home.

@FirstMarinerBank contacted me on Twitter late on Wednesday and commiserated a bit, but did little to actually help my problem. I didn’t expect that he (or she) could, but it was nice to talk to someone nonetheless.

Thursday morning, I got back in my car and drove from Bethesda back to Columbia, Md. where I made the deposit into my account and had one of those personal victory celebrations in my head. I could breathe easier. About an hour afterwards, without prompting by me, I recieved a DM from @FMBCustServ (who might also be @FirstMarinerBank – I don’t know) notifying me that he (his name is Matt Sparks) had saw the deposit go into my account and would work hard to get it cleared for me by the weekend.


I received another check yesterday as well (but sadly, not before I made my bank run) and thanked Matt, telling him I’d be making another deposit today (Friday) and thanking him for his efforts. And I did. Today, I went back to the bank (that’s the third bank run in three days, if you’re keeping track at home) to make a deposit and, convinced that I’d be stupid to leave the bank after their exceptional show of support, not only made the deposit and didn’t close my personal checking account, but also opened up a new business account for my company.

About an hour after this process, I received another DM from Matt letting me know that he also saw that deposit and noting I’d be able to have money for the weekend. I already did, but it was a nice personal touch.

This is the way customer service should be. As a customer, I may not know what I want or need. Going the extra mile (not wearing the minimum amount of flair, if you will) is what keeps customers around. If we, as customers, feel valued then we are going to value you even more.

It’s the economy of trust.

Well done, Matt Sparks and 1st Mariner Bank. If you’re local to Baltimore, this is the bank you should be doing business with because they get it. If you’re in Suburban DC, as I have been since October, it might even be worth the extra drive to do business with these guys.

This post and DMs shared with permission.

Your Resumé is Causing Hiring Companies To Laugh At You (Revised)

I wrote this article, originally on August 2, 2007, long before the current economic slowdown and jobless numbers. The Department of Labor is reporting a national 8.5% unemployment rate, a number we have not seen since 1983. Nearly 1 in 10 Americans have no job, and those are just the people who filed for unemployment benefits. The number is 15% in some sections of the country.

The other day at a networking event, I introduced myself to a man who was milling around. I asked him what he did and he told me he was an IT Project Manager. Interested, I pressed for more. Which company, for instance, did he work for? That’s when he said he was out of work. My initial thought was how grateful I am that I have a diversity of skills to rely on to put food on the table.

Needless to say, there’s a flood of people looking for work. They are flooding Craigslist and the job boards. They are spitballing their resumés across the internet desperately trying to find someplace that will hire them. My advice: strike with precision accuracy. That does not mean only apply for jobs that are seemingly made for you, but do some homework. Look at the job reqs and tailor your resumé. Know about the company should they call you in for an interview. For posterity, here is the article, reprinted in full, from when I was a hiring manager.

Your Resumé is Causing Hiring Companies To Laugh At You

Graphic by Doug Belshaw

You know that companies are laughing at you right now, don’t you? It’s true. For a variety of reasons, you shoot for the moon and hope for the stars and hope that someone will be stupid enough to hire you. Why? Lots of reasons but it boils down to five main reasons.

You Didn’t Read the Job Requisition

It’s true. I get resumés all the time for positions at b5media and it’s apparent that the job posting and requirements were not read. It’s nice that you have 8 years of Java/J2EE experience, but if we are soliciting for a PHP developer, your experience doesn’t matter to me.

My Advice: Read through the job posting. If you feel like you have comparable experience, then apply. What do I mean? I mean that Java positions and .NET positions, while they are good experience for many companies, do not compare with people who do web scripting. This is a completely different ballgame and requires a different set of skills. If I ask for a PHP developer, I may be willing to talk to an ASP or Ruby developer. You’ll have to convince me, though, on Java or .NET. Likewise, if I advertise for a Linux engineer, we are looking for a semblance of Unix/Linux experience. Windows Server 2003 is helpful in some environments, but we know that you’re not qualified for a Linux position if the only server experience you have is in a Windows environment.

You Cite an MCSE as a Qualification

Many companies do still want MCSE’s. I’m not quite sure why because it’s a piece of paper that demonstrates no real world experience. Companies are more impressed by demonstrated experience in your environment than a piece of paper that only demonstrates that you had the wherewithal and money to buy a piece of paper.

MCSE means nothing in the real world. It’s great that you have an understanding of Active Directory. But can you make Active Directory dance? Have you transitioned from competent Active Directory admin to Active Directory ninja? Can you document verifiable accomplishments.

My Advice: Make sure that you can provide bullet point accomplishments. Your accomplishments are more worthwhile to a hiring manager than your piece of paper. Make me see that you are qualified for the position you applied for – don’t just tell me you are.

Your Resumé is Irrelevant

One thing I’ve learned from doing my share of job searches is to have a relevant resume for every sector you want to work in. As a hiring manager, I really don’t want to see how much help desk support you have if I’m recruiting for a development job. It’s obvious you are too lazy to actually tell me why I should hire you. In these cases, I delete your resume. I don’t hold on to it for further consideration later. I don’t pass it on to other hiring managers that might be able to use your skillset.

My Advice: Stay relevant. Tell the hiring manager why he should hire you with a resumé that is pertinent to the job you’re applying for. Include a cover letter that is sufficiently balanced between formal and informal so that the manager can read and have a good understanding of who you are outside of your resumé. I personally have three different slightly different resumés. I have one for development, one for systems and one for management. Take your time when applying and send the right one.

You Don’t Know Who You’re Talking To

In most cases, the company that is hiring has identified themselves. You have Google. You have blog searching. You have a variety of different ways of finding out about the company you are applying to. But you don’t use any of these tools. You don’t even find out what the company’s corporate website is. You haven’t taken the time to do your homework and find out if this is the kind of company you actually want to work for. Your laziness has been demonstrated once again.

For instance, at b5media, we make no secret that we are a blog network and that we’re proudly powered by WordPress. While having a blog and using WordPress are not things we require of our employees, it sure is nice if the candidate knows what blogs and WordPress are. It’s sort of important for our business.

My Advice: Use the tools at your disposal to formulate your resumé. Find out who you’re applying to. If you want to apply at b5media, you should probably know what a blog is. On a technical level, understanding of WordPress is fairly important. Make sure that if you’re applying as a junior developer at a non-profit organization, chances are you’re going to end up with junior developer pay with senior developer responsibilities and experience. Know who you’re dealing with before you go in.

Your Resumé is longer than two pages and Is Filled with Fluff

Yes, contrary to popular belief, we hiring managers expect that if you list every technology in the book, that you are able and willing to use them. However, we also know when people are stuffing their resumés with keywords. I know you were taught to do this by employment coaches and universities instructing you on how to search for a job. It’s really a bunch of hogwash though because we know. Let me repeat that: We Know!

We’re also not impressed by long resumés. We don’t have time to go through 4 pages of fluff to see if we can find the stuff we need to know in your resumé. It’s not a good way to win brownie points with me if you’re wasting my time.

My Advice: Recognize that very few people know everything and that you’re probably not the exception to the rule. It’s okay! Really! I’m not impressed by know-it-all’s anyways. However, your ability to distill a job requisition and figure out what we need to know without making us tell you is a good sign. You can get a lot of mileage out of a relatively short resumé that actually does hit the keywords we are looking for. (Hint: Refer to point #4 for helpful information gathering tips).

See? It’s important for your future and career to understand these points. I’m betting if more people understood these things, unemployment would be lower and you’d have a job that you really love. We want to hire those kinds of people. We want to hire you if you become that guy (or girl). It takes some effort but whoever thought that having a perfect situation without putting out the effort should be the norm, was smoking something.

At b5media, we want to hire the best of the best. Mark Jaquith and Brian Layman were both hired because they really fit everything I said above. Plus, it was easy to know about them because they blog, they use and develop on WordPress, they have the skillsets we needed for their positions.

Chad was hired because he has a reputation as a great ad sales guy and thats what he does.

I was hired, not because I have an MCSE (I don’t!) or a Computer Science degree from University of Maryland (again, I don’t even have a degree), but because I understood the company, the technology and the platform – all very critical for my job.

We have several tech jobs available right now. We’re hiring a Systems Engineer with Unix and architecture experience. This is not a gig, it’s full time, so if you’re not ready to quit your job, don’t apply. We’re hiring a support person, ideally in Toronto, but open to virtual support too. This is for blogger and channel editor support. It does require an understanding of WordPress.

I really want to find the right people, so if you are the right person and you can meet the above points, send me your resume at aaron [at] b5media [dot] com. :-)

5 Things I Learned from Nuclear Winter

Nuclear Winter. It’s the time period after a holocaust that can last for hundreds of years, making the surrounding landscape around ground zero uninhabitable due to radiation.

It is the death of life and the birth of a new holocaustic life. We’ve never actually had an actual nuclear winter on a global scale, though the threat is there as more and more nuclear weapons proliferate the globe. Many science fiction stories have been built around the concept of a nuclear holocaust and life after.

Although it’s a dark time, sometimes proverbial nuclear winters are necessary. They are the times when you throw away everything you know and begin from scratch. A chance at a new life. A rebirth. It’s a time to correct all that is wrong and hopefully get on the right path over the long haul. Economists call it “corrections”. Historians call it the “end of an era” or the “decline of an Empire” – depending on the context.

As someone who is not experienced in an actual nuclear winter, let me describe a few things that I’ve learned from proverbial “nuclear winter”

Photo by nogoodreason

1. All Assumptions are False

In a nuclear winter, life is not as you expect. Landmarks are gone. People you know are no longer in your world. You can no longer go to the grocery store and instead have to live off the land.

If you’re in a business that is facing massive layoffs, you cannot assume that the way things always have been will still exist in the world post-layoffs. You cannot assume that, even if you retain your job, your “new” job will remain as it was. You will likely end up giving up responsibilities due to business strategy objective shifts and maybe doing some new work due to the need to backfill for laid off colleagues.

You cannot assume that, because we’ve lived in a world of thriving internet startups, that you the lay of that land will remain the same in an economic holocaust. You can’t. It’s just not a safe assumption. Ask Seesmic.

2. Live Off the Land

In a nuclear winter, as described earlier, you simply can’t go to your Whole Foods and buy your hipster organic food. The reality is is that even if you could go buy organic food, it’s likely tainted from the fallout in the water, ground and air. No, you live off the land. You find the bugs and plants that carry an innate immunity to radioactivity or that have evolved enough to live and thrive in a nuclear landscape. Because you have to survive, and that’s more important than getting your Venti Soy Chai at Starbucks (that don’t exist).

More and more companies that continue to emerge these days are bootstrapping. Companies like AwayFind, who launched the other day, are bootstrapping and not taking angel investing or venture capital to stay alive. They are not taking a devaluation just for the infusion of cash. They are succeeding the old-fashioned way – a method that might take a lot more runway, but that ensures that 100% of the value of the company is retained by the principals. If you can live off the land, do it. It might be awhile before you find yourself a Starbucks in the nuclear wasteland.

3. There is Always a Remnant

During any nuclear winter in any story, you’ll always find a remnant. It might just be a small village of survivors that are doing their best to build a community and survive. They may have built a wall of scrap metal around their community to keep raiders away, but they are surviving.

At critical times where the status quo is challenged, the companies that are the hardiest and most cost-efficient are the ones that survive. While companies like AIG require an infusion of cash (or, as I call it, a crutch) to stay afloat they continue to splurge on non-necessities. Companies like this are doomed to failure.

While the auto-industry, built around an inefficient union mentality that, at one end, limits innovation because it de-incentivizes that innovation, and at the other hand overpays under-qualified individuals to do jobs that are worth half of their paychecks, struggles to figure themselves out, they will eventually have to declare bankruptcy. During that bankruptcy, they will be forced to cut, by some estimates, 50% of their workforce while updating their approach to union labor to ensure survival. There will be a remnant, and that remnant will figure out what needs to happen to survive the wasteland.

4. That Bridge Used to be the 14th Street Bridge

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I’ve been playing Fallout 3 recently, which is set 200 years after a nuclear war between the United States and China. The setting is a region called “The Capital Wasteland” and is, in essence, the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region.

Throughout the game, you can find indications of what used to be. I recognized, in my wandering around the Capital Wasteland, a landmark that could only be the 14th Street Bridge. I would not have recognized it from anything other than geographical position. There were no distinguishing features and it was largely destroyed and falling into the isotope-filled Potomac River, but I knew it was the bridge.

Practices will change throughout life, but principles and patterns remain the same. It is the essence of the Chaos Theory which states that though the universe appears to be full of chaos and disorganization, it is entirely made up of fractals and patterns at an atomic and sub-atomic level. More simply, there are patterns and principles that remain true, though practice, execution and manifestation of those principles change.

In the communications, newspaper, and television industries, as well as many large businesses, people are wrestling with how to do business in a world that is dominated by the internet and then, only recently. They see chaos, where they should see patterns. The principles of public relations is to communicate effectively with the public. The practices of public relations, however, are shifting and the ones that adjust are the ones that will survive that nuclear winter.

5. Know Your Immune System

In a nuclear winter, there’s no one looking out for survivors except the survivors themselves. If there are doctors, they are few and far between. If there is a support community, you have to look hard and not trust anyone. It’s the nature of the new dog eat dog world that such a holocaust causes.

Companies right now are scrambling to figure out “what’s up”. They are looking at their profit margins, cash in hand and extending their runways as far as they can extend them. Investors are reassuring their portfolio companies that there should be a way to survive if they are smart and proactive, but the reality is that in a nuclear winter, no one really knows.

Even if a portfolio company manages to get that C-round and the $15M investment they need, it will be on a down valuation. In layman speak, that means it becomes, in essence, a high-interest loan where the company gets the cash they need but give up a larger stake in the company to make it happen.

The big banks are getting bailout money, but giving up controlling stakes in their companies in some cases. Rollups are likely with smaller companies needing an infusion of cash. People are being reassured that they will retain their jobs, and being laid off the week after. You can trust no one in a winter except yourself. I reiterate my recommendation from a few weeks ago, though. If you have a stable job, stay in it. If you are an entrepreneur, don’t seek shelter in a stable job. Survive, survive, survive…. then rebuild.

Don’t Quit that Job Just Yet

Photo by Egan Show

The economy has everyone shaky, even those in the web space who have been largely unaffected, so far, by the ups and downs in the market. The Web market is largely filled by companies who have, at best, private equity via venture capital or angel funding, or they simply are bootstrapping and don’t have any outside investment.

Times are tight, but even in the VC-stage where a company might have anywhere between a million dollars in investment capital to $35M or more, the money really isn’t that big in the grand scheme of thing and the funding is privately held. Mostly.

Here in Baltimore, VC money flows toward Biotech companies where significantly higher investments are made in comparison to small investments in the web space. Obviously, biotech has a higher overhead when it comes to research facilities, labs, expensive chemicals and doctoral employees. Web startups deal with much smaller costs like commodity priced hardware, and much cheaper salaries. Again, by comparison. Biotech is drying up, but web investments continue to happen.

However, just in the last three days, at least three people I know in the web space have lost their jobs due to the slowing economy. We’ll probably see more of it as well. eBay, who is admittedly a public company and outside the realm of the “typical” web company, just announced a 10% reduction in their workforce. That’s not going to be the end.

The worst time to try to change jobs is right now. If you are able to get a great job, you’re going to be subject to a last in, first out layoff policy. It’s likely anyway. Nothing is ever guaranteed.

If you’re independent, you may very well encounter a slowdown in business (so I hope you’ve saved!), but you probably aren’t going to fire yourself. Now would not be the time to start that practice.

Conflicting recommendations exist. Some recommend that work is going to be hard to come by in an entrepreneurs world, so flee for stability and medical benefits. The other side says, as I do, that work is going to be hard to find and if you get it, you’re going to be far from stable.

Be very careful how you proceed. Make sure you have a backup plan. Try not to panic. Hunker down for the long-haul and do what you can. Don’t let the economy frighten you but instead, lean on your strengths and make money how you can. It’s going to be tough for everyone, myself included, but there will always be a demand for quality people in essential positions.

If you’re in a stable “day job”, I would not recommend quitting now to go the entrepreneurial route. It’s going to be tough going. However, if you’re already there, stay there and kick some butt. It will be slow. Times will get tough. But you can survive!

Everything I Needed to Know about PR I learned from Office Space

The funniest movie I ever saw is a late 90s geek favorite film Office Space. I know you all have seen it. And if not – put the kids to bed and go watch it now. Really. It’s not only funny, but it might just be the one thing that PR folks need to not be laughed at by social media people. Trust me on this. And to prove my point, I shared these thoughts this past weekend with some really great PR people that are trying to do it effectively in Boston.

You Must Engage the Community

Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager: “Joanna.”
Joanna: “Yeah?”
Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager: “We need to talk. Do you know what this is about?”
Joanna: “My, uh, flair?”
Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager: “Yeah. Or, uh, your lack of flair. Because, uh, I’m counting and I only see 15 pieces. Let me ask you a question, Joanna. What do you think of a person who only does the bare minimum?”
Joanna: “Huh. What do I thin– Um, you know what, Stan? If you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair like your pretty boy over there, Brian, why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?”
Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager: “Well, I thought I remembered you saying that you wanted to express yourself.”
Joanna: “Yeah. You know what? Yeah, I do. I do wanna express myself. Okay? And I don’t need 37 pieces of flair to do it. (She flips him off) Alright? There’s my flair. Okay? And this is me expressing myself. Okay? (She starts flipping everyone off) There it is. I hate this job! I hate this g*ddamn job, and I don’t need it!”

[listen – Language included, NSFW]

A lot of PR folks these days seem to have the idea that social media is where it’s at amd that they need us to be effective. They are absolutely correct. They know how many pieces of flair are minimum and many PR agencies do a very good job of meeting the minimum standard. They are out there in Technorati and on the blogs finding out what people are saying about their client. Some agencies even have “proprietary market research” software which checks these conversation out for them and spit out nicely collated reports for the board meetings.

However, there are conversations happening that are impossible to index and in some cases even know about while doing “social media drive bys”. They wouldn’t miss these conversations if they were engaged in the community. By engagement, I mean participating.

As a PR person, you have a 9-5 job or whatever it is. How much conversation are you having on your own time just because you love the community? If your answer is not much, you’re only wearing the minimum pieces of flair.

You Don’t Want to Gamble Your Decisions

Michael: “You think the Pet Rock was a really great idea?”
Smykowski: “Sure it was. The guy made a million dollars. You know, I had an idea like that once, a long time ago.”
Peter: “Really, what was it, Tom?”
Smykowski: “Well, alright. It was a ‘jump to conclusions’ mat. You see, it would be this mat that you would put on the floor and would have different conclusions written on it that you could jump to.”
Michael: “That is the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life, Tom.”
Samir: “Yes. Yes, it’s horrible, this idea.”


The hardest thing for someone who is a relative outsider to a community to do is to break into the community. That’s why it’s important, especially for PR folks, to be smart about how they pitch bloggers, podcasters and other members of the social media. It is far less likely that your client or company will be accepted, for instance, if you blanket social mediaites with press releases and “your message” without taking the time to build community and relationship with them first.

I get half a dozen unsolicited press releases every week and I have yet to offer a bit of coverage for any of them. Without relationship and community, PR messages are likely to fall on deaf ears. Measure your approach. Don’t gamble it away with a “Jump to Conclusions Mat”.

Engage Conversation by Listening First

Peter: “We have to swear to God, Allah, that nobody knows about this but us. Alright? No family members, no girlfriends, nobody.”
Samir: “Of course.”
Michael: “Agreed.”
Lawrence: [from the next apartment through the wall] “Don’t worry, man! I won’t tell anyone either!”
Michael: “What the f*ck is that?”
Peter: “No, don’t worry about him. He’s cool.”

[listen -NSFW]

There’s a tremendous amount of conversation happening everywhere on the net. Notably, blogs are a great place for interaction between companies and customers. Instinctively, PR companies can be a little gun shy about unmetered conversation as it relates to their company. However, this is the essence of transparency, trust and consumer confidence.

Listening is a skill that seems to have gotten lost a lot of the times. My dad uses to tell me that God gave me two ears so I could listen twice as much as I talk. Unfortunately, in todays ad-driven, PR-protectionism market, consumers are told exactly what to believe and traditional mindsets insinuate that we should be realy darn happy that we’ve been “informed”.

People are not stupid, though, and we are capable of making our own rationally (or perhaps irrationally) derived thoughts. Folks in the PR industry should come into the grass-roots mediasphere with the intent that they want to listen and by doing so, earn the trust of those that they are listening to.

Buy In!

Peter: “The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy. It’s that I just don’t care.”
Bob Porter: “Don’t– Don’t care?”
Peter: “It’s a problem of motivation, alright. Now, if I work my a*s off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see a dime. So where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob. I have eight different bosses right now.”
Bob Slydell: “I beg your pardon?”
Peter: “Eight bosses.”
Bob Slydell: “Eight?”
Peter: “Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motvation is not to be hassled. That and the fear losing my job. But you know, Bob, that’ll only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”


There’s something about complete “buy in” that is reassuring and noticeable. This principle may apply to marketers more than PR folks, but the reality is that honest communication is noticeable and dishonest communication is even more noticeable.

The stereotypical picture is of a slick used car salesman who will sell you a lemon without thinking twice. Unfortunately for the used car salesman, they’ve been made and everyone knows not to trust them before they go in. Particularly savvy customers still go in but with the knowledge of cars and places to look to find out if a car is a lemon before he buys it.

Social media people are naturally cynical of anyone telling them what to believe or think. We don’t like it with the press. We bicker among ourselves when someone slings a little mud. We’re certainly not going to let a PR person pitch us on something that is obviously not bought into by the PR rep. Unfortunately for you guys, we generall can tell. The people who don’t buy in are the ones who are not engaging (#1), who are making drive-by choices (#2) and who don’t want to take the time to get the heartbeat of the community (#3).

Speak Smartly

Milton: “I-I said I don’t care if they lay me off, either. Because, I told– I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time then I’m– I’m quitting– I’m going to quit. And I told Dom too, because they’ve moved my desk four times already this year. And I used to be over by the window and I could see the squirrels and they were married. But then they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler. But I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn’t bind up as much and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler.”
Peter: “Okay, Milton.”
Milton: “And, oh, no, it’s not okay because if they make me– if they– If they take my stapler then I’ll– I’ll have to– I’ll set the building on fire.”
Peter: “Okay’ well, that sounds, uh, that sounds great. Uh, I’ll talk to you later, alright? Bye.”


Ah, good old Milton. How could I write an article about Office Space and not mention Milton? :-) Well, as it turns out, Milton too can teach PR folks something about social media. Even though you can’t understand him, Milton has demonstrated why it’s important to speak the language of the audience you are trying to reach. Remember that bloggers may or may not be your target audience. We get bombarded by people wanting us to promote events and get togethers and computers and cameras. The problem is that since you’re not speaking our language, you don’t live in our world – you simply drive through – we are not likely to understand you and you are not likely to speak our language.

Before the building burns down, stop and listen to the folks you are pitching. Don’t just read an About page, but read the blog. Even if you don’t understand it. I’m much more likely to lend opportunities to people who have read my blog and have interacted with me via comment or email.

Most PR is still back a few years trying to catch up. Some PR doesn’t have any concept of social media and, successful or not, are losing time and money because they aren’t engaging the social media centers. If you can follow the Rules of Office Space, you will have a huge lead on competitors and have gained the trust and resperct of those of us operating everyday in the social sense.