May 28, 2014

Hacking an App Demo

Yesterday, I got off the phone with a business contact who wanted to check out one of SEMA's mobile games. Our current method of sharing apps with interested contacts is to send them an APK via Test Fairy, have them disable a security setting on their Android device, download and install the file, and then play the game. Following my phone call, I realized this method is far too complicated and time consuming for potential customers. Seeking a solution, I settled on creating a demo video to show off SEMA's newest game, Flash Farm.

I did a quick google search to find out how professionals create smart phone demos and then did my best with the resources I had to emulate them. First, I placed my Canon Rebel on a tri-pod with a 55mm lense about a foot from my desk (after trying several angles I found that getting up close to the phone gave me the clearest image of the screen). To help eliminate glare, I needed some overhead lighting. So I stacked a pile of books on my desk and placed a desk lamp on top of them, shining the light down directly over my phone. Satisfied with my lighting and viewpoint, I filmed about a minute and a half of myself playing SEMA's Flash Farm game.

For post production, I headed to Mattie's place and we used her Mac Pro to put in some basic looking descriptions in iMovie, letting the viewer know what they were watching. Finally, we uploaded the film to YouTube and voila! It's far from anything you would see on a TV ad, but the ability to send interested contacts a link to a YouTube video rather than having them go through the arduous process of downloading the alpha version and figuring things out themselves is an incredibly valuable marketing tool.

Check out the results below and let me know what you think in the comments.

May 19, 2014

Selfies for Social Good

Move over Ellen... Cohort 4 is Taking Selfies Back

Look at all those smiling faces! It's great being back together with the incredible social entrepreneurs in the Points of Light CivicX for Session 2. This week Points of Light will focus on helping teams find their authentic voice and tell the story behind who we are and why we do what we do.

We had an opportunity to do a great role play activity with Rebecca Caplan, Executive Director of the PWC Charitable Foundation. The activity was created by Dr. Merrick Furst, a Professor of Computer Science at Georgia Tech and the founder of the Flashpoint accelerator. My two takeaways from the activity were:

1. Don't make assumptions about the questions asked of you. Rather, turn questions around in order to gain greater clarity and understanding of what the investor knows and wants to learn.

2. Money is a commodity, startups are rocketships. Entrepreneurs are buyers looking for fuel and should act like it.

May 8, 2014

Save Time on Customer Discovery: Have a Strategy

Here's a great quote on customer discovery by Atlanta entrepreneur and mentor Kevin Sandlin (@kevin8r):

"Customer Discovery is hard.  When I get to the parts about "get out of the office" and "face-to-face" meetings and talking to 100+ potential customers and hypotheses and experiments and testing, a lot of the people in the room start to tune out.  They really don't want to hear it, much less do it." 

Kevin nails it. Customer discovery is hard, and most entrepreneurs don't want to do it. Why? In my experience it's because the task of talking to 100 people is daunting and time consuming.

Early on, that's how I felt. SEMA's main customer segment, fundraising professionals in non profit organizations, is specific. I can't simply stroll into my local Starbucks a few times a week, talk to a handful of strangers, and validate/falsify my hypotheses (I can do that for my end user discovery, but that's another post). 

Here's my strategy for talking to 100 non profit fundraising professionals by committing 5-10 hrs/week: 

May 1, 2014

My Information Diet

A few weeks ago I saw Atlanta's Clay Johnson give the opening keynote at the Great Wide Open open-source tech conference. The speech resonated with me and this week I've finished my copy of Clay's book, The Information Diet. The reading inspired me to start my own information diet by committing to the following "information resolutions" for the next 30 days:

1. Track total number of computer/mobile phone hours per day. Spend less than 1hr/day on distractible time and less than 7hrs/day total time (a great tool I'm using to do this is

2. Check email a maximum of once per hour.

3. Produce daily (via this blog + journal).

I'll measure and post my results on May 30th. If you would like to start your own information diet I recommend picking up a copy of Clay's book or visiting his blog,, both are worthwhile tools.

Apr 30, 2014

Pitching SEMA at HUB Seattle

Last week I pitched SEMA to a crowd of investors, entrepreneurs, and generally awesome people in Seattle's Impact HUB. Every single Points of Light team brought their A-game and I enjoyed hopping on stage to do my bit.

Points of Light took time to video each pitch and I've included my own below. (Feel free to leave feedback/constructive criticism in the comments!)

Seattle Pitch from SEMADevelopment on Vimeo.

Apr 29, 2014

Ready, Fire, Aim: Lessons from Points of Light in Seattle

Dave Viotti from Smallify leading a workshop at HUBSeattle
2 Minutes to work, Go!

Entrepreneurs representing fourteen social ventures and nonprofits from around the country scramble to finish brainstorming a new logo to represent Cohort 4 of the Points of Light Civic X. My team doesn't finish, no one does. You're not supposed to finish.

1 Minute feedback, Go!

Another team tells you everything that's wrong with the work you completed. My first instinct is to make an excuse, but I'm forced to hold my tongue. Entrepreneurs are not allowed to speak when receiving feedback.

1 Minute to reiterate, Go!

We scramble to put our feedback into action and build a better logo.

Apr 23, 2014

F.A.I.L. Fast

SEMA's Biz Model Canvas - 2nd Iteration

After day 1 of the Points of Light Civic Accelerator I'm incredibly humbled by the talent, passion and tenacity of the fellow social entrepreneurs and grateful for the opportunity to learn from them. Of today's numerous activities (all excellent) my favorite was called FAIL Fast, taught by the founder of, Dave Viotti.

FAIL Fast involves solving problems under ridiculously short time constraints. The secret is not to work faster or harder, but to fail faster in order to receive feedback more quickly. For one exercise we were given a few minutes to think critically about our business model and fill out the sections of Alexander Osterwalder's business model canvas. Post it notes went flying along with the time and before we knew it, time was up. We were forced to present our imperfect results to the fellow students in our cohort. Following the feedback, we were given a final block of time to "reiterate" and apply the feedback towards making a better product.

The exercise opened my eyes to the value of soliciting for feedback early in the process. It's a fact of life that the things we are working on  often seem much more important in the moment we are thinking about them than they actually are. Many of the all nighters and stressful weeks I've worked are not a result of the importance of the task I am working on. Rather, they are the result of my fear of failing.

Today's takeaway was about challenging the fear of failure by forcing myself to become more comfortable to put my ugly, imperfect ideas out to the world in order to learn and try again.