Pitching ideas

February 15, 2008

Pitching your ideas to investors is exciting. You have a few minutes to share your ideas, prototype or product. Your goal is to get them to want to know more about yourself and your story, and to convince them that both your people and ideas are worth investing in.

Assuming that you have a good team, presenting people is the easiest part. Pitching ideas, on the other hand, is much more difficult.

After presenting our latest and greatest adventure in technology to a couple of VCs, I can openly say that we did not succeed in pitching the idea. On one side, I hear excited customers telling me every single day how much more fun their job is, how much time and money I save them, and how they just could never go back to their previous ways of working. On the other side, I don’t hear much from these groups of investors. Bad sign!

Trying to come up with a model to describe the situation, I bumped into an article by Bill Buxton. In his article, Bill Buxton introduces a law that he calls Gradual Granularity Refinement Law. This law states that the granularity at which we distinguish meaningful differences gets finer the more our familiarity with a subject grows.

The GGR Law is about familiarity with a subject. If you are pitching an idea, and you have both a gut feeling plus feedback telling you that the idea is good, it probably is. If you managed to come up with a clever product or idea, it’s because you have enough familiarity with the problem to model things in a different way. You probably felt the pain and were brave enough to do something about it.

The GGR Law is also about granularity. Different groups of people may have felt the pain. But the more familiar you are with the problem, the easiest it is for you to distinguish meaningful differences, and therefore come up with clever solutions.

What does this really mean? You are familiar with a problem space, you have felt the pain, you have a good idea, and developed a good solution. You are making some money out of it, and you have a great team. Now you find yourself in a conference room pitching your idea to investors. How can it go wrong?

Unless you apply the same level of innovation and creativity to your pitch as you did to your problem solving, your story will just not be interesting enough for the people across the table. Why? Because it’s unlikely that they are as familiar with the problem space as you are. Your explanations may be good, and they may understand the concept at an intellectual level, but unless they understand it at a visceral level, they will just not want to know more about your idea.

I have an appointment with a very interesting group of investors in a couple of days. This particular group seems to be quite familiar with the problem space, unlike the previous ones. Plus, I now know what to do, so it should be fun.

Wish me luck! 😉

Arrivederci Eolas!

February 9, 2008

In 2006, the folks at Micro$haft changed the way Internet Explorer embedded control objects, affecting in particular how web developers deal with Flash objects. The reason: the Eolas patent dispute. The outcome: web developers started growing considerably more gray hair than before. Yet, it contributed to the flourishing of Flash embedding Javascript libraries, and to endless discussions on how can you best embed flash content.

These discussions were not only about circumventing the side effects of the Eolas patent dispute. They were about providing alternative content, about simplicity of use, about standard compliance, about cross-browser support, and about graceful degradation and progressive enhancement. Still, now that Microsoft announced that an IE update scheduled for April, 2008 will remove the click to activate functionality, reverting the software to its original design, I am trying to figure out what it means in practical terms. After all, the click to activate message is probably the main reason why many web developers adopted embedding libraries in the past years.

From an embedding point of view, not much changes really. Web developers still have to embed the beast and provide graceful degradation. Apple’s iPhone still doesn’t support Flash, as far as I know. Plus, accessibility is being enforced by laws in many countries. There are no two sides to this story; we still cannot rely on markup-only methods.

From the simplicity of use side of things, using a Javascript library is IMO the best way of embedding an interactive beast in your web pages. Decoupling is good, we were told in school, remember? A clean, well tested Javascript library takes you right there in no time.

From a standards compliance point of view, Micro$haft is pushing very hard for people to upgrade their browser to IE7 while working on IE8. This means that web developers may finally start worrying much less about IE6, and start worrying more about IE8. Is that good news? I’m not sure about that yet. I am happy to see that IE8 passes the Acid2 test. I am even happier to hear that HasLayout is as good as gone in IE8. Yet, while I do agree that the DOCTYPE switch is broken, I still can’t manage to get my head around Micro$haft’s version targeting mechanism proposed for IE8. It seems to me that every time Micro$haft proposes a new way of solving a problem, web developers have to expect a new avalanche of issues to be on top of. I sincerely hope I’m wrong this time.

While EOLAS falls into history, object-embedding Javascript libraries are here to stay. Today, the authors of the two most compelling Flash embedding libraries have joined efforts into the SWFFix SWFObject project. In practical terms, adopting this library is probably the most forward-compatible action item in my list. For the rest, it seems to me that regardless of headaches and hours of suffering caused by IE6 and the EOLAS dispute, it will all fade into nostalgia like Polaroid’s film.

SAYONARA, EOLAS!

I’m back in Montreal recovering from DEMO 08, where I had the chance to meet super interesting people and to show Cozimo to the press, entrepreneurs and VCs. Now that Cozimo is officially out the door, I’m busier than ever. Luckily enough, it’s not just about answering I forgot my password support e-mails… some interesting developments are forming and there’s still energy left for midnight hacking, so I can’t complain.

Still, I can’t wipe out from my brain the vision of Monique Savoie menacing me: “Don’t you dare hiding for a year ever again, or else!“, so I decided to go to the very first Montreal Python event. And it was fun!

David Goodger, architect of DocUtils and renowned Python activist, entertained us with one of his old-time passions: polyform puzzles.

Dominoes, Pentominoes, Polyominoes, oh my!

David briefly described algorithms involved in solving these puzzles…

Algo-gogo!

… but I wished he focused a bit more on stuff like this:

Python! Python! Python!

It was an interesting presentation, and a good way to start Montreal Python’s series of events. Montreal is buzzing more than ever, and it feels really good to be part of such a vibrant community. Kudos to the organizers for a well organized event.