The secret to getting your way

You know those people that come into every meeting and everyone just loves their idea? Or they propose an idea on the mailing list and everyone immediately pipes in to say how great it is?

Ever wonder how they do it?

They do their homework.

Before they propose their idea to a large group, they’ve floated it by a lot of people. They’ve discussed it in various settings, public and private, with individuals and with small groups. They’ve explained it, adapted it, discussed it. Most importantly, they addressed a lot of key people’s issues ahead of time and incorporated their feedback.

In some meetings, I know the person proposing the idea has actually discussed it with every single person at the meeting before hand.

Yes, that’s a lot of work. But that’s how they get their ideas accepted.

It’s not sneaky. It’s getting feedback.

It’s not broken. It’s communication.

It works.

So if your idea didn’t get accepted, stop to consider if you could have done more homework. Communicated more. Incorporated more feedback. Addressed more concerns.

LinkedIn Maps: How are your friends connected?

LinkedIn Maps takes your LinkedIn contacts and groups them. The result is not only interesting but rather pretty. You can mouse over the different nodes, see who they are and who else is connected to them. After a few nodes I was able to see patterns in all my groups but one …

The group I can’t identify is dispersed throughout the whole map and contains friends from college, old collegues from HP as well as people that used to work at O’Reilly. I believe the group is really one of people that don’t share enough connections with others in my network to fall into any one group.

Forking an open source project: regaining internal motivation

Can forking a free software project enable you to regain your internal motivation to work on a project? My current theory is that if you work on free software, then you get paid to work on it and then you get laid off, that you would work on a different project. Because the first one is no longer good enough to get paid, then it must not be good enough to work on for free.

If my theory is correct, then I think there’s a great trend going on. Ex-employees are getting around this mental block by blaming the failure (the fact that they can’t get paid to work on it anymore) on the company’s strategy and forking the project to create a new one that they can then justify working on.

One of the strengths of open source software licenses has been that you can fork the project. If at some point in the future, you don’t like what the project is doing, you can take your copy of the code and go do your own thing. Many have argued that it’s that right to leave that makes people work hard to get along. Nobody wants to fork a project is the theory.

Recently most of the forks we’ve seen have come from ex-employees who are unhappy with the direction their previous employer is taking the project.

For example, take Mandriva/Mageia. Part of the Mandriva community, including ex-employees of the company, is forking Mandriva and creating Mageia, a new Linux distribution.

Their website doesn’t say exactly why they are forking but says they no longer trust the company’s motivations. The move seems to be prompted by layoffs:

Most employees working on the distribution were laid off when Edge-IT was liquidated. We do not trust the plans of Mandriva SA anymore and we don’t think the company (or any company) is a safe host for such a project.

Certainly I can see how people who have been laid off would no longer trust the company.

It does look like Mandriva is restructuring to give  more power to their community. However, I doubt they will reverse their decision to move the desktop development to Brazil. In addition to having lots of great free software developers in Brazil, I bet development costs are much cheaper in Brazil.

In the mean time, the ex-Mandriva employees have created a project worth working on for free, Mageia. Something they care about and can invest in, an independent, community run distribution with a community and an associated nonprofit organization.

I wish Mageia the best of luck with their project and I wish Mandriva the best of luck with their company. I think they will both solve different problems in different ways. And I’m really glad that the Mageia will continue working on what they love even if they are not currently getting paid to do that. Their project is worth it.

How do I raise enough money to work on my project full time?

“How do I raise enough money to be able to spend all my time working on my favorite free software project?” is a question I hear often.

I have a few ideas and I’m very interested in hearing others as I think the world would be a better place if we all could afford to do work we loved and thought useful.

  1. Focus on the difference you’d make. First off, I wouldn’t approach it as “I need to raise money to pay myself.” Unless you are raising money solely from people that love you, whether or not you get paid is probably not going to sway them one way or the other. You need to tell them what $100,000 a year would do. How would your project be great then? Who would it help? How would it make the world a better place? How would it help this particular type of sponsor?
  2. Believe it. You need to truly believe your project would benefit from the money and your work. If you aren’t convinced, you won’t convince anyone else.
  3. Figure out how much you need. It helps to have a goal. Would you quit your day job if you had $20,000 in funding? $100,000? $200,000? (Don’t forget costs like health care, vacation time, etc.)
  4. Identify different types of sponsors. Are you going to raise money from developers? Or software companies? Or philanthropic grant givers? Also think about how much money that type of sponsor is likely to give. Be realistic. Maybe they gave a project $100,000 once but they gave five other projects $10,000. You are probably going to get $10,000 if you get anything. Then figure out how many sponsors you’ll need. Figure out where those people are and how you are going to get introduced to them.
  5. Create a pitch. You need a really good web page, a good email, an elevator pitch and unfortunately, you probably need a slide deck too.
  6. Tell the world. Don’t ask everyone for money. But tell everyone about your project and what your goals are. (Hint: your goal is not to raise money but to make your project better. The money is a means to an end.) Use your elevator pitch. Listen carefully to their questions, their skepticism, their ideas. Evolve. Make your pitch better. Figure out how to pitch it to different types of people.
  7. Sell your project. Don’t forget to talk about your project. You aren’t just asking for money, you are selling the potential of your project.
  8. Collect stories. Studies have proven that people are willing to give more money to save one child identified by name and ailment than they are to save 100 kids. Personal stories are moving. Find a couple of stories of how your project has made a difference.
  9. Learn about them. You are not going to get any money from someone whom you don’t understand. Know them, know their business, know what they care about, know how they view you.
  10. Work with an organization that can help. For example, maybe you want money to work on your favorite project and you found companies that are willing to sponsor it but they don’t want to manage it. Would they be willing to funnel the money to you through a nonprofit organization that also supports your type of project?
  11. Ask. Talk to lots of potential sponsors, ask them for money, apply for grants, look for opportunities. If you don’t ask for the money, you will never get it.

What else would you recommend?

P.S. If you are looking to raise money to work on GNOME, please consider the GNOME Foundation your ally.

Why I wear suits

Photo by thinkpanama

I’ve struggled with business dress for a long time. It’s inconvenient (requires ironing), complicated (business casual dinner for a woman?) and it’s often uncomfortable (why don’t women’s suits have pockets??)  It’s even harder now that I work with people that are more likely to show up naked than show up in a suit.

I don’t care what people wear, and I’d much rather be wearing sweat pants, so why do I ever wear a suit?

I finally figured it out.

I do not want my clothes to make an impression for me.

I dress to not stand out. (At least when doing business.)

If someone at a business meeting is going to remember something about me, I don’t want it to be my clothes. I want it to be the idea I was talking to them about. So if they expect me to be wearing a suit, I want to show up in one, so they don’t even notice it. If they are expecting me to wear khaki’s, then that’s what I want to be wearing. So that my ideas get 100% of their attention.

And I’ll wearing my sweats as soon as I get home …

We need a business card substitute

Photo by jaaron,

Either we need a business card substitute or I need a better way to remember who I met.

I see fewer and fewer people handing out business cards at conferences. That’s fine by me. But some times it’s really hard to remember the name of the person I talked to. I used to flip through my pile of business cards and I could figure out who it was. Now I have a hard time. I know what they look like, where we were standing and what we talked about. And I want to follow up. But I don’t know their name. So I end up using details and google and friends to try to find them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Ideally, I’d have a picture,  name and email for everyone I talked to at a conference. With location and a few notes. People might think I’m weird, but I could start just taking a picture of everyone I talked to at a conference. But I’d have to remember to do that and I’m often in a hurry to get to the next talk or conversation.

Thoughts? Ideas?

P.S. I’m not sure if fewer business cards are the trend or if I’m going to different conferences. I’ll let you know after OSCON.

Why do you have to pay employees to do the right thing?

Photo by eyetoeye

Energizer Battery Company is rewarding employees for flying coach. If employees fly coach, the company splits the difference with them – up to $2,000 for trips to Europe.

This just seems really strange. Let’s put aside the fact that employees are now getting a $1,000 bonus for flying to Europe, so they may be inclined to fly more. (That’s about $50/hour to sit in an economy seat! I’d consider a job doing that.)

At first glance this seems like an awesome deal. The company saves money, employees make money, everyone’s happy.  I’d be a lot richer if I got this deal. But I fly coach without an incentive. Or rather the incentive is that I think the GNOME Foundation can do better things with that money.

That’s the key. Obviously, that business class seat isn’t worth the the $2,000 more the company was paying for it. It’s not even worth half that much to the employee! The company is counting on the employee being willing to sit in economy for $1,000.

So why were employees flying business? Because they didn’t care that the company would be $2,000 poorer. They don’t think the company will do anything more important to do with that money than fly them in business. They either don’t have enough say in how the company makes financial decisions or enough visibility into the process to feel like that money would be wisely used. Or they don’t care about what the company is trying to do.

That is what this company is missing. Employees need to know the money they are saving is going to go to good use. It’s hard to stay in a budget hotel if you know your CEO is staying in a 5 star hotel. It’s easy to stay in a budget hotel if you know your company is going to ship 10 more computers to underprivileged kids with the $2,000 you saved.

The bigger problem here is that employees are either not bought into the company’s mission or they do not trust the company’s financial decision process.

Are you really solving a problem?

Often we get so caught up in our new ideas that we forget to stop and ask ourselves if we are really solving a problem and if so, which problem.

Head snugglers solve a problem. But it’s not for kids’ necks. (When have you ever heard about a toddler complaining about a stiff neck?) Head snugglers solves parents’ needs to feel like they are doing the most possible for their kids’ health and comfort. Many companies profit from that desire.

Needless to say, we will not be buying any head snugglers even though we often comment that the kids look really uncomfortable sleeping in the car! They always wake up just fine and able to flop their heads over to our shoulder to be carried into the house.

(Are you supposed to stop the car and slip this on once the kid is sleeping? Or are you supposed to get them to agree to wear it when they are still awake? I’d like to see that battle!)

How my Kindle paid for itself

My blog post about Kindle covers brought in enough revenue in December to pay for my Kindle. It now brings in enough every month to cover my Kindle reading habit.

KindleGranted, I could use that money for something else, but I like to think of it as my Kindle paying for itself. I mean, I wouldn’t have written a review of covers if I didn’t own a Kindle.

Amazon pays a healthy 10% affiliates fee for any Kindle product sales that you send them. Those affiliate fees have encouraged a huge number of Kindle blogs. All people hoping to get rich from Kindle sales.

They fall into a number of categories.

  1. Books. There are blogs that just talk about books available for the Kindle. Since Amazon makes it pretty easy to find Kindle books, I don’t understand the point of these blogs at all. If I want advice on what books to read on my Kindle, I’m much more likely to read a blog about the genre I like to read, not about the reader I like to read on. These blogs can be useful when they point out free books, but you can find those easily on
    Amazon’s site
    too. Or just check the bestseller
    – the good free books hit the bestseller list fast. (Interestingly enough, Amazon’s own
    Kindle blog
    falls into this category of mostly about available books.)
  2. Merchandise. People have created entire blogs about Kindle accessories. I can see a blog about home accessories for people that like to decorate, but a blog about Kindle accessories? How many can you add to the little thing? A cover, a light, a screen protector, and then what? These blogs must live off searches. Much like my cover review blog post does.
  3. Kindle news. These blogs try to update you on Kindle news but there isn’t much. Some also offer tips and tricks for your Kindle and some of these are rather useful. I enjoy being able to check the time on my Kindle. (Now if they would just release the source code so I could make the time display permanently at the top of the screen …)
  4. E-reader news. Some blogs cover all the e-readers and the news about the industry including DRM issues, debates between publishers and distributors, etc. I think these are the only blogs that are going to live long term. Ones like the Kindle Review. If you want to try getting rich off Amazon Kindle affiliate sales, this is the long term category to be in. (I don’t think your chances of getting rich off Amazon Kindle affiliate sales are really good though.)

But even if most of those blogs don’t work out … Amazon’s affiliate program has given them enormous amounts of cheap advertising.

So the real question is how can you create an affiliates program around your product? Can we add an affiliates type program to Friends of GNOME? To GNOME? To Kids on Computers?

Would you pay someone to help you write LinkedIn recommendations?

I was talking to Leslie Hawthorn and we had what we thought was a brilliant idea for a new business for writers. At least we'd sign up to be customers!

Business idea: Writing LinkedIn Recommendations

Here's how it could work:

  1. Potential customer pays for help writing a recommendation. ($10-20?)
  2. Potential customer calls writer. (Or writer calls the customer. I think this would have to be a phone call, not a voice mail, but maybe not.)
  3. In 5 minutes or less the customer tells the writer what they like or admire about their colleague.
  4. Writer rights up the recommendation in a format suitable for LinkedIn (a couple of sentences) and emails it to the customer.
  5. Customer posts the recommendation to LinkedIn.

Any writers looking for some part time work?


In order to see how this would work, I am making a limited time offer. For the first 6 people to donate $60 or more to the GNOME Foundation or to Kids on Computers and to email me saying they'd like to take me up on this offer, I will help write 3 recommendations. Obviously we will have to set up a time to talk and you will have to tell me what's good about the people you want to recommend.

For samples of my writing, you can read this blog or see the recommendations I have written on LinkedIn for people I recommend.

This offer is good until February 26th or until a total of 6 people have signed up, which ever comes first.

You must be among the first 6 people to donate to the GNOME Foundation or Kids on Computers and email me to qualify.