Tag Archives: career

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Sneak peek … and free first chapter: No Other Gods

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I’ve both longed for and dreaded this day: my baby is being born.Β She’s coming out in the world and the world may not like her.Β But she must be born. And maybe the world will love her πŸ™‚

And so you – thank you SO much – are the first audience hearing her little cries as she emerges.

I’ve already released the full version to my VIP list of beta readers. If you hurry, you can still get on that list.

But I wanted to open up the first snippet of the first chapter to a wider audience. Maybe you don’t have a lot of time. Maybe you’re worried that it will suck. Maybe you’ve got a little Missouri in you: you wanna see it before you commit.

So I’m releasing this first chapter on Scribd. You can read it here, you can read it there, or you can download it and read it anywhere. And no, it’s not a Dr. Seuss book πŸ™‚

Read, enjoy, and let me know if you want more!

No Other Gods Chapter 1 by John Koetsier


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VIP access to No Other Gods, my first novel

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I’m giving a few select people early pre-publishing access to my first book, a science fiction novel title No Other Gods.

A man and a woman exist, knowing nothing but that they are warriors for the gods. They fight, they die, they fight again at different times, in different places. But each time they learn a little more, and eventually they see that not all is as they have been told.

No Other Gods is the story of Geno and Livia, who seek the truth, and find themselves.


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Less free, more lance

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Today is a really, really good day. I just signed a contract with VentureBeat to come on board full-time as a writer.

I’ve been writing for VentureBeat on a freelance basis since April 30th of this year, taking a contrarian opinion on why you should be using Klout when making (some) hiring decisions. Since then, I’ve written about a hundred posts.

My favourite, so far, is this one: How a 1-man cat-drawing startup won a Mark Cuban investment, the story of how a cat-drawing web geek from Chicago got on Shark’s Tank and charmed Cuban into a $25,000 investment. That was a fun interview, it was fun to write, and … I got Mark Cuban to comment, which was a highlight for me.

My most successful post so far has been Microsoft. Kicks. Ass. which I wrote at about 5:30 in the morning after Microsoft’s Surface announcements. I think the company got its mojo back there, even though I’m a Mac guy, and I applauded them for it. At this point, it’s gotten over 6300 likes and about 1600 tweets:

I’ve learned a ton so far, and I know I have a LOT more to learn yet. But I’ll be doing it with a great team of writers and editors, and I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks, Dylan!


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When you love what you do …

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… the world pays attention.

From Hugh at Gapingvoid. Simply awesome.


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In which I follow Steve Jobs' advice and follow my heart …

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A couple of days ago I posted this video on Facebook. It’s about fear, and not letting fear drive your decisions:

Four months ago, Yellow Pages Group shut down Canpages, where I had been working to reinvent local search in Canada. That work got flushed down the toilet, and our entire team was shown the door, which started months of searching for the next thing.

Initially, it seemed to be going super-well, but leads dried up, and it got more challenging. Then a particularly juicy opportunity with a major corporation opened up, and I went through four rounds of interviews, only to get dumped at the last round because I didn’t “have enough big-company experience.” That was a bad moment.

My wife Teresa and I have never had any real financial worries; we’ve been frugal and done well, thank God. But emotionally it was taking a toll. So I refocused on my own consulting business, which I had let lapse for a few years. And that took off.

For the past month and a half, I’ve been working insane hours. I was giving 20 hours a week to Click4Time, a startup focused on the online appointment-booking industry, I was increasingly writing for VentureBeat (one of the top tech/biz/startup blogs on the internet), I was working to get a coworking space, SwitchCube, off the ground, and I was working on a variety of contracts with partners like CGA-Canada and the Trust Tour. From the stresses of the job search I moved to the stresses of too many demands on my time, and the stresses of not really being sure where I should be and what I should be doing. And the stresses of still looking for the real actual job that I dreamed was out there.

It was easily 60-80 hours a week, and it was too much. Something had to give. And that something was almost me.

However, after a lot of soul-searching, that something turned out to be Click4Time. The startup is in a hot space and there’s a lot of potential, but there’s a ton of work to be done on the product itself. As acting director of online marketing, I was spending most of my time actually working on the basics of the company website and core product. Last Sunday I pretty much made up my mind to “fire the client.” But I didn’t act on it until Tuesday, when I told Lance, the CEO (who was great about it).

And it was a very tough decision. It was guaranteed money – not tons, but some, and 5000 shares a month, which are currently being sold for $1 apiece. In addition, it was the guarantee of a 6-figure salary if and when the company closed a significant investment – which seems to be getting closer, by the way.

That was the fear part: the fear of losing out … the fear of not having income … the fear of a certain lack of status. That’s why the video above spoke to me so deeply.

I’m a Christian. I believe in God. And I finally agreed, kicking and screaming, to take a leap of faith. Because my passion was VentureBeat.

It’s a funny thing. I always wanted to be a journalist when I was a kid. And I thought I would be one while I was going through university too. Then work came as a staff writer, then marketer, then technologist, then minor-league executive and management. And the dream faded, I guess. But never really died.

The work I was doing for VentureBeat was the best part of my day. At night I was writing, and it wasn’t work, in a sense. It was fun. It was enjoyable. So I decided to follow Steve Jobs’s advice: to follow my heart. To stay hungry. To stay foolish. To have faith that everything would work out if I just did the thing that felt right, even if it was financially stupid, even insane.

So I did it. I quit Click4Time. And I mentally committed to VentureBeat. And everything changed.

This week has been just unbelievably amazing, with good news packed on top of good news:

  • I got great news – my stories had done better than I thought they had and I had a bigger traffic bonus ($$$) than I expected.
  • I got great feedback – super encouraging words from Heather Kelly, senior editor, and Dylan Tweney, executive editor, and others at VentureBeat – that I was doing well. As Heather put it: “kicking ass and taking names!”
  • I very serendipitously did a couple stories that hit excellent traffic numbers
  • I was – even as a freelancer – the top writer on the site on Wednesday. (Of course, a bunch of our all-stars were on vacation or not posting that day. Still!)
  • I picked up an amazing story based on a Shark Tank episode that Teresa, my wife, had PVRed. It was a great feature story about a guy who created a startup based on drawing cats and scored an investment from Mark Cuban.
  • I got an email from Mark Cuban (!) adding comments to that story.
  • I got more great feedback from VentureBeat staffers, and I had two stories featured at the same time on the home page. And I had the main feature story yesterday morning. And all three of my latest posts have been selected as Editors Picks!!!
  • Then Dylan, who brought me on at VentureBeat as a freelancer in the first place, added me to the writers’ email list and the shared doc which is all the stories that VentureBeat staffers are working on … bringing me more into the fold.
  • And there was some more good news as well, which I can’t share yet.

In other words, a complete avalanche of good news. Unexpected, undeserved, unexplained. And a lot of clarity and faith and evidence that this is the right direction, that this is where I should be going, that this is what I should be doing. I haven’t had that in a long time, it feels like.

I’m super-thankful, and super-humbled.

And I remember Steve Jobs’ words at the Stanford Commencement speech in 2005. In somewhat random order, here are a few bits that especially impacted me:

You’ve got to find what you love
The only way to be truly satisfied is to do great work
And the only way to do great work is to do what you love

Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid thinking you have something to lose.

You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

I’m following! And I’m selling out for what I know I should be doing.


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Welcome CGA-Canada!

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It’s been in the works for some time now, but I’m pleased to be able to announce that the contracts are now signed: I’ll be doing a series of social media seminars for the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada.

We’ll be digging into what social means for CGAs in their organizations, how social media can help both CGAs and their companies, and how to utilize social technologies to both learn and connect with colleagues.

Thanks for the vote of confidence, and I look forward to delivering them soon!

CGAs do, in fact, see more than numbers πŸ™‚

 


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Bow down before my words

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I was working on my novel this morning in the ungodly predawn hours when I saw this quote from about 4 millennia ago:

Now, I swear by the sun god Utu on this very day — and my younger brothers shall be witness of it in foreign lands where the sons of Sumer are not known, where people do not have the use of paved roads, where they have no access to the written word — that I, the firstborn son, am a fashioner of words, a composer of songs, a composer of words, and that they will recite my songs as heavenly writings, and that they will bow down before my words……

King Shulgi (c. 2100 BC)

Is that awesome or is that awesome? Kinda I-am-poet-hear-me-roar.

I’m doing a lot of writing lately. Writing at VentureBeat. Writing my novel. Writing for clients like Click4Time, where I’m helping them transform their site into one that converts surfers into customers.

It’s very cool in a way to see a quote from an individual right at the dawn of the written word speaking about the power of language. Specifically, recorded language. Language is powerful. Language changes perceptions and minds. And language enables us to create stories though which we interpret and understand and enrich our world.

But, no, don’t bow down before my words. Just enjoy πŸ™‚

. . .
. . .

In case you’re wondering, the story is sort of military science fiction, but it takes place in different historical milieux. One of those is ancient Sumer … hence the research.


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So Meetup actually does rock

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As you (may) know, I and a partner are starting up a coworking space in British Columbia’s Fraser valley. Specifically, in Abbotsford. We started with just a landing page, but last week, added a Meetup group.

I had some issues setting it up, and immediately after I linked directly to our landing page from Meetup, Meetup actually cancelled the account and refunded my payment. But … we worked out our differences over a beer (actually, not) and I set up the page again, sans link.

And Meetup has been awesome. We now have 18 people in our Meetup group, plus the 20 or so who have signed up via the landing page (there is some overlap). We’re pumped!

If you’re interested in cool flexible office space, with a side-dish of community and networking, please let us know! Join the Meetup group, and sign up on our Coworking Abbotsford landing page. At this rate we’re hoping to be able to sign a lease within a few weeks, and open up within a couple of months.


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First post @ VentureBeat

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I’m a little pumped. I managed to connect with VentureBeat over the past couple of weeks and just wrote my first post: 5 Reasons Mobile Fragmentation is Actually Good for App Developers.

In it, I argue that a very competitive mobile landscape with Windows Phone and BlackBerry in addition to (of course) Android and iOS is a good thing for mobile app developers … even if it makes life more complicated in some ways.

As I check it now, a few hours after posting, it’s not doing too badly:

  • 73 tweets
  • 46 shares on LinkedIN
  • 15 likes
  • 2 +1s (this is not good for Google+ marketing!)

Writing the post was fun, as was finding and interviewing 3-4 experts in mobile computing. I’m hoping to do more πŸ™‚


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The ONE thing you absolutely MUST have when networking

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Most people hate networking.

It’s too hard, it’s too boring, it’s too forward. Or, they’re too shy, they’re too stuck in a comfort zone, or just not very outgoing.

Here’s the good news
There is a secret for good networking. And it has nothing to do with how you shake hands or maintain eye contact. It’s not about psyching yourself up, or ensuring you meet X number of people. It’s not about figuring out your story in advance, or scripting your elevator pitch, although those can be good ideas.

Here’s the bad news
Unfortunately, it’s not something everyone can do, either. Only some of us can do it … not because we’re better than anyone else, or smarter, or more outgoing, or more attractive. But it is something that we possess. And maybe you do too. And if you don’t? There are ways to get it.

Here’s the secret
The secret is passion.

Is there something that you’re doing that you are absolutely passionate about? Excited about? Engaged with? Vitally interested in?

Then you can network well. It’s as simple as that.

It IS about others … but also YOU
To be sure, you can’t network by spouting off at every opportunity. If you only use your mouth, forget it. You’re boring, and rude to boot.

But it is ALSO about you.

If you just listen when networking, you’re going to hear a lot, and you’ll make some connections. But those connections won’t be strong ones, and won’t be beneficial, because the people you’re connecting with have no clue who you are, what you’re doing, and why you get out of bed in the morning.

In other words, you don’t fit into a box in their head. And that means you don’t fit in their heads at all. Not good.

Passion is infectious
When a passionate person who listens and asks questions and gets interested in others starts to speak, people pay attention. And they remember.

Now you’ve got a connection. And now you’re networking.


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In praise of networking (or … WOW, this has been a crazy week)

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My company recently shut down, effectively making me a free agent.

I was the senior manager, online media, for Canpages. I joined to reinvent Canpages.ca, a local search site that, despite looking like state-of-the-web-1997, was still pulling in 2.8M unique monthly visitors when I joined. I helped push that to 3.5M within 6 months, but the real reason I joined was a massive reinvention of the site and the service: device agnostic, mobile from the ground up, social baked into the DNA, gamification, you name it. Totally buzzword compliant πŸ™‚

That’ll never happen now.

There had been some oddities, budgets not confirmed, contracts not signed. We were meeting on Monday last week and chatting about it. One of my colleagues had just said that we were probably being paranoid, when DING, into our mailboxes comes the dreaded all-hands-on-deck early-next-morning meeting announcement. On Tuesday the game was up and the dream was dead.

That afternoon I went home and started telling my network. Not everyone, just a hundred or so people in the Vancouver area. By Wednesday mid-day, I had 5 meetings set up for the rest of the week.

On Friday, I had calls from 2 others, asking for interviews in the following week. Keeping Monday for some blue-sky time, prep time for interviews, and one call with a recruiter, I had a killer Tuesday, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings, plus a number of calls interspersed. And on Wednesday, yesterday, I had a call with the HR director of a very interesting company in the mobile space, and a *great* initial interview with a mobile gaming/social company, with a follow-up scheduled for next week.

In other words, I’m avalanched. All this without checking job boards, without putting resumes up at Monster, Workopolis, and so on, without actually applying anywhere, and without ever once printing out a resume and carrying it, cap in hand, to a company.

A couple of things are obvious from this:

  • networking works
  • networking rocks
  • job-hunting has fundamentally changed
  • you have to network BEFORE you need the network
  • having a good online reputation is UNBELIEVABLY important
  • there is actually a pretty hot job marketing here in Vancouver for web/mobile/social talent

My biggest challenge now is ensuring that I take the right opportunity … not just one that presents itself to me early in my job search. I’m fairly blessed in that I have runway to take some time to choose correctly.

The role I take has to be one that …

  • I am passionate about
  • I’m eager to get up and do every day
  • has a great vision
  • is in a hot space
  • has good future prospects
  • allows me to use my talents and interests fully

I don’t need a job. I need a mission. There’s a couple possibilities to do this in the startup space, a few with others and a couple by myself, and that’s an option I’m also considering. As always, I’m open to input and advice πŸ™‚

And for those of you who I’m connected with already: let me know what I can do for you. Always happy to oblige!


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Free agent

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Well, as of this morning, I’m officially a free agent again.

I’ve been working for the last year and a half at Canpages with the goal of reinventing Canpages.ca: turning it into a modern local discovery experience for people who want to find services, products, entertainment, and help close to home. We had an amazing plan for the site, working with DDB Canada, and were just about to kick off the build phase with Appnovation for web and mobile, and probably ConquerMobile for iOS.

We had already inked an agreement with Helium for local bloggers – our community ambassadors – in 5 key markets, and were about to increase that to 50 or more. And I had an amazing proposal from Gigya that was going to allow us to not only build our site for social, but enable an awesome gamification platform – not the fake, glued-on kind, but one built solidly around actual, normal, useful user actions, and resulting in real, tangible benefits for users.

It was a beautiful vision. Alas, that’s all it will ever be.

I won’t talk much about the SEO miracles we pulled off, extracting 3.5M uniques a month from an ancient, tired, creaking old website with very few updates over the past few years. Or the integrated mobile vision I planned: use whatever app, device, or web browser you want … it’s the same local search experience, optimized for your screen and your device, still knowing who you are, what your preferences and favorites are, and what you’re most interested in.

The fact remains that with the tough situation our corporate parent Yellow Pages Group is in right now as they transition from print to digital, it didn’t make sense to have competing entities in the marketplace … both scrounging for resources in development and marketing. So Canpages is essentially shut down. We got the requests for early morning meetings yesterday afternoon, and today we came to the office for the execution.

I have had such a wonderful time with so many amazing people: Colin, my boss, in web and marketing … Cathy, a marketing whiz with endless patience and sense of duty … Nicole, Daniel, Jennifer, Kim, Ivica in shipping (no more chats about the Canucks’ last game, Ive, sorry), Jason, Rick & Sue, sales managers for the east and west, respectively, Brandon, Melissa, Gabriel, Luc, and many, many more.

Well, it happens. Thanks, Nic (VP for web and mobile for YPG) for an exciting ride. Thanks YPG for the opportunity.

What’s next?

I’m writing a book, I’ve got a few ideas for my own business, and I’m going to beat the bushes for another great opportunity.

If you hear of one, let me know!


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"You Prepare" … one of the keys to success in life and work

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It was early 2007 – I was working as a product manager in Bellingham WA … mostly focused on education and technology projects.

My current boss, Larry, was taking a different role – he would become my peer – and a new VP had just been hired. I’d just had the first meeting with the man who would be my new boss: Joel Zucker.

Larry wandered into my office and asked how it went with Joel. (First meetings with new bosses are, obviously, a big deal.)

So I told him: went well. I showed him the cheat sheets I had prepared for Joel overviewing all major products and projects at a high level: financials, units, progress, plans. Larry looked at my sheets, smiled.

“That’s the difference with you. You prepare.”

I went on to have a great relationship with Joel. I worked closely with him for two years until he left the company for another role. He promoted me to Director of Product Development. And I stayed close with him as he died of cancer. I’m still connected with his wife on Facebook.

And it all started with a great meeting – for which I had prepared.

Most meetings you go to, people just show up. They come from whatever work they’ve been doing, and they come in without context, without opinion, without position.

When you prepare, you have all those, and you have the opportunity to contribute … and contribute publicly. Both are important. You’ve got just as much if not more work than they do. But even a few minutes reviewing the agenda so you don’t come in cold is huge in your ability to influence the meeting and present yourself positively.

I was just reminded of this recently in another meeting. With another boss. With another cheat sheet.

And now I’m reminding myself again: prepare!


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Want a job in tech? Here's what you must, must, must have

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Whether you’re looking for a job in technology or trying to upgrade your current role, there’s one thing that you must absolutely positively unequivocally have.

It’s something I’ve seen a lot of resumes come in without. It’s something promising but unsuccessful candidates often miss. And it easily and obviously distinguishes winners from losers.

That thing is simple: side projects.

Why?

The hardest thing to do when hiring is to differentiate between candidates who seem good and those who are good. It’s easy to distinguish between complete zeroes and heroes. But what about the knights in shining tin? They’re hard to tell from true paladins.

Side projects will show the difference.

Side projects can be anything:

  • For a marketing person: a blog
  • For a developer: code snippets, an open source project
  • For a writer: an ebook
  • For an organizer/manager: a nonprofit club or organization

What it is doesn’t really matter, but it’s critical that somehow, in at least one key way, it’s related to your field – related to the job you want.

What a side project does is demonstrate initiative. It demonstrates passion. It demonstrates that you care beyond the paycheck. It shows rather than tells. A side project provides independently verifiable history. It gives backstory to your story, adding depth and color and dimension … all of which contribute to believability and persuasiveness.

Critical factors of a great side-project:

  1. Longevity
    15 side projects all started and none finished is a horrible backstory. Have one or two side projects (at least until they are complete) and ensure they are in a good stage of completeness or presentability.

  2. Originality
    The already-existing 40,000 code snippets on lightbox effects are enough. Unless yours is unbelievably incredibly better, make the forty-thousand-and-first is not cool.

  3. Quality
    More than anything else in your professional life, you can control the quality of your side project. So this is a direct reflection of your values and … prospective employment value. Make it rock.

  4. Interestingness
    A side project to count the number of stones in the walkway to your current domicile may turn your crank, but it won’t jumpstart anyone else’s engine. Pick something cool. You need to be passionate about it, but others need to be able to appreciate that passion.

My current side-projects are this blog and my iPad app – the Wonderful Colorful House.

What’s yours?


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LinkedIn: see your connections graphed visually

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About a month ago LinkedIn (site, my profile) launched visualizations: the ability to see your connections graphed visually.

Once you’ve labled your connections and assigned a color to them, you can very quickly see where your network is strong and heavily linked, and where you have “outlier” connections … people that you’re connected to via only one path.

Here’s my professional network visualization, zoomed out:

It’s pretty clear that a LOT of my connections are with people who work or have worked at Premier, Franklin Covey, or School Specialty … since I spent 15 years in basically the same organization (Premier) as it went through two acquisitions (Franklin Covey, and then School Specialty). And Intel and Intel partners is big: I spent a lot of time working with those companies over the past few years.

Beyond those two … it’s a mix of blogging and social media contacts, friends, agency contacts, and recruiters. Canpages is pretty new yet – I’ve only been in my new role for about 5 months – but is starting to come along.

Here’s a little closer view:


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LinkedIn: now crowdsourcing verification of job histories?

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I have never seen this little red triangle on LinkedIn before.

Interestingly, it seems to be an attempt by LinkedIn to verify jobs in members’ profiles. As LinkedIn continues to grow beyond 90 million users and becomes more and more important in modern professionals’ career management, it becomes increasing important to ensure that the data is accurate.

It’s a little shocking that verification has taken this long to put in place, given the potential for deception and misrepresentation on probably the most important careers site in North America, maybe the globe.


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Local search, plus mobile, plus a dash of social

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Just a few short days ago (it seems) I posted my swan song to EasyBits Software. But I didn’t give any precise details on where I was going …

So, for those who haven’t seen it on my LinkedIn account, yes, I have joined Canpages! Canpages is exciting for me for a bunch of reasons.

First of all, it’s back to the web. That’s my first love, that’s what I’m passionate about, and that’s what I eat, breathe, drink. The reality is: installable software is getting less and less important. More and more intelligence and also computing capacity is transferring to the cloud. So that was an important consideration.

Secondly, it’s mobile and social. Canpages has several iPhone apps and a BlackBerry app … and in fact one of the first things I’m working on here is apps. More on that soon from Canpages.ca – look for the press releases! We’re already social with a number of different web properties that we own, and it’s only going to increase. Again, can’t give any more details here and now, but look for big things in the near and medium-term future.

Third, Canpages is local search. Local search is the holy grail right now. It’s what Yelp and Facebook and Bing and Google and Yahoo! and FourSquare and so many other companies are working on. And guess what: Canpages is leading the industry in Canada, and with some of the things in our pipeline, we’re going to grow our presence and capabilities substantially.

That’s the other major part of what I’m working on: canpages.ca, the website. The user experience, the UI, the traffic strategies, the conversion rates … the product. I’ll also be managing several of our other web properties, GigPark, ZipLocal, and Urban Pill.

Finally, coming out of a very lean start-up scenario, not having to manage the HR stuff, the benefits, the finance, etc. etc. etc., and just being able to wear the product hat … it feels good. I feel like I can focus on the things that I care most about.

So: looking forward to what we can do here. Stay tuned!


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And the fat lady sings again …

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I’m leaving the EasyBits Group and EdSys Educational Systems (a subsidiary of the EasyBits Group).

I joined a little over 2 years ago … a fairly short time … but have packed an amazing amount of experience into those 25 months. That includes over 160,000 kilometres of air travel to destinations as diverse as Cairo and Shanghai, contacts and great relationships with people at companies such as Intel, ASUS, HP, and Smart. And it includes countless hours of individual and group work as we slaved away at all the things you need to do at a startup to get off the ground.

I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would, had amazing opportunities to build and grow partnerships with major international corporations, participated in too many late night calls with Asian partners to remember …

It’s been a fun, wild ride, and here are some of my favorite memories:

  • Landing the position in the first place and getting the opportunity to make a real difference in a software start-up as COO.
  • Presenting our future plans at an Intel QBR (quarterly business review) in Portland in early 2009 and getting a great response.
  • Working with Ellis Wang (pretty much the inventor of the netbook) and others at ASUS to create a great new product category.
  • Visiting Disney HQ in Glendale, CA to work with Jieun and others in their consumer products group and create a Disney specific laptop, the Disney Netpal: email, browser, desktop, UI … all Disney, Disney, Disney.
  • Meeting Bob Gregory and Luke Donnelly at Intel HQ in Santa Clara, CA to pitch them on a digital publishing vision in education and beyond that started a year-long engagement in which EasyBits tried to define the future of educational publishing (the jury’s still out on this one).
  • Launching EdSys.com as a culmination of all our efforts in creating a great suite of products for tech-centric schools.
  • Speaking at an Intel conference in Cairo … I arrived from Amsterdam at 3AM, made it to the hotel by 5AM, slept for 2 hours, hired a car and driver, drove to the pyramids, rented a camel and guide, and explored for half a day. We came to the pyramids from the Sahara side, not the Cairo side, and early in the morning there was no-one there … it was as if a thousand years had just disappeared from the calendar and we were alone in the desert and with the pyramids. The speech went very well, too!
  • Taking half a day later at that same Cairo conference and exploring Giza, Sakara, and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo with Paulo and Marcello from MetaSys in Brazil, and Frank from Monaco. We got lost in a souk, cheated by a taxi driver, stunned by Tutankhamun’s mask, grossed out by Cleopatra’s entrails in an alabaster box, and chilled out eating lunch by the pool. Amazing day and a half!
  • Presenting at another Intel conference in Porto, Portugal. I flew into Lisbon at midnight, obeyed the GPS, promptly spent an hour bombing around the backstreets of the capital before getting on the expressway and arriving in Porto at about 3AM. The conference was amazing, in the old Alfandega, and we met political and educational leaders from Macedonia, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, and many other countries. Later I took a day in Lisbon and explored that amazing city … the Castillo San Jorge, the Lisbon Cathedral (built in 1147!), and the amazing Baixa or downtown area.
  • Starting a conference call at 11:30 PM. Before this role, I had mostly done business in North America … so the biggest time changes were generally 3 hours. However, with EasyBits our key partners were in Europe, North America, and Asia … so the time differences were huge. Calls with Chinese and Taiwanese partners generally started at 5PM and got worse, with 7PM being the most common. However, 11:30PM was the latest conference call start time I can recall.
  • Seeing our software on millions of CMPCs (classmate PCs – Intel’s reference computing platform for schools) … both Blue Dolphin and Inspirus Desktop. Our software was included as part of Intel’s core stack for both education and retail units – a major accomplishment.
  • Creating multiple great marketing and training presentations in Flash for our partners … consisting of screencasts, images, text, audio (in multiple languages), and animation. We produced a suite of software with 5 components working in concert for multiple parties, including a server process that tied everything together, so presenting it in a simple, effective way was essential.
  • Working with a remote development team, mostly in the Ukraine. This presented serious challenges of language and time zones, not to mention cultural differences in work and communication styles, but in spite of the problems, enabled us to create very significant software solutions in far less time, and with a fairly advantageous cost structure as well.
  • Meeting Patrick from Smart in Santa Clara at another Intel QBR, and going with him, Meghan Desai and Bob Gregory of Intel to 3-4 different restaurants in Cupertino, including one right at 1 Infinite Loop, where we ordered a tiny Belgian beer with a dragon on the lable … 20% alcohol by volume.
  • Learning to work with Ilya Kruglenko, our CEO/CTO, and my Russian boss. At the beginning of our relationship, I really did not understand what made him tick. Initially devoting perhaps 30% of my personal CPU cycles to just deciphering the words he was saying didn’t help. But, learning Ilya’s style and personality over the years … and getting better at understanding his accent … was critical to communicating and working well together.
  • Meeting Lars, our co-founder and VP of marketing, in Houston, Texas for meetings with HP. We had amazing meetings with great reception to our thoughts and ideas, and then went to an incredible steakhouse. The bill for the two of us was almost $350 … but it was a meal to remember.
  • Thinking about food, a meal in Porto, Portugal with Lars, Tiago, and Tito from EasyBits, and Sabine from Intel, as well as an Austrian judge (don’t ask!). We were in the restaurant by the river Douro for probably 4 hours, and they just kept bringing more courses, more food, more cheeses, more meats, more wine, more deserts, more everything. It was probably the most amazing meal of my life … and there was great company and conversation, as well.
  • Visiting our Intel partners in Shanghai. We worked for days in their mammoth campus, building a mountain of Diet Coke cans in the conference room (some Chinese didn’t drink, because cold drinks cause ill health) and then went to dinner together where I ate snake as well as Chairman Mao’s favorite food: red braised pork. There’s a reason he was a little porky himself …
  • Working at home in basement office … and not commuting. Commuting is something I’ll have to get used to again in my new role (more on that later). Working at home has definite upside … but also a downside: you never leave the office.
  • Finally … one of the last days, the day I told Ilya I was leaving. We were at the Intel Developer Forum conference, and spent an hour and half walking the streets of San Francisco, talking it over. That night, we had a great dinner and polished off a bottle of wine together. It was a great, amiable, wonderful end to an excellent business relationship.

It has been a very busy couple of years with EasyBits, and I’m grateful for all the memories. Here’s to all of my colleagues there – Ilya, Lars, Tiago, Tito, Kate, Simone, Nick, Alex, Ivan, Igor, Andrey … I wish you the very best of everything in the future.

. . .
. . .

BTW, I’ll be announcing my new role shortly, but generally, it’s in the mobile/social/local search space. This is the hottest place to be in technology right now, and I’m looking forward to it with a LOT of excitement.

. . .
. . .

UPDATE October 14, 2010:
I’ve already updated my LinkedIn status, but here’s the on-blog announcement of my new position


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Sir Ken Robinson on education & revolution

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This is worth taking 15 minutes out of your day and watching:


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Entrepreneur? Study yourself!

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I already re-tweeted … but I have to post this.

In a great Open Forum post on How to Escape Mundanity (which is actually about how to start your own business), there’s this great quote from Pamela Slim:

If you are in the very early stages of thinking about a business, spend your time getting to know yourself. One of the best things I learned from author Jim Collins is to study yourself as if you were a scientist observing a bug. Pay very close attention to the things that either make you feel great or feel crappy. Note the kind of environment, work, people, topics, industries, schedule, and activities that make you thrive. When you start your business with this awareness, you will feel natural energy and clarity which will make all the next steps of the process like choosing a business idea, figuring out the money, planning your business, identifying your customers, and creating a marketing process a lot easier.

Pamela Slim, you say? Yeah, that’s Pamela escape-from-cubicle-nation Slim.

To me, this quote – and the post – is not so much about becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own business as it’s about finding what you love and doing what you’re passionate about.

That’s escape enough for anyone.


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Standing out in an organization

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I’ve just started following Chris Guillebeau’s Art of Noncomfority blog, about his non-traditional work/jobs/career, and his travel around the world.

One thing that stuck out for me in today’s post is this quote on The Heart of the Matter:

The way you stand out in a non-profit organization isn’t that different from what you do in any group or company. You show up, give more than expected, and try to make other people look good.

Unbelievably true.

90% of success might be showing up, according to some, but it makes a big difference how you how up. Are you just there, or are you really all there? Do you do the minimum, or the maximum that you can contribute? Do you make others look good, or are you just focused on your own goals.

Love the quote, love the reality.

Now: to focus on making it come true for me.


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Three amazing developers/managers on the market

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This is a shout-out to announce that fact that 3 amazing web/software developers/technology managers that I know really, really well are looking for work.

If you’re looking for developers these guys are great:

Mike Skovgard: LinkedIn, blog
Mike is a commando. Give him a tough development job and he’ll attack it like it’s a Nazi and he’s a WWII stormtrooper. Unbelievably smart, quick, and tenacious.

Bernie VanSpronsen: LinkedIn
Bernie is a concensus-maker. He quickly gets concepts, builds a business case, and figures out a project plan. If there’s a person he can’t get along with, that person is likely pathological.

Carl Forde: LinkedIn, blog
Carl is a thinker and architect. He designs systems, and then he build the bricks of the wall that will form the structure. He’s also working on a PHD in educational technology.

Reason why they’re looking
The company they’re working for – which I used to work for – is centralizing operations at their US location. So the Canadian workers are out of luck.

I feel bad because this is an awful time, economically, to be faced with this situation. But I take comfort in knowing that each of them is super skilled and extremely capable, and good things are in store for those that hire them.

Full disclosure:
I hired Carl and Mike when I was at Premier. And, when I moved on to Director of Home & Family Markets, Bernie took over the Technology Solutions Department from me.


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Developers, developers, developers, developers

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Week two of my brand-new job is coming up tomorrow. Here’s what I need:

  1. Office space in Richmond, BC, for 10-20 people
  2. Accounting, Bookkeeping, and Payroll services, ideally all from one provider
  3. Developers, developers, developers, developers
    (Just channeling Steve Ballmer in text here … what I need are Delphi developers, including at least one who speaks Russian.)

  4. Technical writer who understand usability and can write UI strings, help, & maybe even some marketing-type text
  5. Once the office is in place, internet, phone, supplies, etc.
  6. Once the developers are hired, computers, screens, software, etc.

If you know someone who can help with any of the above, give me a shout!

. . .
. . .

OK, just for fun, here you go:


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So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

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Today is the day.

While I’m on-call for another week, and will return to the office next Friday for a cake&coffee with the team, I’m leaving the company that I’ve been with for 15 years (give or take a month).

That’s 15 years through 7 different jobs:

  1. Research Assistant
  2. Staff Writer
  3. Marketing Project Manager
  4. Technology Solutions Manager
  5. Director of Home & Family markets
  6. Product Manager
  7. Director of Product Development

And 15 years through 3 different ownership stages:

  1. Premier (small, closely held company)
  2. FranklinCovey (medium-sized public company)
  3. SchoolSpecialty (largish public company)

And 15 years through 8 different bosses:

  1. Harold Ludwig
  2. Theodore Kingma
  3. Patricia Loeppky (now Newbold)
  4. Jim Gibson
  5. Kevin Moore
  6. Larry Renooy
  7. Joel Zucker
  8. Bob Lynch

What a wild ride it’s been, from a company that did about $40 million in annual business to a company that does over $130 million yearly. From a small family-run operation to a cog in a billion-dollar public corporation. From a small, cramped office in a leaky Abbotsford building to the former President’s (Henk Berends) corner office in Langley, and then to Bellingham, WA.

The opportunities I’ve had have been incredible. Just one of them is the travel, which has enabled me to go to San Francisco multiple times, Silicon Valley, Salt Lake City multiple times, Seatle, Portland, Wisconsin, Asheville North Carolina, San Diego multiple times, New Orleans, Virginia Beach, Texas multiple times, Florida multiple times, Quebec, Phoenix, Whistler, Winnipeg multiple (multiple multiple) times, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Moose Jaw (!?!), and many more places. Business travel is not always all it’s cracked up to be, but I always made a point of seeing or doing something at each place that I could not have seen or done at home … and so it has enriched my life.

Other opportunities have been career development. I started with Premier almost right out of Simon Fraser University. I had some previous experience managing a retail sports store … but Research Assistant was my first real career job. From that beginning people and experiences at Premier taught me product development, marketing, and basic business realities. My interest in technology grew significantly while at Premier, and the company had an opportunity for me to start and lead a web development department. From that, I moved on to other interesting and challenging jobs, including the one I’m currently leaving from: Director of Product Development. What a blessing! I feel truly fortunate and blessed to have had the career opportunities that I’ve already had.

But probably the best opportunity at Premier has been the people. Meeting and working with the amazing people at Premier … the David Leoppky’s, the Henk Berends, the Joel Zuckers … and so many more. I can’t – really can’t – name them all, but ones that really stand out are Pat Graham, Brandon Bird, Foeke van de Poel, Kelly DeVries, Bruce Morris, Sibrand Stulp, Andrew Westrink, Raymond Kenny, Teresa Alexander, Brad Kuik, Kevin Moore, Jane Hix, John Flokstra, Jonathan Catherman, Harold Ludwig, Wim Kanis, Natalie Critchley, Ronnie Zindorf, Larry Huinker, John Wesselius, Steve Misenhimer, Rastin Mehr, Arie Veenendaal, Ray Kuik, Dave Shoots, Bob Goodman, Diego Rodriguez, Sheldon Atkinson, Dominique Fugere, Francois Lupien, David Boone, Larry Renooy, Tom Osborn, Mike Skovgaard, Bernie Van Spronsen, Lisa Peumsang, Brian Koning, Steven Leyenhorst, Anita Lofgren, Phil Minderhoud, Tyler VanVliet, Bram Vegter, and Cheryl Vandeburgt. There’s more … I know there’s more, and I apologize if your name isn’t there. But those are the ones that came to mind. We had a great run together, and I wish you all the very best of everything.

Some of my favorite memories of these 15 years are:

  • Running the annual convention in ’98 or ’99 in Victoria, BC – the first convention that we made a huge splash with a major show-biz type presentation. That was a blast!
  • Bringing out the Discover Zone … an online learning, edutainment, productivity, and groupware environment in 2002-2003. What an application it was, and what excitement it generated!
  • The convention we held in Quebec, about 3 hours North of Quebec City along the banks of the St. Lawrence. 35 or so of us stayed in the hotel lobby/bar until 1 or 2 AM, singing around the piano and generally enjoying each others’ company.
  • Visiting our partners The FaQtory in Winnipeg in the winter and playing outdoor ice hockey at Ray Kuik’s house in -20 degrees Celcius … in shirtsleeves because we were so hot from the exercise.
  • Building out a new department when I became Technology Solutions Manager. Finding space, painting, furnishing, hiring, and managing … tons of fun!
  • A lunch with Henk Berends when he pointed out a serious error in judgement that I was making in a very gentle, tactful way, and saved me from a major, major disaster.
  • Playing hockey with the Canadian sales team at their regional meeting this year.
  • Giving a presentation on Royal Dutch Shell-like scenario planning at one of our company’s top meetings in ’97 when I was still young and green, and hearing via the grapevine that Chuck Farnesworth said “that kid made more sense than all the rest of them put together!”
  • Getting to write for audiences of tens of millions when I was a staff writer. Our product goes out to over 20 million students internationally, and their parents and teachers view it as well.
  • Pulling an all-nighter with David Boone to get the Premier website ready on-time in ’98.
  • Boogy-boarding in 10-foot San Diego waves in ’96, dislocating my shoulder in the surf, and swimming 100 feet back to shore one-handed.
  • Working for a month on a Discover Agenda presentation to executive in 2007, presenting it, and getting an unbelievable reception.
  • Getting the 3-day training sessions on 7 Habits as well as the Organizational Effectiveness Model when we joined FranklinCovey.
  • Going to San Antonio for a conference and staying at the Emily Morgan hotel in a suite looking directly down into the Alamo.
  • Getting a massive one-day raise in 2001.
  • Jim Gibson’s last day, when he came to me at our north campus. We found an available office; he told me he was leaving; and we prayed together before he walked out the door.
  • Imitating Henk Berends’ speech style in a send-off at his retirement banquet, and managing to do it well.
  • Winning the company-wide crud tournament with Loren VanCorbach and Sheldon Atkinson at the Portland conference in 2007 while playing the last few games on a severely sprained ankle.
  • Taking off from the Phoenix conference with a colleague (Mike Suto) in a van, not knowing where we were going, and finding the most amazing still quiet desert spaces where we stood still and silent for minutes just to hear nothing, and then continuing on to find a deep, cold desert lake.
  • Climbing the foothills of the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City during a visit to FranklinCovey.
  • Setting up a ping-pong net on my Technology Solutions department “boardroom” table to knock away the tensions of long, busy days.
  • And far more than I can list …

I have been very blessed, and very happy to have been a part of Premier from December of 1994 to November of 2008. And while I’m eagerly looking forward to new challenges, I’ll remember these times and people with fondness and some nostalgia.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu!


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Working out for success @ work

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I feel good. Really good.

Reason? I worked out last night … even though it was a crazy, crazy day with a full 9 or so hours at work, an hour coaching baseball for my son’s team, and a coffee with friends.

I think it was Penelope Trunk who said it a few months ago … something along the lines of: you should work out if you want to be successful in your profession? Why? Most successful people work out.

That’s a correlational as opposed to a causal relationship. But it’s still significant.

Feeling better, feeling stronger, feeling more alert, just generally feeling physically better is going to translate, most of the time, to acting better, performing better, and simply being better.

I haven’t been able to work out regularly lately due to a crazy sports schedule (I signed up for two ice hockey teams – big mistake) and a neck injury (probably unrelated but its hard to tell). But in the past 5 days I’ve worked out twice, and I feel incredible already.

Here’s to the gym!


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Uh-oh

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As someone who’s recently been promoted, I need to be extremely self-aware about what I’m doing, what I’m saying, why, how, and how others are perceiving it.

As Bob Sutton quotes Dacher Keltner’s The Power Paradox, positional power is a very dangerous thing:

He argues that — contrary to the claims of many experts, going back to Machiavelli — that people who are selected for powerful positions and are able to hold them are characterized by modesty and empathy. BUT he shows that being put in a position of power turns people into them into worse decision-makers, makes them more likely to act on their whims and desires, and makes them more likely to interrupt others, to to speak out of turn, to fail to look at others when they are speaking, and to tease others in hostile ways.

I think the key is being open to criticism, not closing your mind to new learning, and having people around you that will call you on BS behavior and actions. That’s something I don’t think I can ever stop working on.


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Passion in work and life

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I had lunch with a colleague today. He’s young, smart, and creative … and in a job where he cannot possibly exercise all his talents.

(Kind of the way I like to think of myself!)

But he has a good-paying job. And a mortgage. And 3 kids. And a wife.

So it’s hard. Hard to take the plunge. Hard to take the risk. Hard to not settle. After all, if he has a hard landing, it’s not just him at risk.

And yet, a good-paying job doing often-interesting work is not enough. It’s not enough for him, and it’s not enough for me. There are some people who won’t settle – can’t settle.

Settling means dying, even if just a little. To settle, you have to kill your dreams, or at least shut them off, wall them up.

The colleague I had lunch with is not willing to do that. I’m not willing to do that. Someone, I think Eleanor Roosevelt, said that the biggest risk is not taking any risks at all.

The challenge is risk management.

In other words, if you’re going to take a risk outside the cozy corporate womb, have your ducks in a row. Plan it for some time in advance. Have a fairly large sum of money (12 months worth of living expenses, I think) in reserve. Then go for it.

Why?

You might as well ask why we live. Life is risk. Doing the same thing over and over, always staying within the lines, always doing the safe thing, is not life.

Life is experimentation. Life is change – without change there is no life. Literally, when you stop changing, you’ll be dead.

I want to live.

[ update ]

I just saw this article on risk-taking. It gives the following three reasons why people take risks:

  1. the drive to transform the tension of unresolved emotional conflicts from childhood into individual expression, vindication and mastery,
  2. the drive of a “lonely crusader” determined to challenge the group’s or the organization’s need to preserve the status quo, and
  3. the drive of profound self-awareness and alienation: “the person (must) construct a framework of meaning that is personal rather than imposed externally.”

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