ID-100141321My wife and I recently went on vacation to New Zealand.  It is quiet interesting to learn about New Zealand’s history and how things changed multiple times when humans arrived.

New Zealand was untouched land – there were no mammals present on the islands besides some bats.  Large forests inhabited by birds were common all over the land. The largest ever-living eagle called NZ home and fed of some great non-flying birds called ‘Moa’.

About 700-1000 years ago the first humans arrived on NZ from Polynesia. Civilized but yet primitive they started settling from north to south. One great source of food they found were the Moa. These birds were large (6 foot high and larger), didn’t have real predators on land and with that weren’t easily scared.  Perfect to hunt and eat.  The eggs, large also, were great and easily accessible also, plus the shells worked as drinking containers after consumption.
With that the Moa were doomed to be killed.  And they got killed and eaten – until there were no more Moa and they went extinct.
It struck me that we actually divide the timeline of New Zealand’s development and history into ‘before’ and ‘after Moa’.
During the abundance of food due to Moa-availability the tribes used to settle on river mouths in open settlements. Once there were no Moa anymore the tribes started to move to more ‘defendable’ grounds and started building fortified settlements as they started fighting each other for resources.

Many years later the Europeans arrived in New Zealand. There is a whole slew of information about how they mistreated the indigenous people (the ones that ate all the Moa) but the most interesting and really visible actions the Westerners contributed to New Zealand’s development is the increased deforestation.  When the Westerners arrived the forest cover was already reduced from 86% to 56% – they then took it down to 31%.  There are different reasons for cutting down the trees (wood, farmland, using the trees for other purposes – see ‘Kauri’) but it is amazing how visible this change in the land is on the ‘little’ islands.  I bet hundreds of different species of birds went extinct due to that deforestation.

Early on I learned (5th grade or so) we are cutting down forests like crazy all over the place.  I knew we are competing for resources and I knew we are killing people and animals for them.  But I never really had this appear as clearly as on New Zealand.
Humans are in their current state hurting the land, air, water, the animals and themselves on a scale that they are not capable of understanding – nor are they able to repair the damage they are causing.

We humans are really bad at being able to grasp humongous things.  We can imagine how long one meter (or yard) is.  10 meters. 100 meters. But what about imagining how long 5 billion meters are.  How long does it take to build a table?  How about a house?  How about a city of the scale of Mumbai?
The larger the scale, the harder for us to understand what is involved and what it takes.  I believe humans as a whole are simply not capable of understanding what the reaction to our way of living and acting is.  We can’t really relate to the impact the world sees once there is no oil left.  No drinking water.  Earth warming up 5 degrees Celsius or more.

For most of my life I thought that it isn’t wise to bring children in this world.  Years ago I read about somebody who sued their parents for bringing him into this world.  He was saying that the world is a terrible place and that his parents knew he was doomed by being born – so they should have rather aborted him.  I don’t recall the details but the story stuck with me.
Why would we bring children into this world – to live in an environment that is killing itself and a civilization that is doomed to die?  Where your chance of survival is based on pure luck of in which part of the world and during which time you are born, with which color of skin, to which parents with which religious and worldly beliefs.  Not everybody is born a son to white, hippie-ish, middle-class, loving and caring parents in Western Europe in the 1980s.

Things are going bad around the globe.  Finite fossil fuels.  Forests are vanishing.  Fish will die out.  You know the story.  But nobody really ever had a good answer for me on how to fix this.  What can I *personally* do – every day – to make things better?  Separate your trash.  Recycle.  Eat ‘humanely raised meat’.  Free-range eggs.  Use less plastic products.  Save fuel.  Support Greenpeace.
All great things but none of them will ever stop deforestation or fix the fact that a large amount of people on this planet are staving.  How about stopping global warming?

There is nothing I can do *right now* to stop the world from going to shit.  It is actually quiet liberating to know this.  I am not advocating to stop making the healthy and wise choices or stop doing the things that can have a positive impact.  But we have to realize that all this ‘small stuff’ is not going to make a difference.  Oil is finite!  Oceans are being fished empty!  Global warming is happening and we have no way to stop it!  We are growing as a species into proportions that we can not support in a sustainable way!
We are capable of changing things.  But it takes time.  I takes multiple generations to learn, adapt and work hard on fixing our ways of thinking and acting.  That is where I see that children are actually the solution.  Bringing children into this world with good starting conditions could be called ‘our duty’ to allow mankind to survive.  Teaching them how to think differently about ‘everything’ and how to change us humans as a species over time is necessary so that the future generations are able to make this planet a better place and they are able to leave it in better shape than we have left it for them in.

It is our duty and contribution to teach our children what they need to know about the past and give them the tools to develop new ways of thinking and acting to break down these huge problems we are facing.  This way we can chip away at them and solve them one at a time so that a new equilibrium can be created that allows us to live and prosper and allow the planet to do the same.  So that we are not just another civilization that is going to break under its own weight.  Sorry kids… a lot of work to do.  I hope we can help – and hope we can do before it is too late.

Image credit

6573030239_ddff8d0666_zA zombie movie usually goes like this: Some part of the human population gets exposed to a virus, people turn into uncontrollable zombies who run around and infect others to turn them into mindless creatures who then feed off others without a real goal – always infecting more people and feeding off anything they can find.  The heroine or hero of the story tries to survive by gathering a group of uninfected people and fights side by side with them with the goal to find a cure or to extinguish all undead to save mankind from doom and forever-lasting darkness.

As a young company and startup we have a great team sharing a vision and fighting for/with each other to create something wonderful that has a real impact on the status quo. The two infecting viruses we are trying to stay away from and hope to extinguish are apathy and mediocrity. The goal is – against all odds – to attract excellent, smart, dedicated people who are willing to work side-by-side to create something new that will stand out, be different and wildly successful in transforming the way we do things.

One of the dangers a young, growing team faces is letting zombies in their house.  They want nothing more than drag you to the ground and absorb you into their horde of brainless, drooling undead that doesn’t know right from wrong. When you and your team find a zombie in your midst you have to protect yourselves quickly before it infects you or brings the rest of the zombie horde along.

It’s not a zombie’s fault!  Once turned zombie they don’t know any better than infecting others and dragging them into zombie-life.  So beware that you don’t get infected without noticing it.  Your team will either have to put you down or you will turn them into the living dead as well.

I wish you nothing but the best for fighting with your team for your ideas and ideals and that your work will catapult us all into a new and better world. But please watch out; brain-eating zombies are lurking at every corner – and they come in hordes!

Apprenticeship

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apprenticeship.jpg

I am a big proponent of educating through practice.  When looking at the world through this lens the model of apprenticeships is a phenomenal approach to teaching people a profession and a set of skills.  The one key ingredient for apprenticeship is to provide and be in the right environment.  It is crucial that the company, team and individuals where an apprentice will work are the *right* one.  I was very fortunate to have apprenticed at a small company in Germany who cared for their apprentices, provided a base for me to contribute from day one and let me take on responsibilities at break-neck pace to really grow in the early years of my professional life.

My employer didn’t necessarily have a great apprenticeship ‘program’. It was a small company (in silicon valley you would say a startup) and I joined as employee number 13 or so.  But they provided an environment where curiosity and willingness to sign up for new interesting work were rewarded through praise, trust, professional acknowledgement and, yes, money (the base-salary was a whopping 650 euros/month. And even though my co-apprentice and I didn’t really do it for the money, the bonus we received for our work was a tremendous addition).

I didn’t realize it back then and to some extent I just was simply lucky to have ended up at that place but as an apprentice it is very very important to pick the right company to work for.  I would compare it to picking the right kindergarten or primary school for a child.  Especially when just starting out with our professional lives we are largely unspoiled and are a bit ignorant to how things are done in the real world.  This relatively clean slate can be a wonderful breeding ground for great contributors, innovators and leaders when feeding it from the right sources.  At the same time when companies take on apprentices and don’t care about them and their development to strong individuals and contributors they destroy this great opportunity of paying it forward.

When my brother started his apprenticeship he was excited about his job, the boss and the opportunities ahead.  Within less than year he was disillusioned and realized his employer only gave him the shittiest of tasks to do, didn’t invest in him as an individual, used him as cheap labor and even let him work in health-concerning environments.  They do not care about being part of developing the next generation of professionals and skilled individuals.  He quit his job and will be joining another company after recommendations and more due-diligence on his side.

A friend of mine also didn’t finish his apprenticeship (he apprenticed around the same time as I did).  His employer was a large multi-national company.  They care about their employees and provide a safe and sound environment but they don’t care about the individuals that go through their program and helping them to really develop to their fullest potential.  Companies like that simply operate with the mindset of a huge factory, training the next set of conveyor-belt workers who work from 9-5 without much aspiration to create, be passionate about their work and contribute in big ways.  He quit and ended up starting his own (successful) company, which he sold later on.

Of course it is always hard to find a good company to work for.  Especially when just entering the work-life one doesn’t yet know what to watch out for.  There are more and more programs and initiatives sprouting up in the US that aim to provide a good environment for apprenticeships, specialized and practical training together with companies and support from employers.  I am looking forward to seeing parents and individuals realize that there are many other, better, opportunities to educate their children and themselves than there were until now.  We have to nurture these alternative ways of education to make them the new mainstream.  We just need to make sure the environment we provide is the right one.

 

walletI love my team.  I trust them and everybody else who is working at my company.  Even though this trust isn’t put to the test all the time with everybody, I know that at the very minimum everybody who is in our offices is a decent person who joined our ranks to do great things as part of a great company.

A little while back a VP who worked with us then told me I should rather not leave my wallet on my desk.  I was very surprised and upset about this comment.  I was told to “not chance it” and “not create the opportunity” for somebody to take the wallet or any money out of it.  I was told that “you rather don’t want to create the scenario where this could happen – because if it happens then it will be really bad”.  I admit even now the thought alone that somebody of my trusted colleagues would even think about stealing my wallet or money out of it is causing me discomfort – because I know nobody would.

There are many reasons why somebody might feel tempted or forced to take the belongings of others; financial distress, mental conditions etc.  However if they who would risk their career, relationship with their team members and commit a crime just to get a few dollars off the desk of a co-worker then something went really wrong.  It went so wrong that even if I wouldn’t leave my wallet on my desk bad things would happen.

I would not want to spend time in a place where I have to fear that my personal belongings might get stolen.  If things went so bad that I couldn’t run into meetings and leave ‘valuables’out in the open on my desk I would simply have to quit and find something new where I can just focus on the things that matter – working on great things together with my co-workers who I trust to the fullest.

There is one thing that beats following the latest technology trends, hanging out at networking events, being a conference ho or creating “your brand”: WORK FUCKING HARD!

If you are obsessed with a problem and are trying to solve it or if you are in love with an idea and want to bring it to market successfully you should think about one thing all the time: How can I prove what my best next steps should be!?!

And you do one thing all the time: WORK FUCKING HARD!

You don’t constantly hang out with startup hipsters, wannabe entrepreneurs or “social media influencers”. You don’t crash every party in your startup town, don’t hang out at the ballpark each weekend or get drunk with your buddies at happy hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Instead: you WORK FUCKING HARD!

In the end the extra effort you put in your project does make a difference.  You don’t have to be an ultra intelligent genius to launch a successful company but you have to put lots of effort into it, tweak it, iterate and outperform your competitors. And how do you to that? You WORK FUCKING HARD!

When I moved to the US a bit more than six years ago I barely knew two people – my then boss and now friend and co-founder and one other co-worker who I worked with for a couple of months back in Germany.  Both arrived here a few months before me.  I worked hard to make sure our projects would be a success and the company would be able to grow based on satisfied customers and our demonstrated ability to deploy our products.

Originally I only intended to stay in San Francisco for one year before going back to Germany to attend university.  With this mindset I did not work on building out a ‘professional network’ in the SF Bay Area or finding many new friends – I only followed my main interest of building stuff (mostly software) and working hard to make my projects a success.  Somehow I ended up going to some of the earlier meetups of SF New Tech and enjoyed them.  As I am more on the introverted side and Germans in general are not the masters of small-talk (gross generalization!) the joy came mostly for the demo aspect; not the networking.  I went to SF Beta and some other tech meetups and again didn’t make many contacts other than occasionally seeing the same faces popping up.

During my first ‘real’ startup I was on the road and presenting at those events myself – of course trying to get feedback, generate buzz and find users for the product.  There was a specific purpose and I was constantly pitching.  The product got acquired later on and I only have very few contacts from that promotion phase who I still more or less regularly interact with.

When we started Taulia, the focus for me was on specific technology meetups that were relevant to us, some very specific VC/angel pitch events and occasionally SF New Tech to see some demos.  Again, not really meeting many people or general business contacts but focused on current work, goals and technology – to build a great product and company.  Some of my best and smartest colleagues ended coming out of very specific meetups or events I went to and put effort into.  However, neither of those folks was being ‘networked’ by me but we ended up collaborating due to genuine interest and aligned goals.

This week-end I ran into somebody who also works in tech and I met a couple of times before.  We didn’t plan to meet and the event we were at had nothing to do with tech or networking – it was focused on art and (physical) prototyping.  My goal at that event was to see things produced outside my core skill-set and to learn about how people from other disciplines are solving problems differently.  We both agreed that we rather attend events outside our normal network or comfort-zone in order to broaden our horizon – rather than building a professional network through the usual networking events.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that there are tons of networking events out there, mixers, launch-parties, groups, meetups and alike.  But being selective about where to spend time and not just network for the networking’s sake has been a very important part of my experience in San Francisco over the last six years.  In the end what really matters is that we solve hard problems, create value for our customers and users, build great products, teams and companies and focus on getting shit done.  And knowing the 10 people out of 10,000 who share those values is much more gratifying and helpful for me than knowing ‘this’ girl or ‘that’ guy, having 500+ LinkedIn contacts, thousands of Facebook ‘friends’ or even more thousands of Twitter followers.

When founding a startup you ARE the company. You are the one who is putting in endless hours, sweat, blood and tears and are building the foundation what will be a thriving product and business.  Every day you are building things with your own hands.

At some point you either start making money or take outside investment and begin hiring others to support you. The company is not only you and your co-founder(s) anymore but other people bet on you, your vision and the rest of your team. At this point you as a founder have to undergo a transformation from individual contributor towards a leader of your team who helps coordinating, organizing and pushing forward and who makes sure to get out of the way of the team doing their jobs. You have to spread and effectively document knowledge, train new members of the team, teach others to train, help defining just enough processes to not choke the smoothly running machine and empower the team to grow strong and efficient at what they are doing.

In some sense you have to extract yourself from the work you loved to do so much when starting the company in the first place.

Your goal is not anymore to ‘get that piece of coding done’, ‘finalize this e-mail blast’ or ‘troubleshoot one more thing’. Your goal now is to make yourself obsolete by allowing others to do a better job than you would have ever been able to do at those things.
This should not be misunderstood as a tactic to ‘flip’ a company, ditch responsibilities or abandon your team. This is a way to help the group to grow strong and tackle problems bigger than any one person could solve on their own.

As a founder you don’t want to be the bottleneck of your company’s innovation or growth. You still add value to the team and company even after ‘making yourself obsolete’. There is a reason why you started the company in the first place. Maybe it is a special sense of where the world is going, a skill that allows you to see market-trends before they happen or another gift that allows you to lead the company or your team within that company to new heights. In any case you won’t be able to lead the team forward if you are still the individual contributor you were at the beginning, trying to solve all problems yourself, constantly being behind your own schedule and suffocating in tasks, not being able to work towards a team that can function without you.

When going through the growth phase of your startup your goal is to make yourself obsolete and rediscover how to add the most value to your team and company.

Working extra hours on your product, team, project and dream is what makes it better than everything else out there. Going the extra mile really makes the difference and separates the wheat from the chaff.
I salute all of you who are always pushing forward and don’t rest until things are done.

I toyed around with the ultrasonic distance sensors and Arduino last evening and out came the BatBox. Let’s see if we can make some kind of game out of that at the next party.

It allows connecting 3-pin and 4-pin ultrasonic distance sensors and translating the distance into LEDs that light up when certain thresholds are hit.

For the 3-pin ultrasonic sensor I used a parallax PING))) 

For the 4-pin ultrasonic sensor I used an HC-SR04 (much cheaper than the PING)

Variable amount of LEDs can be set up by adding the LED pins to the led array and maintaining the distance (in inch) that triggers the LEDs pin to turn on.

Also on github.

About three years ago – at the end 2008/beginning of 2009 – I started tinkering with the first ideas for Taulia.  We decided to run on a technology stack based on Groovy and Grails.  Grails was widely unknown and had just entered 1.1-beta a little while ago.  Anybody who I told about Grails immediately said ‘Oh yeah I heard of Rails’ – meaning Ruby on Rails of course.  The Grails framework and Groovy language were far from being mainstream but there was the huge benefit and productivity boost of not wasting time with boiler-plate code and boiler-plate thoughts.  And even though the Grails source-code needed to be a steady source of knowledge and helped to debug the framework itself to understand why certain things worked and others didn’t it was worth the investment of learning and biting through the first plateaus of the learning curve.  Grails and Groovy lent themselves very well for building the first prototypes of what was to become the Taulia platform and our SAP connector.

Fast forward to 2012: We are still coding in Groovy and Grails at Taulia.  We are writing lots of code in Groovy and some in Java.  There are multiple Grails applications in our platform - besides other building blocks that are using different Java-based frameworks.  There also is Gradle sprinkled over everything to do our builds and automations.  It seems that we are reaching a tipping point regarding that technology stack.  Groovy has been in the top 40 of the tiobe index for some time and in the last months I see more people writing us about our job opportunities (yes, shameless plug) mentioning that they love coding with Groovy and Grails than ever before.  I don’t know if it is the Grails 2.0 release or if there are just enough people who have played with the stack over the past one or two years to reach that tipping point.  Fact is that I see many companies using and promoting this great language and framework and that real products have been and are being built with them.  Especially Europe seems to have caught on to the Grails-fever but I also get great feedback from US and Asia-based companies and people.  (Anybody at the Grails group care to share some Analytics on website traffic?)

It is great that the framework is getting the recognition it deserves and that the team behind it is still pushing forward and is releasing new features and improvements with a steady pace.  Groovy is evolving as well and has helped us a lot writing clean, concise, testable and maintainable code.  I am looking forward to more growth of the community and the increasing relevance around the technology.

I for my part am happy that our investment in Groovy and Grails continues to pay off and share the excitement of so many out there.  Happy hacking!