While Gen Y is known as the most entrepreneurial generation in the media, their reality is quite different. Over at US News and World Report today, I share why, instead of opting out of corporate life, young people have opted out of risk. Read it here.
When you’re starting a business, it’s crucial to find the best lawyer to protect you. With the right expertise on your side, you can feel confident you’ve got your legal ducks in a row. Over at the Daily Muse today, I sit down with start-up lawyer Steve Kaplan to get the low-down on how to choose a lawyer and what to expect from the attorney-client relationship. Read it here.
Quick background: I spoke at the meetup DC Tech earlier this week, which is a monthly event that rivals the NY Tech scene with more than 1000 attendees. My brief talk was about how you can “fake it until you make it” when learning how to code. It was so well received, and so many people requested the presentation notes, I thought I would share a special screencast version of the presentation created just for this blog.
Also, the sound on this video seems loud to me, so you may want to turn down your volume a bit before watching.
Transcript of this video:
I am not a developer. No one would ever hire me as an engineer. But I do love to tinker.
I believe that anyone can build a site and in the process, begin to learn how to code. And I’m going to share with you how I’ve done that today.
For many of you, this will seem too simplistic, but I wanted to show the non-techies out there how easy it is to create a minimum viable product with little to no knowledge of code.
Last year, I tested several of my start-up ideas. One of the last ideas I explored was for a site called Design Pluck – a sort of Pinterest meets Craigslist. The idea was to help design enthusiasts discover design one-of-a-finds in their local neighborhoods. It’s not something I’m pursuing, so feel free to steal the idea. It’s gotten great feedback.
I used three different approaches to “fake” my way into building Design Pluck with only rudimentary knowledge of code:
1. The Search Approach.
I used Google to find a pre-made theme that I could just download and install on my WordPress site. WordPress only takes a quick ten minutes to set up and allows you to change and interact with your site without looking at or touching the code.
Now if you’re not familiar, WordPress themes are completely useable out-of-the-box, but I specifically searched for a theme that was fairly plain and simple, so that I could treat it more like a paint-by-number canvas and customize it the way I wanted.
Most of the differences between the original theme and my site are purely stylistic, or what the web world calls CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). If you had a set of boxes in your living room, you could fairly easy paint them different colors, and that’s exactly what I did.
What was once mostly white and pink on the original theme is now mostly gray and blue on Design Pluck.
CSS isn’t difficult. You just replace one color code with another, and like switching out lipsticks, you’ve just given your site a makeover.
2. The Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V approach (i.e., Copy-And-Paste).
When I wanted to have the search bar functionality follow the user as they scrolled down the site, similar to how Pinterest’s navigation bar follows you, I found a Java code snippet via search that I copied and pasted into the site’s documents. And let me back up and say, I had no idea what I was doing or where to put this Java snippet. I just tried many different places until it worked.
The lesson here is that you’re allowed to experiment. You won’t break anything. A voice in your head may tell you, “no, don’t touch that!” but you can and you should. Your site is your sandbox.
(Just make sure to copy or back-up the existing code before you do anything so you can go back and reference the original if need be.)
So as you’re browsing, the Java snippet allows the search bar to follow you, so when get overwhelmed and decide there are too many choices and you only want to see red items, you can tell the search bar just show me red items in my neighborhood, and voila!
Now, the Java snippet allowed me to have this search bar follow the user, but it didn’t create the custom search in the first place. The way I created my custom search was through my third and final approach.
3. The Download/Upload Approach.
It’s very easy to find different plugins that again, similar to themes, allow you to create the functionality you want on your site out-of-the-box. You simply download them from the many repositories out there, and upload them to your site.
Plugins are modules that allow you to completely bypass the overwhelming process of coding everything from scratch.
Like legos, plugins are out-of-the-box blocks that play nicely with others, and as you fit more and more together, you can create something very complex and very powerful.
The plugins on the Design Pluck site include the custom search boxes, the sign-up form, custom fields, custom posts, the like button, which allows users to like their favorites which will then show up on a favorites page – also a plugin – location maps, an email plugin and more.
All of that functionality is as easy as clicking download, and then clicking upload.
Learn to Code
Of course, eventually you will hit a wall, and will want to do more than these three approaches will allow. In the process, you’ll begin to learn how to code. For this site, I learned a ton about PHP, a bit about JQuery Masonry, and a whole lot more.
I ended up writing some simple code, but what I’m most proud of is that I wrote several of my first functions simply by mirroring the code I saw in other places.
Just one example of those functions is on the individual store pages. I wanted a store’s products to show up below their store information, and wrote a function to make that happen.
So if you click on a store page like Miss Pixies on 14th St, you would be able to see their store information at the top of the page, and at the bottom, you’d find all of their current inventory to shop.
To you, it may seem like a minor win, but to me, when I figured this out, it felt like I had literally changed the world.
I hope you enjoy changing the world in your own way with these approaches.
Have you ever used any “fake-it” approaches in building a website, or just in business and life?
You have the option to listen to this post:
Levo League launched last week by founders Caroline Ghosn and Amanda Pouchot. It’s a professional social network for Gen Y women, and is funded to the tune of $1.25 million by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Ning founder Gina Biancihini, and Gilt Groupe’s Susan Lyne among others.
Oh, and it sucks.
Big connections mean big expectations and I’d say with the exception of some fantastic and probably un-deserved PR (Can you say privilege? Co-founder Caroline Ghosn is the daughter of Nissan and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn), the launch has fallen spectacularly flat.
The site is confusing and manages to mash up bad and outdated UI simultaneously, while not making it clear that you need to be “accepted” to use the site. And let’s stop right there and point out that applying to be accepted flies in the face of Generation Y’s most basic principles, the team-building generation that gives everyone a trophy. We like to flatten hierarchy, not build it. While I understand the tactic is more about marketing, creating false scarcity around a demographic that puts inclusion first is lame.
After sign up, you are dumped into an environment with limited content – although what content is there is solid – a teeny tiny job board, a deserted community “lounge” (already?), and a directory of companies with no job openings.
Except, wait, the joke is on you. When you are accepted into Levo League, the content and pages on the site? Exactly the same.
Totally bizarre, to say the least. Let’s not forget, similar, if not identical sites have tried and failed. Damsels in Success, also described as a social network for professional women, launched back when I was a wee beginner of a blogger. Founder Harleen Kahloon also had major connections, lots of press, and good content. And yet, the site no longer exists.
Safe to say, the future of women and careers online is not a directory of companies, job listings, and a social network tacked on. It’s almost as if Levo League should have launched in the late nineties along with Careerbuilder and Monster. But these days, those guys are failing. Monster recently laid off 400 people and just last week, put itself up for sale.
(Sidebar and disclosure: Ryan’s company was also a professional social network for Gen Y at one point. And it too failed. I’ve watched the painful progression and pivots over three years to Brazen’s current, successful iteration that allows recruiters and job candidates to connect in a useful and innovative way.)
The funny thing is, I’m pretty sure Levo League’s founders know this too. The number one thing you can do for career opportunities and advancement (read: dream jobs, meaningful work, more money, better titles) is to network, network, and network. Eighty percent of job openings are filled through networking (you know, actually talking to people), and certainly Ghosn and Pouchot are masters in this regard. These founders are exceptionally smart and likeable, and engaging to watch to boot.
But managing your career and building a start-up are different. At some point the relationships that give you money, press, and maybe even your first few thousand users will do nothing to retain your users, build loyalty and create rabid fans. PR is only an attention-based mechanism. It does nothing for engagement, retention or product strategy. It is one thing for friends to support you to your face, but it is quite another for them to use the product you’ve built and integrate it into their daily or weekly life. Friends aren’t users.
The Levo League site just isn’t set up to support networking and mentorship between ambitious women. There is an interesting opportunity there, however. Why not create a mentorship site that matches mentors like dating sites match mates? Or even simply match like-minded career women? That sort of algorithm would be awesome and totally useful.
I have no doubt Levo League will be successful, eventually. Their smarts, that kind of money, and their high-profile backers mean Ghosn and Pouchot will have the luxury to pivot, iterate and learn from their mistakes. Let’s just hope they fail fast. I’m ready to see what’s next.
What do you need to succeed in your career? Networking, support, advice? What’s missing on career sites today?
Tech Crunch founder Michael Arrington argued in “Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Blaming Men” that he and other men already do plenty for women: he has a female CEO, two out of four of his senior editors are women, and he begs and pleads for women to speak at his conferences.
Arrington’s counter-point, an article in the Wall Street Journal, is equally insidious. The Journal reports that Mediaite founder Rachel Sklar “co-founded a group called ‘Change the Ratio’ to shine a light on women in entrepreneurial roles, and to address the dearth of women at start-ups” and goes on to report that technology investor Fred Wilson said “the industry needs catalysts to spark a virtuous circle of more successful women-led tech start-ups leading to more women in tech start-ups.”
Wilson pledges to “write about successful women entrepreneurs and prod conference hosts to include women on panels. ‘Little things like that will make a big difference,’” he says.
Arrington, Skylar, Wilson, and the many, many other opinions in an uproar about this are really arguing the same thing: we need more exposure and awareness around women and tech. Their points of differentiation center on how much exposure will actually move the needle and create an acceptable number of women in tech. But how much or how little is irrelevant.
Women don’t need exposure. We need strategy. We need equality.
Interviewing women and inviting women to conferences and reporting on women-founded start-ups and creating women-focused events and so on and so forth might make everyone feel a bit better and be politically correct, but does little to actually support women. These obvious proof points make it easy for Arrington and Wilson and Sklar to say, “Look! I’m doing my part!”
But women are less likely to advance in their careers despite all this “support.” And that’s because they’re not actively sponsored the way men are, the Harvard Business Review reports. “Many women explain how mentoring relationships have helped them understand themselves, their preferred styles of operating, and ways they might need to change as they move up the leadership pipeline.”
Arrington’s ideas are a good example of such encouragement; he argues that women may be too nurturing and risk averse for tech and alludes that changing that behavior is the key to more start-up companies founded by women.
“By contrast, men tell stories about how their bosses and informal mentors have helped them plan their moves and take charge in new roles, in addition to endorsing their authority publicly,” the study says. Men develop a special kind of relationship with other men that goes “beyond giving feedback and advice” and instead has men using their influence to advocate and ensure the success of male friends.
The rules of the old boys club have already been passed down to the young boys and without the key, women have somehow garnered special attention and kid glove treatment. But we need more than well-meaning supporters and intentions.
Just let us play the game on the same field.
To Michael Arrington’s credit, his walk seems to outpace the talk of Fred Wilson and Rachel Sklar. But watching the pendulum swing between who to blame neglects the obvious: equality isn’t about keeping score. That’s what business is for.
See you in the club.
So if you’re being a curmudgeon, stop it. The recession is a great time to advance your career. It’s a myth that there aren’t any jobs. Here are three places to discover your next position:
1) Companies that save consumers money.
“While most big retail chains are closing stores and radically cutting back on new outlets, the dollar chains are planning to open hundreds of stores this year,” reports the New York Times. Dollar stores are out-performing even the Wal-Mart giant.
Not only are these once-shifty chains grabbing up market-share, but they’re now considered hot. Not just for the prices, but because consumers are discovering their service is better.
Consumers opt for value and family time over shopping in a recession, so personal attention and conveniences like an easily-accessible staff, less-crowded aisles and traversable parking is tracking with the consumer’s re-discovered values.
The online coupon distributor Coupons.com is also rapidly expanding for similar reasons. Just look at their jobs page; they have twenty-nine open positions in engineering, finance, HR, sales, marketing, and operations. And my own company Alice.com has hired three additional employees since I began work in January.
Saving money, value and convenience are hot commodities during a recession, and these companies will need your help satisfying the consumer’s appetite.
2) Start-up companies that disrupt markets.
Start-up companies like Alice thrive during a recession not only because we will provide value to the consumer, but also because we will disrupt the traditional retail market.
Other start-ups with disruptive business models are poised to take a strong foot-hold as well, like Hulu. In a recent video interview, CEO Jason Kilar reported that Hulu is ahead of their revenue plan for 2009 and they have ten advertised jobs available.
Indeed, Business Week’s Mike Mandel cites evidence that 80% of the top-ten Fortune 500 companies were started during a recession. Recessions have historically weeded out bad ideas and enlivened entrepreneurship, all of which comes together in a perfect storm for job-seekers, innovators and new thinkers.
3) Public sector jobs that solve problems.
The shift in talent to disruptive markets and new growth industries (like green, tech and health care) will have a lasting effect on the nation and the economy.
Especially since traditional careers like law, journalism and finance are all suffering from an identity crisis drastically altering career paths towards public-sector jobs including positions in non-profits, cities, counties, states and other government agencies.
“New career directions are tethered less to the dream of an immediate six-figure paycheck on Wall Street and more to the demands of a new public agenda to solve the nation’s problems,” New York Times columnist Steve Lohr argues.
And those do-gooder jobs tend to be fairly recession-proof. The top ten cities for job growth in 2009 as reported by Forbes all benefited from plentiful government jobs.
Topping the list for job growth is Madison, Wisconsin, the city I call home. A spokeswoman for the city’s chamber of commerce claimed that Madison is “historically recession proof,” in part because the city is the seat of city, state and county governments, and they all provide jobs.
The tie that binds these three opportunities for job-seekers – smart retailers, disruptive start-ups and the public sector – is the emergence of meaningful work in the face of complex problems.
What do you think? Have you had trouble finding a job in the recession? What industries have you seen luck and growth in, and which have been more difficult? What companies are poised to hire the next generation of talent?