Friday, October 30, 2015

Knowledge and Power

A few quotes from George Gilder in Knowledge and Power.

Entrepreneurship is the launching of surprises...This process of wealth creation is offensive to levelers and planners because it yields mountains of new wealth in ways that could not possibly be planned.  But unpredictability is fundamental to free human enterprise.  It defies every econometric model and socialist scheme.  It makes no sense to most professors, who attain their positions by the systematic acquisition of credentials pleasing to the establishment above them.  By definition, innovations cannot be planned.  Leading entrepreneurs -- from Sam Walton to Mike Milken to Larry Page to Bill Gates -- did not ascend a hierarchy; they created a new one.  They did not climb to the top of anything.  They were pushed to the top by their own success.  They did not capture the pinnacle; they became it.

Entrepreneurial knowledge has little to do with the certified expertise of an advanced degree from an establishment school.  It has little to do with the gregarious charm of the high school student voted most likely to succeed.  The fashionably educated and cultivated spurn the kind of fanatically focused learning undertaken by the 1 percent.  Wealth all too often comes from doing what other people consider insufferably boring or unendurably hard...Most people think they are above learning the gritty and relentless details of life that allow the creation of great wealth.  They leave it to the experts.  But in general, you join the 1 percent of the 1 percent not by leaving it to the experts but by creating new expertise, not by knowing what the experts know but by learning what they think is beneath them.

Monday, October 19, 2015

City of Refuge, a vision that gives birth to a business

Over the last few years, I've been carrying a vision for Colorado Springs to become a city of refuge; that is, a place where those who have had trouble elsewhere can come to find safety, healing, provision, and a new home.  A city of refuge has spiritual and physical dimensions.  The spiritual dimension is built as people participate in worship and prayer and learn to care about others.  The physical dimension is built through a local economy that can provide the opportunity to make a living to the city's inhabitants as well as the newcomers.

As I considered the physical dimension, I realized that we have very little food production here in the Springs.  In fact, the state of Colorado imports 90% of its food from outside of its borders.  So I started looking for ways to remedy this problem so that we could have the security of a local food source.

Due to our alpine desert climate, standard agricultural methods don't work very well.  It dawned on me that we could, however, grow fruits and vegetable using hydroponics and greenhouses.  As I talked with one of my business partners about this, he challenged me to include a protein source as well.  A little more research led me to aquaponics, which combines aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponics (growing produce in water).  You raise fish in tanks, then send their nutrient filled water to troughs or gravel beds where fruits and vegetables are growing.  The fruits and vegetables filter out the nutrients and a pump sends the cleaned water back to the fish.  It is a fairly enclosed system that is pesticide free and, if you use the correct materials, can be certified organic.

I pulled out my trusty spreadsheet and started crunching the numbers.  I found that if done well, I could make a living with an aquaponic, year-round farm.  This can be a real business, not just a hobby!

Since May, I've been learning all I can about aquaponics and building my business plan.  I've found a design for a combination of materials and methods that can be certified with the USDA as organic at Friendly Aquaponics and I took their week-long training class.  I'm currently working on my greenhouse design and on methods for automating the harvesting and packing processes.  And of course, I'm working with my partners at ALC to raise the funds needed to launch.

The target market is anyone within a 300-mile radius of Colorado Springs.  Many people will pay a premium for certified organic produce.  Many will also pay a premium for locally grown food, particularly in the off-season.  I've heard from a number of sources that the demand for organic, locally grown food far outstrips the current supply.  While I don't expect the supply/demand situation to always stay the way it is now, I will leverage these current market conditions to establish this business here in Colorado Springs so that we have a long-term, year-round food supply that is clean and healthy.  A food supply for a city of refuge!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Long over due update

I've been feeling the nudge lately to get back to this blog.  It has been so long that it doesn't accurately represent what I'm up to!  So here is what is going on...

Crowdfunding: this seems to have run its course.  We had one campaign that was moderately successful, raising about $13,500 for orphan homes in Africa.  The others either never got started or the client pulled the plug after the first week or so because they didn't see enough responses.  Thanks to those of you who contributed or forwarded info about a campaign to your friends.

IT Consulting: I've been supporting my last project at the company that I left for $150/hr, but their need for me has been dwindling over time.  I'm now down to less than 5 hours most weeks.  The contract is scheduled to go through the end of the calendar year.  I have my doubts that it will be extended beyond that.

Advanced Link Consulting: as you may recall, this partnership serves customers by connecting investors with investment opportunities.  I have learned a bunch about the investing and funding world, connected with some very interesting people, and been inspired to launch a new business using the connections I've gained through ALC to help fund it.

I'll tell you about my new business in my next post...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Taking the Leap

Friday was my last day working for Corporate America.  I spent several hours over the course of the week copying files, filling out forms, packing up stuff and generally getting ready.

Even on my last day, I experienced favor with the company.

I asked a few questions about the use of floating holidays vs. vacation time.  My manager allowed me to charge all of my time off over the last month to floating holidays instead of vacation...the result will be an additional 20 hours of pay for vacation not used.  I will receive a total of three week's pay after today, one for my last week of work, and two for vacation.  A very helpful income stream to help bridge the gap.

When I went to drop off my computer equipment at the local facility (I've been working as a telecommuter), no one was there to receive it.  I went to the front desk and got a few numbers to call, but everyone was gone for the day (3pm on a Friday).  I then called the help desk to try to figure out what to do.  While the help desk rep was suggesting I find a local manager, one of the local IT managers walked out into the lobby.  She gladly took my stuff and put it in her office so that the PC shop guys could check it in on Monday.

But it didn't make me want to stay.

I feel like joining with the Braveheart army in shouting, "FREEEEDOM!"

I have a contract with the software vendor for the project I've been working on at my former company.  I will help them finish the project we've been working on together over the last year or so.  They agreed to pay me my standard rate of $150/hr and I will work half to 3/4 time for them until the project is completed in June or so.

I have three crowdfunding clients so far.  Those clients will pay me based on commission.  8% of the amount raised for non-profits and 10% for businesses.  A very different approach than trading hours for dollars.  Instead of putting in your time, you focus on delivering results.

While I really like the folks at the software vendor and enjoy working with them, it is the crowdfunding clients who inspire me.  They are seeking to change people's lives and make the world a better place.  I get to come along side and help them change the world.  One is developing treatment for traumatic brain injuries.  Another is using 'edutainment' to teach kids the core values that helped build this country.  A third is offering great deals through an online auction while giving clothing to those in need.  And more potential clients are in the pipeline.

The new season has begun.  Hope you continue to come along for the ride.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Crowdfunding Consultant

So how does a system architect/LSS Black Belt end up being a crowdfunding consultant?  By being curious about what is going on in the online world, following some very successful campaigns, reading about what works, and being at the right place at the right time. Crowdfunding appeals to me because it combines people, process, strategy, and technology to accomplish a goal.  And a campaign is a project with clear goals and a defined beginning and end.

When Patrick and I met after our introduction at the AFA tech transfer meetup in August, he told me about the different investment opportunities he had on his list.  As he described a few of them, it became clear to me that the were great candidates for crowdfunding, so I shared with him what I knew at the time about how crowdfunding works.  After a handful of weeks of meeting together with the Advanced Link Consulting (ALC) team and building a level of trust, he asked me if I would take the lead on our crowdfunding efforts.

We have three clients so far:

  • New Colonies Media: We are doing two campaigns for them, one for a game app and another for a DVD series.  They both have the goal of celebrating the good things about America and reinforcing the values and practices that help build this country in the first place.  Just this week we created a Facebook page for the DVD series, Rediscover America.  My Facebook friends have already received an invitation to "Like" the page.  The game app Facebook page will be coming soon.  The crowdfunding campaigns are scheduled to launch on Indiegogo on January 20.
  • Operation Stand Tall for TBI: They are raising funds for a new and very promising treatment for traumatic brain injury.  Eight soldiers have gotten their lives back due to the treatment. To make the treatment widely available requires approval from the FDA, which requires two more phases of study and up to $4M.  I will be inviting my friends to "Like" the Facebook page soon.
  • Bizargan: This is a live auction web site.  They get overstock products for a fraction of retail and offer them for auction every day from 8pm to 11pm PT.  They are raising funds to expand the hours of the live auction and eventually run it 24/7.  This one is just getting started, so it may be a handful of weeks before we start letting people know that the crowdfunding campaign is coming.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Major progress!

Apologies, to you my dear readers, for the long silence.  Much has happened since my last update in June (!!!?).

In August I attended a meetup that featured a new technology transfer program with the Air Force Academy.  As I finished talking with one of the Colonels, a guy came up to the colonel, gave him a big hug and warmly greeted him.  The colonel responded positively -- which was a surprise given the usual more reserved military decorum.  I thought, "This guy is the consummate networker.  I don't think I could ever be that good at it."  Then I thought, "Maybe I don't need to be.  I should introduce myself to him."  A few minutes later, I did just that.  We talked about what we believe in, our skill sets, and where we wanted to go.  He was looking for someone who was good at defining processes and putting people, process, and technology together to make a business run well.  It became very obvious we should meet and talk more.  We did and the rest is history.

My new partner's name is Patrick.  Along with two other guys, Tom and Chris, we formed a new partnership called Advanced Link Consulting.  We link investors to people with ventures that need funding.  We don't sell securities or serve as brokers. We provide expertise in how to go about the fundraising process and how to 'sell' your business to investors and we help investors sort through the many potential to find the best opportunities for a return on their investment.

My role in the partnership is twofold: 1) helping ALC get organized, our processes defined, and our technology in place and 2) working with clients to plan, organize, and execute crowdfunding campaigns.  I will tell you more about the latter in future posts.

In the meantime, I have also completed certification with my company as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.  I really enjoy leading the Structured Improvement Activity events and seeing the great ideas that come forth when you put a group of people together and guide them through the LSS process.  I hope to keep that work as part of my ongoing consulting business.

I've also taken a number of steps to get Dream Walker Solutions set up and ready to go.  Dream Walker Solutions is now incorporated as an LLC in the state of Colorado.  It is an easy process to file the Articles of Organization and pay your $50 filing fee at the Secretary of State's web site:  They recommend but do not require the more complicated Operating Agreement, which lays out exactly how you want to organize and run your LLC.  I will, therefore, be drafting one for Dream Walker Solutions and working with a lawyer to get it done right.  More to come on that as well.

You may be wondering how Dream Walker Solutions and Advanced Link Consulting will relate to each other.  When we file the Articles of Organization for ALC, I anticipate that DWS will be one of the members of the LLC.  That is, DWS will own a portion of ALC instead of me.  When I do consulting for ALC consultants, it will be a service of Dream Walker Solutions, LLC, in partnership with ALC.  The goal is to keep my personal life and my business life as legally separate as I can.

I also got my bank account and a means to receive payments set up for DWS.  I deposited enough money in the bank account so that the startup period will be comfortably capitalized, but not so much that I drained my savings. 

For accounting and collecting payments, I'm using the online version of Intuit QuickBooks.  The accounting application costs $12 a month.  The payment tools are free to set up (including a credit card reader for my iPhone/iPad), with a per transaction fee.  I don't think I'll use the credit card much, but will likely send invoices to clients through the service, so that I can easily track all of the inputs and outputs of money through one application/service.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Update on the Plan

I am making good progress on the plan laid out in Charting a Course.  

We paid off our mortgage on April 1.  We are officially debt free and it is a great feeling to know that we have the freedom to choose.  My standard joke at work is "It's the relationship with the mortgage company that keeps you coming back."  Well, that relationship is over for good.

The next financial goal is to accumulate enough of a nest egg to be able to meet our basic needs for six months without working (and without dipping into our retirement funds).

Meanwhile, I'm getting great experience as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.  I have led three Structured Improvement Activity (SIA) events and have another scheduled for next week.  I described the first event back in February in Another Update on the Plan.  It was a virtual event using a teleconference and Microsoft Lync Meeting.  At the end of the three day event, one of the participants had this say: "Thanks for a great event, that would have taken months in any other format."

The second event was a three-day "Voice of the Customer" SIA for the company's data center customers, with the sole intent of understanding the needs, wants, and priorities for improvements to the data centers.  Since my current job is in our company's data centers, I found it challenging to stay neutral as a good facilitator should.  Luckily, I had a master black belt working with me who could take over the facilitator role when I felt the need to step into the role of subject matter expert.  

The third event was a two day session with the company's technical operations workforce strategy team.  It was fun to watch this highly interactive team brainstorm and put together a strategy that will greatly improve the training for the company's technical employees.  

I have heard that I'm starting to get a reputation as a good black belt and people are starting to seek me out to lead their events.  I am over half way to becoming certified by the company as a LSS Black Belt.  I have a good chance of having the certification by August or September.  I'm also thinking I should take the Black Belt certification exam offered by an external standards board, so that I can point both to the experience gained while obtaining my company's certification and to the industry-wide credential.

Finally, I have business cards for Dream Walker Solutions and I'm starting to develop leads.  I'll write more on that as those leads pan out.