Monday, March 24, 2008

Why I'm Crashing the Conference Next Time

Wiley went to PyCon 2008 in Chicago weekend before last, and, after a couple of days out there, he sent me this email:

OK dude, so I managed to pitch and debate your website to a group of six incredibly smart and well connected programmers. I passed out your urls on paper to all six of them and tried to get them interested in writing in to you. I almost want you to come out here and crash the conference, but it's pretty much too late for that. This is definitely, definitely a place that you would have wanted to be though. I'm serious, next year come to PyCon.

Crash the conference? Incredibly smart and well connected programmers? Hmmm.

But wait. What did he mean by "debated?" Were they discussing the relative merits of different frameworks and programming languages? Were they telling Wiley what tricks they'd use if they were building the site themselves? Or were they rolling their eyes at the project and leaving Wiley to flail, heavily outnumbered, in my defense?

I emailed back:

Wow. Crazy. I def need to hear more.

And I guess the big question is simple: Can we hang with these guys, or are we pretending (and I don't mean in sheer technical knowledge; I mean in ability to make a meaningfully positive contribution to a successful technical business)?

It's weird not having had startup success. Sometimes I wonder if it'll ever happen. Other times I know it WILL happen; I just don't know when.

Know what I mean? Confidence doubt fluctuations?

Wiley related to the fluctuations, but he's not worried. Of course we can make meaningful contributions. The conversations with the programmers were totally constructive. They dug the idea. They had their questions and suspicions, but they want to play with the site. They want to use it.

Wiley's email ended with the following:

Bottom line is what we both know. If you're making websites, the more tech you know the better. Short of that, the more technical people you know the better. Your proximity to contemporary technical knowledge has a major relationship to your probability of success or failure. Proceed accordingly.

And I think we have been proceeding that way for a while.

A combination of nights, weekends, and a thesis project produced our functional prototype site. We've assembled what I think is already a great group of technical friends and advisors to help with hiring and strategic decisions. And now we're figuring out who's available to sit down and do the next big build.

We might convert a friend or advisor into a primary programmer. We might tap a little US-based development shop we know. We might go back to our China roots. We might do something totally crazy involving Vietnam. We probably won't try to convince Wiley he's ready for the programming big time (metaphorME is far too important a project to interrupt), but we're open to anything and excited to keep rolling forward.

Confidence and doubt will surely continue to fluctuate, and I'm sure things will drag on longer than expected sometimes, but we're on a good path, and, once again, I have the reassuring feeling that this has been, is, and will be a good gamble.

The first and most obvious reason for the optimism right now is that the vision is only getting more powerful. We need an economy based on educated, intentional choice. Capitalism is straight up unsustainable (in the pre-eco sense of the word) when markets are ignorant. We need to learn. We need to teach. We need to enlighten each other. Fancy laws and fancy technology simply aren't going to have meaningful lot of long term impact unless a whole lot of people start actively and mindfully participating in the market economy.

The other, significantly more esoteric, reason for the optimism is something I didn't realize until earlier this year when my granny died and my family responded with more love and trust and generosity than I thought possible. Seeing and feeling that led me to focus in on a totally far out little lesson I started learning when I first watched the original British version of The Office.

There is but a hair's breadth of sanity that separates us from those characters. We are all 100% capable of acting at least as outrageous as Gareth Keenan. And we do act that ridiculous. We all do. A lot of the time.

Those same tiny little human minds of ours, however, not only dreamt up but also produced the masterpiece that is that show, a rewindable version of that reality. As totally incompetent as we are, our imaginations, our eyes, our hands, and our ability to communicate and organize let us create miraculous and mind boggling things. We created the computer screens in front of us, the electron distribution system that's powering them, and, of course, those wonderful internets that make it all so much more fun.

I think each and every one of us are simultaneously David Brent and Ricky Gervais. We should doubt ourselves, but we should also keep in mind that the genius is there, that we can and will, if we want to, contribute to big, spectacular achievement.

Ok. Enough. I'll leave you with one last quote from a recent Wiley email:

Seen on a T-shirt at PyCon 2008:

"Guns don't kill people, magic missiles do."