While going through some old emails today, I found the last newsletter that I sent to my old meetup group, #StartupJax. Coincidently, it happens to be almost the 1 year anniversary that I sent it announcing my wife and I would be moving from Jacksonville, FL to Denver, CO.
This was a big deal for us. We’ve never lived anywhere else, not for college or some whim of a thing in our twenties. We had a very easy stable life…but we weren’t growing towards our goals so we kicked ourselves in the ass to stir things up.
Finding this old newsletter reminded me of the excitement, energy, and gusto that we came to Colorado with. It reminded me that we shouldn’t get complacent.
It reminded me that every moment is an opportunity, and every opportunity is a gift.
My hope is that I find this post the next time I need to get my head on straight.
Thanks past Anthony for helping out present Anthony. (yeah I just appreciated myself…so what)
#StartupJax Newsletter – April 28th, 2017 Let’s get it on with your TOP 3 things for May!
Howdy howdy howdy!
1. Early RSVPs open for our next event (official announcement next week). We are joining the JaxTech crew at “Main Event” to explore how two local companies are leveraging gamification to make their business awesome. Also…if you haven’t been to Main Event yet, holy cow…go.
2. May 12th, Anthony Catanese is moving to Denver. Yep :(**It’s weird to address myself in the 3rd person**
But it’s true…May 12th is my last day in Jax and I’ll be stepping down as leader of #StartupJax, but this group will be stronger than ever with 2 new organizers joining Philip O’Donnell to run this thing. I couldn’t be more excited to announce that Selina Pagan and Stu Green have accepted leadership roles in #StartupJax! Welcome homies
Selina and I have known each other for some time. She grew up in Jax and moved to the west coast for 17 years. She’s back and is ready to keep the fire alive here.
Stu moved here from London right when OneSpark and downtown were buzzing with activity. He met a lot of us at Cowork and has been building startups in the San Marco area the last few years. You may have met him at the last meetup since he was one of our panelists.
3. Another HUGE announcement – Community First Credit Union has agreed to be the official #StartupJax sponsor for the YEAR. That’s awesome and makes it amazing for putting together programs over the next 12 months. Community First has always come through in supporting local entrepreneurs, and this takes it to another level. Thank you thank you thank you Community First. Without them, I’m not sure we would be around, and some of our biggest events would never have happened.
May is going to be nuts!
=======Now Sappy Anthony Monologue=======
Back in 2013, there was a group of 25 people that met one random evening in downtown Jax. We had no clear goal other than being around great people. Now there are over 1,200 of us and we’re about to hit year 4…WOW… that blows me away.
A lot of people asked me “What was your vision” for the group…and I can honestly say there wasn’t one other than “be around entrepreneurs”…but there were principles. 1) Be Kind 2) Connect everyone we can 3) Give everyone a voice. When someone would reach out and ask to speak, I always thought…does their story inspire, were they giving, and did it match our principles. We’ve now had over 80 speakers and 34 events all across Jacksonville. And couldn’t be more proud, not of what Philip and I have been running, but what you guys did with what we created.
Philip…you rock. Thank you for all your support and connecting so many people here. I truly couldn’t appreciate you more as a co-organizer and as a friend. Selina, Stu and you are great people and can’t wait to see what you guys do!
Thank you all for taking the time help each other and #StartupJax.
A few Friday’s ago I had the pleasure of hosting a “Lunch and Learn” with my colleagues at Cognizant Accelerator in Boulder. I brought my team from DenvVR, Ben Tyson and Morgan McIntosh, who run the VR artist collective to help show the amazing potential of virtual reality.
Share with the team about the history of VR and the tech
Introduce DenVR, how they leverage this technology and use it in new ways
Share use cases of how VR is being used today by multiple industries
We brought in our HTC Vive room-scale setup with our main gaming PC rig.
[During the talk Morgan painted in Tilt Brush while we projected her view on to the main wall. ]
A year ago I found myself at this odd little bar in LoDo Denver called the Syntax Physic Opera where my friends Ben Tyson and Morgan McIntosh were throwing a party….a VR art and music party. Ben has an infectious way of inspiring people to try off the wall stuff, he used his powers to get me to travel across the country (Jacksonville, FL to Denver, CO) to see what his new group, DenVR, was up to.
What I found was a sold-out show of people from all walks of life: a ton of college students, parents, grandparents, a conductor of the symphony all watching one of the first VR art events of its kind happening. At the back of the venue, I watched and overheard someone with excitement saying, “Is this where the VR stuff is?” ….nobody knew what this show was about, but the room was full of amazement. My hope is to bring that same feeling I had to you.
Today’s Lunch and Learn will introduce you to the DenVR team, get a brief history of VR, and get into the fun stuff of what’s happening today in this world.
1. What Are We Talking About
There is a lot of “alternate” reality hardware and software players in the world today, which makes it confusing to navigate. Companies are all pushing for their version from the Google Cardboard to Microsoft Hololens to the Oculus Rift. Apple has even jumped on board with the release of IOS 11 making nearly every iPhone from 5s to X capable of augmented reality.
“360° Roomscale VR leverages positional tracking technology allowing you to use a play area of up to 5 meters diagonally across as a stage to walk inside the virtual environment. By being able to seamlessly move around, your state of presence is heightened letting you feel fully immersed in the virtual world you’re exploring.”
We’ll dig into the tech in a bit. First, let’s talk about how we got here.
2. History of VR – The Beginning
Since the earliest parts of human history, we’ve used pictures and drawings as a way to share experiences. Throughout the early 1900’s as moving pictures and photography were becoming more accessible, there were many experiments to draw the audience deeper into the artist’s world.
In 1935 Pygmalion’s Spectacles was release and is considered one of the earliest representations of VR as we think of it today. It shares a story of the lead character using hardware to have a fully immersive experience of a world not in reality.
The first wave of consumer products hit in the 1990s. They typically had 3 traits. They were terrible experiences, very expensive and had zero adoption. But…who cared! They were awesome.
I was in my teens all throughout the 90s. It was my formative gaming years with consoles galore and PCs breaking into the market.
Nintendo had always led the way in creating deeper gaming experiences with the Power Pad and later with the cool but not so great Power Glove. One of those attempts created the Nintendo Virtual Boy. I remember as a kid wanting one of these so badly. They would bring you right into the game. When I finally got a chance to play with one, I found myself staring inside a headset with only a red LCD screen. It felt like my eyes were bleeding.
Growing up in Florida my family spent a lot of time at Disney’s Epcot, especially at the Innoventions section of the park. During one of our visits, there was a blank door on the outside of the building that had a queue set up in front of it. We had never seen it before and we went to Disney…A LOT.
We spoke to the cast member and they asked if we would like to test out an experimental attraction that only a few others have tried. Heck yes! we would. I was 11 at the time. What I was about to experience was one of the first people to test Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride for the new digital theme park Disney Question. It was awesome and mind-blowing to be a part of. (more details on the ride/park). Down the rabbit hole, I went… real VR.
This is the same attraction Randy Pausch worked on while he was an Imagineer.
During the late 90’s there was also a handful of movies that helped propel the movement forward (all but the Matrix were all pretty bad):
also Blank Check – not a great example but there’s a Virtuality Group Arcade machine in the movie…and hey it’s Blank Check
During the mid-2000’s things on the VR front began to wind down.
5. History of VR – Second Wave
2011 and 2012 the surge of new energy re-entered the VR world with the release of the book “Ready Player One” that inspired the immensely successful Kickstarter of the Oculus Rift.
Years later in 2016 while on a road trip with my wife, we went to Cedar Point and got to experience the new line of VR…while on a roller coaster. Yeah, VR while riding a roller coaster. At Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH they were testing out the tech on their Iron Dragon roller coaster. It was an amazing concept. During the First Wave, the hardware was used to mimic a roller coaster. Now the hardware was to enhance an existing roller coaster!
6. The Technology
So, what’s changed? What technology has made it possible for VR to make a comeback?
This part of the talk was more of a conversation with the team talking through the lighthouses that enable room-scale, controllers, headset, and PC specs etc. Here’s a good overview: http://www.realitytechnologies.com/virtual-reality
If you were to compare VR to video game consoles, the Vive (in my opinion) is about where the Nintendo64 was when it was released. It shifted all future platforms. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but it will be around for a while.
7. Why is VR Here to Stay – Empathy
The immersive experience of VR is unmatched with any other tech that I’ve experienced. When you’re in the virtual world, your mind believes it’s in the place, situation, or interacting with the person/thing in front of you. It’s weird…
Note: At this time we had a volunteer (a pro mountain biker) come up and try at Richie’s Plank Experience – https://youtu.be/ImbhUHhWmSM
“Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”
Let’s talk about Empathy – where the magic happens.
During this part of the talk, we covered companies that are leveraging the immersive experience of VR to…
Training employees – KFC has a bizarre training game, the US military with Homeland Security developed simulations to help teachers respond to school shootings
Bringing people home – DenVR partnered with Project Worthmore to bring refugees back home for an evening using Google Earth VR.
Prototyping – Companies are able to create super fast rapid prototypes, like Keanu Reeves who uses it to build custom motorcycles (yeah…him!)
7. What’s Next?
Screens are getting better – 4k per eye will be the standard soon
Wireless all-in-one systems (with Inside-out tracking) will be a big part of this year (Oculus Go)
Streaming VR – 5G network will 100x download speeds allowing multiple 4k streaming capabilities (AT&T is testing in 12 markets this year)
Expanding past the current hardware – companies like Neurable are trying to use brainwaves to help control the environments of VR. It’s the same tech people use to type on virtual keyboards and move artificial limbs.
The hardware is interesting, but the questions that the technology creates is even more interesting:
Such as… what is the future of storytelling? Directors have limited control what the user decides to look at, they’ll have to use techniques from full world games (Fallout)
Back towards the end of 2017, my friend Sarah Bettencourt asked for me to join her on her podcast to chat about entrepreneurship. It posted this past Monday! We covered a ton of topics and the one I wouldn’t shut up about was Slack.
Here’s why I think Slack is interesting. There are a bunch of hidden communities around the world leveraging Slack as their communication channel and a place to cultivate an audience. The trick is you already have to have an audience to get the channel going, and you’ll need well over 100 people to use it often to bring in enough interaction.
Joining a Slack channel can be near impossible or extremely easy if the host allows it. Either way, the application creates a lot of engagement and opens up the door for a new kind of online social experience.
Side note: Discord is another chat app that falls in this same world, but with a focus on the gaming community. What’s amazing is their onboarding experience…holy moly it’s frictionless.
Instead of a music video, you get the lovely Sarah’s voice:
I love when groups get together and collaborate, but please try to avoid making the same mistakes our team did… It only leads to the group becoming drained, wiped-out, and winded.
TL;DR: Design sprints are amazing, but they aren’t magic. After 5 years, 50 design sprints, and countless ideations for tech, HR, and financial firms, I’m worn out by companies misusing them. The worst thing a product team can do is get stoked about a new sprint process, run five of them back to back with the same team, and burn them out in the process. Below are 12 things a team can do to get the most of their sprints.
Be clear and concise about what you’re trying to solve. Design sprints are not designed to solve world hunger, one giant problem. They’re designed to focus on one specific piece of a big problem and optimize it.
We did this by leveraging “How might we…” questions to break down our big (world hunger) problem into bite-sized chunks. Then we focused on solving only one of the questions during the sprint.
For instance, How might we… (in regards to the massive problem of world hunger)
… inform the public that world hunger is a real problem? (marketing and messaging)
… get excess food to the people who need it? (logistics and distribution)
… work with partners that will provide the food? (sourcing)
Bring the real voice of your customer into the room. Before the sprint, set up a time for a customer or two to chat with the team during the beginning of the sprint. Ideally, the chat will take place after the team has figured out what part of the big problem they’re trying to understand. This can be a video call, phone call, or in person interview that the whole team sits quietly and listens to while a facilitator asks questions. The goal is to gain empathy, and understand how the customer’s world works today.
My favorite question to ask during a customer interview is, “If today was my first day on the job, how would you train me to do this part of the job?” It puts your customer into teaching mode which gives the team a whole new view of the problem.
Constraints are key. Many of the workshops we ran were left wide open with little constraints for the sprint participants. Our hope was to open up all ideas. It didn’t work. Participants often times froze and the ideas that came out fell flat most of the time. It’s like handing someone a blank piece of paper and saying, “Draw me a picture.” Instead, give them some lines and dots on the piece of paper and a mission.
What types of lines and dots can you create to help participants solve the problem? Maybe ask them, “If we only had a week, how would we solve it?” or “How would another company solve it?” or “If smartphones didn’t exist, what would you do?”
Keep everyone present. Context changes are your absolute enemy. It’s rare to get a dedicated team together to give their full attention to a single priority. Treat this time as sacred. Starting the sprint a little later in the morning, like 10 a.m., gives people the space to get life/work in order so they can focus on the rest of the day.
Let participants design ideas alone, but share as a team. The bookSprint by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz talks about giving people personal time to work by themselves. This was my biggest takeaway from the book and it created the most dramatic and positive results from our workshops. The ideas were thoughtful, more complete, and gave everyone a chance to contribute.
When they suck.
Here are the top ways to burn your team out on sprints.
When the wrong users/customers are tested at the end of the sprint. Reach out to an array of potential users/customers the week before the sprint and tentatively schedule them to demo the solution at the end of the sprint. Set the right expectations that it’s tentative and their participation would be invaluable. After the first day, when the problem is defined, check your interview list and make sure your potential testers match what you’re looking for.
If the team still feels they demo’d to the wrong users/customers, run the demo again the following week with a new cohort.
When the team can’t be together for the whole week. Break the sprint into three parts, but don’t feel like you have to run all the parts back to back. Each part can be scheduled separately to find a time for everyone to participate.
Example: – Part 1 – Defining the problem – Part 2 – Prototyping – Part 3 – User Interviews (In my opinion, this is the piece you want the whole team together to experience live. It brings life back to the team.)
When the group leaves without a final recap of the week. Be sure to do a recap with the whole group, get them to share feedback, and determine your next steps. Take lots of pictures during the week, bring them out at the recap to help people remember what was covered.
When the team has no clue how the results translated to a change in the company. Treat the sprint team like internal customers. Update them continuously as the product is developed or the problem is solved. Keep them informed and encourage them to advocate for the sprint process. Nothing sucks more than time wasted.
When the team feels like they wasted a week of their time. Set up parameters that are very clear about what it will take for a successful sprint. Success is learning that what is being tested is either right or wrong…anything in the middle is hard to move forward with. Avoid flowery language.
When the facilitator overlooks the little things. Don’t miss the care and feeding of the team. Be an amazing host. It’s a mentally taxing week. Provide healthy snacks and lunches to keep people moving. Check-in with the team before moving on to new pieces of the agenda. Make sure everyone is on the same page. Questions such as “What’s your biggest concern at this point?” will help bring out a candid conversation.
When it’s the same team, same process…over and over again. Stop running the same team through the same sprint process over and over again. Change up the problem, add new unexpected teammates that would not typically be involved, like customer support, and try new things in the sprint process. Here are two great books for collaboration exercises: CTRL + SHIFT and Gamestorming.
To wrap-up, team collaboration is an amazing tool and my favorite part of what I do. Don’t give up on the process, keep the team working together, try out new processes, and avoid being winded by sprints.
P.S. here’s a quick tip on remote user interviews: For remote testing: we’ve used Lookback.io. Great product, but enterprise users may have restrictions on the types of Chrome plugins they can install. Webex is your answer if that’s the situation. Have the user share their screen, and turn on their video. The session can be recorded for the rest of the group that couldn’t attend. Also, be sure to have at least 30mins between interviews to give the team a chance to recap and get some notes down.
Casey Neistat, a fantastic filmmaker, has been inspiring people to choose a life of action and hard work instead of sitting around letting life happen to them. He inspired the creation of this site, Ant.Cat. But, the watermark on his videos drives me nuts.
It’s a sweet logo but created from a real signature using a Sharpie. There are light colored artifacts throughout the strokes and show up quite a bit on his videos.
His style of filmmaking is controlled chaos, so he could want the artifacts there.
Either way, I decided to learn Adobe Illustrator and recreate his logo as a vector to remove the artifacts. Casey…if you’re reading this, feel free to use the PNG and AI file below. Keep being awesome!
We both started working with the VR art collective DenVR
Spoke at conferences
Successfully transitioned the entrepreneur group #StartupJax to new leadership
Explored proper Europe for the first time in Portugal
We’re now ready to dig in….and we couldn’t be more stoked about it. Of course, we’re always willing to be wiggly if the world needs us to be.
Huge thank you to our families, Ben, Morgan, Lauren, Amy, Erin, Jordyn, Shawn, the Jacksons, Philip/Alexandra, Stu, Selina, Bob/Celeste, and all the amazing people in our lives that pushed us forward. Love you all!
Keeping up with the tradition of adding a music video to each post. This time though, we had a hand in creating it 😀