Good enough gets it done

OutbackSMS logo

It was 2008 and I was living in the mountains of Oregon and working remotely for a company headquartered back in my home state of New York. I had about three friends in Oregon when I moved and because I was telecommuting, I didn’t have the baked in social network that work provides. So I spent a lot of my non-work time by myself exploring all the amazing things Oregon has to offer like tons of hiking and mountain biking. But it was after a particularly nasty mountain bike crash that I had a revelation. It would be really easy to die, or at least get seriously injured, in the mountains doing some of the stuff I liked to do and nobody would ever know where I was. And since I didn’t have a huge social circle at the time it could be days before anyone even thought to look for me.

I suppose it would’ve been pretty easy to call somebody and tell them where I was going and when I expected to be back. But people are busy and that put the burden on them to remember when and if I checked back in. So what if I could automatically remind them?

I was drawn to computer programming because I like breaking problems down into pieces and solving them. So I sat down over the course of a couple of weekend nights and wrote a program to do just that. In a nutshell, my idea would allow you to choose a specific time when you wanted the system to check in with you. At that time you would let the system know you were OK by responding to it. If you didn’t respond, the system attempted to check in with you a few more times to avoid false alarms. If the system didn’t get a response after three tries it would notify an emergency contact you’d already established and let them know where you said you went and when you said you expected to be back.

The iPhone was released around the same time as I was working on this but apps weren’t as ubiquitous as they’ve become. So my application was designed to communicate via text message. At the appointed time, you’d get a text message reminding you to check in with the system. If you responded you were considered OK and that was the end of that. If you didn’t respond within a few minutes, the system would send another reminder text in 10-15 minutes. It would try checking in with you one more time before sending a text to your emergency contact letting them know they should try to get in touch and verify you were OK.

All the people I told about it were super excited to try it. Athletes wanted it for the same reasons I did. But most people also had other ideas about how it could be used. A single woman thought it made a great “safety net” for dating.

Previous to this I had no experience working with short message service (SMS) or any kind of mobile communications. But in about two weekends I had learned enough to build a working prototype. I designed a logo. I even talked to an attorney about potential liability and spent several hundred dollars to incorporate.

But I never did anything more about it. I wanted it to be better than it was. I had a list of other cool things I thought it needed to do. And I didn’t know how to do them. So instead I did nothing.

And every once in a while I get an email from somebody with the name of an app or a link and a note that says something like, “isn’t this like that idea you had that one time?” And the answer is usually, yes. Yes it is. Like Kitestring or bSafe or Nirbhaya. All apps that were featured recently in this Elle Magazine article. There’s even a company from Israel in my local tech incubator working on something very similar. But mine was more than an idea. Everything actually worked. And I wonder how some things might be different now if I had just launched with what I had instead of waiting for things to be perfect. Because what is perfect anyway?

OutbackSMS logo

If I built a website for you in the early years of owning my own company, you should recognize this name. RIP.

6 Tips for a More Secure WordPress Website

Google Chrome's this website is infected with malware message

Google Chrome's this website is infected with malware message

WordPress powers nearly 73M (million!) websites around the World, making it the most popular CMS in existence right now. About 15% of the top one million sites on the web use WordPress, including business heavyweights like Honda, the New York Times, CNN, NASA, TechCrunch and others.

Those are some impressive stats for something that started off as a humble little blogging platform but has grown to become so much more. WordPress’ extensibility (the ability to add plug-ins for almost any functionality you can think of) and ease of setup and use have certainly contributed to its explosion in popularity. But unfortunately that ease of use and popularity are also what make WordPress sites an attractive target for hackers.
Continue Reading

Day One – Starting From Nothing

I guess you could say this post was inspired by Chris Brogan. In more ways than one. First, it’s about why I’m excited, and you should be too, about a recent newsletter update of his. And second, it’s because he challenged me. In response to an email I sent him about the newsletter, I admitted to him I had a hard time with content creation. And he challenged me to make this my day one of content creation. So here goes.

Continue Reading

Try What If Instead of If Only

An entrepreneur recently posed a question to a group I’m a part of and asked, “What is <insert his city> missing?” The issue is that while he has had some successful ventures, success in his city is apparently not the norm. Not for startups anyway. To be honest, I’m not sure success is the norm for startups anywhere but there’s no denying certain areas of the country seem to have more than their fair share of it. While my city, Rochester, is not his city, I think there are some aspects which are very similar and this is a legitimate question if you live anywhere other than New York City, Boulder or Silicon Valley.

I’ve asked myself the same question several times also, and chatted and met extensively with others to try to figure out what’s missing here. We’re pretty smart people and there’s no shortage of great ideas but inevitably the ifs always work their way into the conversation:

  • If only Rochester/Buffalo/whatever had investors, we could get companies off the ground.
  • If only we had a density of other entrepreneurs/mentors/whatever that we could rely on for support.
  • If only we had some examples of success we could use to inspire others to entrepreneurship.
  • I could get started on my idea if I knew a developer/designer/whatever.
  • I could focus on my idea if I didn’t have a full-time job/family/whatever.

What’s that saying about wishing in one hand and something in the other…? While I agree that it would be nice if our community had all those things, the fact of the matter is that there are some it doesn’t. And it won’t. Until somebody stops wishing it would and actually does something about it.

What if, in place of saying if only, we asked what if instead? And then we tried to find out.

 

Even The Ordinary Has Value

My grandfather's straight razor

This time of year there’s a lot of resolution-themed updates and articles flying around. And I’m always all for it. One I shared recently was advice for 20-somethings that ranged from backing up your hard drive to becoming more politically informed. I shared it with my network with a note that those tips aren’t just for 20-somethings. Then I moved on with my life. As you do. Just another status update.

That was a few days ago but made me think of it recently. So I revisited it. The first piece of advice was this:

Before you status update, Tweet, Tumble or Instagram, pause and say to yourself, “is it entirely necessary that I share this morsel of thought with my entire social network?” And if the answer is not yes, I absolutely must, then step away from the Internet.

At first I was in wholehearted agreement. Most people don’t want to read about what the people in their various networks have for breakfast every morning (or worse). Or about all their comings and goings (thanks Foursquare). But then I thought about some of my interactions from the last few days.

Yesterday I had a nice conversation with someone on Twitter, yes it can happen, because I tweeted the album I happened to be listening to at the time. Up to that point, we both followed one another, I’m not sure for how long, but had never actually interacted. We’ve chatted regularly since then.

A while ago I got a lot of responses when I posted a picture of my grandfather’s straight razor, which I had restored, and said I was going to try shaving with it. Not exactly earth shattering news but it sparked a lot of great conversation including some about tradition.

My point is that most people probably aren’t interested in what I’m listening to or what kind of razor I use to shave with. But you never know when something simple like that is going to resonate with someone. And the resulting conversation strengthens that relationship a little bit.

Isn’t being social what social media is about after all?