Home
I have an interesting problem.

As part of my co-founder duties for CalendarTree.com I've been on a knowledge-absorption quest in preparation for raising capital.

Your first question might be "Why does the Dilbert guy need money from other people?" The answer is twofold:

1. I have a substantial investment in the start-up already. Portfolio diversification is a standard financial discipline. 

2. Raising funds isn't just about the money. It's how you acquire a network of contacts that have an interest in your outcome. And it is a signal to the world that your business must be credible because serious people are backing it.

I've been talking to some of the smartest people in the start-up world lately and I've learned a few things that I find fascinating. First, experienced investors understand they have no crystal ball for picking winning start-up ideas. As I've often said in this blog, ideas are worthless (because everyone has one) whereas the ability to execute is priceless because it's rare. And indeed I have learned that the quality of the start-up idea only matters to the degree that it isn't obviously dumb. Once your idea reaches the level of "sounds good" you are deemed equal - at least on an idea level - to all other start-ups that also sound good. And there are a zillion of those.

The tie-breaker for attracting funding is the talent you bring to the start-up. Investors have transferred their superstition about their ability to pick winning ideas to a new superstition about their ability to pick winning teams of people. Is that really easier?

Obviously an investor can identify the truly bad entrepreneurs and avoid them. But an investor can also identify truly bad business ideas, and that doesn't help pick winners from the group that is left over. So I wonder if there is any science behind the notion that investors can pick winning start-up teams from the class of folks who are not obviously stupid or insane.

My guess is that there is a whole lot of self-fulfilling prophecy going on. Once an entrepreneur is identified as a potential winner, resources and attention flow to the start-up. The buzz starts. Optimism increases. And sure enough, that entrepreneur ends up with slightly better odds of success than others in the "good enough" group.

The next interesting thing is that you need to have extraordinary technical people on your team to attract funding. But you need funding to attract extraordinary technical people. The chicken and the egg both need to come first. The winning entrepreneurs are the ones that solve this Kobayashi Maru (i.e. impossible*) test. There are two popular ways to solve this problem.

1. One of the founders can be the technical talent. 

2. A founder can have a start-up track record so strong that technical talent can be attracted based on the high likelihood of funding. 

The technical team for CalendarTree is BlueChilli, our equity partners out of Australia. Their business model involves helping founders with the technology end of things (and lots more) then assisting in the transition to funding and building an in-house team of talent for the start-up. That's the phase we're in now. We're looking to build out our local team.

So here's my interesting problem: Can the creator of Dilbert find great hackers (of the code, UX and growth variety) in the San Francisco Bay Area? It's going to be a lot harder than you might think.

First, some background. CalendarTree solves a universal problem in the world of scheduling. Briefly, we turn your schedule into a link that allows anyone to add the entire series of events to an existing calendar without manually typing it. We think that's a strong business opportunity on its own, and it's up and running to rave reviews, but our long term plans are far bigger. I've shared the stealth part of the plan with some top investors who didn't blink when I called it a billion-dollar opportunity. And there seems to be general agreement that the only known obstacle is attracting the talent to execute the plan.

In the interest of full-disclosure, we stumbled on the billion-dollar opportunity while building out the medium-sized business I briefly described. The huge-sized opportunity is sort of invisible until you hear it for the first time.

I'll share the billion-dollar plan with qualified job applicants. If you live in the SF Bay area, and you want to be part of something big, and you're an exceptional hacker (code, UX, or growth) email me at scott@calendartree.com. My co-founder and I would love to meet you.

We're looking for a fast, smart hacker or two with the following skills.

CAL/DAV experience (ideally)

C# .NET specialist. We use .NET 4.5 MVC4 and EF6

Front-end Javascript (Jquery) and HTML5, CSS/LESS

Understanding of GITHUB with NUGET desired

And if you can play with iOS, that's highly desirable

As a bonus, experience with IIS8, Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 desirable

I hope my regular blog readers don't mind a glimpse into the start-up process in return for enduring this job posting. Let me know in the comments if you'd like ongoing updates on CalendarTree when things seem interesting.


*Yes, I know Kobayashi Maru is a no-win situation, which is slightly different from an impossible situation. But I like the sound of it anyway.

---------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 

 



 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +6
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:

Comments

Sort By:
May 31, 2014
So...their proof of concept produces 167mW on a "slow" day.

With 30m tall towers? I'll allow that. It's within the realms of possiblilty.

Question: Do we want to shut down factories and switch our appliances off because it's a 'slow" day? Of course not. In the real world we have to use their worst possible figure. Maybe they can improve it a bit with better diodes, let's use 200mW as a working figure.

How many of their towers would it take to power a single 60 Watt light bulb? 300 times what they're using now.

According to this the average household uses 1400W average.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_energy_consumption

Assuming you can store it and use on demand with no losses, the average household would need 7,000 of those towers. In reality you can probably only be about 70% efficient in the storage/conversion so call it 10,000.

I don't know what the minimum distance between towers needs to be before they start blocking each other but 10,000, 30m tall, towers per house sounds awfully close to my previous "football stadium" figure.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 18, 2014
>>>My daughter's third birthday is coming soon, and since the new thing is sending out website-generated invitations, I have noticed that it is becoming common to include the child's interests, clothes/shoe size, etc. in the invitation.

And just make sure to include my online store's product links, in the schedule of the group's activities....
 
 
May 16, 2014
Well to back my point about Microsoft stack being a bad choice, check out this chart:
http://techrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/netcraft-active-sites.png

MS is constantly losing market share on the web server market and now it has 10% (from a peak of almost 40%). You can argue that MS tech is still awesome, but the world is moving away from it.

Also note that all the other competitors either are or use a lot of open source software. This means you don't have to pay to use it and it means that there are many more engineers looking at the source code to make them better than MS have.

Another point is that you have a shrinking number of people that work with such technologies so it's gonna get harder and harder to hire great people to work with it. This alone will make scaling Scott's company harder.

So, VCs might dislike it not just for stupid reasons (like pattern recognition) but also because picking MS tech nowadays, for a new product, is riskier than otherwise.
 
 
May 15, 2014
Just to clarify... I think using Microsoft technologies is awesome... I use it exclusively for my online business and it hadn't failed me yet. I use .NET/VB/MSSQL on servers 2003-2008.

Also, if the VC's don't want to back you because they don't recognize the tech keywords/buzzwords, I don't know what to say... but it seems to be a dilbert strip in real life.

Lastly, If you use MS Word copy it to notepad then to this blog. I knew this, I broke the rules, I also flew supersonic over an admirals daughter and buzzed the tower.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2014
FYI -- running my 2nd VC backed startup. (We've raised a few million for our seed and we are close to signing a term sheet for our Series A in a highly competitive space)

We've also been quite successful on the technical recruiting front: frequently winning over candidates who have more lucrative offers from Google/Amazon/Microsoft/Facebook/etc.

You can definitely build your product on Microsoft technologies. But that choice will create a headwind when recruiting the best talent -- especially in the Valley/SF. The talented engineers are always tinkering with the bleeding edge -- probably too bleeding edge to be safe for many business situations. The truly great engineers have enough business savvy to tinker on the bleeding edge but appreciate the business constraints enough to step a bit into more stable but cutting edge platforms (our CTO calls this the chaotic edge).

Needless to say using the same platform that a Fortune 500 company uses in Arkansas to build a clunky expense reporting app just isn't as exciting to these guys.

That isn't saying that a Microsoft .Net platform is a bad decision. It's just one thing to keep in mind
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2014
" Or, you can start a business with a few friends and have them flake out on you."

Bitter much? ;-)
 
 
May 15, 2014
@Admiral
Yeah, was just going to state that in slightly more measured terms. I don't think EF / MVC was available in 2003 for instance. Seriously, if you're hacking away in PHP / Ruby on Rails / Python / Java etc good luck to you but the technology Scott is discussing is absolutely fine.

Personally I would go with having good people in your locality. If they contract out work further afield fair enough but you need people that understand the technology nearby.
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2014
Just reading through the comments... what the hell is wrong with using Microsoft technologies? And just because the VC's don't know about the technology they aren't going to fund you because all they've heard about was all the college kids using PHP and MySql? with no f-ing clue as to what else is out there? There might be some truth in that because in my opinion VC's and just about any C-level exec are dumb as !$%*! but still the technology is sound, versatile, stable and can do everything CalendarTree is setting out to do. I mean do some of you !$%* in your brain cavity?
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2014
OK, I’ve got to weigh in on this one…
There are 3 ways to start a business.

1) You have a primary customer or customers that want to pay you to start doing something and they’ve signed on right from the beginning… All you have to do is start producing. These types of situations just kind of happen. It’s the proverbial “opportunity knocking”.

2) Put yourself in a lot of debt by taking out loans you cannot possibly repay in time.

3) Get funding from VC’s, Angel investors or a wealthy uncle.

Secondly, the entrepreneur in you.

Let’s just talk about the VC’s and Angel funding for now. VC’s (and/or any professional person or group that does investing) don’t give a !$%* about your business, the product or how awesome you, your team or how much sunshine you have blowing out your ass. All they want to know is how much and how fast. Their only goal is to make money. They want to put in as little as possible, get the most equity they can with it and cash it out as soon as it ‘hits’. These VC’s are as smug as and heartless as you get. They have no special powers of insight or business knowledge. They don’t know !$%* about technology – past, present or future, but seem to get all the credit when something new and exciting hits the market.

The VC business model is to back 10 projects and hope that 1 of them makes it. The whole tech bubble was a feeding frenzy for all those VC’s. They backed anything with a .com in the name and made the company go public as fast as possible, then sold all their stock the next day leaving the guys who started the business holding their shorts wondering what the hell just happened.

I’ve been down this path a few times having started a couple of businesses. My own lack of business knowledge led me down an alley of getting the !$%* kicked out of me emotionally and financially. After a few times around the block it became very clear that some options are useless. No VC (and most angels) won’t touch you unless you already have a big win and made a lot of money. That’s why you always see these young start-ups with at least one older guy as the wise sage…. So the investor thinks “Oh, he’s older, therefore he has wisdom of ages” without knowing the slightest bit of what the guys actual contribution or talents might be.

Anywhoo, my respect for investors is zero.

Now for the entrepreneur in you. You can try and start a business by yourself and do everything by yourself. At least this way you know you can count on you. Or, you can start a business with a few friends and have them flake out on you. When you start a business by yourself, no one will help you. If you’re lucky and things go well, you can hire people to help you do things you don’t want to do yourself.

My favorite is when people come up to me and say “I have the great idea for an app… can you do this…. Or that….???” All I’m saying is that it’s amazing how many people are so completely useless.

Follow your dreams, but keep your head out of your ass and learn from all the lessons life has to teach you.

As for CalendarTree… yeah, I have just about all the things you’re looking for except the iOS stuff. I started learning Objective-C but more things got in the way. But right now I’m busy running my own business that I started by myself, put myself in debt for, went through bankruptcy for, worked longer hours than I’ve ever working in my life and it’s still barely making enough to justify it.

But I like your blog.
 
 
May 15, 2014
Geography? For software? Get out of here!!!
Why are you trying to create a 21st century product with 20th century methods?

You don't need good software guys in the SF area. Software is worldwide.
If you're not looking for the best, wherever they are, you are hampering your success.
And giving yourself a monetary disadvantage.

And code is commoditised. You can buy it in snippets. Sample it for free.

[I've tried it both ways. Have you? -- Scott]
 
 
May 15, 2014
Scott, I'm a software engineer that tried the same path and I see one more problem that will make it harder:
I never heard of a startup that today uses "Windows Servers" or C# or .NET. This is bad for two reasons:
1) If your interest is to find someone that's recognized among the VC community to help you get funding, chances are this person won't be familiar with the technology you guys are using.
2) It's also possible that telling the VCS that you use such technology will hurt your fundraising chances. VCs do pattern matching all the time and since nobody else uses this kind of tech, you'll probably be penalized for picking them.

There is one thing though that trumps the perceived quality of a team when fundraising, it's traction.
Traction proves that you're doing something people really like, which in turn kinda proves your idea makes sense and also that your team so far could build it.

So how do you prove traction?
User base growth and user engagement growth.

So, if I were you, I'd try to gain traction with the team you already have and seek for funding later.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
May 14, 2014


>>I, nor, anyone I know, have use of such a calender system

Don't miss the potential. I imagine, maybe it's not a Calendar (like the paper thing with pictures on the wall) it might become a valuable scheduling and planning tool. (I don't know anything, I'm making it up.)

Think about a working mother trying to keep everything organized and the family running efficiently. She has to coordinate little league practices, cub scouts, glee club, school wrestling meets, the lobster costume for the Easter pageant... rides, homework, payments, the damn cable company, Max's vet appointment, vacations, deadlines... don't forget to add in Dad's travel dates, flights and dinner reservations.

"I thought you were picking up the kids, I have a meeting with a client tomorrow, she says."

Add in coordinating friends and grandparents, keeping them in the loop too. Overhear Grandpa say to Grandma, "When was that championship game for Billy we were supposed to go to, or was it a dance recital, I forget?" It automatically sends him an email reminder or robot phone call. "Did you take your blue pill this morning Harold, the sexy voice says?" He'll look forward to the call each morning. Or maybe it dials my Dad's phone every day at 12:05 connecting it to mine so I can check in on him personally? If he doesn't answer, I can go check.

Then think about every small business struggling to coordinate people and projects, contractors and meetings (and their families too).

Organizing all that activity is difficult when Mom gets 26 pages of scheduling from different sources. If there was only a one click solution to get all that crap on the schedule and see the conflicts, track the issues that need to be resolved, make a to-do list of craft supplies needed by what date, and maybe make her life a little easier. Discover an instant network of people using your application.

Multiply that by students needing to schedule classes, report deadlines and fees due by when? Mix some SIRS golf scheduling with the volunteer activities Ethel has on her plate, and you are hitting all the major demographics.

Imagine being the company that coordinates and connects all the generations in real time.

Stir in a little advertising and you have a billion dollar idea.


 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 14, 2014
I don't see a need for Scott's product in my life. I am a Type-A person, but I only begrudgingly use a calendar at work and don't need one for my busy home life with my wife and kids.

BUT

Just like all the people who decry McDonald's and say they would never eat there, there has to be some admission that there is a multi-billion dollar market for what they are selling. Somewhere out there, maybe only among a segment of the Type-A crowd, but somewhere for sure, there is a market for this.

What Scott needs isn't a CTO, or a couple of hackers. He needs to face up to the fact that if this is really such a great idea then he needs to source and hire a complete team of people with a wide range of skills who are willing to work for just money. And hire a program manager who isn't afraid to be diligent and do the rigor necessary to get the right requirements and architecture and design and testing and coding and every little thing in between. Do it right, don't take short cuts. This doesn't mean you can't use an Agile methodology, and produce quality work quickly. But get away from the idea that you need just a couple of smart programmers, because you'll fail or have the idea stolen and never know why or what hit you.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 14, 2014
What is a "growth hacker"?

[It's start-up jargon for someone who ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_hacking -- Scott]
 
 
May 14, 2014
Scott, I admire your dedication and I hope you succeed.

Personally, however, I have to agree with the others who think you are greatly overestimating the market. By and large, people do NOT like it when their lives are ruled by calendars. We do it at work out of necessity. But there is not a single Type B personality in the world who would willingly be enslaved to a calendar of their free time.

Even for the vast majority of type A's I think there is a soft limit of usefulness. (Keeping track of birthdays or weekend plans in a vague way would be positive, but having an afternoon filled with scheduled tasks would be daunting).

I totally get why your personality type would be all over this idea. But seriously, think about how extremely exceptional you are. That's why you've achieved your level of success. Because almost everyone in the world is wired vastly differently from you.

[CalendarTree isn't a calendar. We're a tool to get schedules on calendars without each member of a group manually entering them. But long term the opportunity is more than that. I haven't described the product strategy here. -- Scott]

 
 
May 14, 2014
Lots has been written about selecting startups (and startup founders) for funding. Your thoughts are not new. Look up Paul Graham's essays on the topic. Probably the best source of information out there at the moment.

On another note, I don't understand the fuss about the word "hacker". Pretty much every software developer with an interest in startups (and those are your candidates) hangs out on a website called "Hacker News" these days and none of them take issue with the word.
 
 
May 14, 2014
[ The bad guys of the computer world are correctly called 'crackers.' So hackers = good; crackers = bad. ]

Please. "Cracker" is a post-hoc neologism that was invented once the world at large became aware of computer hacking. Prior to that there were only hackers -- and as far as I'm concerned, that's all there are still. Crackers are a cheese delivery system, nothing more.

I don't like the co-opting of the word "hacker" either, but that's the way the language bounces. I take it as a badge of honor, that the computer literati have achieved a level of status that we were not afforded in the past.

Back to the post: Scott, you should have used "The Giant's Drink" instead of Kobiayashi Maru, because unlike the latter, Ender defeated his impossible task by doing something the programmers never expected -- thus proving his ability. Much more in line with the feeling you were going for.
 
 
May 14, 2014
I bet he added the term hacker as a subliminal test to see the reaction of potential applicants. And look my reaction is absolutely perfect (as is my C.V hint hint)
 
 
May 14, 2014
Dilbert lose his necktie and dress shirt? NOOOOOOOOooooo! He wouldn't be Dilbert anymore!
 
 
May 14, 2014
You know... I loved the word "hacker" circa 1990. But now that every !$%*!$% uses the word "hack" to describe logging into someone else's (phone/ facebook/ etc) the word seems to have lost most of its glitter. Hacker is synonymous to "poser" for me, any more. I think more-specific words like cracker, coder, pirate.... have fully replaced the word "hacker" in any kind of tech circles. At best, it's a derogatory word for a programmer -- i.e. "that guy's just a hacker. his code isn't organized and it's full of bugs." Maybe a step up from "script kid."
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog