New to Zejoop, in December?

                   

Welcome one, and welcome all, especially if you are new to Zejoop. Zejoop is a tech startup currently under development, self-funded and bootstrapped by the undersigned, the self-appointed chief cook, bottle-wash, and oh, also founder, systems engineer and software developer.

Here the Zejoop logo on a hoodie! Cool, huh?

This is what the Zejoop logo looks like on a hoodie – fancy stuff, right?

If this is your first visit, perhaps you’ve met me and I’ve given you my Zejoop business card, a little explanation is in order.

Due to influences beyond my control, December has been a month of transition.

First, the Zejoop domain, and its corresponding blog lost their server space where they had been hosted by a friend (much appreciated Joshua, thanks!). The growth of his business required him to change his security approach and hence, a blog such as Zejoop’s, maintained by me, an independent agent, external to his business, was no longer acceptable. As of today though, the domain has been transferred and the blog has been successfully re-instantiated on BlueHost.com, an excellent provider, and also current host to my personal blog, www.whitewingcrow.com.

Second, and again, due a shift in the business model for Zejoop’s current PaaS provider, Cloudbees.com, I’ve had to find a new home for the application itself. Oh joy. Quite frankly I’ve had my hands full coming up to speed just executing the nominal software development and impromptu immersion into the admin/IT/infrastructure aspect of building a startup was not in the original plan. So, anyway, that happened and here I am. Current status is that I have ported a version of Zejoop, the application to new home of Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk. Amazon is an excelent provider, but for an IT/admin newbie like myself it IaaS paradigm requires more touch labor than my former PaaS provider.  Bonus points for Amazon though, because under my circumstances I qualify for one year of “free tier” service…. got that? Free! That’s rare, but I’ll take it! Yay Amazon! Celebration notwithstanding, if you’d like to visit the current Zejoop implementation, please visit http://project724.mjlarue720.cloudbees.net/

There is a little work to go before I can claim that the new Zejoop is fully up and running after this transition, but the goal is to be able to make that claim before year’s end. That way Zejoop can leap into its exciting future starting fresh on January 1st, 2015! I’ll keep you posted. Note that, until then, the functional Zejoop will be offline until further notice.

In the mean time, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! If you have comments or questions, or if you just want offer encouragement and your own good wishes, please contact me at –> michael at zejoop dot com

Be well, and prepare to watch Zejoop have an exciting year of growth and opportunities starting in January!

Michael Jay LaRue

 

Santa Clarita Startup uses Kickstarter to Raise Funding – In the News!

Last month SCV Startup Meetup held another informative and useful event centered on the topic of using Kickstarter as a source of funding. The speaker was my friend and fellow entrepreneur,Voldi Way. He capably and, in an entertaining way, shared his experience in raising money for a new project in the works at WayForward Technologies – a local game development company where he is the founder/CEO.

The event got coverage in the Santa Clarita’s local paper, the Signal in an article written by Paula Whidden.

I was happy to offer my observations, which showed up as several quotes in the article. Although I learned a lot, and it is great to see “locals do good stuff,” limitations on the types of projects that can be funded this way most likely excludes Kickstarter funding as an option for Zejoop. The possibility deserves further investigation, but it would like be an atypical campaign.

Here are some more of my thoughts on this event:

  • it was great to hear how Voldi had applied a Kickstarter campaign to his own long established and successful company
  • I was able to ask very specific questions that might help me in my business. I got answers that I could not have gotten by just reading another article online
  • Being part of the SCV startup community is fantastic. Attending this Meetup means more than simply hearing a good presentation – it’s an opportunity to interact with other entrepreneurs and share ideas and lessons learned. Seeing what Voldi went through, and hearing his answers to questions from the group is just like getting a head start if I ever use Kickstarter myself
  • One important take-away was the value of a Kickstarter project trying to create relationships with other on-going projects and then cross-promoting. By mentioning and linking to other projects, both companies benefit from wider exposure and access to new audiences.
  • Interesting fact: the success of a 30 day Kickstarter campaign can be predicted based on its performance in the first four hours after it goes live
That’s all for now – it was a great event and it is always encouraging to be around like-minded people who taking control of their futures by being engaged in the process of building a business from nothing but an idea!
(PS – check out the picture in the article – it’d be hard to miss a certain sparsely-populated “dome” attached to a person proudly wearing his University of Maryland hoodie – that’d be yours truly!)

 

Learning about Product Marketing from the Google Ventures Library

                   

Stumbled upon a great video on the topic of startup marketing that was posted in the Google Ventures library – delivered by Adam Gross who is Co-Founder and CEO at cloudconnect.com, and has been involved throughout his career at personify, salesforce.com, and Dropbox.

This is timely information for Zejoop, at this critical point in its tech startup evolution.

(Google Ventures is a seed round, or early investor for new startups – looks like a great program, with quite a few free resources – definitely worth looking into. However their  model seems to be “don’t call us, we’ll call you”, as in, you don’t apply, but you somehow otherwise “get yourself noticed.” That seems a little mysterious, and somewhat “fraught” (with peril?) but it is also interesting, and adds to the allure!)

screenshot from the presentation given by Adam Gross

Good information on Marketing – food for thought regarding the positioning of Zejoop

All of this is of critical importance to Zejoop as it tries to find its way though and past its development and beta test phases.

The entire video will be worth revisiting again later, but a few points stood out for immediate application.

The first of which were his comments on product positioning on the x-y axes of “strategic” (increasing horizontally from left to right) and “emotive” (increases vertically from bottom to top). Clearly a company like Apple is high on both scales but the the question has to be addressed early, even for a startup like Zejoop; how does it get from wherever it starts – “low” on both counts – to “high” on both? Unless the importance of this trajectory is comprehended, and that it demands a plan which is well formulated and then followed, what is the likelihood of success? Without a goal, how will you ever know you’ve arrived?

Another key idea was that of creating a industry transitional narrative – where is Zejoop going and how will it make a difference in the landscape?

The third idea which made an impression was how he described “differentiation.” To me that means asking and answering “what makes Zejoop different?” Of course this is pretty basic, but the way he articulated the point was very helpful. He told an anecdote of a friend who was at TiVo and he asked, regarding the product itself, why is it that the “pause” button is the biggest of all the buttons? – answer “that is what makes TiVo different than just TV” – the ability to pause and resume playback off a live stream. Timely story to hear as this is just the type of thing I need to tackle for Zejoop. After all there are any number of options for people to do their casual event planning. What makes Zejoop different and how can I emphasize that within the product? The good news is that a couple of good ideas have occurred to me as I’ve thought this over – but that my friends, will be a separate post!

Finally the video highlighted the importance of thinking about strategic partnerships. Clearly there are big players who have already fielded many aspects of event planning. Rather that thinking about how to take them on, head-on, why not discover the minimum viable enhancement that Zejoop can provide rather than duplicate an entire infrastructure that already exists? Oh, and by the way, an entire infrastructure developed by an army of highly skilled develops employed by big-tech? Sounds like folly, right? Better late than never, and this part of the presentation gave me a few good ideas to do just that.

That’s all for now, but I wanted to capture these thoughts while they were fresh in mind, at the risk of losing them by not doing so immediately. More to follow as I turn ideas into actions.

Moving Forward with Zejoop

There have been several articles out of VentureBeat the last few days that need further examination for their application to the evolving business model and implementation approach for Zejoop. Here they are:

I need to fully absorb these later, but the gist of the first article is e-commerce prevails over ads, etcetera for monetization. This is good news at first glance because a primary channel for Zejoop is affiliate-link sales based on the “type” of event planned. Of course, no option is off the table, but it is good to know that my first instinct was good.

The second article asserts the importance of creating your app in such a way that it appeals to youth and that it is properly packaged in a slick mobile implementation. Well, of course, I knew this, but I needed to hear it again, clearly stated, right now. The implication for Zejoop is huge. By necessity, the way that I am learning to be a software developer, and due to my choice of the Java-based application framework Grails, I have basically built a fully capable desktop version of Zejoop that happens to have a reasonable, but not optimum mobile version attached. I’ve built desktop browser first, and have gotten mobile almost as an afterthought – passable but not as slick as it needs to be.

Fortunately, I have found that there are possible paths forward to get great mobile even from my starting point without needing to start over. A good discussion to that effect is here:

Hidden in that discussion are links to Grails plugins that will/may hopefully facilitate such a transition. Here are links to GitHub repositories and requisite documentation:
That’s enough for now. Sorry if this is not your cup-of-tea; I have indulged here somewhat, making a post that I’ll find useful for me, but for you, not so much, maybe.

 

Zejoop is Going to Grand Prix Sacramento!

                   

What is that, you ask, quizzically – “Grand Prix Sacramento?”

Well it is tournament for the collectible card game, Magic: the Gathering, which is property of Wizards of the Coast, a Hasbro subsidiary. The date is approaching fast, January 17th through 19th, in Sacramento, California, of course.

Maybe you didn’t see this coming but, I happen to be an enthusiast of the game – I am also the best Magic player on the planet – just ask my Magic friends!

As it turns out the Zejoop mission, and mantra, “casual event planning,” and “fun with friends” are highly applicable to the coordination of casual Magic gaming among friends! Go figure; what a coincidence – right?

So, I am going there, and I will be promoting Zejoop for Magic, in addition to participating in the tournament itself!

Check out Zejoop for all your casual event planning needs!



I’m practically overwhelmed, immersed in preparations for the event – little things like testing the application myself, coordinating BETA test among the small cadre of tester/friends I’ve been lucky to engage in the project (thanks guys – Glenn Cuevas and Dave Gerhardt!), and finally – wait for it – I am making customs tokens to distribute at the tournament.

The topic of tokens would be hard to explain to those not familiar with the game, but think of it like this – “promotional business cards, that are useful in the game experience.” Wait, I guess that wasn’t as hard as I thought. Well, now you know.

Here is a teaser of the the printer’s proof – an excerpt; always leave them wanting more, I am told.

looking good, eh?

Just an excerpt – more to come – stand by for followup!

I have several friends to thank/acknowledge, but I will do a right and proper job with that very soon, when I get a chance. For now, however, I do want to call your attention to the blue “Elemental” in the bottom center – that is the beautiful work of my friend, and fine artist, Steve Nakamura – gorgeous work on short notice, with an impossible deadline, all to get it prepped and to the printer in time – but more on that later.

Part of the sexiness you don’t see on this proof is that design on the card-back (lower left corner) includes a QR code. So at the Grand Prix, players can scan, and be directed right to Zejoop where there is a special landing page just for this event! Like I said – sexy – that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

OK, back to work…

Zejoop “tokens” Concept Development

Steve: Here are the samples you asked for to assist you in continuity, such as it is. Note that my primary goal is to make functional, reasonably appealing tokens for use by players for the express purpose of promoting Zejoop. I am not selling the art aspect – art is a means to an end, and nothing has to be perfect, especially on this tight schedule I’ve got. NOTE that soon, perhaps as early as 8 to 12 weeks, there MAY be another opportunity to make another set of similar tokens tied to the next set in the Theros block. If I/we want to do this again, we can devote more attention to more refined artwork next time. With regard specifically to the Elemental token, I am more interested in presenting a good “horse” than I am with a “water elemental horse” – staying consistent with the specific treatment used by the original artist’s approach. A good, simple, take on a horse, would be great…. thanks Steve!

 

Boar -in-work (ball point pen, on white printer paper, with 5 value gray scale marker) – NOTE: final MAY be done on cream or manila paper

copyright - Michael Jay LaRue

one soldier and one golem (not sure which is which yet) – there are both a white and a red soldier token and I am not sure if I will bother to both… these are likely “final” except for cleanup – both are charcoal on newsprint

copyright Michael Jay LaRue, www. Zejoop.com

copyright Michael Jay LaRue, www. Zejoop.com

This is the Harpy (in-work) – currently black ball point on white printer paper – FINAL may be done on cream or manila paper using the 5 value marker style

copyright Michael Jay LaRue, www. Zejoop.com

copyright Michael Jay LaRue, www. Zejoop.com

 

– and finally, “harpy” concept development… black ball point on white printer paper.. just trying to find a style, settling on the version above, for now.

copyright Michael Jay LaRue, www. Zejoop.com

copyright Michael Jay LaRue, www. Zejoop.com

King Rat Hat Hack

                   

Sometimes, out of the blue, you may be asked to describe a “hack” you’ve done. A person in my position had better be prepared to answer, and answer good.

I got asked, and here’s how I answered:

As an adult student of ballet*, I was cast several years as the King Rat in the “The Nutcracker Ballet.” The first year, I was unhappy with the company provided costume, in particular, the head; it was poorly constructed out of unstructured felt – clearly a “bad rat hat.” For the second year I was determined to design and craft a superior costume, which I did. The crowning achievement was a hand-built rat head. While the overall result was fantastic, the hack that I am claiming, is the ingenious way I devised to attach the plastic “eyes” to the bulk of the head which was otherwise made of carved upholstery foam covered in gray felt – the binding of these unlike materials was a challenge.

Here’s a detail shot of the eyes after completion:

detail of King Rat Hat Hack – “eyes” – photo credit Michael Jay LaRue

Wondering about a “parts & material list?” – what about “tools?” – here they are:

Parts & Material list:
– 2 “leaf-shaped” eye border bases, cut to shape from black felt
– 2 24 inch lengths of dental floss
– 2 Silly Putty storage container, ellipsoid half-shells, male version, in hot pink
– Elmer’s White Glue

Tools:
– straight pin
– needle-nose pliers
– exacto knife

Here’s a drawing that may, or many not, help:

Rat Eye Hack Assembly Drawing – part art, part instruction – you decide
(art and photo by Michael Jay LaRue)

Ready to hack some rat eyes? Follow these instructions:

The “Hack”:

– NOTE 1 – repeat these instructions for each side
– NOTE 2 – you may discard or re-purpose the female halves of the Silly Putty containers – they are not needed for this rat hat hack
– carefully center the Silly Putty shell on the black felt eye base
– using the exacto knife, make 4 small cuts in the black felt eye base, approximately 1/8th inch long, corresponding to the 4 interior latch tabs of the Silly Putty shell
– with straight pin held in pliers for safety, heat end of pin to glowing red
– for each of the 4 interior latch tabs on the Silly Putty shell, pierce it with hot pin create small hole
– place Silly Putty shell on black felt base, aligning the materials such that the four latch tabs protrude through, and are accessible on, the reverse side of the base
– thread the dental floss through one of the latch tabs are secure with a knot
– proceed clockwise to each of the other three tabs and thread the floss through each sucessive hole
– while executing the above step, keep moderate tension on the floss so that the Silly Putty shell will be snuggly secured to the black felt base
– repeat this process to use the entire length of the floss
– when complete, secure the end of the floss with a knot at the last used tab, at which point the Silly Putty shell should be firmly attached to its black felt base
– once both sides are complete, experiment to determine proper placement of the eyes on the main rat head component of the costume (NOTE – this can not be empasized enough, take time to place the eyes properly to acheive your desired effect – eye placement is extremely important to fix the personality of the King Rat – one quarter on an inch change in either X or Y, or even 2 degree of angular offset can spell the difference between a “menacing” character and a “silly” character – “silly” may be in order for a younger audience, while “menacing” would be fully appropriate for a more mature audeince – if in doubt, check with the you company’s Artistic Director)
– once satified with the proper placement, apply Elmer’s White Glue to the back side of the felt bottom of the eye assembly and attach to the King Rat hat and allow to dry before use

The King Rat Hat in action on stage – Fear the King Rat! He’ll haunt you in your dreams! (photo credit Robert Salas)

Many chocolate chip cookies have been consumed in the years that have intervened, but if pressed into service, I could still do this role, proudly, from memory – perhaps even blindfolded. Few things in life capture the magic and mystery of bringing a character like this to life on stage – especially in the context of such an iconic role in a cherished and time-honored ballet as “the Nutcracker.” – such a joy!

*(many thanks and much gratitude to Mike and Monique at The Metropolitan Ballet Company in Orange County California, for the opportunity, support, and the memories)

POST SCRIPT: Perhaps a little context is in order. This post is a supplemental response to a question on the application for the upcoming Y-Combinator Winter Session 2014. I have previously committed to apply, and I beat the October 21st deadline by a week, having hit “submit” late last Monday night. This post answers the question that was posed as follows: “Please tell us about the time you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage.” If you are interested in sampling the enterprise for which I am applying  to Y Combinator, please visit Zejoop.

 

 

Zejoop – Bravely Building Brand?

In several ways this Zejoop blog is a journal – not just a place to broadcast key events and milestones in the birthing and nutruring of a fledgling startup – it is also a place to capture what is going on day-to-day, and to focus on what areas need attention or work in Zejoop’s so-called “life.”

Zejoop is Becoming a Brand

Zejoop is on its way to “Becoming a Brand!”

I’ll spare you the details of its conception, but Zejoop clearly was born the day the winner of the Santa Clarita Valley Startup Weekend was announced. As a capable aerospace engineer, but novice software developer, I’d liken the development process, since the win to a “potty training” phase. All the while though, I have been aware, and now so more than ever, that Zejoop needs develop an identify in terms of its brand.

So, developing that brand is high of the list of priorities – it is fortunate then that I found a good introductory article to help guide me on that quest. Shawn Parr has written this excellent post – 5 Smart Steps to Building your Brand the Right Way.

His lead-off challenge is this: “WOULD YOU BE PROUD TO WEAR YOUR COMPANY’S IDENTITY ON A T-SHIRT?” Clearly that is an important question. While I won’t recount the entire post (he lays out 5 key steps) here are several of the most relevant to Zejoop and where it stands as a brand today:

“clearly define what business you are in, build a rock-solid platform, (and), tell a compelling story”

As for Zejoop, the business broadly stated is “casual event planning – fun with friends.” This I think is a good start in terms of a mantra/tagline, but I think, ultimately Zejoop is up to something bigger, and I have to clarify and capture that thought rather quickly in the near-term.

Zejoop BETA is a good starting point, but it needs more trial-by-fire and refinement. As a novice developer I know that there are substantial inefficiencies in many of the implementation choices I have made. The good news is that I have learned along the way, and I already know several ways right off, to improve the platform on the next re-factor.

The last is so important – “tell a compelling story.” I have always been sensitive to this and I take it seriously, if for no other reason than that I am already an artist and a musician, and I write and have some exposure to animation craft and storyboarding. The artist/writer in me is raring to go on this part – I think this will be a fun and rewarding exercise, and will help to put a forward looking face on the brand that will become Zejoop.

As I make progress on these various fronts expect update posts –  the path I’m on is journey, and this blog is its journal.

 

Zejoop delivers Value!

The founder of both Blogger and Twitter, Ev Williams has some great insights to share about providing value on the internet, as captured in Ryan Tates’ blog post at Wired.com.

In a culture of startup enterprise where all too often ideas seem to be generated by “pick a word randomly from list A, and then list B, put them together and that’s your company,” seemingly clever (by chance) or even (silly, by design) concepts can sounds better than the more practical or even mundane sounding ventures. But does that proposal have a real value proposition – does it serve a real need, however mundane? Many times, not.

The essay I’ve referenced offers a more fundamental view; one that gives hope for the prospects for startups that target more every-days needs. The article is short a one, and I encourage you to read it for its merit, but I wanted to call attention to it for its relevance to the formulation of Zejoop as a value delivering brand. (Zejoop Wins SCV Startup Weekend!)

The most important quote is this:  “Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time…Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.” In my thinking this relates to Zejoop because, as a casual event planner, it does not scream “drop-dead-sexy” on casual observation. It does however address a human desire – to have fun with friends – and uses technology to fulfill its purpose. Although it seems mundane, it is useful and will provide value. Several distinguishing features will increase the likelihood that users will in fact be able to have fun with friends more easily and with fewer frustrations.

Zejoop solves real problems – problems that people encounter when they try to plan their activities using email. Real-time status, and auto-cancel if desired conditions are not met, are both features that deliver value.

Sounds good? Why not try it? Visit Zejoop and start planning now!

Zejoop solves real problems.

Use sunscreen and sunglasses to have fun in the Sun – use Zejoop.com to have fun with your friends!