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Three Pieces of Business Advice For Young Entrepreneurs Wednesday February 19, 2014

Earlier this month a group of management students from the University of Calgary students reached out to me to partake in a class assignment. The project was to interview an entrepreneur or someone tied to startup world to get their insight into process of starting a business or new venture.

Never one to shy away from sharing my own experiences or vomiting out advice, I gladly accepted the request. During the interview, I was asked for my favourite general advice I was willing to give the group. As usual, I spewed out my three pillars that I’ve based my own business process and deals. (They also happened to be the same advice that I give anyone who approaches me on business topics)

So out conversation, I decided I’d try something different this weekend and flex my design skills by posterfy these “quotes” and sharing them with the internets. Now, anyone who knows me already understands that I’m not really one for motivational posters and Pinterest quote boards, but I figured I’d share them in a visual manner would be a bit more fun.

So here we go. For all you entrepreneurs and budding young start-up gurus, here are the three pillars of business that I try and live by.

Fail In Obscurity

Fail In Obscurity

Now, in all honesty this is a direct quote from 37 Signals and software developer guru, Jason Fried.

The concept is pretty simple. In any business venture people will make mistakes and we all know that mistakes are the best way to learn. So rather than making those mistakes when there is angel/investment money on the line or a reputation at stake – it’s far better to make mistakes, when you’re small and nobody cares.

No business is perfect from day one of operations. So make your mistakes in obscurity. Fail when there is nothing on the line.

Share Knowledge. It Will Come Back in Spades

Share Knowledge | It Will Come Back in Spades

Everyone has heard the quote that in business knowledge is power. In the past, there was an outdated interpretation that to succeed in business you needed to secure your knowledge. To not share it and to lock it away in vault of secrecy. Well in the age of the internet and a new society where personal branding is almost as powerful as corporate branding, this concept is pretty ridiculous. See the most successful people in my industry (and others around the world) are the ones who are now openly sharing their own knowledge.

In my experience, every time I’ve shared knowledge, whether it’s from a blog post, coffee conversation, presentation or media interview, I have always been rewarded far more than expected. It’s human nature for us to appreciate a hand or helpful advice. We always tend to want to reward or thank others who have helped us out. So by sharing your own expertise or knowledge with someone, they are more than likely to remember to recommend or reward you when another opportunity arise.

Let me put it this way. Let’s say someone comes into an auto repair shop with a frantic issue and they have no idea how to fix it. Unknown to them the issues is relatively minor and actually will cost less than ten bucks in parts off the rack and maybe ten minutes of work. As a business owner, you can either charge the client 100 dollars to fix it and try to up-sell them something OR you can tell them the truth and explain how easy of a fix it is. Nine times out of ten the customer would rather you tell them the truth and save them money then pad your own bottom line. Sure you may have just walked away from an easy sell and income, but more than likely that customer will remember that honest and knowledgable advice and recommend you to a whole slew of people. Which in the long run is far more profitable than hundred bucks.

While that’s a pretty rudimentary example, it does show you the difference between the old way of thinking and this new paradigm. Sharing your knowledge will provide far more rewards than not sharing it. It may not seem like it at first, but in the log run the rewards will be much stronger.

So share knowledge. It will come back in spades.

Never Stop Reading

Never Stop Reading

I personally struggle with this one, but my biggest advice for people is to never stop reading and learning. When I started Armadillo Studios, I used to digest at least one key business book every two months, which for me is a lot. But even though I don’t have the same appetite form business books that I used to, I do spend a huge percentage of my time learning – whether its through business books, startup blogs, articles or networking events.

I always find it fascinating when I come across someone in my industry who doesn’t know who Gary Vanyerchuk is, what 37signals and Basecamp is, where SXSW is held or even what is happening in the local tech industry. When starting a business, knowledge is key. So the more you learn and know, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

So it goes without saying, but *never stop reading, learning and evolving.

There you go. My three mantras to live by in business and for those looking to break into the start-up world.

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A year of Lift.do and Good Habits Thursday February 6, 2014

So … about a year ago, I made a incredibly vague New Year’s resolution to finally follow through and live a healthier lifestyle. The idea was to try and work to generally improve myself both physically, mentally and career wise.

And now as a honest caveat, I personally stopped making specific resolutions a couple of years ago. To be frank, I’ve always found New Year’s resolutions a great idealistic concept, but far to difficult to maintain (just like everyone else in the world). Stuff like only eating salads instead of fries or running three times a week sounds great, BUT once the trivial nature of life kicks in I’ve always find them difficult to maintain.

In addition, as a inherently grouchy Irish/Englishman I have a massive aversion to self help gurus and that form of rational thinking.

But last year, I remembered a couple talks/blog posts I had read from Julien Smith on breaking habits. His philosophy is that all humans have habits. Some are important for survival (for example eating at established periods of the day and sleeping four hours a day). While others are bad habits that we’ve learned over time. Julien Smith’s idea is that if you really want to change how you live your life, eat healthier or just doing things differently, you have to turn these goals into positive habits.

Smith’s advice is to embrace our instincts to live by habits and patterns and then focus on deconstructing bad habits and establish good ones. His idea being that it’s not about doing something radical and new, but it’s about inserting good habits into your life.

So last year, I set about inserting good habits in to my daily routine.

One of the tools that Smith mentioned in his various posts was a tool called Lift.do.

Lift is one of about 1,000 self-help apps out on the web, but rather than trying to act as your mini work out coach, Lift works to help establish simple daily habits or rituals. You set-up your lift account with a list of tasks you want to do on a daily basis and then through Lift’s interface you track how frequently you achieve them.

Now for me Lift worked because I set some of the most ridiculous easily habits out there. Stuff like Flossing once a day (something I’ve never done), taking Vitamin D (something my doctor told me to do years ago and I’ve never done), drinking a glass of water every day (again something I’ve never done before) and reading a book for ten minutes a day. These don’t sound like impressive targets, but for a perpetual procrastinator like myself and someone who still feels like he’s an invincible 24 year old, these tasks that seem to fall by the wayside.

So how was my year of habit forming and Lift.do?

Well, if you’re interested of how my year of using Lift was, check out my profile.

In 2013, throughout all the turmoil, I was able to make some impressive strides on my goals from last year. Not only was I was able to maintain a daily regiment of taking Vitamin D, Drinking a Glass of Water, Flossing and also Eating Fruit/Drinking Milk, but I was also able to inject some other important routines in my daily life. Activities such as Reading a book for 10 minutes, Writing a Blog Post or even just sending a Non-work related email out to a friend.

And while Lift.do was pretty instrumental in reinforcing these habits, the real achievement in this year challenge is that activities such taking Vitamin D, Flossing, Drinking water etc., have all become morning rituals. Activities that I do now as naturally as having my morning cigarette and coffee or checking into Foursquare the second I step foot into a Starbucks (both of which are incredibly horrible habits).

So yes, for someone who isn’t really known for being overtly obsessive with my own health and well being – my year with Lift.do and creating good habits was a smashing success. So if you’re looking to improve or follow through on some New Years resolutions, give some of the writings of Julien Smith a whirl and download Lift.

I have no guarantee it’ll work for you, but I found great success with both.

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Riding The Bus With Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Friday January 17, 2014

Love for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis? Check.

Love of guerilla music projects in unusual locations Check.

Then of course this is going to be awesome. Ryan Lewis & Macklemore dropping Can’t Hold Us on a NYC bus.

Oh and here’s how it was made.

Rigging a bus with enough cameras to capture every angle of the duo performing “Can’t Hold Us” in such a small space without giving anything away wasn’t easy. “Our production partner Tool of North America planted GoPros in places where they were pretty invisible,” says Rayburn. “They also planted some camera guys with camera phones.” The agency assures us the people riding the bus had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. “Their reactions to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ appearance are 100% real.”

Almost tops, Atomic Tom’s iPhone Subway video…

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The Adventures 2013 Saturday December 28, 2013

Hmm… well with December winding down and 2014 around the corner it’s time for another yearly c.t.overdrove tradition – The Adventures Post!

As with past posts, The Adventures Post is where I lists the cities I’ve spent one or more nights in over the past year. The idea is completely stolen borrowed from kottke.org and has been a constant staple on the old c.t.overdrive. Think of it as an outside of the box year in review post.

In a year where I thought that 2012 was a somewhat crummy year, 2013 managed to not only top 2012 for crumminess but absolutely blow it out of the water. 2013 was a shitvlanche. That’s pretty much the summation of it and it’s reflected in the lack luster adventures for the year.

1. Ottawa, ON
2. Montreal, QC
3. Ottawa, ON
4. Calgary, AB
5. Ottawa, ON
6. Red Deer, AB
7. Calgary, AB

2013 will only be memorable in the record books for two major personal events. The first is the end of Ottawa experiment for myself and the second, which is probably the most redeeming, is the addition of The Right Honourable Mulroney to #TeamTurner.

At this point, I should probably say something along the lines of well 2014 can’t be any worse than 2013, but I said that last year and look where that got us. So instead, I’ll just leave it at …

Adios 2013, Hello 2014.

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Does your campaign site know it’s audience? Thursday September 12, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I was granted access to post on twitter’s new micro-blogging network “Medium“http://www.medium.com. In true ctoverdrive fashion I wrote about municipal web sites and because I’m still partial to my own little site, I’m reposting it here for safe keeping. Please enjoy.

Better yet, are you designing for voters or your candidate?

I’ve said this numerous times, but the world of political campaign web site design is a niche market that seems to be years behind current trends. And while I’ve raged on the issues in other “personal posts”: personal posts, one of the biggest underlying issues with political web design is that there tends to be an incredible lack of focus on who the audience of these sites really are. And even though it’s an off year in most political circles, there are still a handful of newly minted municipal campaign web sites that are missing the mark.


In general, there are two ways of approaching a campaign site design, either build and design for your candidate or build and design for the voters. In an altruistic world, every campaign web site would be built with only the voters in mind, but if we’re being honest most campaign sites are built to appease the candidate (or campaign manager) and voters second. It’s a difficult situation for any designer to straddle, but it’s a key failing of many campaigns. On the one hand every candidate knows that they need voters to win and they need a web site to get their message out, but on the other hand for those running for political office, even if it is from a position of public service, it is an ego boost. For many candidates this may be the first time they have ever had an online presence or their very own web site, so it becomes difficult for the candidate to simply let someone else control their online image. And in a profession where appeasing the client is always the first goal, it becomes incredibly easy to succumb to a candidate’s personal tastes or opinions, rather than crafting a web site geared to voters.

So how do you know if your campaign site is tailored toward a candidate rather than voters? Here are a couple of obvious tell-tale signs.

  • Are there more professional head shots of your candidate on the site than photos of your candidate getting down and dirty in the community?
  • Is the candidates bio longer than all of the other policy content on the site… combined?
  • Are the “media” or photo galleries more predominant than key action items; such as signing up for a newsletter, donating or getting involved with the campaign?
  • Is the site incredibly “glossy” and unrealistic? (for example: is the candidate’s head levitating over a stock photo of skyline? Are there more than three forms of gradients on your site rather than a simple and memorable colour scheme?)

But how do gradients, too many polished photos and links to photo galleries rather than action items indicate that a site isn’t geared towards voters? Well, let me explain.

  • Polished head shots are a good thing to have, because each candidate needs to look the part of politician. But there needs to be a balance between polish and looking like your candidate is actually a key member part of the community. People tend to vote for someone they can relate to or respect, not a real-estate agent.
  • Bios are a key component of any campaign web site, but a site that is all bio and no policy doesn’t provide a voter with an understanding of where the candidate stands on the issues.
  • Here’s a little secret, although your candidate will love having galleries of photos on their site, the average voter won’t click on them. Truth betold, it’s better to save that real-estate for key action items which will allow voters who want to be apart of a campaign an easy way to get involved.
  • A site that looks glossy, or even worse outdated, is going to be distracting for voters. Go with simplicity, a simple three colour palette won’t distract from the site’s key messages like a rainbow of off-shades or gradients will. Keep it simple and easy for the voter to visually digest.

See voters, similar to candidates and political consultants, live incredibly busy lives. But for the most part your average voter isn’t living and breathing the every day activities of a campaign race — they don’t your candidate as intimately as you do. Instead voters, especially during municipal and local campaigns, will tend to rely solely on first impressions and gut instincts to judge potential candidates when they are making a voting decision. Voters want simplicity, clean messaging, and something to relate to and a campaign’s web site is the easiest way to connect with voters on all three levels.


So, if you answered yes to more than one of these issues that I outlined at the very beginning of the article, it’s time to reevaluate your site. My suggestion is to grab an impartial voter (your in-laws are a great resource for this), sit’em down for 10 minutes, ask them to walk through your site and get them to tell you their gut impressions of the candidate based solely on the web site.

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