Webstock is only possible because of the support of a number of super awesome people. We owe these people a debt of gratitude.
The Webstock very Special Agents
To Mike Forbes, Aleah; Ludwig; Amanda; Tash 2.0; Michelle; Jess; Luba; Keith; Jenine and Jojo. Thank you for your attention to detail, your initiative and dedication. We love you long time.
Our wonderful Speakers
To Marco Arment, Doug Bowman, Josh Clark, Tom Coates, Jason Cohen, Frank Chimero, John Gruber, Kristina Halvorson, Michael Koziarski, Michael Lopp, Merlin Mann, David McCandless, Scott McCloud, Amanda Palmer, Christine Perfetti, Mark Pilgrim, David Recordon, Jason Santa Maria, Glenda Sims, Steve Souders, Peter Sunde, Nicole Sullivan and Jason Webley.
Thank you for your travelling so far, for sharing so much, for inspiring us to do and think of things in new ways. It’s an honour to have had you at Webstock.
And a special shout-out to Mathew Patterson — we would have loved to have had you at Webstock, but hey, you’ve now got a new baby — and to danah boyd.
Our glorious Sponsors
To Philip, Craig, Charlotte and the rest of the Xero crew; Carl and Bron and the Springloaders; Kat, Leslie and Chris at Google; Darryl, Matthew and the team at BNZ, and Matt at Idealog.
Without your support Webstock ’11 wouldn’t have happened. Simple as that. Thank you.
Thanks also to James Gilberd; Matt Dillon; Peter McLennan; Julie Starr; Eric Sussman; Belinda Too; Kai, Minty and Diane of the #webstockgame; the kids behind #webstockbingo and #rockstars2011. Thanks too to our other hard working, wonderful suppliers.
And as always, a very, very special thank you to Ange.
Last but certainly not least, to each and every one of you who attended Webstock this year, thank you. Thank you for your support, your enthusiasm and for making Webstock what it is. YOU ARE AWESOME! Fact.
Some good people have taken the time to write stuff about Webstock ’11. How nice!
In the interests of sharing knowledge and love, below is everything we’ve seen so far. If you or someone you know has written something and it’s not here, please let us know and we’ll rectify that in a speedy manner.
We asked Darryl Gray, BNZ design consigliere, and founder of Hive, a nifty tool for scheduling projects and people, to interview Webstock speaker and all round awesome dude, Jason Cohen.
Darryl:Your Webstock talk (‘A Geek Sifts Through The Bullshit’) encourages a commonsense approach for startups, rather than following a set doctrine. How and when should entrepreneurs follow the advice of internet darlings such as 37Signals?
Jason: The thing to remember is these doctrines aren’t rules, they’re better named as “styles.” There’s no rules in business any more than there’s rules in art. It’s useful and healthy to explore various styles, figuring out which resonate with you, as you develop your own.
Rather than asking “When should I follow 37signals,” the question should be: “How do I know which of the various bits and bobs (as you say in NZ) from the 37signals blog applies to me?” If you can answer that, you can filter any advice anywhere, and that’s an invaluable life skill. That’s what the talk is about.
Darryl: You coined the notion of the Startup Death Clock (readers: calculate your own death at http://startupdeathclock.com). Tell us about the idea behind it and people’s reaction to it.
Jason: Sweet! I always wanted to coin something, but it’s something you can’t claim to have done yourself, just like you can’t give yourself a cool nickname. (Now I just need a cool nickname.)
The idea came from fear and worry of course. It’s something every founder faces; sometimes great “ideas” are merely articulating what everyone already knows tacitly but isn’t mindful of. It’s the simplest spreadsheet you’ll ever make (unless you use Excel for groceries like my wife does, but then she’s a chef and efficient at such things), and yet it’s a punch in the face. Or a kick in the ass — that sets the momentum better.
I think people loved it because it’s a combination of simplicity (easy to understand, implement) and truth. That’s always popular. The best bloggers already know this… It’s just easier said than done, for all of us.
Darryl: You’ve had all manner of roles in your startups (“salesman, designer, marketer, accountant, and changer of the pellets in the urinals”). Do you think that kind of experience is important for all entrepreneurs?
Jason: Yes, if you’re not the janitor you’ll never understand whether HTML5 is revolutionary or just another goddam thing.
Seriously, it depends on what you make by “experience.” If you mean “You need this experience first in order to be successful,” then absolutely not. I didn’t; most successful entrepreneurs I know didn’t either.
If you mean “You need to be eager for new experiences and willing to jump in on topics you’re uncomfortable and unknowledgable about, rather than saying ‘it’s HIS job’ or blathering on about how you’re ‘wearing so many hats’,” then yes. Get in there. The days of “I’m just a coder” or “I’m just a designer” are over. Not if you’re an entrepreneur.
Darryl: A theme of your blog is encouraging small businesses to ask hard questions of themselves, and give honest answers. Are most startups you meet in denial? (Bonus question: If so, how can they change?)
Jason: Of course, because most people are. Your idea is your baby. It’s tied up in your ego as well as your finances. It’s fine to do lip-service to the idea of being introspective and listing to potential customers, but in my experience few people actually ask the tough questions or change their mind. Human nature.
I’m not sure if you can fundamentally change who you are, but you can consider this: If you’re backing off rooting out the truth, you’re just making it less likely that you’ll succeed aren’t you? And final success — at whatever your venture morphs into — is the thing that will fulfill you, impress others, pump your ego, and whatever else you’re doing this for.
Seek truth and ultimate success, not validation of immediate ideas and notions. Don’t think of it as being wrong, it’s finding something even smarter.
Darryl: Tell us why you encourage small companies to “stop acting like a faceless, humorless, generic, robotic company!”
Jason: Because that’s who we enjoy doing business with, and because it’s one of the few things a small company can do that a large company cannot, and therefore an automatic competitive advantage that’s silly to discard.
Darryl: As you’re about to discover, New Zealand is a long, long way from … well, anywhere. What advantages do Kiwi entrepreneurs (or anyone outside Silicon Valley, for that matter) have when launching a web startup?
Jason: Silly-con Valley is where almost all companies go to die. You just hear about the raging successes because those make good press, but that’s not the usual story. So anyone striving to create a company that actually makes money for making a product people actually want is already, in my book, ahead of northern California.
Advantages in NZ in particular? It won’t be in connectedness, fast turn-around for tech support (for America/Europe), or access to vast capital or lots of employees. So it’s any company that thrives on the opposite: A product that doesn’t need tech support or big investment. A company which isn’t trying to be Facebook, but rather just trying to make a nice living for 1-3 people.
Example: The best on-line training class in CSS3 and SASS, sold for $99. It’s training in itself so you don’t need “tech support,” it’s needed by a million people, it’s useful world-wide, no one cares where the author is located. There’s a hundred other examples.
Darryl:What’s the single most important piece of advice for a fledgling web entrepreneur?
Jason: Success = Tenacity + Luck. Most startups die because the founder loses interest.
Darryl: Your latest company, WP Engine (wpengine.com), provides a fast, secure, and scalable platform for WordPress content. How did the company come about, and what interests you most about this area?
Jason: I needed it myself, then I interviewed 50 people and found that, with a pitch developed as I went along, 30 of them were willing to pay $50/mo if I built it. 20 of those actually did buy after we launched, by the way.
It was easy to recruit people to work for WPEngine, which is another good sign. If you can’t convince people to join in for little to no salary, how do you expect to convince customers or investors?
What interests me personally is the art of optimization. See, after all the writing and marketing and business philosophy crap, I’m still just a geek, and I’ve always liked optimization — making things faster, more scalable, more robust. WordPress needs it, and millions of people want WordPress to be optimized, so in this case personal passion matches (well enough) with market need.
Mike Brown from Webstock interviewed Merlin Mann. Well, not so much an interview as a conversation. Ok, so, not so much a conversation as Merlin talking and Mike valiantly saying ‘yes’ and ‘good’ and ‘cool’ on occasion 🙂
Still, lots of good stuff about Merlin’s workshops and keynote at Webstock; the three desert island albums each would choose; and what it is that Merlin actually does!
Enjoy. And it goes without saying, but we will anyway — we’re really, totally and utterly looking forward to having Merlin at Webstock!
Glenda Sims is a web standards and accessibility evangelist and has long been passionate about these areas. We asked Webstock ’10 speaker, Lisa Herrod, to interview Glenda.
Lisa:Often we only have time and budget to conduct WCAG 2 compliance reviews on a website without user testing. What tools do you typically use for this type of work?
Lisa:Sometimes accessibility testing is conducted independently of the web design and development process. Do you have any tips for integrating it throughout the whole process?
Glenda: Bringing accessibility in at the end of a project, after design and development, is a bit like ordering food in a restaurant and not telling the server that you have a severe allergy to onions until they bring your food to the table. There is likely to be rework and a delay in successful delivery. If you simply include the requirement for a site to be WCAG 2.0 compliant in the original project definition, you give the team a chance to design and develop with accessibility in mind. Identify who will conduct the accessibility tests and introduce them to the design/development team before a line of code is written. Encourage the designers/developers to ask the accessibility expert for advice and/or mini-reviews. This will give the team a chance to make minor adjustments throughout the project, rather than flying blindly into a brick wall at the end.
Lisa:How do you respond to web developers and managers who think they don’t have time for accessibility?
Glenda: Actually, I love to work with developers and managers who think accessibility is a waste of time. First I ask them if accessibility testing is less important than quality assurance testing or security testing. I probe until I uncover their internal priorities and concerns about WCAG 2.0 compliance. I imagine I’m in their shoes and I assure them that I want to find the sweet spot where WCAG 2.0 compliance actually makes good business sense to them.
My greatest joy is converting a person from an accessibility resistor to an accessibility advocate.
Lisa:What is your stance on automated versus manual accessibility testing?
Glenda: As important as manual accessibility testing is, I would be lost without automated testing. For the last 10 years I’ve been working at a university with over one million web pages. There was no way on earth we could ever manual test all of our pages. One of my most powerful tools was a regular monthly accessibility scans of our sites. The problem with a manual test, is the results are only good for the moment in time in which the test was conducted. But with automated scans, you have the ability to run massive scans on a regular basis and see when sites begin to degrade.
I’ve always thought of automated testing as my first line of defense that would help me turn my head in the right direction. Once I’m looking in the right direction, then I can make excellent use of the limited time I have to conduct manual testing, or better yet conduct user testing.
Lisa:How have you seen accessibility testing evolve?
Glenda: When I started in the field of accessibility, over a decade ago, the standards were new and testing methods were not always objective. With the release of WCAG 2.0 we’ve benefited from all the knowledge learned over the past ten years, resulting in very clear testing methods. Items that I never thought could be tested automatically are now being tested with no manual intervention (like color contrast). Even more exciting is the progress made in WAI-ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications).
When I see the W3C, Adobe, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Opera, Vision Australia and more working together to make dynamic web content accessible, I have no doubts that we are on the road to helping the web and the world reach our full potential.
Thank you both, Glenda and Lisa! And we’re looking forward to seeing you at Webstock.