Monthly Archives: April 2010

Agile Does Not Mean Doing the Impossible

One of the questions I commonly face as an agile smart-ass/wonk/nerd goes something like this: “We have a year’s worth of work to do and 3 months to do it in. Agile is going to make it happen, right?”

Well yes, and no.

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Spit-balling the Startup Racket

Yesterday I wrote an article about how the startup culture and business can reach a point of diminishing returns — about how in many businesses gatekeepers adopt policies best suited to them and not the market, about how people honestly trying to help may not know their own selection bias, and about how there is a subtle motivator in the startup world to be “about” startups, without actually doing anything.

Today I thought I would quantify that a bit, using you guys as guinea pigs.

The goal? To find how how much money there could be in simply talking about startups, ie, what is one of the things in the industry causing dysfunction.

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The Startup Racket

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket” – attributed to Eric Hoffer.

I’m a startup junkie — I love everything about how people can form together into small teams and change the world. To me it’s the great untold story of the 20th and 21st century.

I also love writing. I have been a writer in some fashion or another for over 20 years, and loving every minute of it.

When I first started being serious about writing, I bought a copy of “Writer’s Market”, which would tell you where you could sell your writing. I subscribed to magazines like “The Writer” which educated me on all things a professional writer does and is. I attended conferences about being a writer. I sought out advice on how to submit, how to query, what to do or say and what not to do or say.

And a funny thing happened.

First, I became slightly successful. I wrote for local newspapers, regional magazines. Heck, I even did an interview of Clive Barker for High Society magazine. I realized that as much as I loved writing, it was a long haul and being rich probably wasn’t in the cards.

Second I realized that I was consuming a vast amount of total crap in all the literature about writing. Take stories about what editors want. Some editor would write 500 words about what he wanted — short cover letters, strong hook, yadda yadda. But what did he really want? He wanted a story to sell magazines. The story he was writing all kind of boiled down to “Don’t pester me kid. I get a hundred like you every day, so write short letters, don’t call, use an agent, do any freaking thing except for pestering me. I don’t have time to sort through all of this junk I get”

Then there were the people who tried to sell me on making a living writing children’s books. Or how-to books. But only if you paid them $99.95 for the full course. The deal here was that gee, there’s no way all these folks are successful children’s writers — so where is the real action? The real action is selling courses on how to be a writer, not actually being one.

Lately, however, as much as I love startups, I’ve been seeing the same thing in the startup culture. As well-meaning as most people are, it’s more of a racket than a help.

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Will “White Flight” Strike the U.S.?

I’ve noticed several trends in recent years, and I wonder if they won’t all come together

The United States is on an unsustainable trajectory of spending. Politicians get elected making promises to spend money for stuff, and as long as they can find money, they’re going to continue using it to get votes. No real news here.

Many third-world countries are becoming attractive places to live. Cost-of-living is low, the governments are getting more stable, and the land is not as over-developed as it is in the states.

The tax situation in the U.S. is getting crazy. Already people are beginning to renounce their citizenship because of the legal morass they get into when living overseas. While still at a small number, this is projected to increase.

Given these trends, which i believe to be true, I wonder if large numbers of U.S. citizens aren’t going to start leaving the country to live in another country? Just like we saw with poorly-ran cities, I wonder if the country as a whole will suffer a kind of “White Flight”, where the better off people move out of the city because the burden it is placing on them does not match the value of the services they are receiving? Meanwhile poorer people move in, further decreasing the tax base.

There is already a number, probably around 10K per month, where a person could take the same money they are paying in taxes and live in Central or South America and do quite nicely. They could pay for their own security, medical, electric, and communication services — for much less than they are doing now. In addition the local labor rates are extremely low. A startup I was speaking with a few years ago was working with a growing market of ex-pats living in beautiful countries for a bargain. But for most people, the hassle of living far away from friends and family isn’t worth it. As the tax burden increases, the difference between the pain of moving and the benefits of moving will become less and less.

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