Sunday, August 25, 2013


I have been studying up. To be honest, some of the most enjoyable times of my life have been in the academy. Graduate school was a time of optimism and potential. Much of what followed was a disappointment.

After receiving my PhD in 2005, I spent a few years spinning my gears in the sand, sending out cover letters and CVs to hinder and yon, pouring my heart and soul into nearly every application, researching the school and position, making my case as best I could. I was miserable at the task, and miserable performing it.

Several years of that and a stint as adjunct, with the relentless prodding of a career/life coach I had engaged, I finally dropped the search and remade myself as an entrepreneur. That suited me (especially once I discovered SBIR, a program of the U.S. government that provides a means for independent researchers and small businesses to compete for a small slice of federal R&D dollars). SBIR provided funds for basic and early applied research for me and a small team that lasted about five years. Only, things have changed. Priorities in Washington and budget cuts have shifted the focus from basic and early applied research to latter stage development of already proven technologies. The buzz has morphed from "high risk/high reward" to "rapid innovation".

And that has left me and my team out in the cold. About a year ago, I let the others go, as I could no longer ensure payroll would be covered, and I've done nary a bit of research in my field since then. Lately, I've taken to reinventing myself again. I'm working on a novel (one that first took form as the seed of a screenplay intended to highlight the technology I was developing). And I've gone back to school in a manner. I've been taking classes on Udacity and Coursera, as well as other online and offline tutorials. I've been learning Java and improving my C++, as well as honing up on Mathematics which I'd not revisited for three decades.

I've been studying Lean Startup principles and other business coaching tools. I'm advising a couple other technology startups, and incubating a few other business ideas, unrelated to my research, that might sustain me and my family financially for a while, or serve as launchpads for other ventures. I'm keeping busy, and just hoping and believing that my spirits and ideas will keep long enough to jumpstart my income before our savings run out.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Fail fast!

I've heard the expression "fail fast" as advice for a startup. I begin to understand. In a sense, my success for five years in running my R&D startup was a case of failing too slowly. In fact, the reality is I was working on the research and formulating the ideas that eventually became my startup for years before establishing a business account. Properly speaking it was far more than five years.

One lesson I learned was to separate the vehicle from the driver. One difficulty I have had is that I identify quite personally with the research that became my startup. That's a problem in itself. Years ago, in the midst of building the first iteration of my company, I devised a metaphor that the company was simply a vehicle that I drove around in, that the important parts, my ideas, my passions, my experience, my knowledge, those were all things I kept in the glove box or the trunk. Once the vehicle got old and tired, I'd just take those things out, and move to a new vehicle.

While it's a good metaphor, I wasn't ready to learn the lesson I was teaching! That's because the company I was building was too intimately entwined with the research. Rather than keeping those items in the trunk, I had put them in the fuel tank! I was running the company on them.

I've started over again. One thing I've realized lately is that it's never too late to learn something new. I've been dusting off my programming skills, and decided to revisit mathematics after a 30 year hiatus. I've been sold on MOOCs, currently taking three classes on Udacity, and enrolled to begin one on Coursera later this month.

I'm advising a couple startups that other people have founded, and working on two different new ideas for startups I'm in the process of founding. The tech startup I founded 5 years ago is still around, but I've put it on the back burner for now, as I rebuild my chops. I'll jump start it again, when I'm ready to fail fast (or skyrocket).