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Erik Trautman

Technical entrepreneurship, business strategy and product development

This Is Just A Crappy WordPress Site...

...For now. But I've got a vision of something much greater.

Originally, I wasn't going to release anything at all until I was fully ready to put out the Amazing Final Product Website. Reading more into the Lean Startup methodology, I've realized that I almost made a classic mistake in doing so. "Iterate early and often" is their mantra (paraphrasing), "Don't worry about not having a perfect product, you'll learn a lot more in putting out an early version and iterating than you would by trying to perfect something in a vacuum."

For starters, it wouldn't have made sense to post about my transition months after events had transpired (i.e. whenever I finally finished the site). By producing content and working with a live website (via WordPress), I'm already learning a lot of lessons that I wouldn't have by operating only in a test environment. Most importantly, by putting out this preliminary (crappy) version of the final product, I am able to document my journey towards that product and my trials along the way.

So what is the vision? From a design perspective, I am looking for a space to make my own. I want a place that is built around the written content but where I can showcase quirky design and photography as well. Being able to share my experience climbing the learning curve towards the requisite design and development skills is a significant bonus to launching early. As for what it will eventually look like"¦ you'll just have to stick around to find out.

The "Why" is maybe more interesting. I view putting out a polished and functional website as both a great exercise for skills development and as a showcase for those skills in action. It is the minimum viable product, alpha release or proof of concept that I can produce something in the Web world. The next step will be to produce something of actual value"¦

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Houston: It's Not Me, It's You

Why am I leaving Houston? The easiest explanation is that I've got "happy feet" and I'm allergic to staying in one place for too long before getting the urge to dance away. It's a bit more subtle, though. I've got personal reasons and professional reasons for moving on.

Houston is the third or fourth (depending who you ask) largest city in the US but it feels a lot like a small town. I'd even call it the "largest small town in America". Perhaps that's a result of its complete lack of zoning laws and aggressive expansion of city limits or the fact that tumbleweeds could be blowing across downtown Main Street after 5pm on a Friday and no one would be there to see them. It's a city without a strong sense of its own culture "“ it tends to attract young professionals who are at a middle point in their lives and looking to eventually move on. It's a big small town in the middle of hundreds of miles of flat, featureless countryside.

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The Curriculum

Being an entrepreneur requires wearing a lot of hats. Luckily, all the skills involved are things that I'm highly interested in learning. At this point, I've got a "$@#% I Need To Learn" list on my whiteboard (yes, I'm a bit obsessive about whiteboards) and figured I'd share it. I've previously referenced my next few months as an attempt to get an "MBA with a CS Minor""¦ so I've made the beginnings of a curriculum.
Disclaimer: this is absolutely a work in progress

Three major skill areas dominate in the creation of a startup:

1. Product Design
2. Product Development
3. Business Development

I may not be categorizing everything exactly according to traditional lines and a lot of it overlaps but I don't think anyone's going to get hurt for the difference. Obviously, these are focused more on the skills necessary to start a web-based tech company. The way I see it, to be a successful entrepreneur you should be able to establish a competitive business framework, build a high quality product and give that product life with strong design.

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My Goals (Or, "Why Entrepreneurship?")

I've been fairly clear about what I'm leaving behind and the general next steps but perhaps less so about where I'd actually like to be. You'll have to forgive the deep dive into my head on this one but I think it at least puts some things in context. In a nutshell, I want to work with elite individuals, challenge myself every day, and create value for the world. That's pretty broad but you have to start somewhere.

To the first point, I want to work with people who are smarter than I am, more talented than I am, and more capable than I am so I am constantly forced to keep up. I think everyone has worked with or managed people who just didn't quite live up to their expectations. I really don't deal well with that. I don't consider myself a great manager because I find it very hard to understand people who aren't motivated to exceed expectations, educate themselves, and solve their own problems. With elite, or "A", players, you don't need to manage them so much as guide them. The best of us get sidetracked. As long as ego doesn't become a factor, "A players" can take input and adjust themselves to a better course. I'd like to find these people with whom, as the cliché goes, 1 and 1 really do make 3.

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What Comes Next

So what comes next? I've been asked that a lot lately. Well, the reality is that I'm soon out of the job and somewhere down the road I'll need to make an income. Fortunately, part of the tradeoff for having invested 5 years in my (former) career is that I've at least given myself some runway to work with before things become tight. I intend to use that freedom to accomplish two goals: A) travel the country and, B) prepare myself for the next phase.

To address the first, I'll be taking a few months off to hop on my motorcycle and see what the US has to offer. I've seen a good bit of Europe and I'm not quite ready for Asia. What I really want to do is confirm my suspicions that this is indeed the most beautiful country on earth. If I manage to take some interesting pictures and meet interesting people along the way, I think I can live with that too. It's long been a dream of mine and I cannot give up the opportunity to live it.

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Austin Startup Weekend

Day 1

On a sunny Friday afternoon in late March I threw my suitcase and a bicycle into my trunk and trekked the 3 hours to Austin for an event called Startup Weekend. I'd heard about it in Houston just a couple weeks too late but everyone I spoke with evangelized the experience so I vowed to catch the next one I could. I didn't really have a clue what to expect, but I came with an open mind and a lot of curiosity. The idea of a whole weekend focused intensely on startups was just what the doctor ordered after I quit my job to dive into that world.

I was one of the first to arrive at the HubAustin Coworking space a few miles south of downtown and got the chance to see all the participants as they pulled in to register. There was the bubbly businesswoman from Dallas with a big Texas smile, the two local undergrads hungry to make an impact, a former salesman from Louisiana who'd packed up his car for a one-way trip and the SW veteran who'd flown in from Oklahoma for his fourth try. They came wearing everything from the flip-flops and shorts typical of Austin to the blazers and slacks of more traditional business professionals. The only common theme was a certain nervous excitement and contagious energy.

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Today I Quit My Job

Today I quit my job. Well, not exactly... I gave my notice and set the clock ticking on my extrication from this industry. Energy has been my home for the five years since I graduated Penn with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and an ambition to trade millions of dollars of something on the world markets.

I landed out of school in the Bank of America analyst training program in time to catch the crest of the market wave just before it broke. My analyst class was the largest in the bank's history (500+), the stock was trading around $53, and the plans were on the table for the glorious new Bank of America tower overlooking Bryant Park in New York. There were cracks already -- I remember rotating through the Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities (CMBS) desk for a week and having NOTHING to do while everyone around sort of shambled by like zombies. A year and a half later the world had changed "“ Lehman and Bear were gone and the integration with Merrill Lynch meant that our tiny commodities team in that brand-new-but-nearly-empty tower in New York was redundant.

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