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Erik Trautman

Technical entrepreneurship, business strategy and product development

San Francisco @ t=0

My final week in Houston was hectic. I sold a truck, the motorcycle, and just about everything else that I possibly could in order to extend my personal runway for as long as possible but the high water mark has officially passed and the limit as t approaches infinity of $$$ = 0. I transitioned from road-tripping wanderer into the odd limbo of sleeping on a couch in the city where I used to live while preparing to move to a place where I had no apartment and no job waiting for me.

Compared to the 20,000 miles I recently spent on the motorcycle, our 2,000 mile jaunt to San Francisco in a moving truck was smooth and blissfully air conditioned. The logistics of moving into the new apartment in San Francisco (which we were fortunate to find quickly upon arrival) involved 4 separate and equally awful DIY legs but the job was done and the soreness will fade.

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It's All About the Little Things

I've spent the past week or so more or less getting back into a coding routine. I've finally managed to bite off a good chunk of my blog project and I feel like I am hitting my stride with PHP and SQL after scratching my head and dealing with stupid errors for a frustrating couple of days. It feels really good to have momentum building again after all the moving and traveling.

The blog project (to produce the production version of this blog) comes both from a desire to have full creative control of my website and as a way to practice building a web application from the ground up. It's a front-to-back journey through creating something from nothing and it has been incredibly useful as a learning tool.

In order to really milk the experience for all the learning I can get, I am doing as much of it from scratch as possible. Often that is a license to take a few hours aside and learn a new skill or function because it came up in a YouTube video I was referencing or was mentioned in a Stack Overflow help article. Yesterday, though, that meant I spent the entire day working only on the code for pagination.

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40% Chance of Rain

The last couple weeks have defined the term "busy" while I packed up the apartment, gave away or sold off a whole bunch of crap (including a car), and moved into a storage unit. My aspirations to spend the whole time coding were quickly dashed when the enormity of the move became clear. Aaah well, such is life. I'm just glad the hours of my youth that I wasted spent playing Tetris came in handy.

Houston is finally in the rear view mirror and my multi-month roundabout journey takes me east through New Orleans. The original plan to tow the motorcycle up to Newport was scrapped when it displayed an alarming lean around corners due to the rake of the front end.

Sometimes having studied mechanical engineering can be a problem. I was never the least bit hesitant about flying until I took a flight class in college and realized what was actually going on around the wings. In this recent case, I was seeing force diagrams in my head and watching the bike lean made me too uncomfortable to allow those stresses to occur over 4000 miles of driving. I guess my trust in the magic of things has been shaken since high school physics (thank you, Dr. Watt). So, Plan B: I put a couple of huge boxes in the mail, hid the Jeep strategically in one of Houston's many housing complexes, and took off on the bike.

This morning's forecast was for a 40% chance of rain. A 10-20% chance is often at best an afternoon drizzle but with 40-50% you can bet there are real storms crawling around out there somewhere. Figuring that you can locate a highway exit in time to pull out your rain gear if necessary is a rosy assumption in Louisiana, where the exits often have 10-15 miles of bayou causeways between them and the storms move faster than you do.

It doesn't get much truer than the old adage, "Hope for the best but prepare for the worst." My soaking gear says it like this: "To take on a 40% chance of precipitation, you'd better be ready to get 100% wet."

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Where To, Cap'n?

I'm leaving Houston and going"¦ somewhere. I have the advantage of portability in my lifestyle - there's a lot of crap to sell and that sucks but I'm not faced with kids in school or a spouse with a rooted career. That means the world is my oyster so I need to figure out where to go. I've made a list of the most feasible cities and fleshed out my criteria for choosing among them.

By necessity, there will be some pretty sweeping generalizations in this process but this is a high level analysis so don't get all up in a twist about it if I'm missing the "underlying subtlety" or "charm" of a particular place.

Cities in the Running:

Austin, TX

Boston, MA

Denver, CO

Los Angeles, CA

New York, NY

San Diego, CA

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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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