TORONTO - A nightmare environmental project turned into a call to action for Austin, Texas entrepreneur Kristen Carney. A couple years ago, while working for a large engineering consulting firm, Carney was hired to complete what she thought was a straightforward analysis: directly connect two roads that were currently joined by an intermediary road. More than 100 hours later and thousands of dollars over budget, a frustrated Carney felt there had to be an easier solution. The following is a five-day journal by Carney, exclusively for Reuters.com:
By Kristen Carney
Day 1: Monday, January 18th
The day starts off with a rough meeting between me and my co-founder, Anthony. No yelling, but it's not pretty. At the beginning of 2010, we decided that Cubit was going to focus on doing fewer projects better. We determined 14 priority tasks to be completed each month. Last week, we didn't finish our priority tasks for the week. So the day starts with Anthony and me wrestling with how to accomplish our priorities. During the conversation, it becomes clear that we're not following lean startup practices a la Eric Ries and Steve Blanks. So together we set lean priorities for this week.
I head into the office, and Anthony goes to the coffee shop. We get more done when we don't work in the same place. To communicate, we use Campfire, a business chat tool. Via our separate locations, we start knocking off tasks. A 100 percent money back guarantee goes on the pricing page. A sign-up box is moved from the ad gutter into the content well. Anthony is working on a new landing-page wrapper, when I notice the live site is running slow. Anthony adds a note to let users know that it may take up to 60 seconds to pull their data. A minute is an eternity online, but it would take our clients over 40 hours to pull the same data by hand. We'll work on speeding up the database calls in the future.
In the afternoon, I head off to my sales training class at Market Sense. After sales training, Anthony and I remotely launch a new landing page. Our monthly newsletter is going out this week, and I'm short on content. The rest of the night is devoted to researching and writing content. It feels amazing to have so many tasks already checked off the to-do list on Monday night.
Day 2: Tuesday, January 19th
Awesome start. I check Google Analytics, and we're getting good traffic from the search term 2010 poverty guidelines. One of my blog posts on poverty guidelines is now on page 1 of the Google results. Maybe I'm starting to figure out this SEO stuff.
Next, I found some bugs for Anthony to squash. Man, he's smart. He subscribed to an RSS feed on the Backpack page where I report website bugs so now I don't have to email him about every little comma. It's really nice to have such an efficient partner.
My priority for the day is to finish up content for tomorrow's newsletter. While writing, I get an idea for a government data source for current median home values for small-area geographies (think neighborhoods). Amazingly I find the exact data set I needed, hidden in an .exe file with an interface that looks like it's from 1979, complete with DOS graphics and Atari music. But no matter - it's a holy data grail - current, small-area data for the entire U.S. But something smells fishy. I dig deeper. Even though the dataset is labeled 2008, the home value data is from 2000. And I'm back to banging my head against the wall and cursing. I've gone on a rollercoaster ride from the top of the world to a bottomless pit of frustration all in a few minutes.
When I'm wallowing in the pit, it's really helpful to talk with the two other startups that Cubit shares office space with - PetsMD and SpareFoot. Mario with SpareFoot says something funny, and it gets me out of my funk and back to work laying out the monthly newsletter. OK, the newsletter is scheduled to go out at 8:00 am CT tomorrow. This month's newsletter is focused on top data sources for environmental planners. It's the best newsletter we've ever written.
Day 3: Wednesday, January 20th
I oversleep and rush into the office to meet Aamer, a new intern who is starting today. We meet and I give him way too much information for anyone to process on their first day. Like a true entrepreneur, Aamer jumps into his projects head first. I like him already.
I struggle through my emails and check to see if the new poverty guidelines are out yet. Looks like the poverty guidelines are frozen for a few months because for the first time since 1965, the Consumer Price Index actually went down. I dash off a quick blog post about the issue.
I was supposed to have figured out my real estate data set problem, but it's time for me to head out to make cold calls with my sales coach, James. Before making my cold calls, I spend a few minutes journaling to the God of Business Luck. If the epic poets get a muse to call on and blame, I want a muse to rail against, too. Sounds goofy, but it helps me get over my cold-call reluctance. By the end of the two hours, I've got two solid leads and several more to follow up on. I also get some good advice from Adam at Market Sense: You're a young entrepreneur, he says. You're going to be doing sales for the rest of your life. Every day get 5 percent better. I can do that.
I head back and catch up with Anthony. He's launched a usability improvement that I need to test. I've still have emails and real-estate research. So I make my favorite dinner - a strawberry-pineapple-banana-spinach smoothie - and finish up the rest of my tasks. Before the end of the night, I sneak a look at the newsletter open rates. A 33- percent open rate. Not bad. Maybe we will have a few more opens as the week goes by.
Day 4: Thursday, January 21st
Anthony and I make the three-hour drive to Houston for the monthly Texas Association of Environmental Professionals (TAEP) lunch and a meeting with a potential partner. At the TAEP lunch, the talk around our table has inevitably turned to So what do you do? Cubit's story catches people's attention. I tell how Cubit got started out of my frustration of pulling data for hundreds of hours while working on roadway project. Anthony tells how Cubit got funded by Capital Factory, a group of 20 successful entrepreneurs that provide seed capital, free services and most important, mentorship. The table wants to know if we had to go through a Shark Tank-like interview. Anthony laughs and says yes.
After we eat, I meet the co-planner of this year's annual TAEP conference. Conferences and professional associations are an important part of the environmental services industry. I've volunteered to set up a Twitter booth at this year's conference. I want to teach environmental professionals how to use Twitter so they can tweet about the conference. It seems my Twitter booth concept has gotten an initial OK from the conference planning committee. I'm supposed to contact the co-planner again next week to hopefully nail down the details. Running a Twitter booth at the conference would be a great way for me to network.
Anthony and I head over to meet with another company about a potential partnership that I'm pumped about. But the other company takes 3 to 5 days to provide hazardous-materials data! Cubit's value proposition is to provide cut- and-paste ready environmental data in seconds. So it doesn't immediately look like there will be a good partnership opportunity, but I'll put it on the to-do list to examine their data sets. There might be something that we could serve up in seconds without a human being touching it. However, I enjoyed groaning and laughing with them about the challenges that we face as entrepreneurs in the environmental services industry. Environmental service startups are few and far between.
We head back to Austin, and I make it back in time to go to my 9 p.m. CT soccer game. I love that we can play soccer year round in Texas.
Day 5: Friday, January 22nd
I'm behind on finishing my priorities for the week after the trip to Houston yesterday. I knock out some routine work in the morning, including emailing the contacts that I made at yesterday's TAEP lunch. Aamer and I talk about an SEO challenge. We're trying to improve our Google rank on the search term LEP data (LEP for Limited English Proficiency). But LEP also stands for Large Electron-Positron, a term used by physicists. Hmmm ... that makes gaining page rank trickier.
The rest of the day I research possible data sources for median home values. It's the last dataset I need to complete the Housing and Regional Economic Report, a Cubit product that is currently in free beta. Cubit will be charging for this report on February 1st, so I've got to find and build the dataset. I'll write up this research in a blog post next week, something like The Best Data Sources for Home Values for Planners. That title needs work. I'm still researching, when I realize I'm late for my soccer game. Thank God for soccer; it's so much cheaper than therapy.