Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mild disappointment at Refresh Colombo

A little less than a week ago I was standing before the tech community of Sri Lanka at refresh colombo having just delivered my first public product demo of Project MADA and was feeling exhilarated. This product demo was the result of me having opened my big mouth at the previous meetup and suggesting that we have one person come forward every month to showcase their product. And of course I said as the person to suggest it that I would do the first product demo. Giving everyone else an extra month to get ready for their chance to demo.

So there I was standing in front of the crowd holding a mars bar in my hand and telling them that the mars bar would go to the first person to say they would step up to take the challenge next month. I knew we had plenty of web developers in there. I know we had plenty of people fresh from their degree with final year projects having been completed and could easily step up to demo them. But as I stood there almost pleading with someone to step up and take the challenge I realised even before I started the auction style count down that no one was going to come forward. And I said, "going once... Going twice... Remember what Steve said people.. real artists ship.. aaanndd... gone!"

The mars bar remained with me. I couldn't get myself to eat it since I so wanted to see someone take it. So I gave it to the newly married man in the house and asked him to share it with his wife. Something put to good use at least.

How about we have an idea session?

Looking back at it I suppose I should have seen it coming but we still got a suggestion on Twitter to give room for people with ideas to come present those as well. So I thought about it and it made sense. Two ideas being presented on the days where one product wasn't set to be present. And it makes sense because having worked with a lot of Sri Lankans on idea generation and refining I know a lot of us miss the point in designing solutions because we keep addressing the surface problems instead of the root cause. So it makes sense for people to come forward and get some serious step ups in creating viable business models that don't revolve around just an abstract concept.

That said... I'm still not entirely happy. And I wont be until I see someone creating something and actually showing it in front of the audience and even releasing it there. Let's look at the problems I want to see solved by this session.

Being able to give and accept direct constructive criticism

There's a big cultural barrier that needs to be broken down to get a silicon valley created in Sri Lanka and ons of the hardest factors to out is our inability to accept failure as something that can be respected. Especially after someone attempts something brand new. Even worse, the critics are happy when whatever they said would go wrong does go wrong. They berate people. And in many communities it becomes something that defines that persons future with him/her being considered unsuitable and far too unstable for a marriage. This is reality.

As a result we've ended up as a community that simply deals in services. Why do services match this attitude? Because in the case of services you let the client dictate the scope to you giving you the assurance that you are building something that will be used. Products on the other hand are one size fits all and are high risk along with the risk of being easier to compete against. The returns on being successful are immense and can be much more rewarding at a personal level. And of course products are what can really spur innovation on since it is the maker of the product that determines the direction that it should take.

The problem is that taking this risk is tough in our society so one should jump at taking the opportunity when there is a community just waiting to support you. At the same time we in the community aren't fully aligned towards respecting failure after serious attempts either. Maybe that's why people didn't jump at the opportunity either. Because that trust isn't there yet. Which is why I took up the first step and the community support feels awesome. More awesome than a lot of things have felt in a while. And I'm urging people to take a step forward. Chicken and egg be darned just get your act together in front of that crowd. You'll already be one step ahead.

The problem of all talk

I'm being realistic here. As a nation we have a fantastic environment of people who talk. Less people who talk sense but we have enough people who talk. We don't have enough action. I'm looking forward to people finally taking steps towards proving they aren't just critiques of ideas but people who can actually do. It's a serious cultural barrier that needs to be broken down.

Like I said. Having an idea session is excellent towards building problem solving skills. But if we are going to just stand there proposing ideas while the people with the idea don't get down to working on them it'll have all been for nothing. I speak from experience here with my only saving grace being that I insist that I am just an idea guy. But I'm doing something now right? That brings me to the final piece I wanted to fix using this session at Refresh Colombo.

Commit or be silent

Committing to something means that that's it. You are in it for the long run. Sure, maybe you won't succeed but committing ensures you won't go easy on yourself. This weekend thanks to work I've been a bit lax on my preparation towards making Project MADA ready to be taken online. And I'm sweating thinking omg. What am I doing? The only reason I'm taking time to write this blog post is that I feel its important to ask people to come forward. But back to committing.

The first step is always the hardest. The first bucket of ice water is always the hardest. Assuming one is sober the first of anything is always the hardest. Even if it's losing your virginity. And coming forward in front of a crowd and saying this is what I'm doing here's my plan and here's when you can expect to see this throws your subconscious into the deep end leaving you no choice but to either finish the product or just not
show your face around the community for a while.

Why this all upsets me so much

My dream is to help build Silicon Valley Sri Lanka someday. I have in fact spoken about this idea to several people including a potential investor and I've been told that the time isn't right. And I was upset about being told that. For me I saw things like Refresh Colombo happening and I wanted to believe that we are on the brink of disruption here. I was sadly proven wrong last week when I ended my presentation with no one taking the challenge. So here's my call out to people. You've been blessed with an opportunity that you've been pining for for years. It's very easy to say "great idea.. great initiative.. can't wait to see what comes out of this" but it takes guts to get up there and actually demo. Even more than an idea, demoing is tough. It's an incredible amount of pressure and most of Refresh Colombo that day is a haze for me because I was just thinking of what would happen when I present. Will my system throw that one exception error I know is still hanging around in the code? Will I click the wrong demo file and come up with a result I don't expect? You need to go through that for yourselves.

Please don't leave me with that Mars Bar again. You want to be somebody in this tech world? Quit reading the blogs of how some 21 year old is now worth oodles of dollars. It really is never too late to get a move on. But first you've got to start moving.

"Real artists ship" - Steve Jobs

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