Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Guest Speaker: Erik Hanberg

    Yesterday we had a guest speaker in our class: author and entrepreneur Erik Hanberg. To be completely honest, I started out a little skeptical of his advice. However, I started to understand his motivations and mindset over the course of the presentation. There were two parts that particularly resonated with me. The first was his depiction of the agonizing decision of whether or not to be an entrepreneur. After all, he was addressing a class full of computer science majors; with a little hard work we are all practically guaranteed a well paying career in industry. He drew the following on the whiteboard:

     The black line represents the entrepreneur's potential salary while the green line represents the salary of someone who works in industry. The worker tends to have higher pay; a guaranteed steady increase as they become a more and more valuable asset to their employer. The entrepreneur, however, is in for some terrible pay. The trade-off here is that the worker will at some point hit a cap. Even the best paid programmer or lawyer can only ask for so much money per month or hour. The entrepreneur, however, has a small chance of achieving their limitless potential. 
    The other thing that struck me was his depiction of his quarterly earnings. He showed us a graph that looked similar to (but more complex than) this:
    Each color represented a source of his income over the past decade, plotted quarterly. The blue and red represent steady money that came in from things like book residuals or a stipend from the parks department. The orange represents income from his old salaried job (which he had quit). The purple represents income from his and his wife's flagship company Side X Side. From the graph one can deduce a few things: He makes steady money off of assets (books) he has created and no longer spends time on. He was able to leave his job and focus on other endeavors. His main company, while having its highs and lows, constitutes of the lion's share of his income.
    The reason this was so inspiring to me was that it showed me one can make a living off a diverse and eclectic set of sources. Not only does this diversification reduce the impact of a single income source failing, it allows Erik the freedom to drop something like a salaried job to pursue something like his own book or company. Personally I have been having somewhat of an existential crisis; I am close to graduating with a computer science degree and the prospect of a lucrative job. However, coding is one of my multiple passions. I have been afraid that pursuing a job as a salaried programmer will take  away my ability to pursue money and fulfillment through other things such as game design and music. Erik showed me that it's perfectly viable to juggle, diversify, switch up, and even drop sources of income. I'm going to incorporate this into my mindset going forward, I am excited to enter the world and invest myself into all of my passions.

Potential Business Plans

The core project of TINST 475 is to create a business plan for a hypothetical (or real) business. I currently have the following ideas floating around:

Synthesizer Control Panel
    This project aims to solve a problem I have personally had as a musician. There is a class of instruments called synthesizers, usually referred to as "synths".  A Synth is, in essence, an electronic instrument controlled by a piano keyboard that is capable of producing an extremely wide range of sounds. A synth could have dozens, if not hundreds of parameters that can be tweaked and adjusted to achieve the desired tone. The problem is that hardware is expensive; a synth with 50 adjustable parameters may only have physical switches and dials that control 20 of them. The rest of the parameters are accessed via "menu diving", using onboard controls and a typically small and confusing screen to navigate to the desired parameter and adjust it. This is a huge hassle for musicians because it impedes workflow and reduces creativity by discouraging the adjustment of more inconvenient parameters.
    My solution is to create a panel full of knobs and buttons that can be mapped to these parameters. The product would have accompanying software that would make it seamless and easy to set up, compatible with a wide range of synths. While I am by far not the first person to have attempted this, there currently exists no convenient, commercial solution. This plan would involve funding, developing, and ultimately launching this product. It is currently my #1 contented out of my potential plans.

Mobile Game
    I, like many developers before me, enjoy playing video games. I also, like many developers before me, have an idea or two for a fun video game. While I don't have an explicit idea for a game, I don't think I would even need one to create a business plan. This plan would involve funding, developing, launching, updating and monetizing a small mobile game. This game, being developed only by myself and potentially a few other colleagues, would be classified as an "indie" game: a game with a small team and small funding. The business plan would have to focus on the advertisement and monetization techniques required to launch and sustain a game in an incredibly crowded market.

Tournament App
    I have worked a side job at a comic shop for the past few years. Over the course of working there I heard a myriad of ideas from gamers on how the company behind their favorite game should fix their grievances. One such idea that came from a good friend of mine was to fill the absence of tournament organization software for a certain game by developing an app. This plan would involve the development, deployment and sustaining of this app. It would also require finding the best way to monetize it while keeping it freely available so that it would become widely used.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What I Expect to get out of TINST 475

    I like to think a lot. I am the type of person who tends to zone out and get get lost in their head on a daily basis. While much of this thinking constitutes of nothing more than daydreams and memories, sometimes I'll plunge down the rabbit hole of a cool idea. Often a solution to some type of problem or inconvenience I am experiencing, I like to entertain the idea of one day producing a solution to one of my problems and distributing it to anyone else who shares my plight. The dangling potential of fame and fortune certainly doesn't hurt either. The barrier between these daydreams and  my reality is a combination of time, money, fear, doubt, ability... But  mostly just not knowing where to start. I was thrilled when I saw that my five of my elective credits could be filled not only by taking an entrepreneurship class, but one specifically geared towards technology, my  field of work and study.

    My hope is that if or when I come up with an idea that I think is worth risking my time and money to pursue I will have obtained from this class the set of skills necessary to fund, protect, market, deploy, and ultimately profit off of my idea. I am particularly interested in TINST 475 because, to my understanding, it will provide me with a rundown of how to get an idea off the ground without requiring prior business education. Through my education I want to round out my skills as not only a developer but an individual. The next time I get an idea, I want to be able to say "I can make this happen" instead of "that would be a cool thing to do some day."