Perseverance to Create

If you are in the business of creating, perseverance is key. Even in this digital age, and in this digital world, where you can theoretically control so many variables, things rarely go to plan. People are complicated. Directing teams is hard. Even if you’re a band of one, you can’t fully predict the actions and feelings of your customers or your audience. To be successful you need to finish what you start. What gets you there?

Passion? That’s a strong emotional connection to something. It doesn’t mean that thing will get done.

Tenacity? That’s being determined or holding tightly to something. Closer. But I’d challenge you to be flexible. Be humble. Setup a healthy feedback loop, and anticipate correcting your assumptions.

Perseverance is a steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Bingo. This is the virtue that I see in the great creators around me.

Allow me to share a story from nearly two decades ago about a project I was passionate about and how I reacted when it hit a major roadblock.

I was a tenacious young filmmaker in my final year of college at TCU. I had written a short script over the summer, and I signed up to shoot it as a senior thesis film in the Fall—the best possible way to earn my last 3 hours of credits to graduate with a degree in Mathematics and Film.

Classmates and friends comprised the volunteer film crew. We’d stop students on their way to class to play background actors, and locations were scouted in every corner of our lovely Fort Worth campus. We used all the political capital we had accrued throughout our 3 prior years of undergrad to beg, borrow, and steal whatever we needed to get our shots in the can.

There was literally a can back in those days. The film was shot in black & white on 16mm negative film using an Arri 16BL.

b213
Arri 16BL w/ Zoom Lens

Sound was recorded using a Nagra reel-to-reel.

By Nagra_IV-S_(AES_124).jpg: Hens Zimmerman from Zeist, The Netherlandsderivative work: Octave.H (Nagra_IV-S_(AES_124).jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Nagra Field Recorder

Shooting on location means sync sound is important. That’s why people choose reliable Nagras. That’s why you see clappers clap the beginning or ends of scenes. The audio is record separate from the film, then during the film transfer process, it’s synced. A cable tethers the Nagra to the film camera to make sure any variances in speed in the film reels are compensated for on the audio reels.

Our camera was always tethered, but our sync was broken. We still don’t know why.

The audio was sometimes faster and sometimes slower than the live action. It was completely inconsistent between takes. We didn’t know it during the shoot. There’s no way to know because it’s film. It has to be developed.

I remember getting the phone call from my film processor, Colorlab. They were incredibly apologetic, but there was nothing they could do. They transferred the audio tape to a DAT. All the film footage came back transferred beautifully onto BetaSP tape but silent.

Undeterred, I rented time at my university’s radio station during night-shifts when only one booth was in use and the other was free. For a week I used a reel to reel player with variable speed to slow down or speed up the audio to normal speed. I did this all by ear. I used the timbre of the actor’s voices or the whirl of the film camera as a guide. In one scene the audio was so sped up it sounded like a chipmunk’s holiday album. The slowest setting on the reel to reel still sounded way too high. I had to use a technique called bouncing to record at the slowest setting from one reel to another. Then I took the new reel and slowed it down even further until the audio was acceptable. I then took all of these corrected audio tracks and manually sync-ed them with every clip of the transferred film.

To save money we had a really tight 6:1 shooting ratio, which was the saving grace of this whole debacle. That means for my 30-minute film we only shot 180 minutes of footage. It’s all a bit of a blur, but I think it took about a day per hour of footage. And those were long days!

It was only after I had all of the footage with audio manually synced that I could actually begin editing the film. All the audio mostly lined up, but for longer takes the audio would get out of sync in the latter part of the take. In these cases, I would have to cut the audio every few seconds, in the spaces between dialogue, and put air between the audio clips to spread them out to match the video. Looking back I probably should have ADR’ed the entire film, which is not uncommon, but that would have required wrangling all the actors back into the studio. Plus, I knew I could fix it. And I did.

Here’s the trailer for the film, now almost 20 years old:

If you want to see the full film, e-mail me at whoismattclark@gmail.com and tell me why.

I have had quite the charmed life. I don’t know where my ability to persevere came from, but I think it is one of my greatest strengths. The majority of my successes have come from believing in myself and never losing hope. It may sound cheesy, but don’t mistake hope for faith or wishing. Hope is one of my favorite words, and its definition is to expect with confidence. I dare say that if you value perseverance in people then you must accept the presence of hope.

Perseverance. Do you have it?

/MC

 

P.S. Here’s a screengrab of me, from a rare moment I was caught on-camera, clapping my own clapper.

MattD Claps as Wes

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Discogs is great.

I love this website. If you don’t know what it is, go read this wiki article and come back. Neat right? It’s been around a long time, their database is extensive, and their collection system is robust (as you read, it’s on v4).

There’s a great community behind Discogs, and that’s because it’s got a great value prop for music collectors: free tools to catalog what’s in your collection replete with tags and metadata galore. I love it! I love knowing what is in my collection. It’s fun just to peruse it digitally, but more practically it prevents me from double-buying the same record, an anxiety I always had before I took the time (5-6 hours for 500 records) to database my entire collection.

An unexpected, but incredibly cool, by-product of uploading your collection is that Discogs leverages data from their marketplace to show you what your records are worth. Even if you’re like me, and have no intention of taking the time/effort to sell your collection online and deal with the mess of shipping and handling, it is still really neat to see what my collection is worth. It’s not a hobby; it’s an investment! 😉

Here are the top records in my collection as measured by median price:

discogs

Who knew those three Pearl Jam records I bought off Amazon in 2000 would be some of my most valuable? Also, check out #4. Who the hay is The Zakary Thaks? Turns out they were a mid-60’s garage band from Corpus Christi who found some local success, released some singles on the local J-Beck label, then signed with Mercury Records. They opened for The Yardbirds and Jefferson Airplane, but by the early-70s they’d dissolved. My dad grew up working on his grandfather’s cotton gin in hot Texas summers outside Corpus. Could be he picked this up from a local record store.

It’s such a fun little discovery. That gem had gone unnoticed in my collection for two decades. It’s worth more than any of The Beatles or Stones singles I’ve inherited or acquired along the way. I never even played Bad Girl until Discogs brought it to my attention. Here it is for you to enjoy too. Don’t miss the key change at 1:45… brilliant!

 

And if you want to see what these dudes look like:

 

Thanks for the Thaks, Discogs! People, build more products like this. High utility. Full featured. Fast. Intuitive.

 

/MC

P.S. As I was writing this post, I was trying to find out exactly how many records I have in my collection. I noticed this “Statistics” tab and when I clicked on it I was shown this prompt:

discogs2

It’s a great example of a well-executed fake door test. I’m not upset there are no statistics here. I’m just happy they took my feedback, and I look forward to seeing improvements released in the future.

 

Dealing in hope

Regardless of your job title or influence, at some point, you will most likely be required to organize a person, or group of people, to march towards a common goal. Trying to get people to do something is hard. If you’ve done it multiple times, then you’ve probably botched it more than once. How do you become better? Where do you even start? What are the typical characteristics or tactics of great leaders? I’ll tell you about one key guideline I try to follow as a leader, but first, let’s take inspiration from a French tyrant.

A leader is a dealer in hope. —Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” I agree with that statement, but you need to understand how I define “hope” in this and all contexts. The modern usage of hope has almost become a pejorative: hoping something will happen is framed as a weak, passive action. Hope has incorrectly become a synonym for “wish.” Though the real definition for hope is to expect with confidence. That’s substantially different from wish: to want something to be true or to happen.

…the real definition for hope is to expect with confidence

How can you get someone to expect something will happen with confidence? Help them understand the purpose of the initiative and guide them to the solution.

Early in my career, I would dive straight into the “What”. With the hubris of inexperience, I thought I could win people over by showing them I had it all figured out. The more I knew, the more confident they would be. Right? Surely they’d get on board if I had every little detail figured out: what we were going to do, how we were going to do it, when, and, oh yeah, why.

This tactic wasn’t totally without merit. Some people appreciated the bravado. Some people liked the ease that comes with having a script to follow. Some people liked the lack of culpability that comes with following someone else’s plan.

Over time I’ve realized one key guiding principle: I can lead people through even the most difficult projects by kicking it off with a focus on the Why and the Why Now. One way to think of this guideline is if you were going to talk for 30 minutes about your project, spend your time thusly:

  1. What (hint) are we here to talk about? (1m)
  2. Why are we doing this project? (14m)
  3. Why now? (5m)
  4. What are we going to do? (3m)
  5. How are we going to do it? (2m)
  6. When are we going to do it? (1m)

If you’ve done your job right, your team will fill in the details about the what, how, and when. The hope you have dealt is the confidence that this project is necessary. It is not only necessary, it is necessary now. People can and should debate the best way to tackle the problem, but you’ve spent your time providing evidence that the problem needs solving and needs solving now.

This may be hard advice to follow if you’ve been thinking about this problem for a while. Maybe you’ve even sketched out solutions. Maybe it will be your job to write the requirements. The mistake is assuming “vision” is providing a blueprint. Even if you can picture the solution perfectly, you need a team to take that ride with you. It doesn’t matter who had the idea first. It doesn’t matter if two people have the same idea. That’s even better! Confirmation of the great-minds-think-alike variety is validating. Provide a vision of a future where the problem no longer exists. Paint that picture. Tell the story of life after the solution. Don’t tell the story of how the problem was solved. If you’ve done your job right, your team will have hope.

Are you a WHAT leader? Or are you a WHY and WHY NOW leader?

 

/MC

Queso Pro (Ep. 3: Business Cards)

In episode two of the Queso Pro saga, I made a logo for $2. Now it’s time to get business cards. Budget? $20. A quick google of “business cards” returns Moo.com at the top of the ads. I’ve heard of them!

moo2

I can get 50 business cards for $19.99. That’s a penny within budget. Huzzah! Wait. You can get 100 “mini cards” for the same price. What’s a mini card? It’s like a typical business card that’s been cut in half. So cute! Let’s do that.

minicard.png

Now… To wizard or not to wizard? That ’tis the question.

<struggle> <struggle> <struggle>

Damn this wizard! I can’t get the font the way I want and the black background doesn’t match the black background of my logo. Back to Sketch! We’re going full custom (price is the same anyway).

sketch-biz-card

Let’s eyeball some negative space. Black front with app logo. White back with my name (pseudonym really) and clever job title. Triple check the spelling of Aficionado. Use the branded Yanone Kaffeesatz font from our logo. Perfect. Ship it!

Oh, wait. Shipping. Damn.

moo-checkout

Shipping is $6. Minimum! I didn’t budget for shipping. Amazon has me trained that shipping will be free and turnaround time will be 2 days or less. I’m 30% over budget now, and that means $25.99 divided by 100 cards is 26¢ per card. I’ll have to be judicious handing these out. Hopefully, I can flash them at a cashier like an FBI badge and reuse the card at multiple restaurants.

Let’s check-in on the ole project plan:

  1. Buy the domain www.queso.pro. – DONE | -$.99
  2. Design a logo. – DONE | -$2
  3. Print business cards (critical to step 6). — DONE | -$26.99
  4. Spin up a WordPress docker image on an existing AWS EC2 nano instance I have hanging around for just this sort of thing. | FREE
  5. Install an AMP theme | -$80
  6. Visit a few Mexican restaurants this weekend, hand them my business card, and ask if I can have free queso in exchange for a review on the most popular queso review site in the world! | FREE + Yum
  7. Photograph queso, eat the queso, write words about the queso, upload everything to WordPress. | FREE
  8. Repeat step 6 & 7 dozens of times.
  9. Sell http://www.queso.pro to Kraft (the maker of Velveeta). | +$$$$$$

Great. We’re pretty much on schedule with less than $30 and 3 hours invested. Next step is setting up the WordPress blog. I’ve built dozens of sites on WordPress. It can take anywhere from the famously advertised 5 minutes to hours. Stay tuned!

 

/MC

Queso Pro (Ep. 2: The Logo)

Can I make a kickass, drool-inducing logo quickly? This calls for a strict one hour timebox. Why spend time making logos, when I could be using that time to consume yummy queso!

Step One

Search “tortilla chip” on the noun project. Choose the one with melted cheese on it.

noun_Cheese nachos_217314_000000

It looks too much like a snow-capped mountain or the top of a Christmas tree. Rotate it 135 degrees to the left. Select a cheesy cheese color. Lighten the dotty dots. Boom! We’ve got our favicon!!!

square-black

Step Two

Head over to Google Fonts and choose a serif font. Why serif? Cuz’ a q looks cooler with a serif. Hey wait, this Yanone Kaffeesatz font looks nice.

yanone

The characters have a drippy, lengthened look to them.

Step Three

Put it all together on white.

rect-white

Does it work on a dark background too? It does!

rect-black

Step Four

Question every decision you made in Step 1-3. No. Stop! “But why is the chip touching the p of pro?” Grr, self. Stop it. Even though there are 20 minutes left in our timebox, and even though this blog post took longer to write than it did to make the logo, this is good enough for our silly MVP.

Remember. Minimal. Only build what you need to validate our hypothesis. Think of all the yummy, free queso. In the words of Nicole Byer, the sublimely talented host of Nailed It, “Ya’ done!”

 

/MC

Queso Pro (Ep. 1)

There was a dollar sale on *.pro domains at name.com yesterday. I was trying to think of words that rhyme with “pro” that would make for a good content website; it didn’t take long for “queso” to pop in the old noggin’. I liked the sound of it immediately. I am a cheese expert after all! (I am not a cheese expert).

I bought the domain, and now I’m building a website for reviewing queso. I’ll blog about it along the way. Here’s my rough plan:

  1. Buy the domain www.queso.pro. – DONE | -$.99
  2. Design a logo. – IN PROGRESS | -$2
  3. Print business cards (critical to step 6). | -$19.99.
  4. Spin up a WordPress docker image on an existing AWS EC2 nano instance I have hanging around for just this sort of thing. | FREE
  5. Install an AMP theme | -$80
  6. Visit a few Mexican restaurants this weekend, hand them my business card, and ask if I can have free queso in exchange for a review on the most popular queso review site in the world! | FREE + Yum
  7. Photograph queso, eat the queso, write words about the queso, upload everything to WordPress. | FREE
  8. Repeat step 6 & 7 dozens of times.
  9. Sell http://www.queso.pro to Kraft (the maker of Velveeta). | +$$$$$$

Between step 8 & 9 there are some things to figure out around customer acquisition and soliciting user-generated content. Though I’m going to focus on getting just enough of an MVP shipped to validate my hypothesis—Step #7—that this site can get me free queso. Because everyone knows free queso tastes twice as good as the paid stuff!

 

/MC

Google sent me a helpful email.

Thank you, Google. I removed more than half of the apps that I had, once-upon-a-time, granted some shockingly liberal access to.

nice email from google.png

I wonder if this email negatively impacted some product manager’s KPI, like “connected apps”, and I wonder if there was debate internally about the value of sending it…

I once had a product that relied on monthly subscription revenue. We sent a receipt every month, even though it likely increased cancellations; we thought it was the right thing to do.

Do you have customers? What kind of helpful, KPI-reducing email could you send them?

 

/MC