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Ask HN: Can I help you be more awesome today? (No strings.)
23 points by mikegreenberg on June 29, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments
Hello HN. I like this community a lot and want to see if there's anything I can do to make you a little more successful. No strings. To give you an idea of what I might be able to help you with, let me tell you a few things I've done to help others recently...

- I'm an early-adopter and enjoy seeing new technology and ideas being put into action. If only to get access sooner, I'd be more than happy to critique and share my opinion on all things design, customer development, software, entrepreneurship, family, creativity, or productivity.

- I'm participating with a team of other students in the Stanford Technology Entrepreneurship online course and helping people learn to apply the Business Model Canvas along with lean startup methodologies as well as attempt to bring our own product to market. (On the side, our team published an ebook that helped other groups in the course to effectively brainstorm toward creating a viable business idea.) (This course is also the reason why I didn't do last month's "No strings" thread.)

- I organize the South Florida Hack and Tell, which is a group for geeks (and those interested in hanging out with geeks) to do interesting events here in South Florida (like learn Arduino, grab a beer, participate as a team in a Hack-a-thon, etc),

- I advise a few local single founders who are without technical expertise and guide them toward good long-term technical decisions for their startup,

- I write (moderately maintainable) software for a living,

- I understand good design from bad design and can push pixels with the best of them (I got a perfect on this color test: http://www.xrite.com/custom_page.aspx?pageid=77&lang=en),

- I have a family and juggle a mediocre work-life balance that's gradually improving.

If there's something I can help you with, just ask here or @mikegreenberg on Twitter. Be specific about what you're trying to fix/solve/accomplish. The more details you provide, the better I can help you out. :)

I also hope this inspires other people to help out even if you don't think you have anything useful to offer. Actions like this will only improve our community (locally and across the net).

Cheers! Mike

PS: I'll typically reciprocate the amount of effort/consideration that you've shown in your request. If you show me that you're thoughtful about the feedback you want from me, I'll be more apt to give you something useful. I'll accept any requests made before the end of today and will attempt to respond by the end of the weekend.

PPS: You can check out my previous submissions if you want to see the sort of feedback I can provide.

Hi Mike, thanks for helping the community, there is actually one thing that i would love to get some input on from someone more "experienced". If you could validate my idea, the following: A service that lets you, developer, send message to the users under the form of alerts/dialogs, not push notifications. I think this service might have a lot of advantages, most of all, it should not annoy the user. In my view this service would help developers to keep a strict contact with the users, something that i think it's very important and it's usually appreciated the user. I do not want this to be something just to keep the user engaged.

Some examples of how this could be used:

- Send notifications about the status of your service/app

- Get in touch with specific users to provide support

- Messages directed to specific platforms

- Fast feedback from specifed users, like if there is someone who uses a feature more than other, ask why.

- Give rewards to your most passionate users.

In the end i would say that this is a service to let the users know that you are there. I have a quite clear view of all of this even if i might not have expressed it in the best way. I even have already something in my hands. but i wish to know if this is something that people might actually like/use.

Thanks :)

tl;dr: I think this could be a very useful service, but the execution is very important.

There are already services which are in this space who are trying to get it right (olark.com comes to mind). I'm not really sure what the right way is, but if I had to take a guess, the experience should feel very homogeneous with the app which offers it. Yes, there's a reasonable amount of value you get out of a drop-in service that you don't have to configure or think about, but I think every point of interaction with the customer should be a carefully-thought decision and not a white-label feature you add as an after-thought.

I think if you were able to figure out how to construct a communication's channel that could be easily added to an app while neatly integrating into the existing experience, that would be a major win that I'd give you money to provide me.

this was a really helpful comment! Thanks! I will carefully think about it! Actually olark is one of points of inspiration, but i would prefer to point it more to the mobile world. Thanks a lot for the help!

Sorry to barge in, but I think this is a very hot topic 2 startups that do something like this more or less (if I got you right):

customer.io intercom.io

Thanks for this two! I didn't know them! about customer.io is something that i actually would prefer to avoid. And intercom.io is more similar to what i have in mind but with a wider use instead of more focused to one user. From what i've seen intercom is more to stalk you users. Instead i would like it to be a side feature and be more open to sending messages, maybe, all users. But anyway thanks! At least i know there seems to be some sort of interest in this kind of things!

Hey Mike, really appreciate you taking the time. I recently launched a service that creates elevator pitches for startups:


Any specific thoughts on the site and the service? Do you think there is a large enough market (i.e., do you think many startup founders would pay for this?) And are there any glaring holes to fix? Features that I absolutely must add?

Thanks again!

This is pretty straightforward. I'm intrigued, but question how someone else (who has not thought about the problem as long as I have) be able to communicate the solution more effectively than me? Further, you don't guarantee anything if I think your pitch sucks. It feels like I might just blow $25 for entertainment and hope for the best.

Maybe re-position your value prop like so: "For $25, we'll consult with you for 30 minutes to help you refine your existing pitch or create one from scratch."

You can still earn your keep but allows your customers to be involved in shaping a pitch that actually reflects their vision.

Thanks for the feedback. That's actually the exact problem I've been having with my first customers. I end up consulting with them via email (until the pitch is perfect) anyway, so I might as well build the site around it. A 30-minute consultation is a great idea too.

Thanks again.

Thank you! would you please consider perhaps reviewing FlashIssue? it helps people quickly create social newsletters / digests / tweetletters from their blog posts / other blogs / sites / anything in minutes by curating (more like your facebook timeline than an email...)

Would you please tell us your impression from the user experience?


Also we have a very nice chrome extension that makes your gmail emails "facebook status" like, e.g. you grab articles and put in email more like a facebook timeline (with title, snippet and thumbnail + source attribution) it also works with the web app but I think it's the first "curator" clipper for gmail, here is the link


We use it internally all the time and it saves time and gets the email look much more professional than just a link... (better click rates as well)


I'd be happy to give this a try. The clipping tool for newsletters sounds particularly interesting. I send emails to my members as a block of text (without much fanfare).

I'll give this extension a try this weekend and see how people like a different format. I'm not sure how soon I'll have results regarding the newsletter, but will definitely critique the experience. :)

Thank you! will be looking forward to hear back

I didn't forget about this. My in-laws surprised us this weekend and I didn't have the time I originally anticipated. If you'd like to touch bases with me via email (in profile), I can follow up with you later this week.

Thanks for understanding.

Hey Mike,

I would love to get your feedback on this http://coursebacon.com/. The basic idea behind CourseBacon is to help you identify the best free online learning resources.

For the "star algorithm" I am pulling backlinks from Google, SEOmoz and Twitter.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance,


Not sure what you meant about "star aglorithm" but if you're talking about the social proof at the bottom of the course description, it's a nice touch. The site is straightforward. I see the reviews, but is there something more going on here that I'm not noticing? Why would someone want to use your site instead of Google?

I think an online course review site is nice, but there's a lot more that you could possibly do here. Why not setup "degree" programs which are a curated selection of courses from across the net and lead people down a journey on a specific topic? Why not instructor profile pages that can track the quality of the sum of their materials online?

Maybe these points don't matter if this is just something you're doing for fun. But if this is for profit, I'm not sure where you business model is. (And I'd be happy to discuss the above ideas with you.)

Just my two cents.

PS: Would LOVE to see a way to delete my account afterward.

I like it... tip - use embed.ly to get better favicon / image / title / desc to the course list, will look much more of a list than a search engine result...

This. Would add a LOT to your experience.

Thanks a lot for your suggestions mike and eranation. Will definitely work on that next weekend!

I need to write an engineering spec for what is essentially the robotic endoskeleton for the terminator arnold plays in the franchise by the same name.

Help a girl out?

I can write software specifications but this task is beyond me.

My engineer must think I`m the reincarnation of tesla to have asked me for a spec, but I think I can pull it off, just having trouble getting started with everything else I have going on (new bf and dog, tcombinator, freelancing, my adult career, doing nothing, etc).

I was thinking you can talk to your peeps and see if any of them want to help.

Before the backlash, I don't intend for these robots to be used to kill people. They are for jobs that humans die doing or cannot do, like cleaning up nuclear accidents like fukishima without suffering the huge doses of radiation a man would (or at least not dying/becomong non-operational as a result of it). Thanks

I'm not sure if you're trolling or not, but I would suggest you start taking some Robotics AI courses (http://ai.stanford.edu) and reading some books before taking this project on. I'm not sure how far you'd have to go but there's a big different between building a robot that moves and building a robot that can mobilize itself and perform actions in response to stimulation.

Also, engineering spec is quite vague. If you boss really asked you to do something like, think twice about taking it on. Loose, vague, and otherwise overreaching projects tend to not end well for those involved.

I think my peeps will feel similarly and pass on this one. But I'd be happy to introduce you should you want to come out to a hack night and ask them yourself. :)

Best of luck to you.

I'm the boss (tcombinator.blogspot.com), it's my engineer that is requesting an engineering specification. I'm assuming that it would essentially be a software specification document, but for a robot, as opposed to an app. I recognize the difficulties involved, hence my stagnation and reaching out for guidance and partnerships to jumpstart the process. I live in Virginia, otherwise I would be happy to meet with your contacts.

Couldn't find a contact point for you. Feel free to send me an email and I'll see what I can do to help! :)

Hey Mike,

I had signed up for the Venture Labs course earlier this year and found it very interesting. Unfortunately, due to time commitments and various other issues I did not follow through with keeping up with the course.

Could you give me some pro cons of the Venture Labs course itself? How has your experience been so far? Keep being awesome.

Thanks for the question. The ride has been particularly fun so far and I don't think a short answer will justify the experience. I've started a blog post that I'll put up later this week and cross-post here. If you want to reach out via email, I can drop you a line when it's up. (Or you can subscribe to blog in my profile.)


I'd like to get your opinions about a new tool http://www.bulkmailapp.com, a mass email merging tool to send personaliaed emails en masse to bloggers and contacts. what do you think about the selling message/product pitch on the site? Thanks

What are some things/pitfalls I should look out if I'm starting a tech consulting company?

Disclaimer: I doubt I'm a good role model to be answering this question. The majority of my experience has been spent working for someone. Granted most of the projects I've been able to choose, I am not yet a self-made man. I work with many consultancies and can only relate what I've observed.

The biggest problem is the overhead of managing your finances and business. It's a distraction that you'll have to learn to deal with one way or the other. In my opinion, find someone that will help you navigate these decisions early and often. (Look to your local Chamber of Commerce or entrepreneurial meetups for qualified mentors.)

Do NOT underestimate how important it is to track your time and money. My approach was to take things in small bites. I setup a DBA and opened a business account and tried my best to keep my finances separate. When I paid for stuff out of my personal account, I made sure I put together an expense form to track reimbursements. Even though there aren't much tax benefits running as a sole proprietorship, the taxes are much easier and you do get to write off a few things. Once you start making 4 figures a month, seek out assistance again and see if it makes sense to formalize your business into a corporation.

There are services which help manage your books (such as Florida startup, http://lessaccounting.com). If it makes sense, use them! They are awesome people and will be a net positive gain for your business. There are also lawyer services which will probably answer questions you have over the phone. One such law service I'm aware of (but haven't used myself) is http://walkercorporatelaw.com/ and comes highly recommended by Andrew Warner on Mixergy.

While this is basic advice, it's will set you with a strong foundation to start off. And having someone mentor you through the process will give you the best possible advice that will be tailored to your practice's needs.

Thanks for doing this. I sent you an email, if that wasn't too, if I may. Again, thanks.

Perfectly fine. I got your email and I'll respond back as soon as I can. :)

Do you use GTD or any of the kind? What is your opinion on it?

I read most of Allen's book but felt the best takeaway was asking "was it actionable". This question helps me get through the majority of my planning, but I don't bother with incorporating much else. The truth is I try to keep my life mostly in the digital world. I do a monthly cleanup of paperwork and followup to tie as many loose ends as possible. And I let technology filter and manage the rest of my information flow.

Allen's system was simple for most, but I found it needlessly complicated. This is his prescription: http://cyprych.neostrada.pl/_images/processing.png

I opt for the very low-maintenance system I described in exchange for a tolerable amount of chaos. Until I can afford a personal assistant, this will have to be and have stopped investing time into improving my system in pursuit of more satisfying improvements for myself.

*I like to leave the bookmark poking out about two-thirds of the way through the book and keep it on my bookcase in the living room for everyone to see.

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