Capitol Code | Open Data Jam | Minnesota

On February 22, 2014, the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State hosted Capitol Code: An Open Data Jam. This one-day event was an exploration of the uses of government public data for generating ideas and building technology solutions — like websites, mobile applications, and more.

I pitched an idea and the concept was recognized as the most entrepreneurial idea.

Ideas for Researching a Market


Here are some tips for researching an idea or market.

Originally posted on David Cummings on Startups:

Earlier this week I was talking with an entrepreneur who was thinking through a new idea. In addition to customer discovery and working to assess the market need for the product, we also talked through a few different ideas for researching a market.

Here are a few tactical ideas to gather information on a market:

  • Find at least five competitors and build a spreadsheet of data points like number of employees in LinkedIn, amount of money raised via CrunchBase, and approximate site traffic via Compete
  • Evaluate three competitive products (sign up for a free trial or find a referral to a customer)
  • Interview 10 customers of the competitors and figure out three things they like and three things they don’t like about the product and company
  • Read at least 10 white papers and/or blog posts from industry analysts like Gartner, Forrester, or an independent researcher
  • Attend…

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Tailoring Your Planning Process


I’m a fan of the balanced scorecard system for strategic planning and measuring progress. I really like the visualization of the process that this blogger posted in this article.

Originally posted on simple processes:

It is that time of the year when you typically conduct planning session with your teams. I just came from one that I facilitated a week ago. I would like to share the planning methodology that we used. This planning process that I am going to share with you is nothing new and nothing that I came up with. You can find a lot of planning methodologies out there, if you Google it.

It is important to understand the current situation and needs that your organization has in a particular point in time, and then use it to tailor your planning process.

It is important that your team understands the entire planning process—what it is that you are trying to accomplish and what are the expected deliverables. I usually allot an adequate portion of the planning meeting to explain the “tailored” planning methodology. At this particular instance, I started out…

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Why are there more startups now?


There are many reasons for the number of startups during this time. As long as innovation continues to flow and useful products and service are birthed from them I welcome their existence.

Originally posted on David Cummings on Startups:

Two of the more common questions I hear include “ Are we in a tech bubble? ” and “Why are there more startups now?” Yesterday, @semil tweeted a great response to the second question:

Let’s look at each of these ideas:

  • Generational attitudes – Millennials don’t ever entertain the idea of lifetime employment and want to get to the top as soon as possible.
  • Cheap to build – Open source software plus cloud computing and a lower learning curve to use the modern tools make it dramatically cheaper to build a product compared with 10 or 15 years ago
  • Weak job market – Outside of sales and software engineering, it’s still a tough job market, especially for recent college grads with little…

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I’m On The Right Path

Capitol Code Idea #6 from TECHdotMN on Vimeo.

This past weekend I participated in the Capitol Code Open Data Jam event sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of State.  This event was designed to bring entrepreneurs, software developers, and innovators together to develop solutions for problems faced by our community using data collected by the state.  The data made available were precinct data, voter information, business filing data, and census data.

I came to the event without a solid idea to work on but thought that I would join a team to work on something valuable to the community.  Then I thought it made sense that I should pitch something to make sure that I get to compete for the prizes offered at the event.  I was interested in doing something with economic development related to the African American community so I put together an idea of building a resource to help attract and retain people of color to the state.

After pitching my idea I noticed that there was very little interest displayed by the attendees in working with me on my idea.  I figured that may happen and wasn’t surprised at the lack of enthusiasm for my concept.  However a few ladies came to me interested in helping me refine and define my concept.  We started with the issues we were trying to addressed and used the data from the state to help paint the picture of the state future population by race.  We figured with the help from the state demographer’s office that minorities will be in a larger proportion of the states population and when people begin to retire the jobs they vacate will have a high probability of being filled by minorities.

We used my favorite tool to attack the problem: the business model canvas.  As we worked through the idea and used this framework, we realized that the value proposition for the state, the businesses that would benefit, and the people we were trying to serve could actually be something attractive to pursue.


One of the ladies mocked up a site and we began to pull together resources that would be available in a easy to use format for consumption by our target audience.  We added a mock video to the site to show a mentoring function that could be added to encourage people of color to come here and get the support they need to succeed.

At the end of the day everyone that pitched an idea got the opportunity to present their idea to the group and a panel of judges.  I called the idea POC.MN for a lot of reasons.  POC meant People of Color, Proof of Concept, Point of Connection, and Place of Community.  All those terms define what we are trying to build to help promote the state and enhance the economic development with contributions from people of color.

After presenting the idea and taking some questions from the judges I was pretty much done with the event and was really happy with what I had accomplished that day.  I didn’t think that my idea and presentation was good enough for any of the prize since everyone else had worked on projects that took the open data and mapped it, used social media to show connections to state officials, or presented the data api information in mobile app format.  However, to my surprise, the judges awarded me the Most Entrepreneurial Idea award.

One of the judges said that while my idea, presentation, and mock website didn’t show a complex use of the data, my idea was the most entrepreneurial because my idea was designed to address the challenge the state has attracting and retaining people of color who could bring new tax income, could start new businesses, and push the state economy forward.  The prize I got for my idea is to meet the Joel Cannon, CEO of tenKsolar, a energy company.  I’m looking forward to meeting him and asking about how he got to where he is now.

Getting the award was satisfying in many ways.  First, I alway challenge myself to take on new things to help with my personal growth.  Second, I figure if my idea was worth an award it might be something worth pursuing.  Third, at the end of the day everyone has to be able to sell.  I was able to take a concept I hadn’t completely figured out and communicate enough value in it that I was able to get people to help me.  And lastly, I was reminded that you just have to do something with what you have because resources and help will come your way once you start going down the path.

Consulting Work to Fund Product Development


I love how 37signals did actually what Mr. Cummings is talking about with this blog post. They built Basecamp, a project management tool, based on their need to manage their web development projects.

Originally posted on David Cummings on Startups:

One of the more common entrepreneur strategies is to use consulting work to generate cash to then fund product development. In fact, the most successful fast-growing software company in Atlanta, MailChimp , is actually owned by The Rocket Science Group , which for many years was a web design firm. The Rocket Science Group built MailChimp after identifying a need in the market for a simple, easy-to-use email marketing product, and now they have one of the most widely used products in the world.

In thinking about consulting work to fund product development, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Consultants think in terms of time and materials, which can be limiting when trying to build a successful tech startup
  • Try to separate the consulting team from the product team so that the product team isn’t distracted and can focus 100%
  • Plan for everything to take three times…

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One Year Personal Development Plan


Every one needs a personal plan. Take a look at the template and see if you can use it for helping you meet your objectives.

Originally posted on David Cummings on Startups:

Several years ago a friend of mine came back from an EO University and was raving about a session he attended where they built a one year person development plan. Naturally, I love these kind of things and asked him for all the details. The idea is straightforward, as expected, but incorporates numerical goals as well as specific habits. Most of the time people think of one year goals as “I want to make X dollars and lose Y pounds.” This methodology is useful because it incorporates those goals as well as more specific habits desired (e.g. I want a healthy marriage so one habit is having a date night once a week).

Here’s the plan template:

  • Professional
    - Category, 2014 Achievements, Habits
    - e.g. My Startup, $1,000,000 in revenue, attend one entrepreneur event/month
    - e.g. My Income, $100,000, 50 cold calls/day
  • Family
    - Category, 2014 Achievements, Habits
    - e.g…

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Why I Love My MacBook Pro


Last year I decided to get into learning how to develop software for my iPhone.  I bit the bullet and plopped down the money to get a MacBook Pro since Apple has it setup where you can not develop an app unless you use their hardware and software.  Having been a PC guy since college I thought this was a new challenge I could use to learn some new skills and stay tech savvy.

I must say I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of owning a Mac.  It is the only computer that can run any operating system (with the help of something like VirtualBox) and I can do all the things I want with it.

The app that I created was rejected by the App Store but I’m working on some other ideas.  Once I get through the process successfully I’ll share my apps and my journey.

The Business Model Canvas – My Favorite Tool

When I worked on my startup idea I came across an indispensible resource in the form of the business model canvas.  This visual tool helps describe a business on one page and highlights the connections between what the customer buys from your company to what it takes to produce products and services for those customers.

This video series does the best job of explaining the model and how using it can have an impact on your business.

Ten Steps for Starting a Software Business


Great steps to starting a software business.

Originally posted on Late Blooming Entrepreneurs:

Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly is a Bethesda, Maryland-based serial entrepreneur whose expertise includes software technology solutions and venture capital. In 1996 – at age 55 – he left his position with BDM to start his first company: SynXis, a hotel reservation management software provider sold to Sabre in 2005. Later that year, Kelly (a former pilot) and his business partner, Bob Wright, launched Flight Explorer, a software and IT solutions provider to the global aviation community that was created from a division within Wright’s company, Dimensions International. Over the next three years, Kelly and Wright used a software product that tracks planes in flight to build Flight Explorer before selling the company to Sabre in 2008.

Kelly also is the founder of Innovectra, a telecommunications software provider acquired by Edison Venture Fund in 2003. His current businesses include a medical startup and a publishing company. He draws upon his own experience to offer the following ten-point plan for aspiring software entrepreneurs.


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