Allan Isfan is a co-founder of FaveQuest, a young start-up. This blog covers start-up topics.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


forty is the new thirty

I turn 40 in exactly 1 week. I had planned on starting my own company before I turned 40. I guess I succeeded. While I was an engineering student my employer didn't have any "headcount" to hire me into a position I wanted so I started Semicon Autotest which they contracted to do the work. More recently, my wife and I launched Isfan Solutions to deal with consulting gigs and that business continues to do well. I also launched MYDYO last December and will turn up a live site sometime this fall. This is the big one and it continues to feel like it is not actually launched until we get funded. I know this is stupid since we are developing product but somehow it doesn't seem real yet, probably since no one is getting paid and we don't have an office. I've got to get over that.

Fred Wilson wrote some great blogs about the "age question" as it relates to getting funded for a web play (see link below ... a very good read). He was unfortunately misunderstood and got a bit flamed but the subject is nevertheless interesting. The major web properties we hear most about, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace were all started by a young bunch of hackers that were trying to build something for themselves and their friends. It turns out that there were many just like them and their products took off into the stratosphere. 40 sounds so damn old .. 39 was infinitely better. Is it therefore possible or even realistic for a 40 year old guy to come up with something magical that will hit a nerve?

Of course it is but some things need to be unlearned to get into the right mental state. I started out in the ASIC business (electronics chips basically). We had to plan things to death, write extensive design documents, simulate the crap out of everything and cross our fingers before taping out (basically send the design to get manufactured into a silicon chip). Web development is totally different. You still need to have a vision and a plan but it is a much more trial and error type of environment. It doesn't imply you get can sloppy but it does mean you need to constantly throw the spaghetti on the wall to see if it sticks. It is very difficult to create something so compelling that millions of people come back on a regular basis. That is what you need to make a serious living on the web.

Back to the "turning 40" thang. I actually thought I had a couple of weeks to go but alas, it was not to be. Last week was one of my most exhausting weeks in a while. Many very late nights all to be capped by getting stranded in Cincinnati Thursday night due to weather. In order to get back to Ottawa in time for a meeting arranged by my brother in law with some big shot CEO, I had to take the 6:15am flight back to Ottawa. By the time I got to bed and starting tossing and turning, it was 1:30am. Since I had to get up at 4am to head back to the airport, I decided to pull out the laptop and get to work since there wasn't much point sleeping just 2 hours. I made sure the demo I had to show the CEO dude was running and all was good. Many hours later and after many donations to the Starbucks gods, I was sitting in a nice pub ready for my meeting with laptop booted and demo running. About 30 minutes before the meeting, I said to my brother in law ... "my spidey sense is tingling ... I don't think this guy is going to show up" but the beer was good and cold so I didn't worry. Kinda said the same thing back in Cinci before our flight got canceled. Anyway, at about 5:10pm, his phone rings and as expected, the guy's partner is on the line indicated that the CEO dude is not showing up ... stuck in Toronto due to weather! The guy should have know he wouldn't make it hours ago! Hang in there ... it gets better ... there's a reason I'm telling you this.

As luck would have it, we ran into some buddies and proceeded to have another pint and a bite. The only item left on the to do list this evening was to show up for my nephew's birthday at 7pm. He is 7 years old and having a party on a Friday night at the Lonestar Ranch seemed odd to me but my brother in law spun some believable story. A couple beers and roughly 6 hours of sleep over the previous three days ... who was I to argue. I get home, grab a quick shower and we head over to the Lonestar Ranch a couple of minutes late. As I walk in to the main building, I see the following poster and say "hey that looks like me!".

Well duh! As I look into the building, I see a bunch of my friends and wonder why they showed up for Alex's party. About a millisecond later ... I clue in. A surprise birthday party! Son of a #)()(#~! I didn't have a clue. Apparently it had been planned months ago and everyone knew and not once did I sense anything going on! So much for the spidey sense. As the amazing evening proceeded, it all started making sense. The meeting with the CEO ... all fake. I had been trying to set up a meeting in NYC on that same day and it was the only way they could get me to be in Ottawa on Friday. Apparently I'm like a firefly that you want to catch in the jar but can't. The guys we ran into at the pub ... just grabbing a bite before heading to my party. The triple espresso my wife made me before heading to the party ... designed to keep me awake for a longer evening than expected. The deceit goes on an on and on. Doing it two weeks earlier was an unfair advantage!

My brother in law wrote a song for my roast entitled "Buddy Bob" (Bob is my nickname ... short for Bogdan, my middle name ... long story). He actually sang it while playing to bongos! The last line in the song goes like this "When mydyo takes off, will you give me a job?" Fat chance now, you deceitful son of a $)$#&! Oh ... and thanks!

Thank you Yvonne for an amazing surprise party. Sorry about nearly giving you a heart attack with my very fluid plans. Many thanks to everyone that helped out including Tammy, Yvette, Jo Ann and I'm sure others I don't yet know about.

Let's hope someone will fund an old 40 year old guy with the spirit of a 30 year old. 40 is the new 30.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007


Naked Cowboy and more

I decided to take my wife to NY City for our 17th anniversary this weekend. We were there last fall and both loved it so I thought it would be a good idea to go back again and I was right. Highlights include central park, including taking a rowboat for a spin, Hairspray (the musical) and dinner at "One If By Land, Two if by Sea" (highly highly recommended though we set a new record for $ spent on dinner for two). We finished off the trip by taking a short ride on "The Beast", a large speedboat that takes off from Pier 83 and heads to the Statue of Liberty. New York City is a truly amazing place and always gives me energy even though I always come back exhausted. I suspect business will bring me to NYC on a regular basis and I suspect I'll never get bored of it.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you might remember that I wrote a blog about NYC last October. The concept I wanted to build was at the very early stage in my brain and being in NYC gave me some courage. Funny enough, I was reading "Purple Cow" by Seth Godin on the trip down and there is no better place than NYC to see what Seth is talking about. "Purple Cow" speaks to the fact that traditional advertising just doesn't work anymore. You really need to focus on creating something that is truly remarkable and that people will want to tell their friends about (like I'm doing with NYC). It doesn't mean that you have to be flashy but you do have to quite different and provide something people want and will evangelize for you.

When you walk through Times Square, you are constantly bombarded with huge bright Billboards. To tell you the truth, I can't even remember one after walking through there a dozen times over the last few days. However, I do remember a promotion RIM did there last year for the Pearl. They have people in times square taking your picture and posting it up on one of the big screens. You can't avoid noticing that. You also can't miss the Naked Cowboy. If you google him on the net, you'll note that he is now a brand and is probably doing quite well. It is possible to stand out, even in Times Square. He is a picture with my wife as well as a video of some wacky guys in Central Park skating to the beat.

With that in mind, I have regained the courage to do some of the wacky things that have popped in my head over the last month. At first I thought I was a bit crazy, and I'm sure my partners did as well, but as Seth puts it, "Safe is Risky". So we're going to launch something on our own this fall and it will be a blast. I was originally thinking we should just do it as a closed, locked demo (i.e. friends only, password access ...) but screw that ... that's only fear talking. So if you are a S/W hacker type with experience in the web, AJAX, Flash and all that jazz and have the balls to jump in and start coding your brains out ... let me know ... we're looking for a few developers to get the show on the road!


Allan Isfan
PS. If you are one of my friends on facebook, you can check out the pics from the trip
PPS. I'm launching a social network called "Friends of MYDYO" through the NING service. I'll let you know more soon.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


gator video at resort

While we were at Wild Dunes last week, we were walking from the tennis courts back to the hotel and the kids decided to take a look and the turtles in the small pond near the hotel. Keep in mind that this is a totally civilized area with condos, hotels, pools and so on .... not a wild park. My wife swore see saw something big and dark drop down in the water and I said she was crazy. Was I ever wrong. There was a in fact an alligator in the pond. I have no idea if he can get out of that pond and presume that he can since there doesn't seem to be any kind of barrier. I hope is kept well fed.

I'll post a video of a nice beaver swimming in my pool a few months ago.

Note: This is mostly a test for embedding YouTube videos in my blog.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007


vacations and brands

Just to put you in context, I'm sitting on a beautiful deck overlooking the Atlantic ocean sipping on a great cold beer.Two of the kids are in the pool playing Marco Polo with some kids they just met while the other is with her mom somewhere on the beach hunting for shells and having some mommy time. I'll try to avoid getting too poetic this time ... my deep blog from San Fran overlooking the bay and Alcatraz was a bit deep. I have spent the last week travelling with family and meeting up with my sister and her family on the Atlantic coast at a great resort called Wild Dunes. It is about 20 minutes from Charleston just north of Savannah. We will definitely be back. The resort itself consists of a number of houses and condos as well as the Boardwalk Inn where we stayed. The Inn is pricey ... about $500/night for a 1 bedroom suite at peak season (July 4th week) but when on holidays, we don't like to do dishes, laundry or beds so we opted for that instead of a villa which runs at about $2000k/week.The best part is the beach. Miles and miles of fine sand and very shallow water for hundreds of feet. That makes the water very warm and safe for the kids. We were body surfing the three foot waves for hours and hunting for sand dollars and great shells. We're capping that off with a three hour boat trip to Caper's Island Saturday morning to check out wildlife including dolphins.

Since you don't read this blog for travel advice, I'd better toss in some biz stuff. That brings me to the value of brands. With three kids under 10, McDonald's is hard to avoid on a long trip. The kids can spot the golden arches before they are even visible to us and we ended up there quite a few times. We tolerate their salads and the kids burn off some steam in the PlayPlace after hours of sitting in the car. My wife and I have a similar reaction to Starbucks. There is nothing else that brings more of a smile to our face than seeing that green Starbucks logo ... the kids think we have lost our mind. There is sometimes dancing and a couple of wooohoos! My wife and I are heading to NY City this coming weekend for our anniversary and a bit of business and I already know where all the Starbucks are in Times Square where we are staying. It is hard to beat such brands when people have an emotional attachment to them. One brand that I found confusing is Holiday Inn. We stayed at an amazing Holiday Inn in Williamsburg Virginia that could have just as well been a boutique hotel in Manhattan. I figured that maybe Holiday Inn has been upgrading so we stayed at another one on the road and it was a complete dump. Not staying at Holiday Inn again ... don't know what you get. Marriott is much smarter ... they have a number of different brands under the Marriott umbrella for different tiers and markets.

For MYDYO, our brand is extremely critical. We can't afford to go through an expensive branding exercise. We need to make who we are extremely crystal clear and that message needs to get across in 3 minutes or less. This is very tough and I have been struggling with it but every pitch gets more concise and clearer. With that in mind, I'll give you a sneak peek "MYDYO is building a media personalization engine". If you work for a media company or a service provider looking to deliver media in a complete new way, give me a shout. As indicated, I'll be in NYC at the end of the week and may have a bit of time Friday am to chat (right after I deliver a non-fat wet cappuccino to my lovely wife).

For absolutely no reason, here is a link to a stupid bank robber.


Allan Isfan

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