Tech Tinkering

Building a RetroPie

Early in the summer, my son and I started experimenting with a Raspberry Pi. Among other projects, I coded up JoeBotBot as my alter ego Twitter bot and, every day, automagically spout out morning motivations and grant a “Certificate of Awesomeness”. Ariana Grande won on Wednesday. Congratulations, Ariana. Please add this award to your LinkedIn profile.

We finished many of the suggested Raspberry Pi projects and eventually wandered into recasting our little machine into an old school arcade machine. Yep — there is a great Raspberry Pi project for that called RetroPie. To make it more interesting, you can download (somewhat illegally) “ROMS” of long lost Atari and Arcade games, reminiscent from my elementary and middle school days.

Adventure? Pitfall? E.T. (which is the worst game ever, for what it is worth.) Check check check. My son prefers the games from Nintendo 64, circa 1997, but what can you do.

A few other twists:

  • To start, he had to borrow an old small screen from another project. He used a cardboard frame, which looks terrible but works. He’s more of an engineer than a designer, as you can tell.
  • We later upgraded it to a new little monitor. I’m too old for makeshift contraptions.
  • To limit time, because he is 12 and would starve himself before taking a break from gaming, I added parental controls (thank you crontab) that automatically shuts the machine down for dinner at 6 pm and sleep at 10 pm. Also, for extra fun (for me), it automatically gives verbal warnings with my pre-recorded voice at the 5, 2, and 1-minute marks before shutting it down. He’s not a fan of that part.

Overall, we’ve enjoyed the project and I look forward to destroying him in early-80s Joust and the original NBA Jam.

Bronto, Entrepreneurship, Marketing

Featured on Wisdom.MBA

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with e-commerce guru Gavin Jocius of Wisdom.MBA and River Wise Ventures. We discuss Bronto, GrepBeat, Jurassic, and everything in between. We also geek out on the future of marketing tech.

I have known Gavin since 2006 when he was with Duke University, an early Bronto customer. In fact, when I peruse my email archives, the first email that I can find from him was related to a major system crash that we now fondly call the “May Massacre”. The crash was devastating but we survived. He stuck with us for many years and through many companies. So, thanks!

You can listen to the podcast through his website and Apple Podcasts.

Enjoy!

Gavin in 2006 participating on the first Bronto Advisory Board
Tech Tinkering

Introducing JoeBotBot

Lately, I have been tinkering with Raspberry Pis with my 12-year old son as a way to get him more into coding and building tech. Raspberry Pis are neat little computers produced by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK-based non-profit that wants to inspire more kids and hobbyists to tinker with computers. It is all very cool and worth looking into.

Last week, I developed a Twitter bot, with one of the Pis and named it JoeBotBot — one might say it is an alter-ego robotic version of myself … but I digress.

Periodically, JoeBotBot tweets out messages, thanks to the power of Python, MySQL, and Crontab. JoeBotBot has since expanded to include an EC2 AWS instance.

Too much jargon? Check out JoeBotBot to see where it goes. And, of course, big thanks to my daughter Xiomara for the artwork.

Entrepreneurship

Conversation with Donald Thompson

Recently, Donald Thompson of Walk West invited me on his podcast.

We chatted about my pre-Bronto adventures and post-Bronto life with GrepBeat, Jurassic, and NCSSM. Donald is a great interviewer and we got into how startups really get started and why Silicon Valley is not all that.

This podcast is less than 40 minutes long and has great music. I have to improve my voice quality for podcasts but that’s on me.

You can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcast, and on Earfluence — the folks who produced it. Also, I embedded it here:

Entrepreneurship, Raleigh-Durham

Featured on the “In The Meeting” podcast

Recently, I had the pleasure of being a guest on Ritwik Pavan’s new podcast, “In The Meeting.”

Ritwik is a senior Comp Sci and Business student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a couple-times entrepreneur through Linker Logic Technologies and VADE. Because of this, he brings a unique perspective on the entrepreneurial experience and asks great questions.

The podcast is also notable for a few other reasons:

  1. The better-looking caricature graphic of me.
  2. The coolest and dramatic post-production effects.
  3. Short listen. Only 30 minutes!

Curious? You can listen to it on Spotify.

Enjoy!

Entrepreneurship, Raleigh-Durham

Featured on the Hatchit podcast

The other week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Elizabeth at Hatchit about me, Bronto and Colopy Ventures.

Hatchit is an online marketplace for buying and selling online ventures and digital assets like small businesses, websites, apps, domain names, etc. It was co-founded by Dennis Schaecher in North Carolina. Read more about them.

Listen to the podcast from their website, through Apple Podcasts or on 8-track tape (ok … not really on tape but how cool would that be!)

Enjoy!

Wearing my comfy Hatchit t-shirt
Bronto, Entrepreneurship

My Story on Drew Adam’s “The Price” Podcast

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining Drew Adams on his podcast, “The Price”, to tell the Bronto Story, including the emotional ups and downs in starting, building and selling a business. He is a great interviewer so it makes for a nice long leisurely listen.

I have known Drew for years since many moons ago he founded and ran another email marketing company in Durham called Contactology. He knows the challenge in starting something from a scratch, the ups and downs of scaling and finally the bittersweet emotions of selling and figure out what’s next. This all made for a great conversation. Plus, he bought me a fruit smoothie for the interview so I am a fan!

Ready to listen? You can find it on his website or with Apple, Spotify or Google. Also, I embedded it here:

Entrepreneurship

“You can be definitive without being abrupt.”

A few years ago, I spoke with the founders, Max and Connor, of Lessonly to give them advice on scaling their business and moving from a broad customer focus to a narrower one. Protip: Less is more.

Max recently wrote about this conversation in his weekly advice message. You can read the post on their blog or inline below.

Enjoy!


Years back, Conner and I spoke with Joe Colopy, the co-founder and former CEO of Bronto. We needed Joe’s help, because we were planning to shift Lessonly’s focus from training software for any need to training for sales teams and customer service teams. We knew this would be a big change for our business and we worried how disruptive it would be to our teammates.

Joe offered us this bit of wisdom:

“You can be definitive without being abrupt.

For whatever reason, before this, Conner and I would make changes and implement them immediately. Why wait, right? The problem was, when we were too abrupt, the rest of the team experienced a lot of whiplash and upheaval.

Joe’s advice reminded us we can put some distance between our decisions and the corresponding changes.

For example, we knew the marketing team would need to shift its efforts to stop supporting deals that didn’t fit our new focus. Joe’s advice helped us ease any anxiety during this transition. We didn’t announce our decision by saying, “Effective immediately, marketing will no longer support X, Y, and Z opportunities.” Instead, we were able to say, “Sixty days from now, marketing will stop supporting X, Y, and Z opportunities. So if you need help with anything in those areas, now is the time.”

How did we know sixty days wouldn’t be too abrupt? It was the average amount of time it took for us to meet a new company and bring them aboard as a customer. This timing accommodated the salespeople’s current opportunities, without extending the timeline any longer than necessary.

There will be moments when you need to be both definitive and abrupt, like when you have an urgent problem. Joe taught us there will also be times when you can and should give time for people to wrap up their current priorities and prepare. I write this hoping you will catch yourself making a potentially disruptive decision and ask, “Can I be definitive here without being abrupt?”

We’ve applied Joe’s advice many times since, and people appreciate it. I hope it helps you too.

—Max

Entrepreneurship

MBA@UNC Commencement

Last month, I had the honor of being the keynote speaker for the MBA@UNC commencement. MBA@UNC is the online MBA program for the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC Chapel Hill.

I speak fairly often. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is random. This is one of the good ones and worth a watch. I start at the 12-minute mark but it is helpful to hear the introduction by Dean Doug Shackelford that tees it up. Enjoy!

I researched the program to prepare and came to this conclusion: the program is awesome.  It’s also ranked as the #1 Online MBA program by US News & World Report. Check it out if you are thinking of getting an MBA.

And remember …. always run the wheel!

 

Bronto, Raleigh-Durham

Bronto Reunion … Oh, What a Night!

Last Thursday, after selling Bronto four years ago, we hosted a reunion at the Unscripted Hotel in Downtown Durham. Participation was amazing and it was like zipping back to the Golden Age of Bronto for just one more night. The enthusiasm at the event was a true testament to the strength of the Bronto culture and a true honor to be apart of it.

Thanks to Carolyn Sparano, Chaz Felix, Starr Stephenson and Susan Wall for help organizing the event. These things don’t just magically happen.

Bronto alum Cathy Traugot wrote a nice recap of the event below. You can also see fun pictures on Instagram.

Until next time!
Joe


 

“I miss you guys.’’

When Co-founder Chaz Felix spoke those lines at the recent Bronto Software reunion it summed up what many of us were thinking.

More than 150 of us turned out at the Unscripted Hotel in downtown Durham this past Thursday to reminisce, laugh and hug. It was like a high school reunion with no mean girls.

Current Brontos mingled with colleagues who have moved on. The ubiquitous green and white wheel from monthly lunches made an appearance along with the megaphone (or close facsimiles). There were silly prizes (a ride in co-founder Joe Colopy’s Tesla) and serious discussion. The drinks flowed. The guacamole was fresh. The t-shirts were a timeline of Bronto’s 17 years in existence.

The initial concept for the reunion was the brainchild of Starr Stephenson, a former Bronto events coordinator who now works for Instana. She had pulled together an impromptu, word-of-mouth reunion at the Pour House last fall. The event was a crazy success that made Joe and Chaz realize they wanted to expand on the idea.

“After leaving Bronto, I hosted the first reunion because I wasn’t finding that feeling of being completely at ease and accepted at my new company. And people showed up. Like they were missing it too.”

“Being at Bronto made me feel like I was part of something bigger than a job. It was social, creative, and philanthropic.”

— Starr Stephenson

Bronto was that kind of place. It brought out the best in people, engendered fierce loyalty and a sense of team spirit that was contagious. You wanted to go to work each day because every day was different. From the monthly lunches with new staffers doing their Stupid Human Trick (I sang the preamble to the Constitution) to a Business Leadership Tribe committed to transparency.

“I’ve worked for the government, giant corporations and a couple of startups. In my experience, you can’t define the culture based on the size of the company. Culture is more about the visions and practices of the leadership. At Bronto, our leadership was always very purposeful about creating a family,’’ said Waynette Tubbs, the former senior manager of content at Bronto who now directs communications for Devada.

One of the first to arrive at the reunion was Andy Feller. He joined Bronto in 2005 as the third software developer after the legendary Ed Dawley and Justin Sanders. He came back in 2010 for several years and now works for Bandwidth.

“Joining Bronto gave me an opportunity to come to this area. I’m from Baton Rouge, Louisiana,’’ said Feller. He said he loved the opportunity to learn so much. “We really matured how we did business internally and made a better product for our customers. It was a profitable and very rewarding experience professionally.’’

Colopy was full hijinks at the reunion. He auctioned off the recently retired Bronto general manager’s parking spot. It might not have been a legitimate prize, but it was classic Joe. He also honored attendees with legit prizes – like a barbecue in his backyard, a trip on organizer Stephenson’s boat and Ed Dawley’s Belgian waffles and strawberries served for breakfast in the winner’s bed (we aren’t sure how that last one is going to work, but we want pictures).

The co-founders’ delightful sense of humor and the crazy antics were a ton of fun when I worked there. But it really was the culture they helped create that was the reason so many of us returned on Thursday.

I had worked for myself for years before getting hired by Bronto in 2015. To say the least, I did not have the kind of resume that a more buttoned up company would jump at. When I got to Bronto I realized that I wasn’t alone. So many of my co-workers had diverse, interesting – and sometimes surprising – backgrounds. And it seemed everyone had a great side passion (chicken farming, gourmet caramels, leather tooling, rock bands).  

It made for an eclectic mix that this former newspaper reporter and freelance writer felt so comfortable with. I took on the role of interviewing Bronto customers – capturing the joy they had in working with my wonderful teammates to make their businesses work.

When people wondered at my decision to trade in working from home for a 35-minute commute to downtown Durham, I just told them, “It’s worth it.’’ It changed the trajectory of my career, and I’m so grateful.

Last Thursday reminded me of that.

Cathy Traugot worked for Bronto from 2015 to 2018. She is now the Content Marketing Manager at Devada.