CEO Update - Q1 2019

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This quarter started out as a disaster, got challenging and then finished on a high note. In January we had a major problem getting approval from the town to begin operations. I lost a little over a month making changes to the Zone to comply with regulations that I thought were exempt. We finally opened and then the landlord informed me that he did not want to renew my short term lease…just as I got things running!. But in the last week of March, after turning on advertising through Groupon, over 40 people came in and paid to complete a Mission! We even hosted 2 birthday party groups. So overall things are looking positive.

The feedback from groups has been amazing. Families with middle school and younger kids love working as a team and sharing the adventure. We talked about future Missions and they are excited. A millenial group of 5 had a blast and wants more with more physical challenges and complexity. The only negative feedback was from a family with young adult children, they felt our base (easy) Mission should be longer. To me, that’s a win…they want more!

Objectives

  1. Generate revenue - We got some and that is good. I learned about new ways to market and charge for services. Birthday parties work really well. We have a few new ideas for Q2 also.

  2. Hit Metrics- I set a revenue goal for the 1 month of operations in Q1 and we blew past that one. We got lots of people in and are building a customer list that should be the base for extending usage and figuring out LTV.

  3. Content- 3 Missions are in place. That is far less than the 10 I had set as a goal. But we had to refactor the intro video and the “free” mission. So the experience is much better now.

Progress

I was in a funk for most of Q1, it was a rough time and some personal stuff didn’t make things any easier. But we weathered that well and things are definitely looking up. I grade myself a B+ for working through those issues, getting a product experience that makes customers happy and continuing to build. I grade the company an A-. We delivered flawlessly and the product worked great. People see the value and they have fun in ways that I didn’t anticipate. The team dynamic is really working well. Some Agents are even coming up with ideas I hadn’t considered.

Failures

  • Location Location Location. Not only did the building have scaffolding covering our office for a month, but at the end of April, we will be homeless. The short term lease definitely limited risk, but it made it hard to plan. We still haven’t had a grand opening.

  • Content. We need more and I need to do a better job of creating a points system and Mission levels and conveying those to customers so they can get the experience they seek.

  • Pricing and offerings. Yes you should always go to market with a product that you are a little embarrassed of. We did. I wish I had thought a little more about product offerings and pricing, but that’s always a tough balance.

Successes

  • The videos are definitely working. People are starting to get it. We are not all the way there yet, but defining ourselves as not an “escape room” but rather a Mission experience where you break into a space, is resonating.

  • Sales. I was doubtful, glad they are coming in.

  • Experience. Things are working exactly the way I hoped. I got the video cameras working and can watch Agents interact in the space and the concept really works.

  • Feedback. I have been meeting with people at Venture Cafe, teachers, parents, PTOs, etc. Everyone is super helpful and has great ideas. Special hat tip to my Adviser Anita who recommended doing reservations. I never would have thought of this, but people really like making appointments.

Jury is out

  • Need to find a space and the rent won’t be as cheap, can we sustain that level of income to make it work? Can we find a space and move with minimal down time?

  • Schools. I met with teachers who are VERY encouraging. They recommended a new approach and I am hopeful that this can start to catch hold.

  • Financing. I want to hire people this summer. I haven’t paid myself in 15 months. We need to secure financing in Q2 or boost revenue to the point that we are sustaining operations.

Q2 Outlook & Objectives

  • Establish revenue, metrics and contacts for a financing event. I know we can grow at scale. Bootstrapping this MVP has proven that. Time to take it to the next level.

  • New space, grand opening, establish roots. I’ve had to be cautious because I don’t have a future space that we can call home. This must happen or we are done.

  • Content. My current pace is 1 mission per week. I need to double this and find a partner.

Overall I am happy with where we are headed now. This next quarter is another transition to a fully operational concern. We’re ready.

Key Metrics

Missions on Platform - 3

Average Revenue per customer - $10.43

Burn - $4,500 (per quarter)

Challenge: Accepted

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Today I got a little surprise that threw me for a loop. I am not going to be able to extend my lease as I had hoped. We’ve been in this space just 3 months and now it’s time to move. I can’t even really get going before I get pushed back to [START]. Yes I knew this was a risk. Intentionally signing a short-term lease so I didn’t get locked down was the trade-off. So here I am.

I admit, I was a little down at first. After 14 months of building the product (the app, physical infrastructure, electronics, content), I just want to start marketing and selling to prove the concept! This was the last thing I needed.

But then you remember your training. Breathe Josh. Analyze the problem. Talk it out (aka text the wife). Sara started looking for new spaces and encouraged me to look too. Truth be told, this place isn’t that great. I would like a little more traffic and to be closer to some of the industrial companies that will help bring in corporate training, off-site, and new-hire orientation business. And honestly this is a little more space than I need to prove product:market fit.

I’ve been surfing real-estate sites for the past hour and there are some good options out there. Plus, I intentionally built this Zone unit to easily break down in case this happened.

So when life throws you a shit sandwich…throw it the f-out and go make your own sandwich!

Today’s news started out looking pretty crappy. And don’t get me wrong, no matter how big a happy face I put on, this is really annoying. But then I thought about texting with Tay last night. In about 2 hours she starts 3 days of Recognition, out at USAFA. Some might say my problems pale in comparison. So in solidarity with Cadet 4th Class Taylor Rutstein… it’s time to get some!

Hooyah, universe. Challenge accepted.

CEO Update - Q4 2018

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Q4 2018 finishes out a complete year of TheMissionZone’s existence.  We did not go out with a bang as I had hoped.  While it looked like we might catch up on some of our goals, we did not make up the ground I had intended.  As such, we were able to sell gift certificates in 2018 and generate revenue, but we did not actually deliver a product to the market. 

The end of the year necessitated a transition and pivot in distribution strategy.  I abandoned the Mobile Unit approach.  In talking to potential customers, it became clear that this would not work.  Instead, we found a great site and began preparations to open our very first Zone.  We also figured a better way to create a transition room and incorporate that into the Missions as a challenge.  A lot of small developments happened that will enhance the customer experience and having a space to make this real, greatly simplifies our ability to prove product:market fit.  We were lucky to sign a short-term lease, limiting risk in making this pivot.

Objectives

1.      Tech Development – The app is complete and we have been creating test missions to work with the physical space.  This is a great win.

2.      Physical space – Everything is complete and working. I am very happy with the locks, controller, lighting and other components.  This will make the experience very dynamic and I think create a great sense of excitement for the players.  However, at year end, we still don’t have a permit from the town to operate.

3.      Team/Network - I did almost nothing on this front.  We are focused on product, product, product.

Progress

This is a tough quarter to grade.  I grade myself a B, because even though we didn’t accomplish our goals, I am VERY happy with the decision to pivot.  This was a significant commitment, but as I read Blitzscaling, I grew confident in my conviction.  Adoption will require enabling customers, partners and investors to see the potential of the platform.  That would never have been possible with the mobile unit strategy.  Plus finding a site that would give me a short-term lease, was a huge win.  I grade the company a D; we are not operating yet and that is bad.

Failures

  • Town permitting process- I could have hired some construction PM to run this for me with better results.  But I learned so much about what needs to happen in the future as we expand to larger spaces.  I made several mistakes here, but I gained great insight.

  • Mission construction- This is turning out to be harder than I thought.  I have the outlines for several critical missions, but I have not finalized the details.

  • Finding partners- Given my acknowledgment above, this turned out to be less successful than I hoped.  We need a video to make it real and put the pieces of the puzzle together visually.

  • Describing the product- Even my best friends still don’t get it.  This is job #1 in Q1-19.

  • Finances- We really needed some significant revenue in Q4.  This will be a strain moving into Q1.

Successes

  • Communications, content and videos- We were able to deliver some good content in Q4 that will set the stage for product rollout in Q1.  These were well received. In addition, there is a lot of paperwork required to make this work, it is good to have this complete.

  • Town permitting process- As noted, I consider this a very painful win.  If we see significant success and growth, upscaling to a larger space will be critical.  We now know exactly what this will take.

  • Opening a space- I am so excited about this.  This will prove to be the single best decision I have ever made.

Jury Is Out

  • Product:Market fit- The whole thing might not work as well as I dream.  I am always cognizant of this reality.  Now that we are closer to a rollout, the doubts are creeping in.

  • Revenue- Can a single site generate enough revenue to justify the projections I have made for growth?

  • Continuing at this Zone- From an operational perspective, I have about a month or two to plot out how this is going to work and figure out lease options.  This will be tough.

Q1 Outlook and Objectives

Generate revenue- We need demo videos, content, sales, partners.  A lot needs to happen to create a curve up and to the right.

Hit metrics (Missions, Sales, Customer feedback) – The clock is now ticking.  We are measuring everything.  Q1 means that all the metric goals we have set will now have evaluations at the end of the quarter.

Annual Review and Summary

Despite some serious challenges and complexities for this year, and making much less progress than I had hoped, I am still optimistic about what we are doing.  I believe in this platform.  Most importantly, I stayed true to core values for the company.  I am constantly working, but I have not missed critical events.  I helped my wife sell her house and move in with me.  I went to horse shows.  I spent time with my older daughter when she was home on leave from USAFA.  We took vacations.  I got married.  Our employees worked remote.  These philosophies have matured over the years on my personal blog.  Most importantly, no matter the complexities of the day, I continue to embody the spirit of We Don’t Work on Powder Days.

As I look at the year in totality, I feel pride for what we have accomplished.  In 12 months, we built a patent pending product that incorporates software, hardware and physical infrastructure.  We nearly opened a physical store.  I am a bootstrapped solo founder and proved that good architecture is the key piece to building a virtual team. I have assembled a group of advisers that give me awesome feedback and insight. I have built relationships with educational institutions.  We are getting people excited. 

2019 will be an exercise in bringing all of it to fruition.  Big picture, we need success on our metrics, a fundraising event, and evolving the product to the next level of scale to support that growth.  Challenge accepted.

Key 2018 Financials

Equity Investment -$65K

Software development - $39K

Zone Development - $4K

Patent Filing - $12k

Revenue - $25 :)

 

We Make the Good GREAT

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Look at our MVP store front, is it the best? No. Nothing ever is “the best”.

As we get started here at TheMissionZone, I’ve been thinking a lot about hiring. Next week I hope to release and start selling an actual product before our Groundhog Day public launch. It should give a good opportunity to figure things out. After all, I am not perfect and I need some time to shake out how things are going to work. Assuming that I am successful and we demonstrate value, I am hopeful that capital will follow and I will be able to start hiring people full time.

You hear about the big tech co’s and especially Netflix and the endless focus on hiring “the best people”. I am not the best, and it would be arrogant to assume that I was. Further, while I agree with the notion of hiring people that complement rather than reflect your own skills, that doesn’t mean that that requires the “best” people. Everyone has their own areas of expertise and I have no idea which of those would be the most important for our success. How could I?

So I am vowing not to even bother searching for the “best” people. I want good people that always want to be better. And by working at TheMissionZone and committing to our vision, employees should know that they are not expected to be great. They are only required to strive for greatness. That is a whole process and one that will be refined over time. We are in the business of helping associates be better at whatever they do or whatever they dream of doing. We will make you better. You will make me better.

If someone is already “great” or the “best”, what possibly could a company see in a long term investment in that person? They are acknowledging that the person can’t get any better. So they reward you based on continued performance at that level? How do you grow?

At TheMissionZone, I want every employee to always want more of themselves. That is defined across all dimensions including professional, personal, physical health and community involvement. We don’t want someone who is great already, we want you to grow and be greater than you were the day before.

How to Teach Problem Solving

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”   -Benjamin Franklin

 There are a lot of ways to make decisions.  There are also numerous methodologies to employ critical analysis skills to help make decisions and choices.  Regardless of your preference, you should at least have one.  Taking the mental steps to walk through a process, no matter how quickly you stop at each step, is a good way to approach choices in life.  Remember the words of Neo when reflecting on humanity, “The problem is choice.”

At TheMissionZone we are strong believers in the OODA loop as a discipline for the decision making process.  OODA is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.  It was first postulated by US Air Force Colonel John Boyd in 1961.  Boyd lectured often on the topic.  While we find the methodology useful, we acknowledge that sometimes certain aspects might be overkill.  Nevertheless, having a methodology and using it, is good practice.  Many students have never contemplated that decision making can have structure, since they are often reactionary to life.  And even adults sometimes forget that they can be a little more strategic in addressing challenges. 

Thus we have architected an experience at TheMissionZone around the OODA loop, though it should seem fairly subtle to a player. The emphasis is on learning, and having fun while doing so. But every interaction follows a process. This process is detailed below.

  • Observe.  Players should take stock in the Mission they have chosen, as well as the requirements and outline for the Mission.  This is clearly displayed on the Briefing screen, and in fact all Missions have some sort of plot and guidance for each of the Objectives and Tasks.  The Briefing provides a roadmap for what needs to happen to successfully complete the Mission.

  • Orient.  Preparation is the most important part of completing a Mission or any action in life.  This is where you learn, gather data, and place yourself in the best position to ensure success.  Most often, life gives you clues on what areas need preparation.  Teachers, managers, coaches and other resources are there to help guide you in this process.  In a Mission, most Objectives and Tasks have links on the Briefing page to content that will help you prepare for that Mission.  These could be instructional videos, or websites with documents, or simply images that are relevant.  The successful player will use these materials and be prepared.

  • Decide.  All players are required to complete a Mission Execution Form.  Each player decides how much detail to include, but the idea is to document the plan and how an individual or team will complete the Mission.  For teams, this should be a critical step in the process, but even for an individual, we think it is good to spend a few minutes thinking about what will happen and visualize the approach.

  • Act.  Players gear up and attempt to successfully complete the Mission.  This is the most consequential step in the process.  And we hope it will be the most fun and exciting.  While success is evaluated and scored on performance in how an individual or team Acts, players should remember that many components got them to this phase.

Loop.  After any action, we strongly encourage an After Action Review and evaluation against the original plan.  There are specific steps on the Mission Execution Form to guide this focus.  But most importantly, even in success, there can be lessons learned from any action.  These lessons should be employed for future Missions or in the case of a failed mission, trying again.

 

“There are no losses in life, only lessons”

Announcing Our Partners Program

A while back we announced this program and now it is here. Check out the video and the new Partners page on our website for full details.

Simply, we created some screens that allow people to configure Missions on the platform. You think of some creative challenge, key it into the website, and then people come and can ‘play’ the Mission at our new site in Londonderry, NH (opening Dec 2018). What’s more, we will share some of the revenue generated from each Mission played, with YOU!

And to kick off the program, we are offering this special…we will pay $20 for each Mission completely configured onto the platform for the first 50 Missions that are created. You can create 1 or all 50, just build some awesome content!

Check out our Partners page for more details. Join our team!

CEO Update - Q3 2018

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Q3 was all about building product...again.  To say that we are behind is an understatement.  But fortunately, while we have not completed a lot of items, we made a lot of progress on many of them.  Q4 will be all about closing. As I started looking at all of our deliverables for the rest of the year, I realized that many of them had a long lead time.  And so I had to start working on some of them thinking about elapsed time to still hit them by EoY. Unfortunately that meant that some of the easier short term things didn’t get done.

In addition, I focused on developing the app for our Partner program so that creating content would be much simpler. I believe this is the right strategy as demonstrating the power of the marketplace, will be critical to customer success and getting top quality content. It is clear that we can’t create it all. We added some functionality specifically so content creators will have an easier time crafting Missions.

Objectives

  1. Tech Development - Could not be happier with both functionality and aesthetics. There is so much capability and flexibility that I think people will really be impressed. We are 95% complete.

  2. Mobile Unit Construction - Behind schedule. But we ran a test and things worked as planned which is a good sign that this will work. We also ran an IoT controller test and I am confident that this will also scale.

  3. Team/Network - I have come to realize that we don’t need 3 people full-time (like a traditional startup), but rather we need about 12-14 people at varying degrees of part-time-edness. Over the past quarter, this group is starting to come together. We just need a few more pieces to the puzzle but this has gone well.

Progress

So overall I grade me a C and the business a B-. We certainly sacrificed in this quarter in the hopes of delivering more in Q4. As we used to say, slow down to speed up. It never materialized before, let’s see if I can make it a reality.  

Failures

  • There were some small misses on design, missing a few fields here and there in the table structure, but overall nothing major in the tech.

  • I reached my limit with the crappy brand/logo and that needed to be fixed (see successes).

  • VC outreach. This is going to be hard. I met with several potential investors and so far, no one sees the scale play. I’ll have to work on that and generate some data to back it up.

  • The damn magnetic skin-logos for my new truck. Who knew the stupid thing was PLASTIC?!?! UGGGGHHH. I am so annoyed with this one.

Successes

  • We have a new mascot (see above)! The Mace is still our Spiritual Advisor, but Goose is the full-time product representative. I mean come on, look at that face, you have to love us!

  • Logo design. Felipe = Genius. I knew I would need to do this last quarter, I am so glad I pulled the trigger. Having professional looking materials, is a huge win.

  • Studio. Can’t wait to start recording videos

  • Decision to find a space. This one is on the DL. Announcement hopefully soon.

  • Team. In the past 3 months I have met with some amazing folks in my network and gotten some great feedback. This is hard for me to do, but the responses have been awesome and I am getting more comfortable with making the ask.

  • With help from Whitney, I figured out how to completely integrate with the OODA loop… blog post coming soon!

Jury Is Out

  • I am a little unsure of whether the design for creating content will work. I skimped a little here going all out for a back-office process.

  • Can we generate creative content? Will it be engaging?

  • Can we generate revenue in Q4. THIS WILL BE CRITICAL, for several reasons. I really don’t want this thing to end before we get started.

Q4 Outlook and Objectives

  • Formalize team. While I am sure this is the biggest reason I won’t get into Techstars again, I like my format and I have an idea how to instantiate the relationships.

  • Open site. This is happening. Get ready for a grand opening!

  • Finish product development. Can’t wait to do a full product demo. I think everyone will be impressed.

  • Begin Marketing. A lot needs to be done here for content, funnel and a plan. I might need some more help. I have an idea so we will see how this shakes out.

Even my Q3 update is late, but better than never. In Q4, I intend a much healthier stream of communication. Keep your eyes open…yes I know I am 31% through the quarter already…shut up:)

Our New Studio

I’m a big fan of video. I believe it is the best way to convey information to an audience. I want to make sure that our videos look good and sound good. But I didn’t want to just sit in front of the camera, I wanted to use the whiteboard to sketch out the big concepts. It looks more engaging when the presenter is up and moving around.

So I converted one of our garages into a studio. Rather than just showing the finished product, I thought it might be useful for other startups to see how $150 can make a decent studio. This video walks through that process. I also detailed a parts list at the end of this post and in the video.

Step by step instructions…

  1. Paint one wall with a flat paint, preferably light and soft in tone.

  2. Make a table that rolls that is at a good height to move your camera as needed. I used a 3 drawer file cabinet that I already owned and made a platform with castors on the bottom.

  3. Hang your company logo and a whiteboard on the painted wall

  4. Buy 2 light strips, LED is best. Attach to a piece of wood, I love using 1X2s for stuff like this. Attach the 1X2s to small blocks of wood like a 2X3, with hinges.

  5. Attach the blocks to the ceiling so the lights can hinge down and up out of the way.

  6. Find some 12 or 14 gauge solid wire (romex style) wire to screw to the ceiling that can easily wrap around the lights to hold them up and out of the way.

  7. Use a light strip with a switch to control the lights if they don’t have a switch of their own. Attach to the ceiling. Usually you can use the outlet from your garage door opener.

  8. Staple the edge of the blanket to an 8’ long 1x2. Then lay 4 mini-bungies over the stapled edge and screw the board to the ceiling with the stapled side facing up (creating friction with the ceiling and better holding it in place) PRO-TIP: find the ceiling joists first.

  9. Find an old blanket that you can lay on the floor to further dampen sound.

Watch the video below for more instruction!

Blankets 3@ 5 = 5

Bungees 1 @ 7 = 7

Lights 2 @ 27 = 54

1x2s 5 @ 2.23 =11

Hinges 1 @ 2.99 = 3

Whiteboard 1 @ 60 = 60

Wheels 4 @ 3.19 = 13

Total $ 151

Working With Josh

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I recently heard a podcast with Claire Hughes Johnson of Stripe.  When she started at Stripe, she wrote a document about how best to engage her in a professional setting. This is absolutely brilliant. And I am going to encourage all future employees of TheMissionZone to do the same. In fact, it should be the cover letter for every person that applies to join our team.  This is my own version, though I admit I borrowed several pieces of this from multiple blogs...

Principles that hold true

  • Sense of humor- I have a healthy sense of humor and I love joking around

  • Work:life blend - I call it a “blend” because I want to make it easier to have both throughout any given day.

  • Honesty - Please don’t bullshit me.  I would much rather the truth than blowing sunshine up my ass or holding back reality.

  • Humility - Please don’t fluff me.  I do some things well and I am horrible at other things.  I need a lot of support to get things done, but I will absolutely contribute what I do best to the team’s efforts.

  • Transparency - In reality, not much needs to be secret.  No one dies in our world because of a decision, so make sure that everything you do is clear to others.  Always share with me the “why” of something.

  • Respect - I will always respect your opinions as long as they are based on facts.  Facts are key.  If you have an opinion based on a fact but that “fact” proves to be incorrect, you better be flexible with your opinion as well.  When you cite an opinion, tell me all the relevant facts that led you to believe it and which facts you weigh more than others, including facts that might undermine your argument.

  • Feedback is your friend - No one is perfect.  We can all do better.  So when someone offers you feedback, you need to listen.  You might disagree.  But make sure you have reasons to disagree and have a discussion intellectually.  Do not make it personal and try to attack back.  It’s ok to refute feedback, but do it civilly.

  • Life is not zero sum - I believe that it is ok for two sides to both win, and for two sides to both lose.  It is not necessary for one side to lose if the other wins, in a two sided transaction.  This isn’t sports.

  • Everyone is part of making the world a better place - Do your part.  Set an example.  The outcome of something big is always the sum of many small things, contribute one of those small things.

  • Efficiency- I hate waste.  So thinking for efficiency is important in everything, don’t waste if it can be avoided.

  • Understand ”why” - I believe that knowing the “why” something is/happens/happened is critical to learning.

  • Strive to be smarter - You will never know everything and there is always someone who knows something you don’t.  Try to keep current.

  • Community - Everyone needs to be part of the team for it to succeed.

  • Be sheepdog strong.

 Approaching me

  • I have a system for organization, it’s not great, but it works for me.  Please respect that.

  • Please don’t be too formal.  Talk to me as if you were my friend.

  • Be bold and confident.   If you have an idea, argue your point, have facts to back it up.  If you just have ideas and opinions, be honest that they need proving, I will work with you if I know the purpose is to polish details.

  • I think big picture first and then fit details and examples into a model.

  • DRAW PICTURES.  I love whiteboards.

  • Know how to speak clearly and logically.   Whatever your native tongue, speak it well.  Use correct grammar.

  • If you work for me, you ARE doing something valuable to the company and the mission, if you feel you are not, help me eliminate that role and I guarantee we will find you a better job within the company.

  • Don’t be territorial or a tree hugger, know when to make decisions for the greater good.

  • I respect changing direction and new lines of thinking, but make a decision and commit.  Don’t hedge.

  • If you want to grow or go, tell me and we will work on it together.  Your success is my success.

  • Sometimes I need to be smacked in the face, do it, but be polite :)

Management style

  • I try to be hands off.  Please just do your job, and surprise me with your ingenuity, creativity and ambition.

  • Help me learn.  No one knows everything.  You know something that I don’t and vice versa.  Let’s work together.

  • Propose solutions and then let’s discuss. Never come to a meeting without a proposal to solve a problem.  Write out the broad strokes and then we can assess. 

  • NEVER HAVE A PRE-MEETING MEETING!!!  Don’t ever get a group together to discuss before a larger meeting, what a waste of time.

  • I shouldn't have to assign work.  If you know your job/goals and we defined your role, take it on and nail it.  Don’t make me chase you.

  • A crisis means all-hands, I don’t care where you work.  We are on the same team.

  • I like data and facts.  Be sure you have the correct metadata so we are using the same definitions for those facts.  Don’t play games by slicing some dataset to meet your pre-defined conclusions.

  • I like a plan that speculates on outcomes so we have a benchmark to make evaluations and changes against later.  Always keep track of the history of a project so we know how it is progressing.

  • Tell me about your life.

  • Communication Channels

    • Email - Longer than a thought, but not important enough to save as a document.  Company announcements are a good example.

    • Phone - When something is complex and requires back and forth.  If there are multiple back-and-forths trying to resolve a decision, get on a call.

    • Video - Should be the default for remote conversations.  We both deserve full attention.

    • Text - If you know I am out and asynchronous communication is ok.  Or if you know I need to be stealth.

    • Slack - For most company communications.

    • F2F - I like meeting face to face.  If possible, we should.

    • Meetings - If multiple people need to receive information (all-hands) or if multiple people need to weigh in on a decision. 

    • 1:1 meetings - Personal contact and feedback is important.

Stuff not to do

  • Play the blame game.  Take responsibility, learn a lesson, move forward.

  • Laziness, flakiness.  Come on, Do Your Job.

  • Not taking ownership.  Read Extreme Ownership.  Everyone should live this way.

  • Groupthink - Stand up and challenge a consensus.  The world needs more rebels.  Just do it with respect.

  • Throwing bombs or passive aggressiveness.

  • Screamers - If you have ever yelled at someone in the office, you will not work at TheMissionZone.

  • Insults - Nope, Never.  Everyone is a person and deserves respect...Except Trump.

  • Keep secrets.  Get everything out in the open.  Transparency is good, it helps us succeed.

  • Take a challenge or debate as personal.  We are discussing an idea.  Even if you are wrong, I could respect you more if you help fomulate the reasoning and are part of a discussion.  Just because I challenge you doesn’t mean that I don’t respect you.  If you help me think through an issue, I respect you more.

  • Be stubborn - Know when to stop.  There are times to give up on something, try to see it, or be open to others helping you see it.

To get to know me and the way I think, read my personal blog at www.joshrutstein.com

 

Building a Brand

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I have never been particularly happy with any of our corporate logos. I created one long ago in PowerPoint that reflected one of the core tenets of the product. I then tried to crowd source a logo on-the-cheap and tried to reflect again some of the features of the product.

Several months ago, we started working with an exceptional designer to mock up a ‘feel’ for how the app we are building would look to the user. Felipe was able to take all the ideas I had in my head and nail them down in a design and color scheme that really works for the ‘gamer’ feel we were trying to evoke.

Now that we are closing in on product launch, I felt it was important to get our logo and branding to match the feel of the app design. That has culminated with the new logo above. It conveys everything we want a user to feel as they engage with TheMissionZone. We want you to focus on what you need to do and learn, movement around a physical space, a techy aura, and most importantly gaming. We have tried to walk a delicate line with the gaming aspect. But we have come to the stark realization that in order to “Have Fun” you must embody all the concepts of ‘fun’ and gaming does exactly that. We are all in on being a game that happens to let you both learn and play at the same time.

I’m very happy with the new logo. You should start seeing it appear in many of the things we are building and sharing with the world.

Get Smarter. Have Fun. TheMissionZone

Plot Matters

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For many of us, playing Dungeons and Dragons was an important part of being a kid.  I admit, it wasn’t a particularly exciting activity in and of itself.  What made it fun was the story lines we invented, the adventures we concocted, the quests we pursued.  Without the story, without plot, we would have just been sitting around and rolling multi-sided dice.  A good Dungeon Master was the key to an exciting night of questing with your friends.

At TheMissionZone, we know that plot matters. An immersive experience is only as exciting as the plot line you immerse yourself into.  That’s what makes the experience exciting.  We employ a comprehensive 3 step review process insure that all of our missions have an intricate and original plot line.  We want all of our Agents to have a memorable mission experience.  Just like those great nights of playing D&D, you should want to tell your friends about the great time you had completing a Mission.  And as a bonus, you learned something useful! 

That part is the key.  Many corporate training lessons already have scenario based plot lines.  "Sally discovers that one of her co-workers has started to..."  Yes it's a story...but that story doesn't have to be boring!  We believe that an interesting plot line not only helps keep your attention to help you learn, but it also makes the experience fun.   Getting Smarter, while Having Fun.

Within the next month we will launch a program to certify people to build missions on our platform.  We call these extraordinarily creative people “Architects.”   Architects will facilitate a community driven approach to building missions.  Architects will also have the ability to share in the revenue generated as Agents try to complete their missions.  The first 20 applications we receive will be part of an accelerated certification process.  If you believe that you have the creativity to be one the first Architects we approve on the platform, please submit your name below and we will get you started on the certification process.  If you know someone bitten with that creative bug, please tell them about this exciting opportunity!

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Atoms Are Better

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I have to believe that, you know we’re here in 2018, it’s much cheaper and easier to move bits around than it is atoms...

It strikes me that something like VR or AR or even video conferencing (on the path to that) has to be a more likely part of the solution than just building a ton of infrastructure.  

                                   - Mark Zuckerburg.  Recode:Decode podcast 7/18/18

We agree with Mark, for now.  But in the future, should we accept that moving atoms will always be more expensive than bits?   If that axiom doesn’t hold, should everyone be investing so heavily in VR?

Let’s leave aside that Mark really should have said “photons” instead of “bits”, that is a small detail.  It has long been accepted that a “virtual” world is one presented through some sort of device that sits on your head and shoots photons into your eyeballs, movement is secondary.  There are some companies like The Void that are taking it one step further and allowing you to physically walk around a space with a VR device on your head.  That stuff seems really cool.

But think for a second about two of the most popular references for the completely immersive experience of a virtual world... 

1) The Matrix.  All I have to say is, does anyone REALLY want a computer plug in your skull directly interfacing with their brain?  Yes, this a concept whose day may come to pass, but I can’t see it anytime in the next 50 years.

2) The Star Trek Holodeck.  You use your own eyes and body.  Nothing sits on your head.  It seems real because your actions are real and you ‘see’ things as real.

I’ve been a Trekkie for a long time.  That’s the future for me.  I want to move in a space and feel the space around me.  I want the space to change based on the plot line of the experience I requested.  The visual part is only one of my senses to engage.  There are companies like Looking Glass Factory, that are building real holographic image generators.  Once these become life sized and are paired with the Manipulated Reality platform that we are building at TheMissionZone...the Holodeck will be real!

Stay tuned for some awesomeness in the future.  We think there is a lot of short-termism in the AR/VR space right now.  Moving atoms and Manipulating Reality will be way cooler in the future.

 

No Shooting

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I don’t believe that shooting games are the sole cause of a child developing violent tendencies.  But I do think that they play a contributing factor.  Without proper parental guidance, I think it is entirely reasonable to conclude that there are direct correlations.

Shooting games are easy to make.  Between killing zombies and aliens, there are plenty of genres that make it seem less ‘real’.  Creating that plot, is not hard.

Making an action game that simulates the excitement and challenge of a first person shooter game without the violence, is hard.  But “hard is not hopeless.” *  Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an effort to take on the challenge.

At TheMissionZone, we believe that a reality based game can produce the same dopamine rush from completing tasks, without violence.  But we also believe that physically moving and challenging the body can produce an adrenaline rush, not achieved from sitting and playing a digital game.  Further, the challenge of completing a covert mission, challenges the brain in ways unattainable by an adrenaline sport like an obstacle course or a video game .  Non-kinetic missions require more focus, attention and concentration than just point-and-shoot games or rock-climbing.  TheMissionZone will combine these experiences in new ways.   

We intend to prove this concept and build a game platform that delivers this capability as part of our core experiential learning programs.  People CAN learn while having fun.  And having fun playing a game, can be more than just mindlessly shooting ‘bad guys.  It’s a brave new world.

 

* Gen David Petraeus

Three Reasons to Use Templates

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Here at TheMissionZone HQ we have been building walls. On The New Yankee Workshop Norm Abrams was always building a jig for some repetitive task like making dove tail joints for cabinet drawers. When you do something over and over, you want them to all look the same.  You want the same quality.  You want speed and efficiency.

We do too.  So we built a wall-jig.

That got us to thinking about using templates (the business version of a "jig") and when it is appropriate. We use them quite often.  But sometimes they are over-used.  There are times when individuality is needed.  When the cookie cutter approach makes something feel cheap.  So we created this guide on when to use a template: 

1) When the result needs to be identical each time. This can be physical as our patterns show above.  But also documents like contracts or form letters all need to look consistent for branding purposes. Templates are great.

2) When you know you want something to look individual, but the underpinnings have consistency between multiple versions.  A great example is coding web pages or app screens.  CSS allows the same look and feel of the colors and layouts.  But you can take this a step further by having buttons and lines and image spacing all be the same from page to page.  By copying from a template, you drastically shrink the time to create consistency, but make individual changes to each item easy. Powerpoint style guides and Excel templates also fit the mold for this kind of re-use.  These are different from a form letter, because PPT and XL intend to introduce new concepts that require uniqueness.

3) Sometimes you want to leverage a concept that is not the primary focus, but you use it as a starting point to create the final results.  This is a template that you re-use almost as a tool for building something else.  An encryption algorithm is a template used to build a private and public key.  No one cares about the math, as long as we have a key.

At TheMissionZone, we like this last concept as a tool to help companies build content.  As we create Missions for teaching people about a company-specific concept, the important part is the concept, not the Mission story line used to teach it. You can re-use someone else's creativity and insert your content to build a creative story, with your company's terminology.  The story is a byproduct, but since it is hard to be creative, this part requires much more effort.  Thus the use of story templates.

We liken this to the old Mad-Libs.  You fill in the blanks with your own words and the Mad-Lib creates a story from that template.  It's usually more entertaining then you thought possible when plugging in your answers.

TheMissionZone is creating these fill-in-the-blank templates to help you build engaging stories around your training materials to teach them with more excitement and creativity.  We can't always be creative, but there are ways to leverage someone else's creativity for your lessons.  We will be introducing a suite of these products very soon.  Stay tuned.

Templates can be over-used.  We have all been in meetings and said, "Haven't I seen these slides somewhere before?"  Don't just copy, that's not using the source as a template.  But rather, use the original as a guide or as a tool for something new.  Templates aren't a replacement for your content, but that doesn't mean they can't help your content look smarter and more interesting. 

 

Learning vs Teaching

Learning is the process of

  1. Paying attention,
  2. Absorbing information,
  3. Storing that information for the long-term, and
  4. Recalling it when necessary

(Srini Pillay, M.D.). 

Often we mistake this with teaching, which is the process of imparting knowledge and providing information through instruction.  (Ian McRae)  I would argue that implicit in the act of teaching is ensuring that the student understands the information presented.  Certainly, competent teachers do this.  

Checking the box on teaching, does not automatically mean that the knowledge presented is learned by the student.  Teaching occupies only steps 1 and 2 above.  New technologies and apps do a good job at improving these 2 steps,  Sometimes they are able to touch on making step 3 more effective, but that is not always the case.

What has shown to improve the process of remembering and building the problem solving skills necessary for recollection at the appropriate time, is experiential learning.  The act of experiencing a situation and moving through our environment to solve a challenge, makes that memory sticky.  The student employs all senses as part of the memory.  In addition, the simulation of using that knowledge in life, provides context for the memory.

Example - One could teach that gravity is represented by 32 feet/sec/sec and that force = mass x velocity.  Those are nice formulas.  A teacher could present that in a classroom and students could memorize it.  But for how long?  Are those formulas particularly memorable?

But imagine if those lessons were taught as part of the objective of assigning a student the mission of shooting a softball at the target of a dunk tank to sink his boss sitting over a tub of ice water.  The student has 1 shot to get the calculations correct and calibrate an air cannon to aim at the target.  Do you think that student might be hyper-accurate with his calculations?  Do you think he would remember those formulas 3 months later if a similar objective presented itself?

Knowledge needs context (a story) for it to be memorable.  And students need creative real-life experiential challenges as part of developing problem solving skills to use that knowledge.  This applies for any student.  At TheMissionZone, we aim to make possible real-life experiences that leverage knowledge.  When you layer an experience on top of teaching, you get really deep learning.  People can truly get smarter.  If it works, maybe your boss would get in that dunk tank.  Super Fun!