Fear of Failure

People are afraid of a lot of things:

  • Public Speaking
  • Failure
  • Success (a little baffling, but apparently, it’s a thing)
  • Leadership
  • Making Decisions (and more to the point – living with the consequences)
  • Spiders, Wasps, Snakes, etc.
  • Socializing and Networking

For me, it’s wasps, networking, and failure. I might have thought that after my years at TMC of being knocked down and getting back up, that I was well-prepared for the notion of accepting that some amount of failure is inevitable.

So, fail early and fail often! After all, success is the act of standing on a pile of failures, amirite?! High five!

Top Gun High Five
#MotivationalBusinessPosterWithSkydivers.

“Hang in There” Kitty.

All that crap.

I mean, I get it. That’s all kind of true.

But man. Failure feels so personal. It can feel like a passing of judgement. It can make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, that you’re in over your head, that you’re not good enough.

“You’re not good enough.”

“You’re not good enough.”

Maybe one of these days that voice will go away, but I’m starting to think that’s unlikely.

Instead, I try to remind myself that I will fail, I will fail often, and sometimes I will fail publicly.

I will be wrong and people who report to me will be right. I will miscalculate. I will underestimate. I will royally fuck up.

And all of that is the lamest of sauces.

But what’s the alternative? To never take any risks. Never assume any responsibility. Never lead anything. Just sit on the sideline of Life and try to make it from cradle to grave without any scars.

What a waste.

I hate failing, and it keeps me awake at night. But I want the thrill that comes with taking some risks.

So. I’ll make lots of small bets instead of a few big ones to reduce my exposure to large failures, push off high-risk decisions for as long as possible to keep collecting information (“just in time decision-making”), and I’ll resist the temptation to worry about and invest in failures that haven’t even happened yet so that I’m dealing with what has happened more often that what might happen.

And importantly, I give myself permission to fail so that I am less fearful of it.

I will invest heavily in myself so that I am less likely to fail.

I am allowed to hate failure.

But I am not allowed to be afraid of it.

High five, guise.

High Five Fail

To Work with a Team So Stunning, I Constantly Feel Dumb

When I started at Mocavo, I was working remote from Dallas because we were still trying to get the house sold and the family moved. I ended every day of my first two weeks with my head hung low. I’d Charlie Brown from my desk over to Laura and say, “They’re going to fire me. They’re so smart and fast, I just can’t keep up. I suck.”

Her reaction was appropriate. Somewhere between, “You’re being too hard on yourself.” and “Well then why aren’t you at your computer right now, bruh?”

Over time, the paranoia associated with feeling ludicrously outmatched subsided, but the respect and admiration for the other people I worked with on a daily basis never did.

And that’s what I want from here on out: To work with a team that’s so stunning, I constantly feel dumb.

It’s a scary (and intimidating) feeling to look around and realize that you may be the weakest link, but it also means that you’re well-positioned to learn and grow. And learn some more.

Bizspeak aphorisms can be simplistic and exhausting, but I’ve always liked this one:

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

– A Smart Person

For me, the hardest obstacle to overcome in those situations where you are in “the right room” is finding the courage to ask for help.

Asking for Help Looks Like:

Literally asking for help. “Hey yo, I have no idea how this works. Explain like I’m five.” That’s easy when it’s a big hairy monster, but when it’s one of those things you think you should know by now – and you can usually tell – it’s harder, but don’t waste half a day running in circles, just ask.

Speaking up in a meeting when someone makes a reference that you don’t get, but everyone else in the group is nodding yes. “Wait, wut? Sorry, what’s a KPI?” Chances are decent that someone else who was just nodding thought, “Oh-sweet-sassy-molassey-thank-you-for-asking-that.”

Admitting you don’t know what to do. Sometimes all the research in the world leads you to a coin flip at best or a roulette wheel at worst. If that’s all you’ve got, then present that and talk it out. Decisiveness is productive, yes. And assuming that you’re right when you’re in doubt is a good way to force yourself towards action. But, when I’m stumped, and I know I’ve got a team of brilliant people willing to jump in to a problem with me, I’ve found that good things happen when you say, “Peeps. I’m stumped on this one. What do you think?”

The Golden Rule Applies

(as it is wont to do)

I think having the freedom to admit gaps in your understanding without janking up your reputation leads to a team where trust, growth, and mutual respect are a given. If I believe that, and if I want that freedom from my co-workers and friends, then I’d better be sure I’m always communicating the idea that asking me for help or exposing some ignorance to me is a safe thing to do. I’m afraid I’m much better at this at work than in my personal life.

Anyway, never say stupid shit like:

  • You didn’t know that?
  • I’m surprised you didn’t know that.
  • Really? You haven’t heard of that?

You see the pattern. The regular life analog is the dude who can’t believe you haven’t heard of his new favorite band (who opens for the opener and has sold about two-thousand-and-four albums isn’t even on Spotify Apple Music). I’m susceptible to this one and want to be way better.

It’s always ok to not know something and admit it. Especially if you’re grindstone committed to getting it right from here on out.

Good luck, and here’s to being the dumbest person in the room.

Achieve Inbox Zero with These Gmail Shortcuts and Settings

If you have hundreds or thousands of messages just hanging out in your Inbox, I’ve got good news for you:

There is a better way to live my friend.

The steps I’ll demo below make use of Gmail’s web client, and it’s the same process I helped my wife implement to get her Inbox down from many thousands to the magical and totally achievable Inbox Zero.

If you’re still rolling with Sparrow or in love with Postbox, I probably won’t convince you to change; but it’s worth considering the switch. I haven’t used a mail client in years and I don’t miss it one bit. If you’re stuck with Outlook at work, I am so, so sorry.

GTD and Email

The method I’ll demonstrate makes use of GTD or “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

You don’t need to dive in on his books or talks to get going, we’ll cover the basic foundations along the way.

We’re going to use Gmail’s labels to assign every email you receive to one of the following categories:

  • Actions (something you need to do)
  • Waiting On (something you don’t want to forget about, but get it out of sight and out of mind for now. This is probably the sort of message that’s taking up the majority of your Inbox space today. There’s nothing you can do about it yet, but you also don’t want it to slip through the cracks. But, when you have over 100 messages in your Inbox, that’s usually what happens anyway.)
  • SomedayMaybe (you might do this, probably not, but get it out of here for now and you’ll think about it again in a week or two)
  • Delegated (something that you’re responsible for following up to ensure it happened. More responsibility on you for the outcome than a “Waiting On”)

Inbox Zero

When you’re all done, your Inbox will look something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.17.38 AM

Setting Up Multiple Inboxes

“Wait What?”

What’s with those sections on the right? How did those get there?

Those are a hidden feature of Gmail and setting those up is the first thing we’ll want to do. This method is a variation of the one I first saw described by Andreas Klinger in a great post. He makes use of Gmails stars, bangs, and guillemets for labeling, but I prefer this route. Your mileage may vary.

Alright, let’s get those multiple inboxes created. Follow the steps, or follow along with the video below:

  1. Open Gmail
  2. Click the Settings cog in the upper right and select “Settings” Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.35.06 AM
  3. Under General, go ahead and turn Keyboard Shortcuts On. You’ll want it later.
  4. Go to Labs
  5. Enable “Multiple Inboxes”Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.37.31 AM
  6. Go to Inbox
  7. Uncheck “Social”, “Promotions”, “Updates”, and “Forums” if any are selected.
  8. Go to Labels
  9. Scroll down and click “Create new label”
    Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 10.44.21 AM
  10. Create a new label called Actions and click “Create”
    1. Repeat that step to create labels for: Waiting On, Someday, Delegated
    2. You should have created four labels and should see the followingScreen Shot 2015-01-25 at 10.47.39 AM
  11. Now Click Save. This will take you back out to your Inbox, but you aren’t ready just yet. Go back to the settings cog and click Settings
  12. Go to the new “Multiple Inboxes” tab that should appear to the far right!
  13. We need to tell Gmail which messages should go in these new Inboxes. Use the image below to update your settingsScreen Shot 2015-01-25 at 10.50.06 AM
  14. Choose “Right side of the inbox” for Extra Panels Positioning
  15. Click Save.

Keyboard Shortcuts to Inbox Zero

Now you should be looking at an Inbox full of messages and four empty panels on your right.

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 10.54.12 AMWell big fat lot of good this has done you, right?

Not to worry, this is where the fun begins!

Now you can start to actually deal with those hundreds of messages that are sitting in your Inbox either collecting dust, or pestering you and making you feel guilty every time you see them.

I wish I could just demo my actual Inbox; instead, I’ve loaded up this sample account with a couple dozen emails that need to be handled.

Handy Dandy Keyboard Shortcuts to Keep in Mind

  • ? – Shortcut List
  • x – Select
  • e – Archive
  • o – Open Conversation
  • l – Show Labels
  • gi – Back to Inbox (from reading an email)
  • ` – Move Cursor to Different Inboxes
  • j – Older Conversation
  • k – Newer Conversation

Godspeed

Ok. There you go. Now you can get on with the hard (and fun) work of getting down to Zero. Just remember the basics:

If an email is counting on you, then its an Action.

If it’s in someone else’s court, you’re Waiting On.

If you’re game, but not this week, then it’s Someday/Maybe.

And if you’ve passed it along but you’ve got some skin in the game and need to stay invested, you’ve Delegated.

You can do it! Inbox Zero is just around the corner!

What I’ve Learned Through My Jobs (So Far)

The path I’ve taken has been meandering and circuitous. It’s not what I’d imagined, but it’s been an incredible ride thus far, and I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way.

When I was a teenager, my dad (who owned his own business, an Internet Service Provider called StarNET) encouraged me to get in to web development and design. I worked for StarNET in high school and through college, building sites for local businesses. I loved it and it’s because of that early intro that I’m doing what I do today (thanks, Dad). In school, I gravitated toward the design side of things, so I explored graphic design in college, and ended up majoring in art education.

I wasn’t able to find a teaching job right away, so my first full-time job out of college was designing hats for an apparel licensing company in Dallas.

Bioworld Merch

“Think Bigger”

I worked mostly in the beer and Looney Tunes categories starting in Feb 2004.

I was a good employee because I was dependable, I showed up, worked hard, and didn’t cause any drama. But, I wasn’t exactly adding a ton of value to the company.

If, for example, the Design lead wanted a suite of Coors Light hats for Target, that’s not the sort of thing he could have handed off to me with any sort of confidence that I would run with it to the end. I would get an overview of the requirements, create an initial round of designs, and then I would need (too) many rounds of critique and tweak before my work was suitable to send off to the factory for samples.

I look back on it now and think about all the creative designs I could’ve made by experimenting with combinations of materials, colors, and cap structures; but I never even got close to doing anything original because I was too timid to think big.

Navy, low-profile, six panel, unstructured.

Fitted, structured, brushed cotton in primary brand color.

Brown, high-profile, foam structured trucker, white mesh.

Boring. Safe. Average.

I didn’t realize yet that I should be thinking creatively on behalf of the business. A smart company doesn’t want employees who are sitting around, waiting to be told what to do.

For a lot of reasons, I didn’t have the confidence to act boldly and take the risks required to make outsized contributions. It was my first job outside of my hometown and I just didn’t see myself as a peer to the other designers. I showed up, but I was timid, and I was waiting to be told what to do.

I undershot my upside potential in that job by miles because I was afraid to Think Bigger.

Ted Polk Middle School

“Be Organized to Be Effective”

While at Bioworld, I continued to look for teaching jobs. I was fortunate enough to find a great position as the Art Teacher at Ted Polk MS in Carrollton, Texas from 2004–2008.

It’s hard to give individual attention to every student in a class of thirty when the class is only fifty minutes long. It’s actually impossible if you waste half of that time looking for misplaced materials, re-explaining unclear instructions, and redirecting misbehaving students.

Unfortunately, I spent way too much time during my first couple of years doing those very things (and more). That’s time that I could have spent getting to know my kids better, answering questions, and offering personal instruction.

What’s more, is that for me, my disorganization lead to a vicious downward cycle of almost zero effectiveness at times. Because after thirty minutes of corralling off-task students, finding everyone’s in-progress work, I didn’t have the energy to spend the time I had left to do what was actually most important to me – investing in one-on-one relationships.

Instead, I’d often retreat back to my desk to grade assignments or write lesson plans – work that could easily be done during my planning period. But as an introvert, I wouldn’t feel like I had the energy to invest in instruction or conversation. It’s terrible, I know.

Being disorganized absolutely exhausted me.

Finally, I managed to start getting my shit together by using bulldog clips that were color-coded by class period and numbered by table (my kids sat in pods of four) to collect and pass out student work. This way, at the beginning of each class I was quickly passing out just eight items sequentially, rather than 30-something individual items and making a dozen trips back and forth across the room.

If I was really on my game, I’d have a laminated example of the assignment along with guidelines on every table to help add clarity and reduce the number of times I had to repeat myself.

That’s just one small example of many, but the point is that when the logistics of transitioning from one class to another began to happen in just a minute or two, it felt good and helped me preserve the mental energy I needed to be present for my kids.

I’m at my best when I’m organized, that’s not a much of an insight. But what I need to remind myself is that the systems that help me be organized always decay over time. Always. They need attention, care, and revision; but I should remember that the effort to keep them up-to-date is a fraction of what’s needed to reign in utter chaos, and everything wants to move in the direction of chaos.

The Miller Company (not the beer)

“You Can’t Sell What You Don’t Know”

I loved my students, but I wanted control over my destiny in a way that I just didn’t see happening as a public school teacher. So, I brushed up on business fundamentals (many of which I’d learned through osmosis by watching and working for my dad), sharpened my design chops, and landed a job in sales & marketing with a company who designed and operated employee engagement systems.

DISH. Qualcomm.T-Mobile. Payless. Xcel Energy. Dolex. HEB. Luminant. The Scooter Store. The list of whiffs is even longer than that, but the point is that in sales role at TMC I was 0-fer. I batted an (im)perfect .000 in closing deals for which I was the lead account executive.

Not a one. Ever.

I played an important part in some very interesting F500 accounts in a communication design role, but always for deals that another account exec had closed and won. I learned a lot in those years and it was time well spent. The .000 avg doesn’t mean that time was wasted, but I was definitely learning some lessons.

The fundamental problem is the fact that I hadn’t fully internalized what I was pitching. I think my contacts could smell that, and I guess I’m glad they did. I bet during their deliberations as they were narrowing down vendors, the conversation was something like:

“The Miller Company. Hm. Yeah, I like Brian, he seems like a really nice guy for sure. He’s sharp enough and we’ve seen him work hard to get to the table. But … do I feel good about putting our program in his hands? At the end of the day, no.”

We were selling employee recognition programs as value-add consultants, and looking back now, I wasn’t qualified enough in that position at the time to have considered myself able to add value at the price we were quoting.

Without a knowledgable person to guide the design and implementation of a recognition program, it’s just a utility. Utilities trade at commodity prices, and my utility was priced as if it were a premium. That’s not a formula for closing deals.

Viscos

“Preparation Trumps Passion”

While at TMC, my wife and I decided that we wanted her to quit her job and stay home with the kids. To bridge the gap, I started doing freelance web development on the side. It was a giant breath of fresh air and I fell back in love with the web. Over time, projects became more frequent, then they overlapped, then they stacked up on top of one another, until finally it was its own business and I struck out on my own on Independence Day, 2011.

I wanted to quit TMC long before I actually left, but laying the foundation for Viscos for a little over a year drastically reduced the risk. By growing it slowly over time (rather than carelessly “following my passion”) there was never a three month rolling average that saw a stagnation or reduction in revenue.

Staying committed and confident is going to be difficult no matter what. But the slow and steady march of earnings up and to the right let me know I was on the right track. This allowed me to spend my energy working on the business, rather than second guessing myself and waffling on what to do next.

Passion is easy because it requires exactly zero actual work, so there’s a lot of it in the market. Preparation is hard because it requires patience and determination spread out over time, so there’s much less of it to be found. It’s basic supply and demand that preparation is almost always more valuable than passion.

hirebrianrhea.com

“Know Your Audience and Be Yourself”

We had wanted to move to Colorado for years, but it had never really come together. But in May of 2012, my wife and I said to each other, “Sooo … Colorado?” So, I built a resume site and to our great surprise, it went viral.

Maybe the single-most successful thing I’ve done in my career was conceiving of and executing hirebrianrhea.com. It’s kind of weird to think about how that might be true, because it was relatively easy to do.

Well, “easy” in the “overnight success five years in the making” sense. Laura and I were spending hours on my resume, and cover letters tailored specifically to the companies I was applying to when it hit me: “You know what? I should buy hirebrianrhea.com and just build a resume site. In the end, I bet that’s what will get the job, not my resume.”

I wrote all of the copy for the site in one night, spent a couple weeks developing and tweaking the site, emailed Brad Feld, and then our world turned upside down when he tweeted it to his followers and sent it to a mailing list of Boulder CEOs.

Because I’d been following startups and dev shops in Boulder for years, I knew exactly who I wanted to talk to. I understood their language, their tolerance (preference, really) for candor, personality, and humor. It came naturally and simply to write the copy in a way that would appeal to them. Not because I was born knowing how to or because it was simple, but because I didn’t have to fake or overthink anything.

If any part of the site was too cheeky or informal, then the sort of person who would be put off by that represented exactly the sort of company I didn’t want to work with anyway.

I can’t remember the first time I ever heard the name “Brad Feld”, but you don’t have to be interested in the Boulder startup community for very long before you learn that he’s the guy. The. Guy.

I had been following Brad (and many other Boulder influencers) on Twitter for years, reading their blogs, and just generally stalking the Boulder start-up community from Dallas. So, I sent Brad this email:

Brad,

This is a long shot. There is no bigger voice in the Boulder tech community than yours, and that is exactly why I would be grateful for your help.

I’m currently in Dallas and I would love to get my ass to Colorado. I present those reasons with a (hopefully) entertaining narrative at:

hirebrianrhea.com

What I hope to have done is to present not only my creative and technical skills, but also demonstrate my ability to tell a story, to understand my audience, and to capture their attention.

In short, I hope to present myself as someone Colorado’s entrepreneurial community would love to add its fold. There is not a doubt in my mind that a simple mention from @bfeld: “Someone in Boulder should hirebrianrhea.com” will get my work in front of the leaders and teams I would love to join. I want to help Boulder continue to grow its reputation and I’m asking if you’ll help me do just that.

Thanks for your time; I know it’s valuable.

Cheers,
Brian Rhea

I also don’t remember where I heard that when you’re asking for a favor, don’t be cute, don’t be timid, and never, ever be vague. Influential people are too busy for fluff, so cut the crap.

This is who I am. Here is what I want. This is how you can help me. So, will you help me?

I think I may have learned that from Shark Tank. Seriously.

Anyway, that email was also easy to write because I’d been passively learning how to write it for about an hour a week over the previous five years. Two hundred and sixty hours of context doled out over two hundred and sixty weeks.

And then Brad tweeted:

“Someone in Boulder should hirebrianrhea.com – the dude is seriously creative.”

When the site went viral and the job offers started coming in from San Francisco, Toronto, and most importantly, Boulder, I found myself in the very strange position of interviewing the companies who wanted me to join them, rather than the other way around. It was ridiculous. But it also felt like the culmination of years of reading, studying, and practicing. When the initial shock faded away and it was time to perform, I felt like I was in The Zone.

I should have been overwhelmed and scared that I was going to drop the ball and waste this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Instead, I felt prepared and completely in my element, because all I had to do was keep being myself. After all, that’s exactly what I’d done to be in this position to begin with.

When you’re full of shit or trying to be who you think “they” want you to be, interviews are hard. When you’re just being yourself, pitching is cake.

Mocavo

“Ship.”

Through the hirebrianrhea madness, I connected with Mocavo. They were a Boulder-based startup, a Techstars alum, and were backed by the Foundry Group. I was crazy impressed by the team and I knew it was the sort of place that I could grow because I could tell I’d always be the dumbest person in the room.

Just ship it. It isn’t perfect and it never will be. You’re not Steve Jobs. Quit being precious about #333 vs #222. Ship.

Defeat the resistance.

Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.

Skip meetings. Often. Skip them with impunity. Ship.

– Seth Godin, “The Truth About Shipping

I had read and reminded myself of this article many times over the years before joining Mocavo, but I had never practiced the mantra of “Ship.” so relentlessly as we did here.

What is “the resistance”? It’s people who say “you can’t do that.” It’s yourself when you wonder, “What if I’m wrong? Won’t I look dumb?” It’s “Meeting over Making.” It’s excuses and the status quo.

It’s your prehistoric lizard brain that is only good at being afraid. Kill it with fire.

Since becoming of Chief of Product, I’ve heard objections like, “That feature isn’t ready.” “People will complain.” “The reviews will be awful.”

To which my response would be, “Define ready.” “Maybe so.” and “Well, then we’ll take the feedback and make it better.”

Now, did we ship too early more than once? Absolutely. But erring on the side of “Ship.” creates a momentum over time that usually outweighs whatever snafus might have been avoided by being cautious.

But wait, what if you screw up and make the wrong call? It’s ok. This isn’t brain surgery, it’s a web app. Accept that mistakes will happen and realize it’s no big deal as long as you can correct them quickly. Execute, build momentum, and move on.

– “Getting Real” by Jason Fried and DHH

“Ship.” is a little too flippant for some. They might argue it’s disrespectful to deliver anything less than the very best to your customers or that it sets too low a bar for yourself and your craft.

That’s fair, and there are detail-oriented leaders and teams who find success in obsessing over the edges. If you’re one of them, high-five, yo.

But when it comes to web-based software, the ability to ship and iterate is one of our biggest advantages (over hardware, traditional publishing, and brain surgery). It’s ok if it isn’t perfect the first time (or ever). Your product is more likely to fail if nobody ever uses it than if their first use is something less than a flawless experience. Accept that it’s flawed, that it will be flawed, and just get on with it.

Shipping relentlessly is exposure therapy against fear-based indecisiveness and inaction.

The more you ship (even when you’re scared or less than proud) the more you realize, “Oh ok. The sky didn’t fall down on top of us.” And all that time you might have spent fixing edge cases, writing tests for 100% coverage, or moving that button 3 pixels to the right … no 1 back to the left … is time that you can spend working on Big Rocks.

Now What?

So, those are the major themes I’ve come away with so far.

Think Bigger, Get Organized, Believe or Leave, Preparation Trumps Passion, Be Yourself, and Ship.

What about you? If you had to identify one thing you’ve learned from each of the stops on your career, what might they be?

Structured Search in an Omnibox

If there’s one thing Google has spoiled us with, it’s the ability to throw a bucket’s worth of words in to a single field and expect magically-relevant results to appear.

It doesn’t hurt that they’ve got an army of PhDs on staff who not only know a thing or two about ranking algorithms, but apparently also know how many golf balls fit in a school bus.

For the rest of us mere mortals trying to cobble together an enjoyable search experience for our customers, we often find ourselves at the mercy of overwhelming search forms that intimidate our users.

The Double-edged Sword of Advanced Search Forms

At Mocavo and FindMyPast, we have several hundred thousand datasets in our indexes. Our customers can search the entire index at once, or they may choose to zero in on a given dataset and search it individually. One such dataset is the very popular 1940 United States Census which has 14 unique columns – and as a result – requires a search form that’s on the cluttered side of cramped.

1940 Census on Mocavo

We’ve tinkered around with hiding some of these inputs behind a “Show Advanced Fields” toggle, but that’s had mixed results. And besides, it doesn’t change the fact that once the customer reveals the advanced fields, they’re still looking at 14 inputs.

Inputs, that by the way, can be really useful. If use the following column-specific inputs, I’ll find who I’m looking for (my gr-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Tallant) right away:

  • Last Name: Tallant
  • County: Lamar
  • Birth Place: Arkansas

So, searching structured data by column is a great way to dramatically increase the relevancy of results, but still, we want a more approachable means for customers to find what they’re looking for that doesn’t begin with this barrage of fields.

Structured Search in an Omnibox

The notion of having a single search box for a more “Google-like” experience has floated around our offices for a couple years, but how exactly could it be pulled off? Take the example I just used above: if I throw “Tallant Lamar Arkansas” at our search engine as a string of keywords, the likelihood that I’ll get decent results is very low. “Arkansas” will find matches in several unintended columns: Last Name, City, County; the same will be true for Lamar. You get the idea.

But what if we know that Tallant is almost always a last name, Lamar is probably either a last name or a county, and Arkansas is usually a state? If we have a library of likely values to compare the customer’s input against, could we make an initial best guess and provide the user with some UI for correcting our assumptions when they’re wrong?

I think so:

Omnibox Search Overview

As you can see, if we think the word is a name, a date, or a place, we indicate that best guess with a person, calendar, or map-marker icon.

This takes us in the direction of a simpler and more approachable search experience, without losing the accuracy of the column-based structured search that our market expects.

Notice how when I entered “born 1980″ that it merges those two previously separate fields together. We could expand on that sort of contextual intelligence in a number of other ways. For example:

Omnisearch Jackson

When Jackson is on its own, it’s usually a last name. But, when followed by Mississippi, it is almost always a city; so the column assignment changes when its context changes.

Teaching Syntax on the Fly

I showed the prototype to Drew, one of our developers, and he had an interesting idea that would educate users on the syntax of commonly used terms like born, died, married, etc.

Syntax

Power users will learn these time-saving hints as they go until they become part of their natural workflow.

Correct Us When We’re Wrong

Of course, sometimes our first guess will be wrong. In which case, the customer will be able to change the field type and resubmit their query.

Correction

Other Applications

Few things are as obnoxious as the unsolicited redesign shamelessly promoted on the Twitters. So trust me, I’m not suggesting that the following sites are not already doing amazing work and giving their customers a fantastic search experience. As I was iterating this prototype, I couldn’t help but wonder how it might be applied to other services.

Hipmunk

Already one of the easiest travel sites to use, what if instead of this:

hipmunk's homepage

You saw this:

hipmunk with omnisearch

Yelp

yelp with omnisearch

Amazon

amazon with omnisearch

 

 

 

Stay Tuned

We’ll be kicking this around internally for a little bit and getting it wired up to some live datasets for testing.

hirebrianrhea.com – One Year Later

This article originally appeared on Startup Revolution

It’s 4 o’clock in the morning on June 8th, 2012.

I’m in my kitchen in a Dallas suburb trying to stay awake while feeding my one-month old. This is only the second time I’ve taken the night-feeding shift, and not that it ever gets easy, but a stoned walrus could kick my ass at tic-tac-toe right now.

I figure I’ll skim Twitter for a bit – if only I can remember how to turn on my iPad. “Ok, let me think. I take the chicken across the river and leave the fox with the corn. Then I tell Sean Connery how to spell the name of God. Wait. I just push this button. Yes. Steve Jobs, you sir, are a genius.”

The screen illuminates. I give my eyes a moment to adjust, and then I think I need to give them a little more time because my email notification pill reads, “174″. This is not typical. Clearly, something, somewhere has gone terribly wrong. But no, nothing is wrong. In fact, things are about to be very, very good because at the beginning of those 174 emails is a note that reads:

From: Brad Feld
Date: Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 11:38 PM

“Tweeted – I’ll also send out to the CEO list I manage.”

What he means is that he tweeted a URL I’d sent to him. My brain is suddenly wide awake. Some of those emails are new Twitter followers and general words of encouragement, but a very large number of them are interview requests and it’s only been a little over four hours. I realize that there will be hundreds (thousands?) more and it very quickly sets in that This. Is. Happening. One way or another, my family moving is Colorado.

I let Shepard finish his bottle, lay him back down, and take a few hours to start responding to emails as more and more continue to come in. Finally, at about 7 a.m., I go upstairs and wake my wife, Laura.

“Sweetheart. Something has happened.”

This is how it happened, and what has happened since.


 

Like most people who’ve spent more than, say, six hours in Colorado, Laura and I had the “We should totally move out here” conversation a couple different times with varying degrees of determination. But, when Shep was a few weeks old, we looked at each other and said, “So. Colorado?”

I had been following/web-stalking a number of entrepreneurs, agencies, and developers in Boulder for a couple of years. My admiration for their work had grown to a level approaching “Legendary” so I knew exactly who I wanted to reach out to. Brad at Foundry, David at TechStars, Foraker, Viget, Slice of Lime. The list of talented people doing amazing work here goes on and I was dying to be a part of it.

I decided to build a site that pitched my skills specifically to companies in Colorado and so I got to work building hirebrianrhea.com. Jason Zimdars set the gold standard for the personal resume site when he landed a gig at 37signals ; I figured if I could be half as effective as Jason was at communicating his skills and his personality, then I’d have a shot at turning our dream in to reality.

After a couple weeks of build-test-tweak-rinse-repeat, I was finally ready to ship. I sent Brad an email at around noon expecting to perhaps maybe on the off-chance hear exactly nothing three months later. Instead, that night I was staring at my iPad, bleary-eyed with a newborn in my arms, completely overwhelmed.

The two weeks following Brad’s tweet were a whirlwind. There were offers from Boston, New York, Toronto, and San Francisco, but our sights were set squarely on the Flatirons. I flew out a couple of times and was fortunate to meet with CEOs whom I aspire to be like, brilliant designers and developers, and deeply committed marketers and project managers.

But in the end, there was something special about TechStars alum and Foundry-backed startup Mocavo. They had a grand vision (to bring all the world’s historical content online for free), were attacking interesting problems (to bring disruptive technology to a well-established industry), and had the talent to pull it all off (a year later and these guys still amaze me).

The entire experience and the year following it has been nothing short of a dream come true. There were a few moments before we moved out here that Laura and I had to ask ourselves, “Are we ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend?’ Are we completely obsessed with this place and putting these people up on some illusory pedestal? Is our fantasy about to be shattered? Does this end with us bawling our eyes out listening to Toni Braxton records? And what are doing with all these Toni Braxton records?”

But no – it’s been amazing. We’ve made some wonderful friends, enjoyed beautiful hikes 20 minutes from our front door, and professionally – to be in the midst of so much creativity and palpable energy – it’s been incredibly rewarding.

I could go on and on about what makes this place so special (if you’re reading this from outside the 303 area code and considering relocating, e-mail me and I’ll be happy to convince you that it’s the right thing to do) but instead I’ll just end this by saying “Thanks.” Thanks to Brad Feld for 85 characters that altered the course of my family’s life forever. Thanks to Cliff and everyone at Mocavo for bringing me onboard and giving me an opportunity to be part of what you’re building. Thanks to Stirling at Foraker, Will and everyone at All Souls. Thanks to all of you for making us feel welcome from day one and for making Colorado feel like home sooner than we could have ever expected.

It’s been an unbelievable year. I’ll do my best to give back for many years to come.