Monday, July 28, 2014

Sony Alpha 7 (A7) Review

ISO 50, 24mm, f5.6, 1/30'
I've spent a week shooting with the full-frame Sony Alpha 7. I spent a few months with the Panasonic GX-7, but wound up shelving it (the UI was a hard-to-use mess, and the sensor isn't full-frame (something I realized I couldn't give up)).

Overall I'm really impressed with the Sony. I bought it thinking it would be a more day-to-day camera that I could more easily sling over my shoulder instead of a full weight/size DSLR (I have the Canon EOS 6D for that). I'm starting to think it might become my full-use camera however. I need to spend more time with it before knowing if it can fully displace my 6D though. No matter how things fare with the Sony, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to give up the analog/optical viewfinder of a true SLR. Time will tell.

I have a non-trivial investment in Canon lenses, so I've been using the Metabones lens adapter which allows me to use them on the Sony. Having two completely different sets of lenses feels a tad excessive.

  • Size. It's a smaller and lighter full-frame camera.
  • The dial controls for adjusting aperture and shutter speed are solid, consistent, and well placed.
  • Amazingly sharp exposures and overall exposure quality is fantastic! Great color and depth.
  • Focus peaking when in manual focus mode is super cool.
  • Battery life.
  • ISO 50. I'm a huge fan of super low ISO levels, so being able to go down to 50 has been fun.
  • Monitor display. High quality and pivots around really well.
  • Bracketing. I do a lot of landscape photography and bracketing is my standard method of taking exposures. While the Sony supports a few methods for HDR/Bracketing, it lacks a critical feature. The A7 doesn't take the successive exposures automatically with a single shutter-button press. Instead, you have to hold the button down with your finger while the exposures are captured. That means the exposures are highly likely to be shaken while you're holding the button down, and also that you have to sit there with your finger on the button while they're being taken. That can be awhile if you're doing really long exposures. I'm hopeful that they resolve this through a firmware update as I don't see any reason they can't support the single-press-to-multiple-exposures approach Canon has taken. A few blog posts have suggested that Canon remains the gold standard for bracketing support. This is an odd misfire in functionality by Sony. So easy to get this right, it's odd they got it wrong.
  • Angular body. The body has some strong angles and corners on it which means it can uncomfortably dig into you while thrown over your shoulder with the strap.
  • The metering light is so close to your finger on the grip that you have to be careful not to interfere with it when shooting.
  • The lens mount on the body has some play in it so even when lenses are locked in place, they can twist ever so slightly. It's not a big deal, but it doesn't feel as tight as the 6D.
  • The strap mounts interfere with your grip when you're holding the camera; an odd design oversight.
  • The iOS control app is pretty lame.
For now, I'm toting the A7 around with me all the time; it's a great camera. I'm going to see if using a wired remote to trigger the shutter for bracketing solves my issues with how it shoots HDR. If I can resolve the bracketing stuff, then the only thing standing between me and using the A7 as my full-use camera will be the fact that it actually is mirror-less. Not being able to see the analog light coming through a viewfinder is tough; I find myself wanting to see what I'm shooting.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Day In Pictures: Thursday

Ellie at Boxcar pulled together a yummy Cortado to start things off.

Rachel Ryle of Don't Stop Motion fame shares her creative experiences.

Johnny telling me about hanging art in The Laughing Goat. He made me my first latte many many years ago.

Nice girl at Zoe Ma Ma taking orders for the noodles.

April after a solid early afternoon hike.

Rachel for pre-therapy iced coffee.

Therapy session with Jillian.

TechStars Boulder begins! Team/Mentor meet-and-greet.

Matt and David. Good talk about 16-digit numbers.

Catching up with Rob Taylor & Nicole Glaros.

Talking about whale and the history of buckwheat vs. corn meal polenta with the maestro Bobby Stucky.

Talking about risk with entrepreneur Kyle Kuczun as the day winds down.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hiring Your First "Sales Guy"

Knowing when to hire your first sales person is the answer to one of those million dollar questions. We did a great job hiring our first sales person at Gnip (an Enterprise SaaS sales scenario), and this post describes how I think we pulled it off.

There were three things I wanted us to have before we pulled the trigger.

I wanted us to have some actual revenue first. Not a ton, but a handful of months that showed growth. Something I could show a salesperson prospect and say, "See, there's growth here. Your job isn't to start the growth, it's to increase the slope of the curve!" Of course, I also wanted some revenue and growth trajectory to convince ourselves that we were onto something too.

I wanted us to have some semblance of a pattern that illustrated the deal process and showed a prospect coming into the top of the sales funnel, and then out of the bottom, cutting us checks. This pattern, or template, would be something we could hand to a salesperson prospect and say, "This is how we've gotten this far. Are you comfortable with a model like this? Can you make improvements to it so we can have more money flow in?"

I wanted us to have the experience of having done the first wave of sales in order to really know what we were up against.

Put all that together and I think what is was, was that I wanted the upper hand in bringing on our first salesperson. Without the above, you're at the whim of the salesperson, because.... well... "You don't have a proven model here." Danger, danger.

I did NOT want us passing the sales buck off onto some new hire that couldn't fully understand our product, our prospects, our customers, our software, our challenges, our margins, etc. Understanding all of that stuff takes many months, and you want this person generating money quickly. I firmly believe hiring someone to sell your stuff before you've achieved the above items is a recipe for disaster. It will end with the firing of anyone you hire. You will fire them because "they don't understand our product" or "they don't understand how to sell our product" or "they don't understand our customers" or "they don't understand where they can flex on price." Those are all reasons you need to sort out before you hire your first salesperson. Now, you may have to let your first salesperson go anyway, but don't start off with one hand tied behind your back.

Oh, and another thing, I didn't want to hear the new salesperson say "you've never sold this product successfully. I'm trying to get our sales engine going here. it's going to take time." Fuck that. No excuses.

My board of directors drilled into me that we would fire our first salesperson hire (whoever they turned out to be), and that was something I was going to have to be prepared for. Our first salesperson drove Gnip into shit-tons of revenue; years later he's still with the company.

Your mileage will vary.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Your Startup's Identity Crisis

photo by Hans Richard Pedersen

Don't think about the following question; just answer it.

Is your startup a Product company, or a Services company?

If you answered "kind of both," you answered wrong. Only mature firms can handle both. If you're still trying to find decent revenue streams, and/or product market fit, and you answered "both," I'll bet you a dollar you're tearing your sales, engineering, product, marketing, and "services" teams apart at the seams.

If you started out as a Product company, but then started doing more custom/one-off/services like projects to make financial ends meet, be honest about the situation and acknowledge that you're organization is likely suffering from the challenges of trying to both, without the experience or maturity, or resources to actually pull it off. The challenges of doing both are nothing to sneeze at. I'd argue they're the hardest to resolve.

If you stated out as a Services company, but then realized you had a leverageable Product on your hands, consider carving it out as a separate entity (with separate staffing) to give it the air it needs to breathe and fully succeed, without the oil and water challenges of trying to do "both."

Over the past six months I've spent time with several startups (from 1 to 100 employees, and from zero to ~$15m in annual gross revenue) conversing about various challenges the business is going through. More often than not, there's confusion around whether the company is a Product company, or a Services company.

A Product firm != a Services firm. They take two different kinds of brains most of the time: from the CEO, to the individual contributor with her fingers on the keyboard.

Pick one; until you're older and wiser.