Introducing CrankWheel

This part of your bike is called a crankwheel. Without it, your bike would suck.
This part of your bike is called a crankwheel. Without it, your bike would suck.

I’m finally ready to blog about my startup, that I’m now working on full-time after developing it since last fall with my co-founder Þorgils (I’m the technologist, he’s the sales wizard). Our tagline is “CrankWheel: Power your Sales and Service,” we’re on Facebook and Twitter and you can sign up at http://www.crankwheel.com/ to get news (and a special offer) when we launch, which should be this summer.

In a nutshell, CrankWheel allows a customer service agent, a sales person, or anybody else who might have a customer or colleague on the phone, to enhance the phone call with the ability to communicate visually, as if you were sitting side by side in front of a computer screen, in ten seconds flat.

Why didn’t I blog about CrankWheel sooner? The truth is, I’ve been through the typical Valley of Doubt with this project.

It’s a trail that starts in the hills of “This is the Best Idea Ever,” meanders down to an outcrop called “Oh look, there’s competition doing something slightly similar but nowhere near as good” and further down to the still-happy foothills of “This will be hard but worth it.”

After an enjoyable start, the trail keeps descending into the Valley of Doubt, and just as it starts to rain, you hit the dense forest of “Ouch, we just found a lot more competition.” As a thunderstorm of the soul sets in, you end up at the bottom of the valley in the marsh of “I’ve just wasted months of my life with nothing to show for it!”

Luckily, in my case, I made it through to the green pasture of “Every customer we speak to wants our solution” just as the weather started to improve, up the knoll of “I’m sure there’s a better way” and after that, step by step up out of the valley until I’m now standing on a plateau called “Time to commit very publicly.” Hence this blog post.

Now that I’m on the other side of the Valley, I’m strongly convinced that we’ve figured out a much better way to solve the problem at hand than anything that’s out there today.

I made it through to the other side thanks to questions such as these:

  • Why would you ever force your customer to install software or an app on their computing device, just so you can show them something?
  • Why should you ever live in doubt about whether your customer is seeing exactly what you think you’re showing them?
  • Why should it take more than a couple of steps, ten seconds at most, to see something being shown to you? Why should you have to remember and type in ten-digit conference room codes?
  • Why should you be forced to care about what kind of network connection you’re using, or what browser version you have, or whether you’re using a tablet or a smartphone or a desktop computer, when what’s happening is something so simple to do in real life? Just to be shown something?

Those questions gave rise to CrankWheel. In ten seconds or less, your customer will see exactly what you want them to see, no need to worry about what kind of device or which browser they have, no need to install software on their end, and it’s extremely easy to join a presentation. It just works, every time.

I think CrankWheel will make the world a better place through happier customers, a more personal touch, and less need to burn gasoline while driving to places to receive the kind of service that can’t be delivered over the phone alone.

To give a hint about CrankWheel’s “secret sauce,” I’ll mention that the last project I worked on at Google was WebRTC. It’s great technology that makes an excellent foundation for a product such as CrankWheel, but it’s also very new technology, supported by only a handful of browsers, which on the face of things conflicts with some of CrankWheel’s main goals. I’ll leave it at that for now – more later.

Right now, Þorgils and I are finalising the lineup of our first several customers, one in each of a few different industries, all of them willing to run scientific trials with us to see how much CrankWheel increases sales, shortens support calls, increases customer satisfaction, etc.

We are also ready to hire employee number one, based in our Reykjavík office. The ideal candidate is a rockstar programmer interested in web technologies and real-time communications. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you are one or you know one. I promise, this will be fun!

I really look forward to being able to show and tell you more about CrankWheel in the coming months, both here and on the yet-to-launch CrankWheel blog, as well as by email if you sign up at http://www.crankwheel.com/.

In the meantime, I’ll keep pedalling.

Why I left Google

tree-small
Make like a tree and leave

When I decided to leave Google a few months ago, I was asked all the questions you might reasonably expect people to ask. “Isn’t it a fantastic place to work? Couldn’t you just switch projects to something really exciting like self-driving cars? Don’t they pay really well? Are you sure you still know how to fend for yourself after all of the free food? I’d cut off a leg if it meant getting a job at Google, what’s wrong with you?” And so on.

Since this blog is supposed to document my post-employment adventures, I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning: Why I left Google, and why I’m not planning to be an employee again for the foreseeable future.

Was it because I no longer liked the project I was working on? No. My last project was Google Chrome. It’s a pretty fantastic project, I’m a fan of the product, I was working with a lot of incredibly great people, and it was, for a long time, an incredible learning experience to be part of such a massive engineering undertaking (last month, over 600 user accounts made code changes), witness the problems you start having at very large scale, and participate in fixing them. To be honest though, I enjoyed myself quite a bit more when I worked on much smaller teams that owned an entire product end to end, such as the Google Desktop team that was never more than about 18 or so engineers and about 30 people in total, yet produced and supported a product used by tens of millions of users every week.

Was it because, for the last three years of my nine and a half years at Google, I was working remotely from Iceland? Not really. The Chrome project is a fantastic project for working remotely, because its culture fosters contribution from teams and individuals all over the world. I traveled a fair amount, enough to see the core team in California quite regularly, but not so much that it became a drag. If I’m being honest though, I think I might have stayed at Google for a bit longer if I’d been working from Google HQ in Mountain View, California. There is just so much Kool-Aid to drink there.

Was it because I felt like I was no longer learning new things and growing in my role at Google as fast as before? Maybe a little bit. For my last couple of years there, I started feeling that maybe Google wasn’t the place where I was going to do the best work of the rest of my life. But that wasn’t the only reason. If it had been, it would have been quite easy to let things slide, stay in the cushy job, maybe switch projects to something where I could learn a bit more.

I think there are two separate reasons I decided to leave. One is that I have unfinished business, and the other is that I want to be the master of my own destiny to the largest extent possible. Let’s start with the latter.

I went through two different project cancellations at Google, of projects that I was leading at the time of cancellation. One of them I led from its inception, the other I had taken over about a year prior. Both of these projects were innovative, risky, and were significantly affected by outside forces – competition and a shifting technology landscape – and were cancelled because Google didn’t want to invest more in the face of those outside forces.

I believe the best work of the rest of my life will also involve risky projects.

When you do a risky project at a big company, there will always be a decision maker somewhere above you with the authority to pull the plug, regardless of how much you are willing to fight for the project, make the case, and pledge your blood, sweat and tears to make things work. To make matters worse, when the plug is pulled, the project might completely disappear from the face of the earth.

When you do a risky project as an entrepreneur and things are not quite going your way, your investors might get spooked, you might have to pivot, pull all-nighters, scale down your company, fire some of your best friends, pull favors, piss people off, and generally do incredibly difficult things. However, your ability to figure out ways to continue the project if you still believe in it is much greater. Worst case, you can probably open-source some work that could prove useful to others.

There are other ways to get to finish risky projects, you might say. Go into academia, or join a research department somewhere. You might not get to build full products but you’ll generally be able to find ways to keep researching whatever you’re interested in. This is where my unfinished business comes in.

Before Google, my career in software was exclusively at startups. I was an early employee at Iceland’s first Internet startup, I co-founded a spin-off from that company, co-founded another company on the side that I ended up not joining full-time, and was an early employee at another couple of startups before joining Google. But I never had full responsibility for any of these companies, and I didn’t see any of them through to successful exit or profitability. That said, a few of them did enjoy significant success, ranging from moderate to Icelandic-entrepreneurship-landscape-changing.

Bottom line: I have the bug. I need to build my own company. I have a lot of useful experience that I can build on.

I might be crazy. The statistical track record of entrepreneurship says that I probably am.

But hell, here goes nothing.