Check Out Circa

In April, just on the heels of leaving Spot.Us, I announced joining the team at Circa as the founding editor. Six month’s later – I’m happy to point to our new website and more importantly our new App which is available in the Apple App Store (If you like the App – feel free to give it a review!). You can like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter – the whole shebang.

With the obligatory “check out my new thing” link out of the way – let’s get to the more interesting ideas, lessons, etc.

For the “journalistic so what” of Circa – check out the Circa blog later this week. For personal reflections – check below.

1. On Keeping Your Head Down: I wrote about this for Spot.Us in detail but the lesson still applies. Focus on your stuff, your product, being the best you can be. Competitors exist. The market moves and you have to pay attention – but it doesn’t help to freak out every time you see something semi-related to your project. Keep your head down or you’ll never see the line in front of you.

Related to this was general mum-ness when it came to Circa. Throughout my time at Circa people have been wondering what we were up to. We weren’t trying to be coy – we just wanted to keep focused. The last thing we wanted was to over promise and under deliver.

This was very different from Spot.Us. It’s not that Spot.Us over-promised and under-delivered – but the nature of winning the Knight News Challenge meant the idea behind Spot.Us was out there in the ether. It was something I discussed. I answered questions about mechanics while we were still building the site.

Circa was very different. The idea behind Circa is out there – but to my knowledge nobody has wrestled it to the ground (see “journalist so what”) and rather then spend time answering questions about “what if’s” or mechanics – we kept our head down and focused on building it out.

2. On “MVP”: Minimal Viable Product: Very related: The importance of being iterative.

What you are seeing with Circa is a first swing. Due to the nature of what we are trying (again – “journalistic so what”) we’ve talked for hours on end about all kinds of cool features, ideas, designs, that could take the concept further, improve the reading experience and more. If we held off launch until we had implemented all of them – we’d never launch. A line has to be drawn in the sand. What you are seeing is one step past that line. Hopefully the minimal viable product (MVP) is enough such that a regular user can see the horizon and can think about features as well – and we will get to them (that includes you Android users). Or they may spit back in our face and point us in a different direction all-together. In any case – we can’t find out until we put it out there.

3. The value of understanding: In the journalism world there is often discussion about how much a journalist needs to know outside of journalism. Should they be versed as coders? Should they be in control of the business side. The conclusion I arrived at was validated with my experience so far at Circa – which is this; I myself am not a world class coder. I am not working on being a world class coder. In fact, I’m getting even more rusty than I was – when I only knew a little to begin with. I am not a business expert. I am not working towards my MBA. In fact, since arriving at Circa and leaving Spot.Us – I have had to think about money less.

BUT: I understand both of these worlds. What a developer does in their day-to-day isn’t “magic” to me. It’s just really hard work. What happens on the business side isn’t smoke and mirrors – it’s just careful management and balancing.

I understand the tradeoffs between coding quick and getting buggy software. The tradeoffs between picking and choosing features and having that tough discussion with development. I know this at the level of development lingo as well i.e.; refactoring code. They don’t need to stop and translate for me. This knowledge helps me work with the tech side and the business side. And we do work together… closely…. every day. Nobody works in a vacuum – we just have different expertise and speak slightly different languages. The imputes is on the journalist in the team to try and understand the lingo, the culture and the work flow that they have so we can sneak into it without causing any ruffles.

So what’s the lesson: You don’t need to be a world class developer to be a journalist working at a startup. But you do need to be well-versed and to understand what other aspects of the business are working on. And the other aspects of the business include technology, design, product, management, business, etc.

4. It never hurts to try something new.

Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around. – Vanilla Sky

For those that didn’t know me before Spot.Us – the crux of my career has been around doing new projects and trying new things. I’m starting to make a habit out of it – good or bad. When it came down to the professional choice of joining Circa (I had an opening to join a more established news organization) I thought about my career and where I want it to go. I thought about bands like The Pixies or actors like Steve Buscemi who had years of underground and independent projects/hits before becoming more mainstream names. Indeed – they were independent icons in their industries and to this day their credibility is founded upon the “doing” they did that slowly but surely earned them kudos professionally and publicly. I’m not saying this can’t happen at established news organizations. But I still have that independent, startup drive. I love the creativity, the fluidity, the chance to make a statement (journalistic so what – last plug, I promise) that comes with starting from scratch.

I’m excited about Circa – to say the least. Not too long ago I wrote that most web technology companies are media companies and vice versa. The more I’ve thought about it – the more I believe this to be an accurate description. Circa is consciously a media/tech company.

And now – the ride really begins.

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