Personal Commentary from Miker

* This is actually cross-posted from my personal blog. But the folks at Churn said they shared the sentiment, so I’m posting here as well:

The news about Churn Labs went out yesterday, so I can start talking publicly about what we’ve been cooking up. I figured I would start with a bit about what we’re trying to do. Frequently when I tell folks about the lab they say “Oh, you guys are an incubator.” That’s not quite true. I haven’t been trying to correct people about it however, cause with all the incubators out there it was an easy way for us to stay hidden in the noise. Time to stop that though.

The overall explanation is on the Churn Labs about page. The typical incubator takes folks who are already working on something, and provides them with resources in exchange for equity. Churn Labs is structured as an actual lab however, where we hire folks to work on ideas we already have bouncing around internally – with the hope that some of those ideas have legs and can be spun off into independent companies. That means our projects take a completely different form, and the folks who we’re able to pull into the lab can come from vastly different areas.

There are lots of folks out there who aren’t able to hop in full time to work on their ideas. They have kids, or a mortgage, or need their health benefits to be constant. Some of those folks are always hacking away nights and weekends on interesting projects, but they just can’t unblock enough time to make a real run at some of their ideas. When Omar and I started talking about the lab we figured that would be the real sweet spot for a new project.

I’ve been calling them “entrepreneurial engineers”, but I hardly coined the phrase. I first started hearing it from Adam and Joyce around the 106 Miles Meetups. It’s hard for an engineer to make the leap to entrepreneur. I know I certainly found it really frustrating and difficult, but also very much worth the effort. There are lots of programs aimed at folks who are willing to toss it all and start off on something new and untested. But there are few systems aimed at those passionate folks who aren’t able to just chuck it all and strike our fresh. As engineers we’re accustomed to trying to be methodical and principled about what we do, and that just doesn’t jive with quitting your job and striking out into the completely unknown.

The most common argument that people throw back at me is “You can’t make people entrepreneurs! If they didn’t have the passion to just strike out on their own they won’t have the will necessary to make it on their own.” I completely disagree. Fortunately I’m no stranger to hearing constant criticism of an idea. I heard just about hourly about how AdMob was doomed to failure for the first 6 months I was there. So, criticism noted, but I don’t agree.

I disagree because I know lots of these people are extremely passionate and driven. I know because they IM me at 3 in the morning with questions about how to setup software based load balancers or how to install a Cyanogen rom on an Android phone. They don’t lack the drive to work on their own things, they just lack the tools necessary to figure out how to make their passion their livelihood. There’s certainly risk still even if they do have the tools, but there’s risk in any model. And I think this one is worth exploring. At worst, I got to hack on a bunch of interesting stuff with a group of awesome people. Total win/win situation.

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