unique hazards may exist
a blog about startups and other unexpected things.

I’ve attended a lot of tech conferences over the years.

In my younger days, when I worked on awkward cough enterprise software, the conferences I went to were crassly commercial affairs. Marketing masquerading as content. The intent of these conferences was to sell stuff. It was hard to stay awake.

As my career (if that word even applies) mercifully shifted towards the Web, I began to attend conferences that focused on technologies rather than companies. A vast sea of competing panels and tracks vied for my attention. The intent of these conferences was to bolster an ideology or trend. Or, perhaps more cynically, to build reputations. It was hard to relate.

After founding my first company I began attending “startup” conferences. Usually organized by tech publications and blogs, they were populated by eager and often desperate entrepreneurs, ready to regurgitate the latest catch phrases from celebrity founders and investors. The intent of these conferences was to feed the hype machine. It was hard to believe in.

Last weekend, I attended XOXO up in Portland. Over three days, I heard profoundly personal lessons shared by creative people. I played experimental games, formed new relationships, and generally sat in rapt attention through every moment. The intent of this conference was to bring independent creators together to share and celebrate their struggles and successes. It was hard to leave.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience at XOXO, and why it felt so different from (and more satisfying than) any other conference I’ve attended. I’ve concluded that much of it flows from the organizers’ intentions.

Intent shapes the things we do and the things we make. It is the difference between Zynga and Valve, between Microsoft and Apple. I hope it’s the difference between the endeavors of my past and my startup right now. It’s also the difference between most conferences I’ve attended, and XOXO. When you put people first, in a genuine and heartfelt way, it shows. And it’s contagious.

My congratulations to Andy and Andy for what their intentions have wrought. I hope they do it again.


One week ago today, we launched our Kickstarter campaign for Storium, the online storytelling game. After months of playtesting we knew that we were on to something and hoped that others would feel the same way. But the actual response we’ve seen has blown us away.

imageWe hit our funding goal in the first 24 hours! Whaaaaaat.


We’ve just launched our Kickstarter campaign for Storium, the online storytelling game!

image What’s Storium?

Storium’s mission hasn’t changed since our original announcement — we are creating an online storytelling medium that plays like a game and lets busy people make storytelling a…


Storium’s Kickstarter video shoot
After over a year of development, playtesting, and planning, we’re finally ready to bring Storium to Kickstarter! We’ve submitted our campaign for approval and will be launching within days.

UPDATE: the official launch date for our Kickstarter campaign is…


"Protagonist Labs is a new startup founded on the belief that we all have inherent creative potential that technology can help us unlock. We are building digital tools that use the power of play to break down creative walls."

With those words, Protagonist Labs premiered one year ago today. And what a year it’s been.

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Well that was fast. Today is the one-year anniversary of my startup, Protagonist Labs!

This has been an intense but hugely rewarding year. I’m happier in my work than I’ve ever been, and I’m proud of what my colleagues and I are creating in Storium.

I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Well, holy crap. My startup had a big day. We launched Storium Alpha 2, which is our newest alpha (or playtest, in gaming terms) of our online storytelling game. It’s the culmination of months of playtesting and observation, and months of engineering and design work on top of that. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

If you’d like to check out Storium, please visit our homepage and add your name to the waiting list. We’ll be inviting a new batch of playtesters soon.


After months of development, we’re pleased to announce that Storium Alpha 2 has just launched!

image Alpha 2 is the latest playtest of Storium, the online storytelling game. It incorporates much of what we’ve learned from our prior playtest, and it’s a big change. Alpha 2 rethinks several of the game’s key mechanics, with the goal of making Storium faster, easier and more fun to play.

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Looking back on 2013, I realize that I worked seven days a week with hardly a pause, and I had very little income. By several entirely reasonable measures, that wouldn’t exactly be termed a “success”. And yet, for me 2013 was a profoundly successful and rewarding year. Why, you ask?

*Stares, waits for you to ask.*

Hey, thanks for asking! Here’s why:

I founded my second startup. This year revolved around my startup Protagonist Labs and the design, construction and alpha testing of our product: Storium, the online storytelling game. The Storium journey defined 2013 for me, and I expect (hope!) that it will define 2014 as well.

It appears that for better or worse I have this startup thing in my blood, coursing through my veins like some sort of mutagenic virus, clawing at my cell walls, tearing at my base pairs. I await the manifestation of useful metahuman abilities. So far all I’ve received is elevated background stress and a quixotic zeal for wireframe mockups.

I worked on something I passionately believe in. The idea behind Storium has been rattling around inside my head for a few years now, and its roots go all the way back to my childhood. The idea of building something that helps people be creative and express themselves is deeply meaningful and important to me. That meaning has given me the strength to keep working, to keep pushing forward, even when I’ve felt tired, distracted or burned out.

Working on something you believe in is priceless. It is a secret weapon that makes your work better. It is a super power that enables you overcome long odds. I haven’t always felt this way in my professional life, so I’m very grateful that I do now.

I combined my interests and experiences and turned them into a job. Funny story: before I got into computing as a kid, I was a child actor. Like, professionally and all that. (Don’t bother looking, it was the analog era and the tapes have all been de-magnetized.)

Hey, I said STOP LOOKING. Jeesh.

Anyway, as I grew up I drifted away from drama and into technology. For me this was without a doubt the right decision, but my interests in performance and storytelling lingered. They translated into an obsession with D&D and other role-playing games. They manifested as a love of film and television. They popped-up every time I played an engaging video game. They re-appeared time and time again as I read my favorite books.

Working on Storium has united a lifetime of interests with a career’s worth of experience in technology. I’m not sure if I crafted this thing or stumbled into it, but it fits like a glove. Better not screw it up, eh?

I worked with amazing people. My co-founder Josh Whiting is the most talented engineer I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. His mind operates on a completely different level from mine. He’s like a chess grandmaster, intuitively seeing the whole board and effortlessly holding many possible moves in his head simultaneously. I am constantly in awe of his brain, his instincts, and his work ethic. On top of all that, his passion for what we’re building rivals my own. I don’t know what I did to deserve such a great friend and partner. I’m just lucky, I guess.

I first met Will Hindmarch in 2012, but it was in 2013 that we really began to collaborate. Will is an established and widely respected game designer, as well as a hugely talented writer. Over the past year Will has become an invaluable advisor, teacher, ally, and friend.

Will, Josh, me, and virtual J.C.
I have learned so much about game design and writing from Will that it barely fits in my head. If I keep learning from him I may end up with Johnny Mnemonic-style brain bleed. Will has put a lot of time, effort, and emotion into Storium, and I know that he’s made difficult sacrifices to do so. I also know that we share the same passion for this project and the same hopes for what it can become. Most of all, I know that Storium simply wouldn’t be what it is without Will’s unique experience, skills, and insights. Thank you, Will.

J.C. Hutchins is a novelist and a transmedia powerhouse. I originally met him through Chuck Wendig, and in the past year our relationship has gone from acquaintance to advisor to friend. J.C., with his sharp instincts and keen eye, was one of the first to see the “big picture” of Storium — frankly, even before I did. His support and advice were invaluable in 2013. But beyond that, J.C. has a sense of optimism and excitement that is infectious. A conversation with J.C. makes you feel like you can conquer the world. In 2014 I want to talk with J.C. even more often!

Attending the Hugo Awards at Worldcon
I met some wicked talented folks. No, seriously. In 2013 I met so many inspiring people that I can hardly believe it. At Worldcon and other venues I had the opportunity to connect with amazing writers including Chuck Wendig (my beard idol), Mur Lafferty (who has since become an advisor for Storium!), Saladin Ahmed, Adam Christopher, Andrea Phillips, John Hornor Jacobs, Maurice Broaddus, and Tobias Buckell.

At venues like Origins and Metatopia I met many talented folks from the indie game community, including Mark Diaz Truman, Logan Bonner, John Harper, Jason Morningstar, Lenny Balsera, Ryan Macklin, Miranda Horner, Sage LaTorra, Brennan Taylor, Fred Hicks, Justin Jacobson, Cam Banks, Luke Crane, Ken Hite, Marissa Kellly, Amanda Valentine, Dave Chalker, Ana Visneski, Quinn Murphy, Tracy Barnett, Elizabeth Sampat, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Adam Koebel, Rob Donoghue, Chris Hanrahan, Jeremy Morgan, Sean Nittner and many others. (If I accidentally left you out, please forgive me!) Suffice to say, I was deeply enriched this year by the company of smart and inspiring people.

I learned. A lot. As with my prior startup, I built the initial prototype for Storium and in doing so sharpened my engineering skills. Unlike my prior startup, this time around I had to shoulder more of the product and UX design load myself, so I took the opportunity to learn and grow in that capacity. For the first time in my career I found myself building a game, and so 2013 was a crash course in game design, both practical and theoretical. Finally, I had many chances to apply lessons learned from my prior startup, enabling me to avoid some pitfalls this time. Of course, I also made new mistakes and learned from those as well. It sounds flip, but it’s not. Screwing up is, for me, the fastest path to not screwing up. So bring it on.

I read. A lot. In fact, I think I read more books this year than in the prior five years combined. This has proven to be one of the more delightful side effects of working on a startup based around creative writing. Picking favorites is tough, but some of them include The Blue Blazes (Chuck Wendig), The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi), the entire Dresden Files series (Jim Butcher), The Shambling Guide To New York City (Mur Lafferty), Throne of the Crescent Moon (Saladin Ahmed), Seven Wonders (Adam Christopher), and The Expanse novels (James S.A. Corey). You should read all these books. Yes, ALL OF THEM. All of these authors have new books coming out in 2014. I can’t wait.

I listened. A lot. Sitting here in my home office, Spotify and Pandora became my steadfast friends. I listened to a lot of great music, some of it new, some of it not. I leaned towards the wordless, since I tend to find lyrics distracting when writing or coding. Thus I ended up listening to a lot of post-rock and ambient acts. Some of my favorites included Hammock, Rhian Sheehan, Balmorhea, Sigur Rós, Explosions in the Sky, Helios, Mogwai and This Will Destroy You. A few lyrical exceptions on repeat included Fleet Foxes, The National and Arcade Fire, among many others. I also found myself listening to a number of film and video game scores, including Tron: Uprising (Joseph Trapanese), Bastion (Darren Korb), Children of Dune (Brian Tyler) and The Social Network (Trent Reznor). That’s a new habit I plan to further explore in 2014.

I worked for myself. It’s taken a while, but I’ve learned that this is important to me. It’s not that I have to be in charge and in control (at least I hope that’s not it). Rather, I think I’m not built to work for someone else in an “organization”. The parts just don’t fit together very well. I am happier and more productive when working under my own direction, with a small number of people.

Startup life and entrepreneurship aren’t for everyone, and I would never claim they’re better than any other way of living or working. But for me, this life is good. It is consistently challenging and yet constantly rewarding. I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity, and I hope to keep doing it.

Chloe, the official Storium office dog
I worked from home. This seems like a small thing, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. After nearly three years of commuting daily to San Francisco, I finally got to work at my own desk, in my own space, with as much privacy and focus as I wanted. I got to be around and enjoy the company of my lovely wife, my adorable dog, and my dog-like cats. Between that and periodic video Hangouts with my team, I felt focused but never solitary, alone but never lonely. It was pretty great.

Also, no pants! *Cheers wildly*

I was healthy. Mostly. Crippling neck and back pain led to the diagnosis of a strange, rare spinal form of arthritis. Fortunately there’s a drug available that is thus far helping dramatically (I call it “the mantle”, an in-joke for fellow Dresden Files fans out there). Other than that, my wife and I were fortunate to be in good health this year. Others in my extended family have been dealt more difficult cards, but their conditions are presently good and we are all deeply grateful for that.

There are a few things I didn’t do this year. I didn’t make any money. This is because we’re “bootstrapping” Storium — trying to build and bring it to profitability without seed money or venture capital (or at least, not initially). We’ve taken this path because it feels like the right approach given our goals. The cost, of course, is that we’re working without any income right now. I’m fortunate enough to have saved up enough money to get by, but I won’t lie: it’s been painful. The upside is that it provides me with a very real and immediate motivation to get this thing built and into the hands of our users. :)

I also didn’t find a good balance this year between work and… well, everything else. My wife has been supremely patient and understanding (just like she was with the last startup), but in a way that has just enabled my bad habits. My sleep schedule is hosed, I haven’t been getting enough physical activity, my eating habits haven’t been as good as they could be, and I’ve been staring at monitors so much that my freakin right eye has started to twitch. In 2014, I need to find more balance and take better care of myself. Just like the rest of us, eh?

In summary, this was a year of great personal and professional satisfaction. I end 2013 with deeper knowledge, some cool achievements, and more valued relationships than I had when I started. I really couldn’t ask for more, and I’m very grateful for it. If you were a part of my year, thank you. I hope you’ll be a part of the next one.


imageWe’re happy to share some great news: in the next few months we will be launching a Kickstarter campaign for Storium, the online storytelling game.

[Inception trailer sound!]

That’s right, we’ve decided to crowdfund the next phase of Storium’s development. Crowdfunding is a perfect fit for our project because it lets us directly validate player interest in Storium while keeping our team focused on building the things our users want.

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Everybody’s a storyteller.

Telling stories is a fundamental part of the human experience, and yet for too many of us it’s not a part of our daily lives. That’s a shame because stories are powerful, thought-provoking, and — most importantly — a lot of fun!

The world needs more stories — your stories, from your imagination. That’s why we’ve created Storium, the online storytelling game. …

imageIf you haven’t read the “7th Son” series of sci-fi thrillers, you really should. They’re about a government human cloning project gone disastrously awry. It’s an epic story chock-full of bizarre technologies, memorable characters, and endless plot twists. I adore these books and ever since I read the first installment I’ve been hoping to someday collaborate with their author, the most excellent J.C. Hutchins.

That day has finally come: today my startup Protagonist Labs announced that J.C. has joined us as an advisor.

In addition to being a skilled and wildly creative writer, J.C. is a respected practitioner in the emerging field of “transmedia”, a discipline that blends different media and narrative techniques to tell stories that involve the audience and span many platforms (including print, web, mobile, TV, film, and games).

When I met J.C. he was one of the very earliest people to grok the core ideas behind Protagonist Labs. His enthusiasm and support mean a lot to me and I’m really proud to call him both a friend and, now, a collaborator.