Making Lists

Am I the only one that finds the proliferation of “lists” rather ridiculous? Using the concept of a list, like the “Top Ten Books CEOs read”, seems like a really lazy way to right a new article. It is largely recycled content and so often seems like linkbaiting or thinly veiled SEO efforts. I like a lot of what I find on Business Insider, but I don’t think it is a leap to suggest that they purposefully publish “list” articles to simply generate more clicks. Smart move on their part, actually.

Business Insider put one out recently, not that it is very fresh or interesting, that I think makes a larger point. And, I don’t think they intended to really make this point in doing so. The list was all about books that VCs and founders read, as if to say that you will achieve success or be better prepared for it by reading them. I have no doubt that some, if not all, of these books can help you along the path to successful entrepreneurship, but there is nothing magical about these books and this list is not exactly comprehensive. Again, it drives up the click rates and all that, so there may not have been much thought or editing in compiling the list. But, the books that were chosen suggest something due to their eclecticism. There are standard business titles, some books from the newer wave of entrepreneurship (like Kawasaki‘s “Reality Check” and Blank‘s “Four Steps to the Epiphany“), and some that have little to do with business at all (Pirsig‘s classic, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“). I think the wide range of these books and the fact that, assuming the essence of the list is true, they were suggested by actual VCs and founders is a strong indicator of two things.

First, that there is a relationship between business success, particularly in areas that are more focused on creation and idea assessment like venture capital or startups, and a balanced education and/or set of influences. There may be studies out there and I will likely do some additional research on this point, hopefully elaborating on it in a future post, but I firmly believe that a broader range of experiences and education better prepares one to creatively assess and solve the problems that one might encounter. Can myopically focused types build great product and companies? No doubt, but I love the line from Jobs that his company was all about marrying technology and liberal arts. I think the future demands that we have a workforce made up of people with both the technical skill to implement solutions and the intellectual abilities to dream them up in the first place. So, do not just read programming books or management theory – read modern American literature, read poetry, read inspiring biographies too.

Second, that the real key is not in reading these books or any particular list of books, but simply in reading and doing a lot of it, period. That continuing to read, to have a desire to learn on a consistent basis, and to not be afraid to expose yourself to new viewpoints or information, are absolutely critical attributes when it comes to building and growing businesses. A budding CEO needs to be able to synthesize a lot of information, much of it new and some of which will force him or her to question their assumptions and decisions. The more they are exercising their mind, challenging their own ideas and beliefs, and simply opening up to consuming as much creative content as possible, the higher likelihood they will be able to do the same in the workplace, effectively handling the myriad issues that will arise. A CEO who is an avid and devoted learner is far more likely to listen to customers, employees, and partners…because that is how they will learn most about their business. Someone with little interests, someone who has no native desire to read new books or magazines…I just cannot imagine that they’d be open to ideas, opinions, constructive criticism, or any feedback or information that could be valuable in building and strengthening their company.

Call me crazy, but I think that smart, inquisitive people are far more likely to kick ass than close-minded, know-it-alls. And I think that the volume and diversity of one’s reading list could be a reasonable indicator of which type of person you are.

When VCs ask for money…

Okay, maybe not exactly VCs, but what about incubators or investors-by-proxy? I noticed recently that Founder Labs was trying to raise money for a video project that would document the experiences of a set of entrepreneurs going through the FL program. As a quick summary, Founder Labs calls itself a micro-incubator, a 5 week program that jams in as much entrepreneurial, tech start-up experience as possible in an attempt to foster strong team development, build great products, and move quickly towards legit company launch in some form. What is really unique about the program is its focus on increasing diversity in tech, a goal it approaches by actively bringing in and mixing people from a broader set of skills and backgrounds than what might otherwise occur.

So, let me just say that I hate to lob any criticism at this program. I really, really love their core goal and completely agree that we need an increase in “real” diversity in tech. And by “real”, I mean more gender balance in both the industry and the various jobs in the industry (meaning, way more women doing engineering) as well as an increasing number of minority hires from backgrounds not traditionally associated with tech like African-Americans. The tech industry is going to be the economic engine of our collective future, so it should begin to represent a more accurate cross section of our society if we have any shot at narrowing the digital divide.

With that said, to see an incubator look for money in this fashion seems rather tone-deaf to me. This is a program with plenty of well-known backers and a large cadre of mentors and advisors, most of whom are millionaires. When people with money ask for money, it always seem strange to me. And, when asking for money for something like video production, a project that likely has the end goal of assisting in marketing the program itself, I just wonder if it doesn’t pervert the whole notion of crowdsourcing the funding of a project. I love what you can do with IndieGoGo and Kickstarter and I imagine that this particular project fits neatly enough in the guidelines to be made public. But, am I wrong to view those sites as primarily platforms to provide interesting projects and ideas the seed funding they need to get off the ground, particularly when there is no other legit source of seed funding? An indie band making their first record, an artist trying to start a new project, a non-profit looking to start a new project…you get the idea That all seems like the right fit to me and there are already countless examples of great projects on both sites. But VCs and well-known techies asking for 20K so they can help advertise their incubator? Seems a bit out of phase with the ethos of those sites.

One last note on this, although I would love to hear your thoughts and to continue this discussion in comments. I actually like that the incentives for donation are increasing levels of access to the founders and mentors behind Founder Labs. Really great incentives and there is nothing wrong with effectively buying access, particularly when it is tied to a charitable exercise. But, friend, this isn’t charity. I think they are getting a lot of this right, but that it might just have been put in the wrong place. What do you think?

The Conscientious Employee

Let me start by saying this has nothing to do with whistleblowers or the Conscientious Employee Protection Act. That is an entirely different subject and I intend to take the phrase in a different, broader direction. I like to think of myself as a conscientious employee – one that is concerned with the work I create and its relationship to the value that is expected of me. My employer pays me a salary, which is based on a number of factors, but one of them is certainly a set of expectations as to what I can and will do on a consistent basis in the work environment. I have always been someone who actively considers these expectations and checks to make sure that I understand them and that I am producing in a fashion that at least meets, if not exceeds, them. I do this because it seems like the smart thing to do – if you do a better job than is expected you have a higher chance of “moving up” in a general sense – but I also do this because it is the right thing to do. It is a question of morals – to either produce quality effort in a way that aligns with what is expected of you, providing value for the money being spent on you as an employee, or to not do so. Just as a first born child may have expectations placed on them by the parents or just as a parent will have expectations placed on them by nature of having dependents, I believe that employment places expectations on us and that the right thing to do is to understand, accept, and do our best to match up with them.

Now, I write the above paragraph because it is part of something larger that I really want to address. Being a conscientious employee is partly about doing the right thing as a person – being a mensch – but it is also helps in trying to answer the following question: what does an employee owe an employer? When you get paid, what do you really owe the person or entity paying you?

I believe that the answer to this question varies based on situation. Clearly, if you part of a family business, you might owe your relatives a great deal more than if you are simply a part time employee at a fast food restaurant. What does a kid mowing lawns in the summer owe to the neighbors who pay him, though? What does a cabbie owe to the taxi commission or to the person riding in the backseat? What does a prostitute owe to a john or a pimp? I cannot answer all of this without writing endlessly on this and changing the whole nature of this blog, although exploring some of these relationships would certainly be interesting. Instead, I simply want to try and answer whether or not one owes an employer anything beyond the most basic of service.

You get paid for work. If you did not, it would not be a job, but volunteer service. With that pay there is an expectation of basic job responsibilities being fulfilled along with things like showing up on time and being a decent employee (you know, like not drinking on the job, wearing acceptable attire, etc). Do you owe your employer any more than that? When you think about the services that your employer provides you on top of just a salary, like retirement and healthcare benefits or professional training, do you owe them more than if they simply handed you wads of cash every week? If you have healthcare, do you owe it to your employer to take advantage of the service, take care of your health, and to not abuse sick time? If they provide you with additional training or education, should you invest the time and effort in that training to learn as much as you can?

To some degree, I think there it is tough to move towards a single, clear answer. I had a conversation recently with a coworker in which I drew up three “concerns” that should be most important to an employee, or really any member of an organization, whether there is a profit motive or not. Those concerns all focus on what the individual cares about:

1. The company (association, club, etc.)
2. The work
3. The people

If you are acting in a conscientious fashion, you would be concerned about whether your work is reflecting positively or negatively on the organization around you. Are you doing things to affirm the organization’s values, are you sticking to the mission or goals as they might be understood? I’ve worked with far too many people who only seem concerned with their own earning and drive tactical business decisions without any regard for the larger impact they may have.

You would also be concerned about the work, your work. If maximizing the ratio of work to earnings is paramount, at least in a given situation, then putting out minimum effort is probably the best route to go. Forget customer service, forget reputation, forget moving up the ladder – just do what is asked, get paid, and move on. However, if you believe that there is intrinsic value in hard work, in showing a high level of effort, then give it all you’ve got. If what matters most to you is whether you believe you did your best, that it does not sit well with you when you’ve produced poor results or low quality work, then keep at it. It is not about the money at all then, it is about affirming and reaffirming your own core values – what you think matters and your own sense of worth.

And, lastly, what about the people around you? If you are acting and engaging with your conscience (and you are not a psychopath), you naturally consider the impact of your actions and efforts on those around you. You will be considerate, you will be clear in your requests and explanations, you will be fair and just in how you deal with and relate to people. You will not simply dump work on others or expect them to make sacrifices you are not willing to make as well. I’ve had a number of moments in my career when some task landed in my lap at the 11th hour and as I worked to get everything done in time, I’d often find that the team around me had simply vacated. I’m sure your parents told you that we should treat others as we ourselves want to be treated. This applies to coworkers as much as to friends, relatives, and neighbors.

So, is doing the right thing as a person really any different than as an employee? No, at least not to me.

Is there a bubble?

I remember back in the 90s when it seemed like the freight train of the tech world would just keep barreling along. They were heady, ridiculous days and I honestly thought that the world had changed, just like so many other young, excited techies. But, just as soon as that euphoria had spread to the masses, I and many others started to get a sinking feeling that it could not last and that something was going amiss. I saw too many ridiculous companies being created, too many bad products, and just too much excess from people near me in the tech space. I saw lots of bad ideas being worked on for no reason other than money seemed to be easy to get and spend. I saw lots of people get jobs that had no real idea what to do, let alone solid credentials or a legitimate track record. I remember the obsession among a lot of new techies with certifications – sets of flimsy credentials from technology providers that were intended to prove that an individual was qualified for the work they were doing (or trying to do), but which so often only proved that someone was able to afford a set of thick textbooks and to sit still for some multiple choice tests. The moment when I knew it was going to end, and end badly, was when I was riding in a cab in NYC. Jammed in between the seats was a stack of MCSE books – the cabbie was studying to become a network engineer. I have nothing against a cab driver, or anyone not in a technically oriented job, working to develop the knowledge and skills to change careers and earn more income. In fact, more people should do exactly that. But, something about a guy with no real skills believing that simply reading books and taking a test struck me as a sign that we were headed for trouble – the Kool Aid had been poured in too many glasses and we were all about to lay down and die, or at least the stock market would.

So, are we really going through all that again? No. There are loads of reasons why I do not think this is a bubble, although saying it is not a bubble is not the same as saying that there is no irrational behavior going on. It is the stock market after all and there will always be some silliness going on. And I am definitely concerned about the hype surrounding tech these days, but this is not 1999 again and here is why:

First, the business models of many newly minted tech companies are not complete nonsense. Some are, but that will always be the case. The rest exhibit more sound ideas, with functional product, strong adoption, and largely monetizable businesses. Profits in the startup world are still fleeting, but the big change is that we are talking about profit at all. Back in the late 90s, nobody seemed to really care, the mantra being that it was more important to be “first mover”. Being first was supposed to be directly linked to long term revenue, but that only worked out in a handful of cases. And, looking back, it is more obvious that being second or third or fifteenth might actually be best. Google, Facebook, LivingSocial…three quick examples of companies that were most definitely not first and had amazing success.

I am a bit concerned about the thin value I see being created with many new startups. Building point solutions on top of someone’s platform, the platform itself built on top of other services and technologies. So many layers piled up and the problem that is being addressed can be easily solved by someone else in a very short period of time. Not defensible, not monetizable, not lasting in any way. It creates a great training ground and an ecosystem in which tons of ideas get played with, though, hopefully leading to the next great wave of tech companies. I just worry that if this aspect of the bubble begins to collapse, it may take down a lot of the younger, more entrepreneurial types with it.

Second, there is far less of a rush to just go public. It may be easier to get funding that it was a few years ago, but that money is generally smaller and the push to have an IPO seems to be far less obvious. Some companies will do it, particularly those that raise container ships of cash. They don’t really have any choice. But, there just are not that many heading down this path and I’ve not seen any evidence to the contrary. If we start to see every idea, ideas that are features pretending to be products, raising tens of millions and looking for big exits, then you will know it is time to buckle your seat belt. But, like many have said in the past year or so, we seemed to have learned a few lessons since the last big tech bubble and ridiculous valuations have likely gone by the wayside, at least in general.

Third, and really a summation of the previous two points, is that I think there is more rational thought about startups these days. Barriers to entry have come down, which has meant some really useless and dumb stuff is being built. But, at the same time, it means that mistakes can be made at a low cost and final products can be developed that are much more tuned to customer needs. This is a very, very good thing. There is always going to be room for the dreamers, but most of us need to build practical stuff for pragmatic people. And an increase in the activity that leads to clear, near term value is beneficial to us all. Additionally, this new rationality is leading to discussion and adoption of more management and process oriented approaches. The application of lean manufacturing concepts to software development and technology entrepreneurship strongly suggests a maturation of this market and better average outcomes for all.

I think I agree with guys like Mark Suster, Fred Wilson, and Ben Horowitz (no lack of deference to Steve Blank). There is no bubble, but things are definitely getting bubblicious.

Google+…is it adding anything for you?

I was excited to join Google+ because, well, I get excited whenever I can be a part of something new. With all of the chatter around Google+ and an invite sent in my direction, it was easy to take the plunge. But…I don’t use it and I’m not sure how it will fit into my ‘social mix’ in the long run.

I use FaceBook – just like 500+ million other people – and I use LinkedIn – just like 100 million other professionals (and some not-so-professionals). I use Twitter, I post on certain blogs on a regular basis, I am a member of a few groups on a few platforms, etc. I have a ton of social tools and I use them all to varying degrees, so if there was a better way to stay connected and engaged on various fronts, I would jump at the chance to take advantage of it. But, I don’t think G+ is the solution. I don’t see it as a replacement for this blog or for Twitter since it is neither a great platform for original content generation (in my opinion) or a massive network with the related network effects like Twitter. And, while it could take over for FB and LinkedIn, it does not do what those two service do in a way that is better than either of them. FaceBook is for staying connected to the relatively small group of people I really care about; my friends and family. None of them are on Google+ and the adoption rate among that group is so slow that it will take some time before I expect to see any of them make the move. Until then, G+ can’t beat out FB for me. And, on the LinkedIn side, LinkedIn is such a well-executed professional networking tool, that I cannot see ever giving it up for something else. LinkedIn just gets better and provides more value to me as I move forward in my career and Google does not seem to be doing anything to move towards that set of features.

So, in short, I’m on it, but I am not really using it and don’t see that changing. Have you joined? Did you make a complete switch?

“Right” role model, or just another unattainable myth?

There is an interesting article by Susan Lacy on Techcrunch from last night, discussing Reid Hoffman and the coming IPO of LinkedIn and how it compares as a model to Zuckerberg and the rise of Facebook. Lacy makes some great points, the most important one being that LinkedIn will now have a very successful offering because Hoffman did was so few Silicon Valley entrepreneurs seem to do these days – stick with the business over the long haul. He has been at LinkedIn since its inception in late 2002 and has continued to work at growing the business, regardless of the press and attention it did or did not receive. It is hard to know how much of this moment is a true testament to Hoffman, but he clearly deserves a lot of the credit. He must believe in this business given that he has had a number of opportunities to walk away and do other things, like continue to be one of the most successful angel investors in Silicon Valley. And that belief and commitment is far too rare these days. So, if nothing else, we should all be looking to emulate that. Find something you believe in, focus on it, and keep working at it until you maximize its potential. It will not happen overnight, you will be distracted, and you might just find yourself with more attractive options for long periods of time. But, Hoffman’s efforts are a case study in what you can do when you do it right.

Or are they?

Put aside for the moment the fact that LinkedIn may not be all that profitable. I have probably not seen the most current data, but 2010′s numbers are not very impressive. $10M net on $161M in revenue, 1000 employees…seems like a pretty bad return to me, but I’m sure that there is much more to the story. I do appreciate that they advised in the IPO paperwork that they actually expect this to decline this year because of additional investment they intend to make. I, and many others, could write for days on how a successful IPO is not really a sign that this is a sustainable business or that there is not a tech bubble. Several billion dollars for a company likely to go back to losing money…sounds like 1999, doesn’t it? But I digress…

Who is the real role model? Are either of these guys even worth following in the “role model” sense? Is Hoffman’s example one that can be emulated, replicated, or followed in any way? It seems like the press is always propping up some techie myth like this…the wunderkind, the superangel, the hardcharging ubercompetitor…and these guys always fit their archetype nicely and have massive success to go along with it. Jobs, Ellison, Gates, Page, Andreesen, Zuckerberg…and now Hoffman. But, what can really be learned from any of them? Is their success the end result of putting into practice what so many of us have read or are they simply some magical combinations of different, smart, and lucky? Is there any way for any of us to catch that magic ourselves?

Look at Reid Hoffman. He grew up in the Bay Area, attended a private high school school, Stanford, and then Oxford University. From there, he worked at places like Apple and Fujitsu, founded SocialNet (online dating service) and was involved in the early days of PayPal. Heck, he supposedly even helped bring Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel together. So, without even talking about LinkedIn, he’s clearly already had a great deal of success and been a big player in the tech community. Question is, how can you model any of that? I don’t think you can, frankly. You cannot simply replicate that trajectory, plot out a map of future success for yourself, when you do not have the same start as the subject of your analysis. In other words, Hoffman was on a path that most folks will never be on in the first place. That is not to take anything away from him – he is clearly a very smart guy who has worked hard and made some great decisions. But, can you model his attendance at two of the best schools in the world? Can you model being at one of the most admired product companies on the planet? Can you model being in Silicon Valley and being connected enough to know guys like Thiel and Zuckerberg?

Of course not. It is ridiculous to even consider it because you’d be wasting your time trying to be someone that you are not – I am sorry to say this, but you are not Reid Hoffman and you are never going to be. So, peel away all the mythological garbage – the legend of the epic entrepreneur – and figure out what he has done that anyone can do. We cannot all go to Oxford, but we can be mindful of what we want and work hard to get it. We can work ‘smart’, apply ourselves, ask tough questions, and strive to put our energy into projects that will produce real value. We can be engaged, develop strong networks, and prove ourselves. If we do that over time, successfully, our endeavors will also lead to long term success. And, as you already know, the real story here is that you do not have to be Hoffman, you do not have to go to great schools and have very important friends and have already made money, in order to build a great business or have a successful career. Forget what makes Hoffman special, look at what makes him similar to the multitude of other successful entrepreneurs, and then model those behaviors. And, who knows, maybe some of us will also have massive IPOs in our future too.

Oh yeah, and Hoffman is an “old man” as well. So, you don’t have to be a hot, hip 25 year old to do this either. I’m just saying…

Crowdsourcing Idea Refinement

Is it possible to work out an idea and then refine with instant, real-time feedback? Can you develop and hone it in a similar fashion to the concept of customer development, except that you replace the MVP with the idea itself? Can you just push out ideas, see how people respond to them, and incorporate the feedback into the idea to finalize the concept before building a single shred of product?

These are not new questions, of course. From the ideas in Four Steps to the Epiphany to the cult of A/B testing that has taken hold with every techie trying to launch a web app, it has certainly been used before. Honing an idea is not much different than refining your product pitch and marketing by using various keywords and ad copy, whether on Google or in the backs of trade magazines. Time-tested stuff, right? But, with the advent of communities that allow for some of this activity, I have to wonder if there is value in throwing ideas up in a public forum and letting complete strangers provide commentary on them.

Might the ideas get completely bashed, with you being made out as an idiot in the process? That would be valuable, wouldn’t it? I think it could help out a great deal to know that what you are thinking is completely wrong and that you might have no idea what you are doing. It can hurt to find out by having people kick you around inline, but I’d rather get abused and learn something than be ignored and make one mistake after another. Honestly, take the abuse and grow because it is far better than walking around like a fool all the time. And, we all know people like this, don’t we?

Might someone love an idea so much that they “steal” it and build faster than you? There is always a risk that this happens. But, are you sure that you have the best ideas ever? I think that the idea isn’t really what matters – too many final products or phenomenons came from ideas that barely resembled them. Some people call it a pivot; I just think it is a standard part of the creative process. You have ideas, you kick them around, you share them with others to see what they think. If someone likes it enough to try and bring it to fruition, then you have an easy choice. You just have to outwork them in making it happen. It was your idea, after all, you should work your ass off for it. And, the alternative is really no alternative at all. Keeping it all to yourself only dooms the idea to the dustbin.

Might it help you work things out, crystallizing what you are trying to accomplish and providing critical early feedback? I am trying to find this out by putting ideas up on Sparkmuse. I have not received much feedback yet and I do not see a lot of activity over there, so this is not enough to say whether this can work or not. I’ll update in the future if and when something more comes out of the process. And, regardless of my own current experience, there may be real value in this for others.

By the way, Four Steps to the Epiphany is considered a bible of customer development and a core reference in lean methodology. You can certainly buy it from Amazon, but you can also read Steve Blank’s blog for a regular dose of amazing insight. And, you can find the first 45 pages or so of the book here, if you’d like to give it a test drive. There are other good books out there from guys like Eric Ries, Ash Maurya, and the 37Signals team, but Steve is the source.

Best Ad In Months

I’m no advertising or marketing genius. I’m not an expert or anything even close. But, I am a consumer and I am very aware of when advertisement speaks to me. I saw a commercial yesterday that stopped me in my tracks; moved me to such a degree that I felt the need to play it for my wife and to then watch it a third time. This is the ad:

Maybe you have to be a sentimental sort or maybe it helps to be a father of a little girl too. I do not know what it takes to make you the kind of person who will respond to this ad, but I know that I did. And, given the impact it had on me, I have to assume I’m not the only one. Beyond creating an immediate and powerful emotional response, it also said to me that Google understand what it is that technology really helps me to do. It makes it easier for me to automate and record my life…and like so many other people who will see this ad, my life is ultimately all about my children. Helping me to capture that, to record the best and most amazing moments of my children’s lives, and to allow me to communicate with them more effectively than I could before, that is real value. I’m not even sure what they are really trying to sell me on here – to download Chrome or to get me ready to buy a Chrome PC – but I am far more likely to do it now.

Once I figure out what that is, of course. I imagine this won’t be the last ad from Google that strikes this chord and that they’ll be clearer about what they want consumers to do as well.

What is with the old man thing?

Let’s get started off on the right foot, meaning a decent explanation of what this is all about and what the name means. There is always a bias towards the young, particularly those in their 20s, when it comes to activity and interest around innovation and new technology. It is nothing new, whether it be guys like Mark Zuckerberg or Albert Einstein, and we seem to be fascinated with the wunderkinds, no matter the time period. Society would be at a great loss without them, but I posit that we are doing a disservice to focus only on those that are young. We miss recognizing the mountain of successes had by those in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond.

Newton was in his 20s when he made many of his discoveries about classical mechanics, but he did not publish Principia Mathematica until he was 44. So, his ability to apply his knowledge in a form that could actually revolutionize science was not realized til he was virtually middle-aged. How many other great thinkers and inventors fit such a bill? Our history books and our modern press glorify the whiz kid…but that is only a part of the story of human progress.

Why do I care? Well, I’m going to be 37 years old and I love technology. I’ve been working in tech my entire career and have seen a lot of failure (a bit of success too). Age never seemed to play a factor, certainly not in the direct experiences that I’ve had. And, as I consider the future, I do not believe that I am at any disadvantage given my age when it comes to doing great work, developing interesting ideas, or helping to build successful companies. If anything, I’ve got the wisdom gained by simply being there, through the long haul, and witnessing the move from PCs to tablets, from client-server to the cloud, from the Palm and Treo up to the iPhone. I do have kids, though, so the young guns have me when it comes to free time.

How about you? Are you in your 30s or older, working on great things, and firm in the belief that age ain’t nothing but a number? Want to join me in an “old-timer” club?

Themes and schemes

I think this theme is decent enough for being free.  I would love to be able to justify dropping some coin on a professionally done theme, but that time has not yet arrived.  When it does, I’m sure I’ll pull every last gray hair out of my head trying to get the design right.  But, damn, what else would I do with all my free time?

When the day does come, suggestions for pro themes would be most welcome.  I checked out some of the work up on ThemeForest and was very, very impressed.  Not sure what the cost structure is, but I imagine it is entirely justified based on the quality of the work.  Any others that I should take a look at?  Please drop ‘em in the comments.