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August 29, 2005

George Santayana and Google

One of the few benefits of being 48 in this game is having some sense of the history of this whole high-tech thing. Google, the latest and greatest hope of a countervailing force to Microsoft launched the ultra-cool Google Desktop 2 Beta a few days ago.

Pity that IPO didn’t cover the cost of a high tech historian, someone whose been there and done that when it comes to evangelizing developers trying to learn a new non-Microsoft API.

If it had, perhaps Google Desktop Developer Group at http://groups.google.com/group/Google-Desktop-Developer would not be starved for Google tech support. Developer after developer there are begging for some “Google Employee” mojo so that they can learn how to build cool stuff using Google’s desktop API.

Ten years ago nearly to the day, another company challenged Microsoft, had an API and make the catastrophic mistake of starving it for technical resources. There’s a fascinating post to a thread I started there by one of the people who was involved.

The company? Netscape, of course. And we all know how that story turned out.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Google is cool, the Google Desktop is cool and I’m all for Google. Except ignorance of history, like ignorance of the law, is no excuse.

 Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. – George Santayana.

August 27, 2005

Realigned for now...

Just finished realigning this blog, my site’s front page, my MLP support site, my Outlook folders, my MasterList Professional Folders, my paper folders to

  • Retire Office Tips of the Week. The 60+ tips are still available at http://www.safarisoftware.com/freeOTTHome.htm but it was time for this to go away.
  • Preparing to retire MasterList-XL. This will be one day gone.
  • Concentrate on the two things that matter to me most: MasterList Professional and promoting the creation and success of micro-ISV’s.

What do you think of the new (TypePad-defined) layout?

August 26, 2005

Realignment Friday

Monday I interviewed David Allen, bestselling author of Ready for Anything and Getting Things Done and a personal hero of mine. You will be seeing more from David from that interview, especially on how to apply GTD to starting a micro-ISV, but there was one point he made worth sharing now.

When you add things into your life, you need to get rid of other things. Be that starting a micro-ISV or when you do your weekly review. (Weekly Reviews are one of the least understood and regularly done parts of the GTD philosophy, Allen also said during the interview.)

To that point, expect to see a major makeover of this blog soon, as well as the start of a makeover at my compan’s other two web sites, http://safarisoftware.com and http://safarihelp.com. You have to make room for new things!

August 25, 2005

Defining Blog etiquette #1

Link: Micro Persuasion: When a Trackback Is Not a Trackback, But Close to Spam.

In an interview I did this week with Mena Trott (Co-founder of Six Apart, makers of both Movable Type and TypePad) she made the point that trackbacks matter far more in building your blog's reputation than comments because the continue the conversation started on with that blog posting.

Steve Rubel, Micro Persuasion, took to task a person who was in Steve's opinion creating trackback spam by trackbacking to a post done 5 months ago by this person.

For Micro-ISV's who want to build a successful blog, both Steve and Mena make the same point: trackbacks are conversations, not historical records. You need to add value to the converstion, with your perspective, opinion, experience, wit and lastly, you company's product.

More about the interview with Mena next week.

August 23, 2005

Very cool Google Sidebar

Google released yesterday its beta 2 of Google Desktop Search, and the new Sidebar Tool is very, very cool. It opens up a range of Micro-ISV opportunities, and I’m seriously considering a MasterList Professional Google Sidebar plug-in.

More info: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/ with ZD.net’s coverage over at http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9588_22-5841246.html?tag=nl.e589. Download it here: http://desktop.google.com/

Hopefuly, they won’t make the same undersupport mistakes Netscape did way back when!

August 21, 2005

A comic for the software industry...

Just came across Bug Bash. If you write, test or manage software, this is your life...

Give it a read:

http://www.bugbash.net/comic/1.html

August 19, 2005

Micro-ISV Tip #7: Getting Paid.

I had occasion to recently interview Alan Homewood, CEO and founder of 2Checkout.com (2CO). 2CO is a This Columbus, Ohio-based payment processor charges $49 USD as a setup charge, then 5.5% + $0.45 USD per sale. 2CO is technically a reseller – it buys your software, subscription or product at a discount, and then sells it for the Suggested Retail Price (SRP).

2CO, as you will read was a self-funded micro-ISV when it started in 1999. As of today, 2CO has handled $138,145,161.94 worth of sales this year, including sales for my micro-ISV.

Q. In today’s business environment on the web, what’s the three best reasons for doing business with 2CO.

A. Probably the three best are the ease of signing up, the low cost of entry for startup, self-funded entities, and 2CO was the same thing, so we understand the business.

Q. Really?

A. Yeah, I started the company in 1999 myself, when I saw the cost of getting paid on line was quite steep for a small company that may or may not have large sales, or may take a while to start selling. There’s the merchant account that’s $500 and $50 a month, the SSL certificate, the dedicated servers you really should have to store sensitive information like credit card numbers, the technical resources to manage the servers, and in a lot of cases a shopping cart. I decided there needed to be an alternative where you didn’t have the upfront costs, and paid a little more each transaction, to hit that niche market.

Q. What’s your history on this? Is 2CO your first business or your third or… ?

A. Personally, I was an Oracle consultant, with a billing background, an anti-fraud background, a varied background, and I became interested in web businesses, and that’s where the company came from.

Q. Can you give me an idea of how big 2CO now is?

A. Right now we have roughly 60 employees, we’re all located here in Columbus [Ohio], and at last count we had about 40,000 vendors, and we’re adding about 2,000 a month, and we do roughly $17 million a month in sales.

Q. I can see that at a certain price point it’s more economical to bring payment processing in house. What’s your ideal size client here? How big is big for you?

A. We do have clients at a certain level, but really at $10,000 and below of sales a month is kind of where the break point comes in. Right around that number, I can bring some of these costs in house and save money, I can pay to do these things directly. Something people don’t realize often is that there is a lot of processing that goes on on the backend of processing credit cards. There’s a lot of overhead and headache people don’t calculate in. I roughly say that around $10,000 [sales per month] is the level it might make sense to take a lot of the things we do for them inhouse. Particularly if they are going to grow and grow and grow.

Of course, we have quite a few clients that stay with us at higher levels because the expense of monitoring fraud can be significant.

Q. Besides the ease of entry and low costs, two things I wondered about was credit card fraud and potentially taxes. Can you give me a bit of an education there about what you guys do – especially about fraud?

A. We have a seasoned fraud staff and tools developed in house over years to help identify fraud. And we pay for a lot of other sources where we get information. We take a lot of that burden away from our clients, most of which are small businesses. They need to concentrate on running their businesses, not being an expert in the myriad ways someone may try to defraud them. There’s a massive amount of credit card fraud that goes on on the Internet.

Q. How massive is massive?

A. Just in the U.S last year, 400 to 500 million in losses sustained by merchants; that’s not even counting the amount of fraud they stop at the door, or the cost of battling the fraud.

Q. Can you give me an idea of what percentage that translates to?

A. I’d say that on a daily basis we catch five to ten percent of transactions as fraudulent. If you are not a bit prudent on the front end, you can catch even more than that. It depends on the product. Some vendors will have 1 in 5 orders that come in being fraudulent.

Q. The other question was taxes. Do you get into collecting taxes, or is that something that’s not happening on the internet?

A. It is happening on the internet; actually we absorb some tax costs and pay taxes for our clients. In the U.S., if you are in Ohio, and you sell to someone in Ohio, and you have a presence here or in whatever state you sell in, you are required to pay taxes. But the way we are set up, our relationship with our sellers and vendors is that they resell through us. That basically means that whoever you are selling to someone in Ohio, and then we resell the products. That puts the tax liability on us. At this point we just absorb it, we don’t pass it on.

Q. I guess sales tax in Ohio is a lot lower than in California! [Sonoma, CA has an 7.75% sales tax, but internet sales are exempt statewide.]

A. We pay quite a bit a month for sales that are in Ohio to people in Ohio.

Q. Two more questions: What mistakes do you see startups making that they could avoid?

A.  I guess the advice I would give is to not give up. It can become difficult early on for a small company. It takes time to grow. In most cases it takes time to grow slowly, and that can become frustrating to a smaller entity.

I guess another problem for smaller entities is that they can become defrauded, become the victims of fraud very easily online. That’s definitely something to be careful of. And to test the waters online – some things definitely work for some entities and don’t work for others. For instance, entities may believe that it’s a great use of my investment to pay for pay-for-click advertising. That can quickly add up to a lot of money that doesn’t product any results. In some industries it may provide great results.

One of the most important things to do, at least for startup online businesses, is to mine the information they get from people coming to their web site and to constantly ask their clients and customers what they are looking for and try to get information from people who don’t buy as well.

Q. One other question. I noticed you made a point of saying all of your employees are there in Columbus, Ohio. A lot of financial services companies outsource to India and other places. Is ther something here you want to say, or is it that’s just how things have worked out?

A. Well, it’s a conscious effort. I know that has worked out for some companies, but I prefer to keep jobs here in the community, as long as it’s feasible for us. I like to employ people locally, have them here in the office, be able to meet with face to face. I know it [outsourcing] works for some companies; it isn’t my ideal situation.

 

 

August 18, 2005

GTD in 60 minutes flat

David Allen's presentation via Microsoft was a definite hit: 500 people attended.

If you'd like to get a 60 minute solid overview of how Getting Things Done works (42 minutes overview, the rest very good Q & A), it should be available in 24 hours at:

http://livemeeting.com/archive

August 17, 2005

Free online David Allen Event

David Allen is doing a free online Microsoft Leadership Forum today at 9am PT this weekend for anyone interested. Allen, best known for Getting Things Done, will be talking about:

  • The keys to success in getting control of “knowledge work athletics”
  • The clarity and focus required in the 21st century to "keep your eye on the ball"

This should be a good event, so to sign up, go to:

http://placeware.viewcentral.com/events/cust/single_event.aspx?cid=placeware&pid=2&cbClass=7117&signupkey=2661

Make room!

Having just made an important milestone on a project yesterday, I’m taking this morning to clear out my working area of all the little pieces of paper, things that did not fit in any existing project and general gunk that’s accumulated over the last few weeks.

I think anyone who wants to practice Getting Things Done right needs to do this whenever you complete a major goal: you have to make room for the next thing in your life.

August 13, 2005

SammyinachairWork is what you do so that some time you won't have to do it any more.
-Alfred Polgar.

A cautionary tale

There's an interesting story about the rise and fall of a small fulfillment house at   http://www.ifulfill.com/weblog/  Paul Purdue started a blog in April, just before his company ifullfill.com went into a death spiral.

I give him credit for sharing a painful experience, and there are a lot of lessons here for micro-ISVs and/or small companies who blog.

Over on Joel On Software's "The Business of Software" forum where I spend a lot of time, someone started the thread about Paul: http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?biz.5.183211.4

The poster points out that maybe the root cause of the failure of Paul's business was Paul's going to work at 3am so he could work without interruptions - those interruptions might have been danger signs he should have been paying attention to.

Have you noticed the more you live on the web, the faster you have to run to keep up?

For over 20 years, I've routinely gotten up and started working at 5am, 4am, 3am, trying to "catch up" with all the work I need/want to do.

Three things have happened in those 20 years- yes, I've gotten a lot of work done, but a price to my happiness and health. The amount of "work" (reading, writing, programming) has kept climbing,  then in this century has grown by leaps and bounds and blogs. Thirdly, I'm in my later 40s now and it is increasingly harder to do.

Yesterday -unable to stop worrying about a project that it turned out was fine -  I yet again got up at 3am. By midday, I was dragging. By 3pm, I was a zombie.

Maybe getting up at ungodly hours to try and pack more work into a day works in your 20s, but it does not work in your 40s. Whatever you gain in extra hours, you lose because later your brain turns mushy.

The bottom line issue here is not trying to work hours that would make the life of a mine pony look good, but developing the strategies to:

1. Conserve your decisionmaking.
2. Control your information environment.
3. Increase the value (as you define it) of your time.

Law 1440 has no loopholes.

August 10, 2005

MLP and Outlook and Tasks

I'd like to ask your help in figuring out how to improve how MasterList Professional works with Microsoft Outlook when it comes to tasks. How would you like this to work?

Currently if you turn task integration on (via Settings), you can choose one of three levels of integation:

At setting 2 and 3, MasterList Professional creates a Project of your Outlook Tasks. Both these settings as of now enable the Outlook wizard, but new OL tasks don't automatically show up in the Microsoft Outlook project as they should.

At setting 4, anything you make current in MLP gets copied to your OL tasks lists as well.

One customer, Don, just pointed out to me that there's no warning that if you choose use the Outlook wizard, a Microsoft Outlook Project gets created.

How do YOU want to see MLP tasks integrated with Outlook? Getting this right - and a good definition of what right is -  is my #1 priority right now.

Please post here or better still, post your suggestions at http://safarihelp.com/fogbugz/default.asp?wish.6.274.0.

P.S. MasterList Professional Version 1.08 was released this past Saturday - If your MLP still says 1.07, get online and choose AutoUpdater from the MasterList Professional folder in your Windows Start Menu to get this free update.

August 09, 2005

Micro-ISV Tip #6: Visual Integrity

Back in early 2005, Ian Landsman who is starting a micro-ISV called UserScape to sell a web-based application called HelpSpot hooked up with a professional graphic artist to create logos for UserScape and HelpSpot. Ian did a great blog well worth reading (http://www.userscape.com/blog/2005/01/31/creating-a-business-logo/) on his experience working with Mike Rohde, a graphic artist based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin who is Design Director of the distributed company MakaluMedia (http://www.makalumedia.com/).

Ian documents how the process went for him; I followed up with Mike to see what he thought of working with a micro-ISV.

Q. Why should a micro-ISV get a professional in to do their logo?

A. There are certainly ways of doing it yourself, or buying an off-the-shelf stock logo for fifty bucks, with exclusive rights in the 200 dollar range. Problem is, if you have a very specific company and you're looking to portray what your company stands for, you're already adapting to an existing logo that may not fit what you do. You're already starting off with a compromise.

It’s subtle, but because it’s important to get the idea of your company or product across quickly and fully. Any confusion or lack of clarity can delay the first good impression. Design is becoming more and more a critical for businesses, particularly on the Internet where you see the identity long before connecting with a person.

In a nutshell, you should hire a design professional because is it’s not your specialty. If you're a micro-ISV, you're always trying to be very effective with your limited time and energy. By doing it yourself you may actually spend more time and energy than you want and yet may not be happy with the end results.

Q. When you work with a micro-ISV, what kind of money are we talking about?

A. We usually range between $400 and $600 per logo, which includes lots of back and forth and collaboration with the client, which may be different than other design firms. One of the key differences is, I’m a bit old school, so I start with multiple pen or pencil sketch concepts and involve the client early in the decision-making process.

One of the advantages of the sketch approach are amount of ideas I can generate quickly on paper. Further, by involving the client in the process, they can see the progression going forward, and have input in the direction. I think this is much better approach than the client waiting in the dark for several weeks, then presented with a single color logo and being told, "Ok, there’s your logo".

Q. It sounds like that collaborative process between yourself who is a professional at this and the client is the meat of what you’re selling.

A. Yes, I think it is. The more I’ve thought about why people come to me Ð and obviously some people are going to choose other ways for various reasons such as budget Ð those who have chosen me like the fact that I sketch and that they are deeply involved in the process. They like that they have a say in where things are going.

Q. So how long does the process take?

A. Generally a couple of weeks, from sketch to final. Sometimes as short as a week, if everything goes perfectly, though usually it's a three or four weeks process that varies a bit by project.

Q. Do you get involved before they have a name or after?

A. Up to this point we've been getting involved after the naming has taken place. I think in a way this works well, because the client has already thought about what they're going to do. They've established the idea behind their product or services and what separates them from the competition.

Q. Are you finding your micro-ISV customers want one logo for both company and the product or two different logos?

A. Generally they’re separate. In the case of Ian (Landsman), he wanted both a product logo and a company logo. He came to us for both, because he wanted them to be consistent and complementary with each other and to work as a unit. It varies, but generally it’s the company logo and one product.

Q. What mistakes do you see startup companies making when it comes to graphic design?

A. I think often times it's an afterthought or they don’t consider design at all. If they don’t have design skills, they may to put up something very rudimentary. They don’t consider design important and I think they're missing an opportunity to differentiate themselves in a progressively competitive business climate.

Design, whether it’s complex or simple, needs to be thought about. It needs to be considered.

Q. Why?

A. It’s the identity of your company. A very visual generation is coming up now, and they identify with visual things. It's becoming more accepted or assumed that you’re going to have some kind of identity - whether it’s complex or simple.  It’s important with a company - especially a micro-ISV - that the more professional you look, the more comfortable people are trusting you to buy your products or services.

Q. What should a micro-ISV look for in a graphic designer?

A. Going forward, I see more and more design work being done remotely, so it's important to find a designer who can think visually, can communicate in writing and via voice. It’s not easy to define or defend design work, but it's critical that a design professional be able to do both in this kind of environment. Designers must also seek to understand what a client wants and turn it into reality.  Finally, I think reliability is a key issue, and one way to determine this is to request client references from the potential designer.

In short, choose a designer who can not only design, but who communicates effectively and is reliable; that pretty much covers everything.

August 08, 2005

We have lost someone who made a difference

With the passing of ABC's Peter Jennings, we have all lost a little bit of what we can aspire to. Long ago, when I was a print reporter, making fun of the television news talking heads was a standard of every newsroom I'd ever been in.

No reporter I know has anything but the deepest respect for Peter Jennings and his total committment to journalism and not just getting the story but getting it right.

He will be missed, and we will all be poorer for his passing.

August 06, 2005

1.08 is up.

FYI - Version 1.08 of MasterList Professional has been uploaded as of tonight, California time. If you are using MLP, you'll notice the updater that opens with MLP the next time you use it while online. And, if you haven't tried MLP, you can try it now free for up to 45 days at: http://safarisoftware.com/mlpdownload.htm .

My priorities for the rest of this month is going to be making it easier to use MLP with Outlook, providing more ways of finding what you need in MLP and making it possible to customize how MLP works for you.

August 04, 2005

Micro-ISV Tip #5: Who are you?

When you’re starting a micro-ISV, even before you name your company or product, of go searching for a domain name, you need to figure out a few things. These things get described by different people in different ways: your brand, your market position, your corporate identity, you’re logo, your name, in a word: you.

I had occasion today to interview Danny Altman, CEO and Founder of the naming and branding consulting company A Hundred Monkeys (http://www.ahundredmonkeys.com). Altman suggests whether you’re a one person startup or a major corporate effort, the place to start is figuring out the answers to what he calls his list of primal questions:

  •     Who are we?
  •     Why are we here?
  •     What do we believe in?
  •     What territory do we want to own?
  •     Who do we want to connect with?
  •     And, what kind of relationship to we want to have with them?

“Basically, our view is that these are questions that you have to answer, whether you’re a large company or a small company,” Altman said. “Those answers will provide the foundation. Because these are the foundational questions that define how are we different from everyone else, what’s the kind of soul of our brand, what are the things that are compelling to us.”

Answering these questions might not be easy. “These are things that people have a really hard time grappling with,” Altman added. “But if you kind of force them to go through this process, or you force yourself to go through this process, you’ll actually find yourself with a lot of material that shows you how unique you really are.”

“We tell people it’s really important to be committed to doing something different – don’t build a brand that makes you one of the trees in the forest and then spend the rest of your marketing budget trying to stand out because that’s what most companies do, and it’s an appalling waste.”

When should a micro-ISV tackle these questions or seek help if “you lack the marketing instinct” as Altman puts it? “All of this stuff can happen pretty early in the process, and what happens is that it becomes a kind of a template or a guide for a lot of other decisions that this company has to make. That’s the whole reason you do all this foundational stuff because it keeps you from reinventing the wheel every time you have to do something.”

“Because, if I know who I am, and I know what the problem is, then a lot of times the answer is like right in front of me. But if I don’t know who I am, then I’ve got to figure out who I am right now, which is different than who I am tomorrow. And that’s the trap I think a lot of companies get into.”

“Having a company is about building equity in your identity.” He added.

Altman’s 10 year old company, based in the San Francisco Bay Area uses the same approach of working through these questions when consulting with large multinationals or small businesses. A Hundred Monkeys has two divisions, one that works exclusively with small companies, through a process that can be done both face to face and remotely.

The time and cost for expert help in defining who you are from your company’s name on up is not cheap. Altman said that a typical small company brand definition project can take two and half months and between $5,000 and $10,000.

On the other hand, the only thing more expensive than knowledge is ignorance!

August 02, 2005

1.08 is coming along...

Making good progress killing a few nasty bugs that managed to crawl into the woodwork of MasterList Professional. I should have it out in a day or two.

A question for anyone reading this and using MLP: should checklists become actual checklists with items that could be checked off?

August 01, 2005

Finishing everything on your plate

A Getting Things Done Home Truth - remember when your mom told you to eat everything on your plate? The same thing applies to your Current List in MasterList Professional. For example, I "cheat" with my Current List when things are especially busy by keeping it short (4 items, 5 hrs) and enjoying the rush of completing it.

Keep your Current list manageable! In other words, its it a good thing to finish everything on your plate before going back for seconds.

ToDoOrElse?


  • Who?
    Bob Walsh, (Author, managing partner of Safari Software, Inc. a micro-ISV)
    What?
    Exploring the intersection between Getting Things Done and building a micro-ISV.
    Where?
    Live from Sonoma, California USA.
    When?
    Once or so a workday.
    Why?
    Because there's a way to get everything done, I just know there is!
    Micro-ISV?
    Micro Internet Software Vendor, a self-funded startup company: See mymicroisv.com for information and resources.

Also:


  • Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality
    At Amazon.
    Buy as an ebook.
  • (begun Jan. 3, 2006)
  • Search todoorelse.com
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