Random writings on running, software & product development, business and anything else

Category: Business

Being in business and doing business

Yes then no then yes

The other week I put an application into the YCombinator Startup school. It was far from fully fleshed out and without even a website. This morning I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email that I had been accepted.

But hang on. That was followed by another email sent 2 hours later that a mistake was made and it was a no. Seems they got their Boolean logic wrong and the accepted (4000 applications) got initially rejected and the rejected (11,000) got accepted emails :-)

There was a lot of complaints and apologising on HackerNews and elsewhere and about 8 hours later they decide to accept all the applications. Will be interested to see how this works.

Some reasons given for who was accepted v rejected is:

– Founders are working full time

– Founders have technical expertise within the team to build the MVP

– Any progress/traction in the form of users and/or revenue

Doesn’t really seem to give much of a chance to very early stage startups which I thought was the idea.

Customer Service or Big Store Extinction

An article today in the SMH, Customer service: who is the worst, named Harvey Norman as the worst amongst the group surveyed by Choice. What I found most amusing was the quote by Gerry Harvey.

“The level of feedback we’re getting shows that our level of service is fantastic,” he said yesterday. “I admit that it’s probably not fantastic in every store, all of the time, and I don’t think any retailer could claim that. But we do devote a lot [of] time to service.”

Sorry Gerry, but the last 2 times I entered a Harvey Norman left me underwhelmed. Staff standing around having a chat and a high level of disinterest when I asked a question. And when I asked what was the best price including delivery, the answer was a simple ticket price plus standard delivery fee. He could have even tried. Oh well, the salesman at Bing Lee put in some effort and into their till went the money for a new washing machine.

It’s a sad reality for retail that simply having open doors, selling the same stuff as everyone else and an interest free gimmick to the next century is not enough now. The wild credit spending of 5-10 years ago is behind us and if you sales experience is as charming as a website but at a higher cost, then you’re days in business are numbered.

Is it a startup business or hobby?

Read a great quote over at ReadWriteWeb Start in the comments of the article on Startup Rules of the Road.

Learn early that business is about *money* and *time*. If you aren’t making people money, saving them money or saving them time, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby.

The only modification I would make is that, you may not need to save the time or money, at least have them think they are.

Domains for sale

As part of my focus on freelance software development, I am selling off many of the domain names I have collected over the years. Some have had real sites on them, while others were just ideas.
All are for sale through sedo and the deveview domain is up for auction which ends on February 24, 2011 04:34 AM CET.

Clarity of work focus

It has been over 5 years now since I went and sent up a company so I could work for myself. In that time it has ranged from very lean to actually having to say no to work. There was a short detour back to perm work but in reality their painted picture was better than reality.

Lack of clear direction

One mistake I can readily admit over these years is a lack of clear direction. At times the business has been part:

  1. Full service web company
  2. Hired gun contractor / freelancer inside other organisations
  3. Web site content with income from advertising
  4. Web site services with pay for use

Number 2 has been by far the most successful in a monetary sense with the others suffering from being a small fish in a big wide sea. This is not to say the time spent on them has been wasted. I have learnt a lot about business models, promotion & marketing amongst other non technical skills. But it did have me wearing too many hats, and results suffered because of this.

Current Focus

Over the last 6 months I have consciously been moving to a situation where the company structure is purely to support my freelance software development. No more trying to build the next big thing by myself or compete for small fry work from small companies where the dollar cost seems more important than the benefit that can be derived from their web presence.
The core skills are still developing in a Linux / Apache / MySQL / PHP environment. Working with customising WordPress as a CMS has become much more prevalent, and I have been putting effort into taking my front end web skills around javascript and jQuery to another level. I still like to use my skills working with relational databases.

For the Future

A few ideas for the future.

  • Finding & working with other skilled professionals on a project by project basis. Whether they be a project manager, graphic designer, marketer or other developers.
  • Writing more here and sharing some of what I have leant from a technical perspective.
  • Releasing more code when I am in a legal position to do so under a free license. I have lots of custom WordPress plugins and modifications to other plugins that others should find useful.
  • Understand more about non relational databases
  • Learn and do more development for mobile platforms

The future of Sybase

Well I am a few months late on the news, but I see that Sybase is now part of SAP.
I spent a number of years as a Sybase developer, and it was kind of sad to see the slow slide against its competitors like Microsoft and Oracle. I’m not sure there is much they can do around Sybase ASE. It has lost most of its foothold in financial markets, but I still have the occasional discussion with recruiters about working with Sybase, one as recently as this week. I avoid all discussion about working with the Sybase 4GL PowerBuilder.
The database advantage that Sybase still has is in the embedded device market, which shows no sign of stagnating.

NSW MicroBiz Week 2010

Industry & Investment NSW will be holding MicroBiz Week at the end of the month, from May 31st – June 4th. As someone who runs what qualifies as a micro business, I will definitely be attending some of these events.
Partly it is hearing from the various speakers, but personally meeting other micro business operators is the best part. We might be in different industries, but many of the issues we have to deal with are the same. Do we need other staff? What parts of our business should we outsource? And the best, who do you bounce ideas off when the office has just you?
I have already signed up for ‘Network & Connect’ on June 2nd & ‘How to sell your services and generate more profit’ on the 3rd. There are a number of others that look interesting, but there is also work to be done, and a business to run.

Vistaprint business card offer

I have often seen the offer of free or cheap business cards from Vistprint, but never given it serious thought. For my business cards I have used local suppliers where I know the quality of card I will get.
Recently my wife has been dipping her toes into running an events flower business with a few weddings already under her belt. For the time being it will be a side project, but hopefully a full time business in by the end of year or so. This means she has not decided on a business name or structure, and obviously has not got any logo or branding. But now she has been asked for a business card on a couple of occasions.
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Free and open source software is good for a small business

Small organisations and businesses often lack the size and expertise to develop software to satisfy their needs. They are left to purchase proprietary software with supplier lock in, and pay the single supplier for customisation (if available) as they have no rights to do it. FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) provides an alternative with ready developed software that by its licensing is not tied to a single supplier or restricted in modification rights.

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7 ways not to treat customers or clients

Coming from a technical and business background, I like to believe I am mindful that not everyone is a technical person, and the use of computer systems don’t always come naturally. Often problems get raised which are the result of user error or lack of training/knowledge, but sometimes they are real issues that need to be fixed. But no matter how vague the problem description, or unlikely it seems, the first response must always be the user has an issue to be looked into and fixed. Never you are an idiot, and you are wasting my time.

Unfortunately not all IT support seems to work like this. Recently I have had to deal with the support teams of 2 of the external web hosts I have dealings with. 1 is amazing. Emails answered in minutes and not just with generic form letters. Readable feedback, and not afraid to admit the problem was on their end. A very professional outfit.

As for the other. On multiple occasions, slow responses, and generic check your settings answers. Fair enough then, recheck settings that haven’t changed. Inform support of this, and point out that I see other users as having similar problems in their support forums. Waiting, waiting….. Hours later recheck the support ticket, and see entries that action has been taken (and the ticket closed), but no explanation of what action, or if the problem is really fixed. God forbid any feedback.

So my rules on customer support for techs:

  1. Assume the customer really has a problem, until proven otherwise.
  2. Keep the user in the loop.
  3. ‘Action Taken’ is not feedback.
  4. The user closes support requests.
  5. Don’t assume the end user has a degree in Comp Science. Explain the situation in something resembling normal language.
  6. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. The customer may.
  7. Don’t send satisfaction surveys when the issue is not really solved.

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