Publishing Your Own Book For Free

40 years ago publishing a book was not always about how famous you are.  Today if you are famous, that generally equates to book sales. It used to be about the quality of the writing. I am still an avid reader and I aspired as a kid to be a writer.

In those days the only way you published a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, was sending in your print manuscript to a publisher.  I specifically would buy the Writer’s Guide, which still exists, but alas I never completed my stories, my books or anything that resembled a book.  I did, however, write two screenplays, which I have actually never sent off.  Still insecure and thinking I am not good enough to publish, I really never completed this journey.

A Perchance Meeting

About a month ago I ran into a publisher and asked him about how I would go about publishing a book based on my blogs.  It would cover most of the same subjects, but would be nicer, clearer, and directed at a specific audience.  He told me that typically it would cost me around $2,000 to put everything together to publish my book.  This did not sound good to me.  I am either too cheap, or more importantly, I don’t think I would actually make more than $2,000, so forget about that.  This would require selling 100 books.  Not a chance in hell.

However, he did direct me to a website called CreateSpace.com .  I started by creating an account on CreateSpace.com.  What I have noticed so far is you can spend about $2,000, but you can also go as far as you can with CreateSpace.com without spending a dime.  You just have to do your own work to get it done.

I started the publishing process, I am still waiting to see if there is a place that will require me to enter my credit card.  Has not happened so far.  I could be wrong.  I am trying to publishing without spending any money, and that is what this blog article is about.

Step 1  – Create An Account

I went to CreateSpace.com and created an account for myself. Very simply and easy to do.  No charge required.  CreateSpace.com assigns you a member ID.  You can log off and log back in easily.  Just mentioning because I am looking for any gotchas.

Step 2 – Create Your Book or Project

Second I clicked “Add A Project”.  They ask you if it is a book, a video, dvd, etc.   I said a book.  I entered the name Website Feature Discovery.  That’s my temporary name.  I added a subtitle. They ask a few other questions like if is a series, the author name and edition.  Nothing to complicated so far.  They then generate an ISBN Number for you in order to publish the book.  I realized, wait, I haven’t had to enter my credit card yet.  So as far as I know it is still going to not cost anything.

Step 3 – Trim and Word Template

You choose your book size.  The most common size is 6″ by 9″.  You can change that book size.  You can download a word document that is formatted exactly how your book will appear.  You can use this to create in Word the final book manuscript that is used to print the book.  Finally, there is a book cost calculator you can click to help you figure out how much the book will cost.

Step 4 – Interior

Ok, this was the first page where there was an optional cost of creating something more than a cream page color.  If you accept the common settings on the interior, it is still free.  If you want something special design services, fonts, etc, that starts at $199.  I clicked Skip That!

Step 5 – Cover

They have two free options and one paid option.  For free you can use their cover generator or upload a PDF file to spec with your cover (I am assuming color).  For $399 you can pay for design services.  I tried out their book cover generator and it seems like it works.  Have not yet spent the time finishing up using it, but is seems like it works…

Step 6 – Complete Setup

This is where you review the interior, cover and book options.  Once you have completed the set up, it is time to start building your manuscript.

They give you an estimate of how much it will cost to publish your book.  For instance my book is 130 pages and 6″ by 9″.  It comes down to about $2.50 per book.  They also cover how much royalty you will be making if you sell on Amazon, Kindle, in dollars, euros and pounds where your book will be available.  If I sold my book for $16.95, I would receive about $8 royalty per book.

So the royalty situation is not great, but at least it’s something, considering I have not put up a dime, just my time.  Hey that rhymes.

Lastly, once I publish my book, which I am calling “Thinking Start-ups”, will post that here!

 

 

 

 

 

DSX Labs & Finding Tech Community Space in Boca Raton

We Need An Office

Over the past 12 weeks I co-lead a group of tech community members in Boca Raton to develop a new tech shared space called DSX Labs, located inside The Greenhouse building at 5301 North Federal Highway in Boca Raton, Florida.  We moved into our space in July and next week, September will be our 2 month anniversary. We will be having an opening event on October 15th, 2014.

My Understanding Of Spaces

A tech space movement has been going on for several years around the country, including here in Florida, but Boca Raton has had it’s challenges and most recently it’s successes in these kinds of spaces. There are really several classifications of these kinds of tech spaces between co-working, incubator or accelerator.  The first most basic tech space is called co-working, which is a bunch of people who pay for a desk, couch or working at a tables typically.  This is not the same thing as executive suites, mostly because executives suites usually have all the people in offices, while co-working is meant to be collaborative and it costs a lot less than an office.  The second space, an incubator, in our area, tends to be associated with a non-profit or university.  The basics are the companies pay for office space and they tend to get some help from the incubator on direction, pitches, etc.  The accelerator, which came from Y-combinator and eventually Tech Stars is a specific curriculum combined with space, and often the owners put up some capital, so they are actually investors as well as mentors.

The  Next Question Is Why?

A lot of us, working independently, have tried to work at home, Starbucks or the libraries.  We need to be more professional with clients that are developing serious web and mobile applications for instance  There is a limit to how many times you can meet with clients at Starbucks and Panera Bread.  I have been working out of the house for the past 6 months.  Just imagine when my 4 year came running into a conference call and yelled “I have to go Potty!” There is a tech community in South Florida, and specifically in Boca Raton, worth interacting with.  These are the guys you want to be around and you meet up with, hopefully learn from and hopefully get some business or job with.  We had some fun at Caffeine Spaces last year, which was the real deal for tech community and shared space, but even within that space we had some issues with getting conference room time, finding space to be professional within.  It was great at the time though.  I am sure there are a dozen other reasons why we need an office.  Probably the top one is getting stuff done for me.

Evolving Space

So, I had set out about 5 months ago to look over a bunch of office spaces within Boca Raton.  Some were down the street, some were over at the beach, some were on route 1. But like the three little piggies, some were too big, some were too expensive and some were just right.  It is not an easy proposition to find space for technology companies in Boca Raton, though by my estimate there are something like 300+ IT related corporations within the city/town and probably about 50 or so techie  or web related start-ups.  And there has to be another 2,000 work at home techies in this area as well. I say techie loosely because I am considering SEO, online marketing and other web related firms as somewhat techie for these purposes. The question is how many work from home…

We can complain all we want about the fact that half the Boca Raton commercial real estate is empty, mainly because building owners want to rent spaces at no less than 5k square feet and no less than $20 a square foot to 40,000 square foot tenants.  And why not?  That is some serious rent.  The fact that most of the smaller spaces are either very expensive or dark and dank is another issue.  Expensive to a start-up is more than $500 a month rent.  And Boca Raton was not built for that. Unlike Delray Beach, West Palm and the City of Miami, Boca Raton does not have an big old downtown with run down buildings we can easily cut up and move into.  Boca Raton is really a suburban sprawl, evolving into a city still.  If you would consider Mizner Park a city… well you get the point.

Tech Ground Zero

So, it happened that one of the buildings I stepped into had already been creating a tech hub for the past 2 years called The Greenhouse. The Greenhouse, run by the Mark Wigder Companies, refurbed The Greenhouse and increased the building occupancy with many tech companies.  We did a deal and shortly after both DSX Labs and The Bric were located in the building.

DSX Labs

So what is DSX Labs?  It is not exactly a traditional tech shared co-working space, nor is it an incubator or accelerator the way they define those types of spaces.  For those of us who are consulting or driving business to technologists, especially high-end social networks and membership sites and mobile apps, this is a space to come and learn and cooperate with us.  We do welcome tech community members to visit us and for any other shared technology space in Boca Raton we welcome them to reciprocate, meaning if we have an event or space, you can come and use our space, as long as we can come and use yours.  We will have some limited space for paid tech start-ups to get an office, limited space for shared tech people, and satellite offices of tech related companies.  Though we have to select you to be in our space.   We are still working on the website for DSXLabs.com.  It will not be available for at least a few more days.  Hopefully we will get in the space and let everybody know where we are and what we can do for you.

 

Do Less, Do It Well, Get Paid

As we are homing in on the final features of Krowde, our new software platform, it occurred to me that doing one thing well as opposed to doing many things not so well makes more and more sense.  We need to do less!  We need to do that one thing we are doing quite well, and we need to prove our business model.  So this is the statement as to where we are at today.  It is not that clear still.

Krowde is a mobile platform for retail business to communicate with their customers.

Explaining Is The Challenge

That said, I have struggled with the most fundamental part of the start-up business process, which is explaining what we are building in one sentence.  That is a real problem.  It is enough of a problem that one of my mentors told me outright if you can’t explain what you got in one sentence then you probably have nothing and should consider quitting now!   While I do agree with him, I am also challenging myself to fix this problem.   And I know I can do it because I am a writer. I also ask mentors and friends to help me solve this problem. They just have to keep patient as I ask them to listen to me, while I ramble on about this stuff.

What Does This Have To Do With Do Less, Do It Well, Get Paid.

Well, what happens to guys like me is we get all excited by the technology.  We love this feature and that feature and this extension and that plugin thing.  Yes, there are a ton of cool things we could do with what we are doing!  Some of that is the endless possibilities of a web app.  But, the fact is that we need to reverse course, choose a micro niche market at first, reduce all our features to the bare minimum and then find out if customers are willing to pay for it.

How Does This Impact What We Do

So as we hammer down to the basic MVP (Minimum Viable Product), we are shedding features that can wait.  We are skipping systems and solutions that are not necessary now.  We are focused on just about getting to market and not all the things we could be doing. So the sentence about what we do; it do needs to be succinct and clear!  That is a challenge when we love to think about the possibilities of the future.  But the future is a long way off.

Get Cold To Tech

I just have one thing I want right now and that is both a working version and 10 customers testing it out.  Thinking is ok, but it all goes on the like to have list.

 

Learning Failing Fast The Hard Way

What Is Failing Fast?

Simply put, failing fast means you find out right away that your idea, concept, new product is a dud, so you can either stop what you are doing or make some serious corrections.  But failing really means failing, and it generally means giving up earlier in the process.  It’s a good thing, and something like 90% of tech companies I run into ignore.   Tech guys hold fast to their concept way beyond when it was time to give up.  I know, I am one of these guys.

Start-ups Need To Fail Faster

Deep into Brad Feld’s book “Do More Faster”, there is a short chapter on failing fast for start-ups.  What his writer, because it was written by other entrepreneurs, is saying is find out right away if the product or service you are creating is going to make it or not make it financially.  Trust me, this is a definite area I have completely failed at, and I have followed around other people’s failing ideas like a pig stuck in the mud.  A lot of this is because of a lack of experience.  All that corporate experience I have gained over the years do not count, because what you need for a start-up is not what you need for a corporate gig.

Failing Even Bigger And Slower

But I think failing fast is not just a concept for start-ups.  In most big companies they have made failing slow an art form.  To be 80% more efficient corporations should stop wasting their time with concepts that failing earlier.  If they did this, billions would be saved.  In fact, entire industries have disappeared because corporations were pursuing failing concept for years.  It keeps lots of employed, but it is oh so annoying. I was talking with somebody today about a large tech company acquiring a small tech company recently.  What typically happens next is complete paralysis.  It’s like a big corporate giant eats the small company and then anything that resembles change become nearly impossible or so institutional that nobody wants to fail at anything.  So how can you fail fast in that situation.

Smaller Means Nimbler

So this is where small start-ups have an advantage.  Before blowing millions or billions, a small tech start-up can take a few small actions to end the hypocrisy and stupidity early on.  They can create a prototype or barely working product and find out from customers if they are going to pay, use it or whatever they need to prove the market works.  Even that may have the unintended consequence of telling the entrepreneur to go ahead with a product or service, when they should have just failed right there.  Let’s say you interviewed the wrong people who told you the wrong information.  Well, you still have a chance to fail early, just not as early.

Misread Market Size

Now that I know better, it is best to start with market size, not product or even customer to determine if you should stop now and fail fast. Let’s say you have created a great service that a few people love, and while you are not making any money, you know you are doing good for the world and helping people.  I will give you an imaginary service, like a mobile app which gives men advice on what to do for the women in their lives and when to do it, like “buying flowers on a friday gets a 60% approval rating from women vs. Thursday”.  Ok, cool app, mobile app, even runs and works and all that jazz.  But then will people pay for it and how many.  Sudden you add it up, wow, if I collect that 50 cents from the 1,000,000 potential real customers, and only .0001 pay, then wow I will have made $5000 on this venture in total.  Well, just fail now!  It may have been cool, but trust me I have been involved with a not so profitable business for many years with no exit strategy and it sucks.

Quit, But Don’t Always Quit

I am not saying that you should quit your venture right now, I am just saying stop taking years to figure out that there is no money to be made and that you are wasting years of  your life.  You should just try to figure this out early on.  You need to know what the total market opportunity is.  In high-tech I now say when they use the words “Billions” I don’t like it.  I want to hear the words “Hundreds of Billions” or “Trillions” as far as market size.  Sometimes there are many reasons to stay in a business and see it through, but if you see a problem with your concept or your idea and the market does not make sense, then stop now and move on to something which can make you money and make a living.

 

Dealing with Feature Overload in Web Product Management

Simplify, Simplify Again, and Simplify a 3rd time

Having come into contact with at least 20 different websites and start-ups over the past 2 months, plus having to manage all the features in our new start-up Krowde, I am starting to see the light on the words “Simplify, Simply Again, and Simply a 3rd time”.  Back when we were at Caffeine Spaces in Boca Raton, someone wrote this on the dry erase board.  It has a lot of meaning to me and can be applied to so many aspects of building out a website or mobile app from design, functionality, marketing, architecture and other aspects of these tech start ups.  I am focused on product management in this context.  (but I could write another article on any of those disciplines)

Feature Junkie

It has a lot of meaning to me because I am a feature junkie. Everytime I come up with a new product or concept, I can think of  a million cool features.  This is what we do as creative people and when you combine that with a technologist, more specifically a web developer, you can have a thousand little features that are cool and different and meant to change the world, even a world within a world.  But overall, what you are doing with complexity sometimes, is really showing off your ego.    We all want to show off what we can do, how smart we are, and we are, but not always in business.  Trust me, it’s my downfall.  In web product management too many features and quite often the wrong features can be the death of a product or at least delay it indefinitely before it goes live.

What’s The Delay And I Want It All Now!

Now, if you think about it, how can you produce all these features when your time is limited.  That is not the real question.  The real question is what features are really needed first, and what features can’t wait.  I can’t really expound on the features in Krowde that I am talking about, but I can come up with an imaginary app that I probably will never create.  Let’s call it Park Finder, and let’s say it was being built for iOS and Android.

Anyway,  you have spec’d out the mobile app.  You have come up with a dozen great features from a map with icons, a search of that map, a link to that park’s page, a listing and a small profile per park, the ability to share that Park with your friends instantly via Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, an ability to talk about that park, an ability to upload pictures about that park for others to see, rate that park, a list of parks by ratings, park contact info, park office instant chat.  Wait a second!  Park office instant chat.  That needs to go into the list of “Would Like” stuff.  And that is the issue.  In fact, that list has a lot of cool stuff, but ultimately his park finder app could actually be live and working with just 3 features, a search, a map and a link to the website for that park.  All the other park finder features sound so good in your head and they are, but the customers don’t know what they don’t know.

Customers Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

I like saying this line and it has come back in many conversations, because it is really important and tied to the simplification concept.   The second issue with product complexity occurs in the mind of the technology founder.  Sometimes they think that more is better.  They think that the value increases with number and breadth of features.  But it is not exactly the same for the customer or customers.  Customers don’t always think the same or use the same features.  When only 5 out of 1000 users used that feature, then of course it was not very important.  Also, from a development standpoint, what about getting the thing finished and out to the market.  That is what is important.

Timing

Getting the Park app out into the market, with limited features is the best way to do it.  It is what Fried says in Rework, Brad Feld says in his blog and it makes common sense.  If you want to get your product out there and in the market, only include at first the core features, the features that make your product usable.  It will not fail because it does not have all the final pieces and bells and whistles you envision.  It may be that the park finder app may have been well received and done very well with only these basic features.  You have the time to add new features after that.  Add your sharing, commenting, rating and other features later on.  It is painful, but worth it and the difference in your app making or not making it to market.

What Can I Live Without?

In the end people are the problem, because even I have fallen into the “I want it all” trap.  And then I was the problem. You think you can have it all, but sometimes more doesn’t necessarily sell your product.  Sometimes less does.  Sometimes doing a small thing well is more critical than anything.  There are products and services that are bigger, feature rich, etc, but they are not for the small boot strapped start-up.  There is a cost associated with more, and sometimes those features never amount to anything or any usage.  The people you can’t always control, because they may be in charge and have the purse strings.  But at least you understand yourself what the issues are, and can say to yourself, what can I live without?

Jonah Berger’s Contagious Is Just That

Last month I wrote a blog article about how I adopted the e-reader app on my phone pretty late in the game and have actually read a few books, which is a complete conundrum in my current situation, where I find little personal time for much of anything.  So, getting myself back into reading a complete book whether it’s a novel or in my case a business or self-help book has been a complete challenge.  This all started when I forced myself to read ReWork by Jason Fried.  And since then I have read Venture Deals by Brad Feld and 10% Happier by Dan Harris.  But this past week I finally finished up Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, and quite frankly I have not read a book like this in a few years.  I have recommended Contagious to a dozen people developing a strategy for marketing their new Internet start-up.  The last time I had read a book like this was “Don’t Make Me Think“.  For years I moved and carried Don’t Make Me Think because it had so much practical value information in it you could put to use immediately.  If you have read it, you know why.

Why Is Contagious So Sharable?

Contagious explains very succinctly why people share stuff.  It uses example after example of why people pass on a Tweet or Youtube Video or why they suddenly desire a Mars Bar during the Mars Rover landing.  It puts together an understanding of human motivation that gives marketers a path towards making something big happen with a small ad budget.  It does not say how to do it, but what makes sense and what will work (if you can accomplish the task).

So, like Jonah Berger implies in his book, Contagious is a book of practical value when trying to figure out a way, particularly a guerrilla marketing approach to promoting something.    And some of the information in the book I have already shared probably with about 30 people over the past 30 days.  I guess I am a bit of a cheerleader when something is quite revealing like this book.  For instance, the book really gives a theoretical understanding of online sharing, what many business people know exists, understand the value, but don’t really understand the reasons why things are shared.  And not understanding the reasons and how Social Currency really works, many companies will miss the boat on this concept.  Berger gets to the heart of why a specific campaign works, why something is shared and how to change and improve upon something you want shared.

Propaganda

Years ago in high school we had a short class on propaganda and all the reasons why and how it works.  I think I covered this again in my MBA marketing class.  It is the standard, easy to understand, concepts like Joining The Bandwagon, or creating subliminal messaging.  It’s your typical autocratic, fascist government techniques, quite often applied in marketing.  It’s that Mad Men kind of stuff that we know exists in every ad, and we just take it for granted.  That is the world of advertising that is relatively straight forward, though having a class or two will give you an idea of the basic propaganda techniques so you too can become Jim Jones.  What Berger has explained in his book is that long before there was the Internet, Email, Twitter, Facebook and any other way we can share, buzz, text, update status, and contribute there were underlying principals a few marketers figured out (mostly by accident).  The concepts of sharing are end results marketers want, but to create that viral spark really requires sophistication that I could only guess at.  Some people got lucky over the years and he shows many examples in the book of what works and what did not work.

Sharing Is Actually Old School

So, what I finally realized as I finished reading this book is that the sharing principals Berger has written about are concepts that have been around since the dawn of man.  Humans have always told stories and always shared, but obviously not online at first.  We would share a story about something amazing with our friends.  We could talk in person, call on the phone, even write a physical letter.  This is nothing new, just when you put it in context with online sharing, it becomes more of a science, especially when, in Contagious, they do real research on things like why articles are the most emailed articles on The New York Times.  The results are quite surprising, though completely logical.

The Physiological

I am not going to spoil it and give you the complete Cliff Notes of Contagious, you need to go and read it yourself if you are in online marketing or interested in marketing.  What I found the most interesting aspect of Berger’s studies is that there was a physical or what he calls a physiological change in people who share things.  They are most compelled when they get goose bumps (my description) or feel a physical change based on what they have heard, and are compelled to share something.  It can be awe, laughter, crying or something like this.  This physical piece is critical to finding an answer to why people share.  Let me know if you read this book and if you have any thoughts about it.

 

 

 

How I Joined The e-Reader Bandwagon

Even though I keep up with a lot of technology and innovation going on, I had been in the dust bin of tech history when it came to e-Readers.  This just means I have/had no clue to what is going on, why or how it all worked.  I remember when the Kindle and the Nook appeared on the market, and I remember they were originally hardware that had migrated to software.  That was it.

Early Reader Goes Bust

Now, coming from a habitual childhood reading obsession,  you would think I would have picked up on the e-Reader revolution.  I mean it is true in England the libraries are being shut down!  I used to read 3 novels a week in high school, mostly science fiction, a bunch of magazines, and whatever I could get my hands on.  We had the New York Times delivered daily.  During my MBA years I often read the Wall Street Journal delivered to my home and even subscribed to the Harvard Business Review.  It was like $20 a copy 20 years ago.  Even in my early years while working at the phone company I would read, mainly for my MBA, tons and tons of magazines and books.  Later on, when I met my wife, she was an avid reader as well, we collected a massive amount of hard covers and paperbacks, magazines.

Newspapers End For Me

But alas, about 1999 I stopped ordering a newspaper.  So did a lot of you too, right?  I think about 2006 we tried the local Sun-Sentinel, because it was like $10 bucks for the entire year.  That bad boy piled up all around us. I will never get a newspaper delivered again.   Because I was evolving into a programmer around 1999, I really did not want to put my eyes on the computer after hours.  And then finally the nail in the coffin was having kids.  That time of finding a moment with a book alone became so rare, that I hardly would read one book a year.  I was mentally dead and I knew it!  In fact, the only reading I was doing in the past years was the guide in Japanese Suduko puzzle books.  When I say Suduko, I mean Nikoli, hand delivered from Japan.

Rework by Friedman Get’s Me Started in eBooks

I had been carrying around Jason Friedman’s “physical” book called Rework, the second book on start-ups he had written, and maybe I had started to read the first 4 chapters.  I probably read and reread those chapters like 3 times.  I never seemed to get through the book, nor could I remember where I had left the book.  Between work, kids, and everything else going on, the physical book Rework was not going to be read.  I was determined to read it though.  So that is the first real eBook I was determined to find a way to read online or on my mobile.  So, first thing I realized (I know I am late the game on this stuff, but apparently so is most of the world) is that if I could put it on my smartphone I would probably be able to find a way to read it.

iPads and Samsung Tab 3

You probably are saying to yourself, if you had 2 ipads and 2 Samsung Tab 3 tablets in our house, then how did I miss the whole eReader bandwagon.  Well, first off the two little boys we have at home would instantly grab any tablet we had in our hands and run off with it, and I was not exactly in a position to say no.  Then, like in a lot of families, the iPads started to get broken.  One broke and we got it fixed at the Apple store.  Then the second one broke and it could not be fixed (iPad v1).  So we ended up getting the boys their own Samsung Tab 3 tablets, each with special unbreakable covers.  I have a Galaxy SII, which is an antiquated smartphone.  Trust me, my nice LG and Galaxy 4 were both dropped in a fishtank.  But even when I had them I was not into eReading.  I was still traumatized by my years of programming and fear of staring at a computer.  At least that is one answer why I strayed from reading in general.

Rework Goes Digital

So at some point, somebody in my household, I won’t say who, finally said to me, hey you want an eBook, I can get them pirated at (whatever-whatever) site.  I was like, really, you can get me an eBook I want.  And she did.  I was able to put Rework on my Android phone and use UB Reader, which I believe came with my Android device, and life was good.  I set the font to 20+ point, so I practically would not need my reading glasses and went at it.  I found that turning the page with my thumb, skimming this zoomed in version, to be very doable.  It was the first time I went and fully read a whole book in years.  Trust me, I purchased 200 books in the past 15 years, I just hardly ever read them.  So once I had finished Rework, I went back to that special person and asked her if she could get me book x, book y, and book z.  In fact, she was able to get me a lot of the books I wanted to read, and books that I did not ever think of reading.

Travel, Live, Read

On the road you find eReading to be quite useful.  I rarely travel for business, but now when I do I know to load up on my smartphone.  So, what I am telling most of you (any one of you) who read my blog, is eReading is not just better than a physical book, it is the physical book with a ton of features you don’t get when reading a real book.  I am able to grab a section of a book, a quote, copy it and send it off to my colleagues with my comments.  I am able to bookmark digitally.  I am able to read a book on my smartphone, pop it down from my Dropbox and plop it on iPad or Samsung Tab 3 and continue reading there.  On UB Reader for instance, I am able to not just read this format called .epub books, but I am reading .pdf format as well. Suddenly I was able to get back into reading novels, self-help, magazines ( I got a copy of national geographic on my smartphone).  I was able to reconnect and start reading again.

The Non-Reading Future Ahead Of Us

I am hearing more and more that the future for younger and younger people is less reading.  I was believing this, but now that I have become an eReader myself, I think that this is not necessarily what will happen.  I think access and speed of reading may actually increase.  What is happening is you can digitally get any book from the past or present within seconds, and that has created an opportunity for those who want to read more to be able to get and read what they want, wherever they are.  So if you have not yet tried an eBook, give it a try, and like me you may have rediscovered reading.

 

 

 

5 Critical Must Answer Questions For Start-ups

After interacting with 5 different start-ups in the past month or so at all different levels, from an idea and no pitch to well funded and right at the MPV stage (not most valuable player, but Minimum Viable Product), I have honed it down to 5 critical questions for start-ups that they MUST get right or at least have an answer that makes sense.  And, let me say that I have often been a passive person when it comes to pushing start-ups this way or that or anybody for any reason because I am also under the belief that I don’t know most things (like the mind of a 12 year old person’s market).  I would say, admitting you don’t really know the answer is the first step towards finding an answer to these questions.  My proclivity for passivity is starting to wane, because quite frankly if you can’t answer these 5 questions correctly, then either you need to go back and start all over again (even if you are in year 2).  So I am no know-it-all, I am just going to question your status quo on what you think will be a successful service, app or product implementation but asking directly the most important questions. You decide if you’re answer is acceptable.  I also, speaking with an old friend who is involved with a ton of start-ups as well said to him, “Remember to be tougher on the next start-up guy/gal, because we often let clients fail because we don’t have the inner strength to say, NO YOU ARE WRONG”, at the right time and place (which is usually right at the beginning).  Now we all want to get paid as consultants, developers, lawyers, doctors, etc, but come on just to get the business keeping our mouths shut helps nobody in the end.  In fact the start-up will just fail badly, and quite often we knew why in the back of our heads, we just kept our mouth shut and got the pay check.

So here are the questions to ask the next start-up you come across, as well as the retorts you need to have in certain cases, so they don’t end up on a highway with no exits where the highway just ends:

1.  What is your business model or how do you make money?

2.  Describe your customer (personally who they are, what they are like, where they hang out and something tangible about them)?

3.  How are you planning on getting to market or getting critical mass?

4.  Who are you competing with?

5.  Who is in charge, is there already a problem personality on the management team and who is going to run it and who is standing behind the desk answering the phone all day.

Notice I left out one really important question, what is your product or service?  Believe or not, I am now putting that below these 5 questions.  It is important, but not as important as these questions.   I am starting to think a product can evolve, pivot, and become something else if it has to.  And a great team with the right resources in place can probably overcome any product/service question.  A dumb product obviously is a problem, but once again I am not going to be able to tell you what is dumb, successful or not.  I was out pitched a few months ago for our start-up social app by a group of kids with a game which blows the head off characters (huh!).  They got funded and we didn’t.  So maybe blowing heads off your mobile app characters is a great product.  It sounds stupid, but I don’t know.  I am not 12.

I am going to follow this blog article up with my thoughts on each of these questions, and how/why I think you could answer them right or wrong.  There are definitely wrong answers, like Facebook and we are better and bigger (get the picture). My answer to that was Wrong, we need to collaborate not compete (especially with ginormace, my son’s new word he invented, entities), that you can not imaginably compete with directly.  Collaborate not compete that is a mantra I picked up from CEO Space, and it rings true, especially with Facebook, since you can build an app within Facebook to get started and they are happy about it…

 

 

 

Tech Management: Clean The Refrigerator From The Top Down, Not The Bottom Up

I rarely clean the entire refrigerator.  Sometimes I will pull a bunch of stuff out and clean a particular row, and sometimes I will go as far as get a sponge out and clean up a little more or so.  But the refrigerator was looking quite sad and there was all kinds of sap and gook at the bottom, so I decided on the spur of the moment to just start cleaning.  Of course at the bottom, if it is real dirty, that is that is the worst part.  I got through the entire bottom level, got the entire area white and glossy.  That’s when I realized, of boy, I should have started cleaning the refrigerator from the top down, not the bottom up.  As I would clean the next levels, dirt would run down into the bottom.  I thought, wow, this is analogous to fixing technology and technology management in particular.

Start At The Top

If you want to fix a major problem in a technology company or technology division, you have to start at the top.  I am talking about a structural problem. Structural problems can be hard or soft.   By hard I mean it is a real technology problem.   This can be that the entire division uses outdated technology or bug-filled code.  By soft I mean a management issue, where something is wrong and it is a people problem.  Often division leaders or executives get together and discuss a problem, and then they of course send out their minions to go fix the problem, but quite often the management does not fix themselves.  They usually ask others to go and fix the biggest problem, but sometimes that problem is more about leadership than a technical fix.  Let’s face it, most management are quite frankly the least likely to change, because they are not new to issues, they have been around a while and their experience can be what got them where they are, but experience quite often can hold them back (we don’t know what we don’t know).  But sometimes to fix a serious problem they have to have the will to change, and if they don’t they could be technically damaging the company, because very few companies will quickly remove management.  They will move people at the bottom around, middle managers around to try to solve an issue, but having an executive change, that is a difficult task.

Rocks Vs. Boulders

Every technology project has its small issues to accomplish and its large issues.  Early on big issues and big software are easier to write.  As the company, especially an Internet company, gets bigger it becomes more and more difficult to abandon systems for newer ones.  Every app that has been written becomes obsolete, but many technology people don’t want to let go.  Why should they?  That is the issue.  What is good for the company/business/organization, is not always what is good for the individual.   And I could be wrong about certain situations where the management is terrific and the bottom half is where there is a problem, but honestly the top is where you should start and look hard first in solving a hard or soft issue.

Stay Below The Radar

What all technology people want is for things to go smoothly.  Change of course is not easy, so staying out of sight is often the best strategy.  So, back to the concept of cleaning from the top of the refrigerator…  If you want an entire organization to change their attitude, not only does it have to start at the top, but the top must take his own medicine.   Much easier to lead by doing than by just being a talking head.

Clean Often, And Learn

Now, will I ever clean the refrigerator again, who knows?  It is like a brand new refrigerator now.  Will I get the inertia to do this next time it gets to the point of no return.  I can’t say?  What I can say is next time you look at your refrigerator, if you work in technology, hopefully you will remember this analogy, and instead of working on all these small pieces at the bottom of the technology, you will take a look at the higher level first.

Passwords, Security, Tech Snafu’s & Support

Well, with a title of a blog post like “Passwords, Security, Tech Snafu’s & Support” I am going to cover in this blog article a bunch of thoughts on the support process that I have navigated in the past couple years with our speed dating company.  This means I may chat about the importance of stability, password security, or issues I have run into trying to keep things running, since there are down times and bugs.

First Things First:  What The Heck Have I Gotten Myself Into

Nothing I am saying here is a hard and fast rule.  It is based on my experience.  Let me first start with the overall situation I am in.   Back in 2001 I helped a certain person create a speed dating business.  By help, I mean I wrote all the web application code to create a website so people in many, many cities could both run speed dating events and sign up for events.  This company, called Pre-Dating, went on to be sold to Cupid.com.  When Cupid no longer wanted it, they sold it back to us, and in 2010 I redeveloped the code again from scratch and we recreated the business on a back-end platform called Take It National, i.e. Takeitnational.com.  While I did all these things and built all these systems that work (nicely), I still profess that I am by no means an expert or a serious, serious programmer.

1. It Works

The most important rule to me and a lot of top developers I know is that it works and does not crash!  This means that my code is not sophisticated, not always in the code hall of fame or MVC perfect or something to write an article or home about.

2. No Bugs, But There Is Downtime.

I hate bugs, and of course I work toward no bugs.  Who doesn’t?  There are some down times, but I will get into when that happens and why it will eventually happen. There are a dozen lessons I learned over the last 12 years dealing with these systems, but the fact is you can not make a perfect system, because even if you made the system perfect, there still would be a crash one day, especially if that is the day the operating system, hardware or the software language gets upgrades.

3. Upgrades, The Bane Of My Existence.

90% of my bugs today are upgrade related.  For instance the big one recently was an upgrade to PHP Version 5.4 from 5.2.  I found out about it when I got a call from the site manager who told me the site was offline with 404 error.   After a little bit of research reading through the logs, I realized that the errors we were getting were due to an upgrade in PHP.  I don’t even know when there are upgrades of languages.  And why would I think an upgrade would crash my system?  So, I found out eventually that this little note on the official PHP site said, hey you had 12 years of us saying this function is going away and to change your code around…

4.  Build For The Next Guy.

One thing I have taken into consideration is building a system where another programmer who knows PHP enough can easily take over and work on it.  I have even gone as far as keeping code in very specific directories so another programmer could take over and figure it all out.

5. Build Like It Will Be Around A While.

So how would I know that 12 years later, a couple versions of my code would still be running.  I didn’t.  Some guy may have written some mainframe code 30 years ago that is still in production.  How would he know that would happen?  We don’t.  But taking a few things into consideration, like not using the most sophisticated ways of doing things helps as well as making sure the code can easily be moved between servers.  For instance, we had an application a few years ago that was looking for an E: drive for an extension, this was ASP, and we had just moved the code.  There was no E: drive!

6. User Errors

Then there is the case where there looked to be a major error in the system, but the error was caused by user data entry.  The users had specifically added or changed something that caused the bug.  This can happen when you leave back-door admin openings (like text fields with no rules) for administrators to add stuff they are not supposed to.  This is why I am becoming more and more negative about HTML content apps on the back-end versus text.  With HTML you can mess up the application easily.  Most important thing here is to check to see if the problem is user entry created first, before jumping in and programming.

7.  The Once In A Lifetime Bug

There is this one bug that happened to me over the years that drove me crazy.  A user with an Irish last name, like O’Neil, wanted to make sure their name had an apostrophe in the name.  So they tried to force their name through the email signup with an apostrophe.  Later on that messes up the application in that it can send a stop code or start code message to the system.  So I fixed this and these users could not enter the apostrophe anymore.  Meanwhile a few years later one of my admins gets a call from a customer and then forces the apostrophe into the system via an admin screen.

8. Using System Email Addresses

There is an article that basically says that they got hacked using their company email address vs. using a Google email or large system email address.  The reason this can happen is if the hacker gets control of the mail system.  How does that happen?  They hack into your GoDaddy account and redirect the mail services to their own server.  This has happened a few times recently.   And with that, they are able to reset your passwords on sites like Twitter, Facebook even Paypal.  So, what I am saying is it is best to use a Gmail or Hotmail email address for the admin accounts, because they will never get control of the back-end of Google.  Obviously bad things can happen as well on Google, but less likely to lose control of the overall domain.

9.  Solve Things Early

General Schwarzkopf had a great saying, (I am misquoting him here, i.e., sic) that “The Quicker You Make A Decision, The Faster You Have Time To Change It”.  In other words trying to get to the problem asap.  So that is why I am always available for a support email, AIM, SMS and make sure the issues are resolved as soon as possible.  It may take time to fix things and figure out a problem, but it is important to solve those problems as quickly as we can.

10.  You Can’t Think Of Everything

I am guilty of many things, and as technology gets more sophisticated I become guiltier and guiltier as I know less and less.  You can’t master everything or know everything.   What you can do is learn what does not change so often… things like MS Excel and Linux.    In 1989 I went to the book store and there were only 4 or 5 books on computers in local bookstores.  Those days ended with thousands of books. And finally today, most of us don’t read books, but we can find 10,000+ articles online that help us solve things.