Monthly Archives: July 2013

Website Tracking

I guess July is over, which means time for a little blog-reflection.

This is something I’ve noticed not just with this site, but with others that I manage as well: I’m a little obsessed with tracking. I have Google Analytics hooked up and therefore can see information about daily visits and the overall interaction of the website, which can be very interesting, but at the same time likely isn’t overly productive.

It is both fortunate and unfortunate that there is so much information available to us (me) when it comes to online presence. In addition to Analytics for websites, LinkedIn tracks the people who have viewed your profile and Klout can apparently give you some sort of ranking of how influential you are on social media, although I’m not really sure how that one works.

Do we really need to know all of these things, though? Does it really matter one of the posts on here has x visitors, while another has y? It is clear that low readership hasn’t stopped me to this point, so what is the likelihood it will in the future?

While there are times where tracking interaction on your website, in particular when you are spending money advertising, for the most part it could just end up being a lot of information to sort through. Without a clear purpose in mind, then it is likely better to leave the numbers alone.

Here is a good example based on this website. The number one factor in people reading a post seems to be based on the time of day I post a link. Sure, a bit of it is the topic and something may be said in the one-line description, but time of day seems to rein supreme.

What does knowing this information do for me? Basically, not too much. I can try to get the posts out at an optimal time of day, but my schedule doesn’t always allow that. I have the information, but it’s pretty useless.

In the meantime I’ll continue writing and tracking, but will remember that although the numbers are interesting, they aren’t always useful. If anyone else manages a website, I would love to talk about what you find the be the relevant numbers.

Smartphone Market

For someone who doesn’t really care about owning the newest technology (I’m a use it until it dies type of person), I’m pretty interested in the industry. The smartphone market in particular is fascinating to me.

I think what I love about the market is how dividing it can be among friends. They seem to be one of the only purchases an adult can make where another adult feels it’s completely socially acceptable to publicly criticise and ridicule the purchaser. Not only this, but the personal opinions and preferences of the purchaser never enter into the conversation.

I’m being a little facetious, but just think about how extreme some people are about supporting their particular brand of phone. Phrases like, “I can’t believe you have a…” and “I’ll never not use a…” seem to be fairly common. Many people’s views are extremely finite.

In fact, if you got on the cell phone train in the 90s and always had the most popular phone of the day, you would have ended the sentence “I’ll never not use a…” with: Motorola, Nokia, Motorola (again), Blackberry, iPhone, Samsung Galaxy. That’s more flip flopping than a presidential election (hey-o). What’s more is if we were really being honest, before your first cell phone you probably would have said something along the lines of, “Cell phones are pointless, I’m never going to get one.”

The fact is that there is always a rise and fall to all technologies. The reason that there is such a fast change in the cell phone market is that the typical consumer doesn’t have the phone for more than three years. Then the contract is over and some new, fancier, shinier, more popular phone is on the market.

As I said above, there hasn’t really been a company that has has been able to be on top of the cell phone market for more than 5 – 10 years, at most. This is because being on the top is hard. You have a large, loyal client base and you want to keep them happy, which in most industries means giving them more of the same. Not so for mobile phones.

No, this industry demands innovation, while not alienating your current market. Basically a fool’s errand. I’m not saying it can’t be done, we just haven’t seen a company pull it off yet.

I have no clue what the smartphone market is going to do and anyone who says they do is lying. The only thing I feel comfortable saying is that no platform is going to stay on top forever, so stop being rigid in your views. Odds are we’ll all change between a few different brands throughout our lives, so don’t be hating on the others. You may end up changing over.

Now for a change, I’m actually going to attempt to back up my points (shocking, yes). It’s not scientific, but more than I usually offer.

Motorola – Was huge when cell phones first became popular, with an awesome analog devices. The industry started to go digital and they dug their heels in the ground because so many people were on the analog system. Until they upgraded that is…

Nokia – Digital phones. Had some games, had some media capabilities (remember downloadable ringtones??). More of a footnote than anything, filling the void Motorola refused to enter.

Motorola again – Came back with the Razr, the well-designed, well-marketed flip phone. At this point, though, it was sort of like making an awesome horse and buggy system when Model T’s started rolling off the lines, because people were changing over to…

Blackberry – Invented the smart phone market and increased corporate stress at levels not seen since the first union (kidding if you’re part of a union). Chaining workers to their company email, calendar, etc. was an employer’s dream.

iPhone – Was laughed at by the people at Blackberry, because it was a “toy”. Turns out people wanted that toy. Then businesses wanted that toy. Then businesses started because of that toy.

Samsung Galaxy – Neat-o operating system, first for just nerds, now for everyone. Has a good design and saves people from the rigidity of iOS, if that’ their thing. Also invented the phablet, but we should all make an effort to never use that word again.

Brand Basics

In my job we’re fortunate enough to speak with a good number of people starting businesses. I actually can’t think of an extended period of time where we haven’t been speaking to a new entrepreneur.

It’s a very exciting time for them and there are a million and one things to worry about. Knowing that I’m completely ignoring everything logistic, there is one piece of marketing that should not be overlook, which is taking some time to think about the brand.

While branding can mean a hundred different things to one hundred different people, there are a few fundamentals that you should think about when starting a business that will save you time, heartache and money down the line

Name is number one.

Take time developing your company’s name. Understand what it means if it’s descriptive (Dan’s Hot Dog Stand) or not (Cerebral Inc.). If you’re going to use a real word or make one up. How the name translates (i.e. is if offensive in another language). Make sure it’s not complicated for people to say and if there is some awesome, deep meaning, assume people won’t know or care.

After considering these things RESERVE THE URL. Even if you’re not going to build a website just yet, do it. It’s like$15 for most addresses.

Get a pro to develop a visual look and feel. 

Don’t do it yourself, don’t go on Kijiji and find the cheapest rate possible. Just do it. I’m not saying that because I work in the industry, I’m saying that as a consumer. If I see a crappy logo / font treatment / colour scheme I assume the company sucks.

Think of a tone and personality for your communications.

Every company should have it’s own personality, and the tone that comes from that. If you’re starting a one-person consulting shop, this will likely come pretty easy. If you’re starting a baby food company, you likely don’t want to be communicating on “your” voice, the company needs it’s own.

Guard your brand carefully.

You don’t need to go through an extensive exercise, but make sure to keep a one-pager of brand attributes. Ensure that all your communications are in line with this document, and therefore the image of your company. Make sure to share this with all employees and anyone working on your marketing, to ensure that you are not the only keeper of the brand.

Also, make sure to revisit the brand as the company grows. If there are products or services that don’t fit with the initial structure, it may be time to reconsider the framework, or even split off into a new product line / company.

Can You Make the Sacrifice?

I read an article recently that boldly stated that entrepreneurs can’t have girlfriends. Considering the author cited the reasons, among others, that in the Facebook movie Eduardo’s girlfriend burnt down his apartment and the “fan girls” were too young and hot, I don’t know how credible he is. That being said, it is interesting to take a look at the personal lives of successful entrepreneurs and other business leaders to see what sort of sacrifices have been made.

To add some context to this, I consider myself a realist, knowing that it is unlikely I can “have it all”. To be successful in a career or venture, there will be sacrifices on the personal side. To devote more time trying to be a successful friend/son/(eventually) parent will take sacrifice on the work side of things. There are only so many hours in the day, but that’s a burden we all live with. There’s no right or wrong way of doing things, we all just need to decide what we’re comfortable with.

Back to entrepreneurs, in order to dedicate the amount of time needed in order to become highly successful, it does seem there is a toll on relationships. There seems to be a fairly high divorce rate, but that is not black and white. To try a be a little more concrete, the story about the marriage contract Zuckerberg’s wife made him sign (allegedly including one night and 100 minutes of quality time with her per week) is an acknowledgement that entrepreneurs work long hours and many not always have time for their families.

Not only this, but income is often highly volatile and the investment that entrepreneurs make is rarely diversified. All the eggs are in one basket, so to speak, which can be terrifying to some. Not only this, but any cash flow will likely be going back into the business for some time, so personal savings usually get eaten up pretty quick. Combine this with the fact that you may have put your house or other assets up as collateral, and if an entrepreneur fails it could take years or decades of rebuilding to get their life on track.

To the right kind of person with an idea, this doesn’t matter, though. It’s a sacrifice that they’re willing to make in order to see their dream come true. This could be hard for others in their lives, though, it could be a hard thing.

Owning a business sounds great when you’re first starting out, but the sacrifices that are needed are something to consider. For some it could prove to be too hard to live the life that is needed, wasting time and money. Unfortunately no one can tell you the right answer, it’s all up to you.

Designing Nature

This is such a departure from what I usually post about that I don’t even think I can loosely throw it into a category. That’s ok, though, because I think it’s interesting regardless.

Don’t worry, this post starts the same as many others: a story from my life.

As a newish homeowner I keep finding things that other home owners judge you for. Furniture, decor, appliances, paint colour, cleanliness and the focus of this post, curb appeal. More specifically lawn care.

Literally the first time I met two of my neighbours they both told me about the time one call the city on the other because the lawn was overgrown. Not that I was planning on letting my yard grow out, but I took the cautionary tale anyway.

What I’m talking about is a little more specific. Namely the non-grass plant life that is, or isn’t, on a property.

On multiple occasions I have heard about how the lack of maintained bushes/flowers at a house clearly denotes a lower class of homeowner. The kind of person who doesn’t take pride in their house and doesn’t care that the rest of us suffer every time we have to look at the monstrosity. My words, not theirs, but the overall message is there.

As someone who doesn’t have much plant-life at my house currently, I took offense to this. First-off because I don’t think my home looks offensive or unkept from the street. An other reason is I do have pride in my house, but don’t have the time to work on the finer touches.

Forgive me that the planting and daily watering of flowers is lower on the list than a number of other things that need to be done around my house, let alone in my life.

Now with that rant over, these interactions had me thinking about how it’s a little strange the way we put so much time and effort into our yards. Rather then celebrating the natural growth (i.e. enjoying nature) we instead buy non-regional plants, rip up our prairie grass to lay sod that was farmed and even bring in rocks from other places.

If the space needs to be designed for a specific function, I can understand that. I can also appreciate that gardening is a fulfilling hobby for a large number of people. What I don’t appreciate is that there seems to be some predetermined standard (I guess all home-owners came up with it before I got a place) and if that standard isn’t met then you’re the brunt of criticism.

Let’s just say I preferred to let my yard grow more naturally, enjoying the long grass. What’s to say that is wrong? If someone where to try this, in today’s day and age, though, the City would come down on them with fines and their neighbours would shun them for “driving down property values”.

I guess all I’m saying is beauty is the eye of the beholder, and if I own the property, what’s stopping me from doing what I like to it without the judgement of others?

P.S. I want to point out that I have a generally tidy yard, albeit lacking diverse plant-life. I rake, I mow, in the winter I shovel.

When Has Winnipeg “Made It”?

There was an article in the WFP this week about how BMO has a new Senior VP position that is being created in the city. Like with all other news of a company choosing to come here, it was told from the perspective of how Winnipeg is really shining on the national/international stage, how we’re growing into ourselves as a city, etc.

Not to be a detractor, because I’m a huge supporter of Winnipeg, but I’m a little sick of stories like this. Not the good news component, but how we take it as some sort of external validation that Winnipeg has “made it” as a city.

What does “making it” even mean? Is it when the Jets came back? When Rob Ford learns where we are on a map? When IKEA decided to open its doors? When Taylor Swift brought her concert to the new stadium? Obviously I’m being facetious, but it doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been people pointing to these examples as the defining point of when the world has finally recognized our rightful place at the “big table” with the other grown up cities.

Bull shit.

We have really “made it” as a city, when we stop giving a crap about what others think about us and stop pointing to every good thing that happens here as the turning point. Right now we are the equivalent of the person who is always telling everyone how great they are. When I see someone like this my first reaction is, “Well, that’s probably not true.” Who needs to run around trying to convince people that they’re awesome? Someone who sucks.

It’s the same with Winnipeg. If we keep looking for signs and trying to promote ourselves by pointing to examples, it is painfully obvious to everyone (ourselves included) that we’re still not at the level we want to be.

Until we can act cool when something good happens to the city, like it’s no big deal and it happens all the time, we haven’t made it. So next time a major retailer opens a store, don’t include it in the Christmas letter to all your out of town family and friends. Let’s not talk about it on the radio, TV and in papers for months before and after. Let’s just be glad there are more options, go to the store when we need and calmly wait for the next one.

Evaluation of Charities

In Canada’s social structure it is important to have charitable bodies, I would argue. Considering government support is and should be limited, having private citizens able to support their preferred cause allows public opinion to determine what receives support and what doesn’t.

How do people make their decision, though? For some it’s because of personal connection, for others it’s what’s convenient, what their friends are doing or for the perceived chance at personal gain. Many, myself included, have evaluated charities based on what percentage of money raised goes to the cause, which I’m not sure is a good thing.

On the surface, it seems like nearly the only quantitative, across the board comparison we can use to compare one charity to another, aside from total donation amount. How much did they give in relation to how much they received. Seems reasonable, but why is that?

For a long time it has been made known that donors don’t want their money going to overhead. In many cases employees at these charities are making well below their market rate, if anything at all. I’m starting to question whether a “successful” charity is one where their employees toe the poverty line, or at the every least need to make a significant personal sacrifice in order to work for the cause. It’s good that they’re a believer, but that is not a good employee-retention strategy, nor a solid long-term plan.

Most charities are stuck in a loop. Every year they go out, run the proven events, engage the proven sponsors, try to get some new donors, cut costs and give the surplus at the end of the year. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If they try anything new and it doesn’t work, resulting in a little less being given to the cause, they’re failures. If they try and re-invest in their people, they’re greedy. At every turn there is a board, recipient or donor waiting to criticise. This seem good in the short term, but the inevitable plateau of that charity will hurt in the long-term.

So what can be done? I would argue that charities should be able to take more chances. Re-invest in themselves for the sake of growth. In other words, remove some shackles and act a little more like the private sector.

Could you imaging a company try to grow, while at the same time paying every bit of profit that it makes our in dividends. Zero retained earnings. How could that company ever expect to grow? This is the situation that charities are in and because of it growth is extremely hard. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but when it does it’s against the odds.

Something I heard once that stuck with me is that no company succeeded to grow by focusing on cutting costs, only by focusing on increasing revenue is real growth possible. Why should this be any different for a charity? Is 40% $1 million not better than 70% of $100,000?

So when I’m making decisions about giving, I have new criteria. Number one on the list is how the charity is planning to reinvest in growth.

Don’t Pass on Stress

Stress is pretty funny. In the amusing sense. When it’s not happening to you.

It has an amazing effect on us, can come out of no where, could come from next to nothing and there can sometimes be no sympathy. Quite the opposite, in fact. People tend to dislike it when you’re acting stressful around them, because the feeling tends to be contagious (or just really annoying).

That’s actually the reason I’m writing this post, in a nutshell; don’t pass-on your stress. It doesn’t accomplish anything positive for you, but it makes those you are interacting with worse for it. I guess the old adage, “Misery loves company,” would imply that if you can bring whoever you’re interacting with down do your level you’ll be happier, but who actually feels going about doing that after the fact?

Not letting our stress show is much easier said than done, especially to those who know us well. What’s more is that when we are feeling pressured, the last thing we want to do is be distracted by anything else. We (or at least I) just want to get to work on trying to solve whatever it is that is weighing on our minds. This may not be the best thing to do, though.

More and more I’m finding examples of when it’s better to allow ourselves to get distracted for a bit, leave the issue at hand and come back to it after taking some time off from thinking about it. Often cooling off after being “in the moment” offers some fresh perspective and taking time off from consciously thinking about the issue allows your brain to rest and you can approach the issue with more creativity. Obviously in some cases it isn’t possible to walk away from the issue, but if you’re not working in an emergency room or on a battlefield, I would suggest that you usually can take a quick break.

I don’t have anything smart to say about not getting stressed out when people around you are, because I still let this effect me all the time. Believe it or not, but I do have a certain level of empathy, and because of this I don’t like it when I’m speaking with someone who is high-strung. It often leaves me spinning for a while after and I can’t seem to calm down. What’s worse is there is usually nothing I can do to help them out.

I guess that we all need a reminder that most of the issues we face day-to-day are not a matter of life or death (unless they are, in which case you are a much better person than me and I can’t presume to teach you anything). If you can remind yourself that, along with the fact that even if things don’t work out the sun will still rise tomorrow, hopefully you’ll be ok.

Think Strategically by Saying No

This is important no matter who you are, as long as you value your time. I first started thinking about this topic in terms of being a business owner, but I think this is a practice that I should really start applying to my everyday life. Actually, I believe that I have started a bit already, but you can be the judge.

As I said, the first time I started considering this as a concept I should start applying to my business. Especially since I’m running something on the side, my time is limited. A while ago I realized that even though I kept saying I want to grow the business, my actions weren’t necessarily reflecting this.

While there is no way I can escape the day-to-day right now, there were definitely some things that I was focusing too much time on that had little to no effect on the business. They were just little tasks or decisions that were an easy distraction to think about, but when they’re dealt with inefficiently it can eat up more time and energy than they’re worth. Realizing that it’s ok to say “no” to non-urgent things that pop up and deal with it when there is time set aside has been an awesome way of keeping my mind clear.

When you choose not to worry about things until you dictate, you are able to keep your thoughts and efforts focused on what is important to you. In my case that is mostly focused on strategy. I truly do want to grow my business, but before when every time I sat down to work on it I was allowing myself to get distracted with what I falsely labelled “urgent” it meant I never had the time or energy to get to thinking strategically. Now I say “no” until the tasks pile up enough that I can do them all at once, or wait until I don’t want to think any more and can do busy work.

The same can be said personally, and luckily I think I have started to learn this lesson. I love getting involved with many different things and that has lead to overcommitting myself, especially in volunteer efforts. About a year ago I started feeling burn-out for this and about six months after that I decided that something needed to change. Reluctantly I have been shedding some of my volunteer responsibilities and am concentrating on being more selective. This has meant being able to contribute a greater amount, without spreading myself too thin.

After stepping away from this for a bit and now reading over it again, I’m fairly certain that I’m just slower than the curve when it comes to this idea. The one thing that I will say, is that sometimes saying “no” seems rude or like we’ve letting someone down. As a person who has been on both sides of the conversation, believe me, it’s a far greater let down than if you commit to something you can’t handle.

What Stops Us From Dreaming Big?

I have been bending peoples’ ears off about Elon Musk for quite some time now. If you don’t know who he is, we obviously haven’t spoken in a while, so give me a call! He’s his credentials:

  • Co-founded Paypal – no explanation necessary.
  • Founder and CEO Tesla Motors – currently the only viable all-electric car company, which is turning a profit, has paid back all government loans and is being hired by other car manufacturers (i.e. the competition) to help them.
  • Founder and CEO Space X – the first private corporation that has been contracted by NASA to resupply the ISS, which it has done successfully twice with rockets of it’s own design.
  • Chairman of Solar City – large solar system provider based out of the US, which was founded based on Musk’s plan.
  • Oh yeah, he’s only 42.

As much as I would love to someday write his biography, that wasn’t the point of this post. The reason I put all of his accomplishments up is because he is obviously someone who isn’t afraid to dream big. So, what’s stopping the rest of us?

Not to cop-out, but I think there is no one answer. Virtually every part of our upbringing is geared toward teaching us to be “practical” and to occupy our minds worrying about small issues. Both of which thoughts, I’m assuming, would rarely if ever enter Musk’s brain.

Then this learning stays with those people who become business owners. Worry about squeezing every ounce of profit from every dollar spent. Trying to determine what the marketplace “wants” before investing in creating it. Taking the same tired strategies of our competition and trying to make it a little bit more efficient, so it works for us.

I can almost guarantee that people like Musk don’t give a crap about any of that.

What would the market have said about any of those companies before they were launched? Did people in the mid-90s trust online payments? Was NASA comfortable with hiring an outside firm to provide vital services? Do people want solar technology to be their primary source of energy? No, no and no. That hasn’t stopped any of these companies from being successful.

It’s not a huge surprise, but apparently Musk is not stopping there. In a recent interview he spoke about an idea he has for a “hyperloop” which will allow people to travel from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes. He also described it as “a cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table.” I have no clue what that means, but I can’t wait to see it!

So don’t get caught in the day-to-day nit-picking worries that too many business owners focus on. One of the common traits of successful companies, across all sectors, is that when they were young the owners focused on growth, rather than cutting costs. It’s better to dream big and go for a bigger pie than worry about how your small pie is currently sliced. Now I want pie.

So keep (or start) dreaming big! Who the hell wants to aim for an average life? In the end we all die, so if you fail it doesn’t really matter. How’s that for finding the silver lining?