Monthly Archives: October 2013

Month of October Wrap Up

Well, anther month done and, surprisingly, I don’t really know what to say. It’s a little tougher every month to set a goal for this project, but I think that’s part of the natural cycle of things.

When something you’re doing is new then it’s all learning and getting better and better. Then once you’ve surpassed your expectations, then it can be hard to realign.

Something I do need to become is more comfortable with the occasional slow down and re-evaluation. Constant movement forward can be addictive, but it is the time that we take planning which dictates the direction of that movement and how effective it is in helping us get to where we want to go.

So maybe that’s my goal for the month: To come up with a new goal. Transition seems to be my theme for this fall, so it is very fitting. In the meantime I’ll keep writing and Happy Halloween to everyone!

halloween

BBM Backlash

Well, BBM is here for iPhones and Androids and there is a very predictable backlash going on: People are very publicly stating all their reasons for wanting to or not wanting to download the program. I really hope this doesn’t become a trend for all apps that are released…

But of course it won’t! The only reason that there is such a strong reaction is because it is a program that RIM put out there for non-Blackberry devices. I think that it is safe to say to all those who are posting passionate comments on Facebook about why they will absolutely never download BBM (even though they have never tried it), is that no one cares. I repeat NO ONE CARES.

I find it hard to believe that anyone has dozens of friends hounding them day in and day out to get on BBM, interrupting meals and keeping the individual up at night. Or strangers stopping them in public to spread the BBM good news. No, this is some oddly pressured decision you have put on yourself and anyone that you currently text with will likely continue to text with you in the future, regardless of your intent to download a free app or not.

What’s more, for some people and businesses, BBM is a program that really could have some use. If Apple or some other company came out with it, it would probably be lauded as the best communication and collaboration app out there, but since it was given to us by the easy-to-hate-for-no-reason RIM, that won’t happen. People’s weird, irrational belief that RIM is the devil and because they make phones that are deemed inferior it is good when the company does poorly and thousands of Canadians lose their jobs.

So if you have no need for a program that allows you to avoid international texting fees, or collaborate and share information with a number of people, then don’t download the program. Believe me, there’s no hard feelings.

Pocket Google

I’m addicted to phone Googling. I think that there is rarely a time that I’m hanging out with people that some question doesn’t come up where we whip out our phones and find the answer. It’s a good feeling and allows the conversation to move forward without getting hung up on a small detail. It’s a good thing.

It’s also terrible, though. More than once I’ve thought to myself, or said out loud, that our rush to Google things kills conversations we would have otherwise had. No more needing to take the time to debate the population of Russia, because it’s at our fingertips. Want to know the stats of a hockey player and you no longer have to haggle over the numbers, just search it up. Fun and exciting conversations that we would have been having less than 10 years ago no longer exist.

Not only this, but the excitement of learning anew piece of information is diminishing. Not only do I not feel a rush of euphoria up learning a fact I have been struggling with for some time, because there is no time for the struggle. Quite the opposite. Now I get frustrated when I can’t find the answer right away.

Is the net sum a good thing or a bad thing, though? Am I / are we better off having the total of all human knowledge at our fingertips? Although I go back and forth on the issue, overall I think it’s a good thing.

The reason is that we are using less and less brain function remembering facts. Just like the spread of literacy through society reduced our capacity for memorization, the internet on demand is the next leap forward along this line. But that’s OK.

Rather than using our energy remembering the thoughts of others, we are using our minds to form our own thoughts. Taking the information that is at our fingertips and synthesizing it mentally for our own uses, we are able to form even more complex thoughts based on what we have skimmed from a number of sources.

In the past this was a much longer process, taking years for ideas and evidence to make its way around the world. Now that is’ available on demand nearly the moment it has been discovered, everyone in the world is able to build upon it. And everything we achieve is thanks to those before us.

So while I complain about the missed debates with my friends about the ages of celebrities, on the whole I’m glad that I carry Google in my pocket wherever I go, because when needed I have the backup of a whole world of knowledge at my disposal.

Millennial Entrepreneurs

Last week a friend sent me an article about how Millennials are twice as likely as the general population to want to start their own business in the next year. While I’m sure that there are many factors that contribute to this statistic (where they are in their life cycle, unemployment double the national average), but I think that there is something more hardwired than any of the more macro reasons.

This is more of an observational statement, but it is something that I’ve heard so much of that I can’t help but start believing it: The Millennial generation, my generation, thinks that they (we) are entitled.

This statement typically raises my ire, because as with all generalizations, it obviously doesn’t apply itself to all individuals. However, when I’m forced to take a long hard look at how I know that peers of mine have acted (and I sure hope that I haven’t), I can definitely see where that conclusion can be drawn.

Since university and beyond I have known people that think they should have a job with complete autonomy and flexibility, along with a six-figure salary with the title “Social Marketing Guru” upon walking into a company. And don’t even get me started about any entry-level position with “Guru” in the title.

Although someone may be able to find this, I would wager a bet that it would be the exception, not the norm. That is exactly the issue, though, we have been taught all our lives that we can do anything and are special, therefore we always identify with the exception, rather than the rule.

So this entitlement, I think, is a major reason that Millennials want to go into business for themselves. After being in the job market for a few years they realize that they can’t do everything that they want (making what they want) right away, but realize if they are their own bosses, then it’s completely in their control. Or so they think.

I tend to think that once many of the people saying they want to start their own business give it a try, it’s not going to be what they had thought it would be like. Often, especially as a starting entrepreneur, your time is not your own. You have to do tasks that you would rather not, but have to get done. Your time isn’t as flexible as you think it will be, because you are usually working as the service provider / product maker, as well as operations manager and sales person. Basically three full-time jobs for one person. And if you think huge money is coming in year one, I would think again.

So if you want to start a business and have romance in your eyes, it may be prudent to speak with a few business owners. See what it was like during their starting years and determine if it’s in line with what your expectations are. If it’s not, it may be worth it to start your business as a side-gig to see how you like it. Or to continue to be an employee for a few more years, because there is nothing wrong with that.

The PST Hike

Short and sweet, this post will be. It’s not going to be some huge rant about the PST going up. Honestly, I think consumption based taxes are one of the better forms of tax, especially as compared to income tax. If I want to save my money or invest it in starting a business, there’s nothing quite like being put at a disadvantage because I’ve chosen to live in Winnipeg.

But I digress…

What is worrying me about the PST is as a business owner. Not that I have to charge 1% more, but rather what happens if the courts rule that the government illegally raised the tax rate. Does that mean I have to go back to every client I’ve had since the beginning of summer and issue a 1% rebate?

It’s not like it’s a great sum of money I’ll be giving back and it was never really “mine” to begin with. Still, though, having to go through the process of getting mailing addresses and issuing refunds. Paying for postage and taking the time to write the cheques. It’s all time and money that could be better spent elsewhere.

I can only imagine the huge resource cost that larger businesses are going to have to take on. What about car dealerships and vendors of other large purchases? Where 1% is a significant enough sum for people to care. I don’t envy that.

As a consumer I’m going to go on record and say that if the PST charge was less than $10 for any specific transaction, I don’t really care about the refund. I’m sure it adds up to some meaningful sum, but I feel bad for the businesses that are stuck in the middle here. They don’t have any pull in the decision, but they’re the ones who will have to shoulder the cost. I would prefer they stay in business in Winnipeg.

Product Planning

Confession time: The beginning of the company was pretty hasty. I wrote about our sorted history a little while ago, but to give you the cheat sheet for the purposes of this article, we basically took our first booking before we have a product and threw something together in about a week or so. Turns out it worked then and since, because we’ve not done over 100 events and don’t have a complaint yet.

Now it’s time for growth and we have to backtrack a bit. What I’m learning is a little planning goes a long way when it comes to product development. Not that what we had made isn’t perfectly fine for what we are using it for, but if we had thought through our growth process before hand we would likely be a bit further ahead from where we are now.

Since I truly hope to be a part of this process again, there are a few things that I have taken away from this experience that I will be sure to consider:

Determine the first iteration’s limitations.

As I said, the first version of the program is more than fine for what we’re using for it now, but it definitely has some limitations as soon as we want to do anything else. We probably would have known this when first building it, but honestly didn’t see the forest for the trees. We know what we wanted and didn’t think about what we may want in the future, which leads us to…

Have an improvement / growth plan.

Especially in the world of technology, as soon as your product is released the countdown has started to when it becomes obsolete. Knowing this, it is important to start working on the next version as soon as you can, and even better if you can plan a few versions ahead.

A common statement from Apple worshipers that the company already has the next 2 – 10 years worth of products in the pipeline. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s true. Not only that, but companies like that can very purposefully phase update releases in order to maximize consumer engagement and purchase cycles.

For us, there are some things that need to happen before the company can really enter a strong growth phase, so that’s what we’re doing.

Know when to abandon.

This is a little more out there, because I don’t think we’re at this place yet. Saying that, the cycle be 5, 10, 100 or 1000 years, but eventually every product will reach the end of it’s life. Being able to predict and plan for this can mean continuing to capitalize on the market you hold before it’s too late, or be able to make the appropriate plans to ensure that the business continues beyond the flagship project.

What’s in a Title?

After my last LinkedIn post I’ve had a few conversations with people about the LI community in general. Something that keeps coming up in that conversation is the level of importance placed on titles, rather than the description of the jobs. This isn’t something I had thought too much of before, but after my friends mentioned it to me, it was hard not to notice.

Other than the person’s name and picture, the job title is the highest importance in a LinkedIn profile. Company, education and actual experience is all secondary or lower. While this may be appropriate when comparing apples to apples, considering every company has a different culture and titling standards, the title could be very misleading.

I can use myself as an example.

Having a side business means that I can make up any title I want. My dad once joked that I should call myself CEO, because all “real” companies have a CEO and there’s no one who could stop me.

When “giving” myself a title, which appears essentially only on LinkedIn and my resume (don’t have titles on our business cards because we’re progressive like that) I settled on President. I a little reluctant to admit, but I did this for essentially the reason that my dad joked about: A company should have a president and why the hell not?

I didn’t really give the decision a second thought, until I said the title out loud. It sounded fake to me and I felt like a phony even saying it, but since it came up so rarely I didn’t do anything about it and it stayed like that for years.

What got me thinking about it again was when I started getting LinkedIn solicitations for other president jobs and services a president of a company may consider. To me it’s just a joke, but at the same time I was getting irritated by the irrelevant information that was coming my way.

I’m happy to say that at the time of writing this I’ve changed my title on the all important LinkedIn to simple Co-Founder. While it may seem like a bit of a demotion, I can assure you I will be performing the exact same duties as I was as President. The other little victory in this one is that I have set a goal for the company before we give out official titles, so there is now something to work toward.

As a take-away from this is to take titles with a grain of salt. I’ve stated before that human relationships and interactions are complicated and short-hands like titles can make it easier to be able to classify people we meet, but if there is a possibility of this person coming to work for or do business for you, it’s probably a good idea to dig a little deeper than what it currently says on a business card.

Product Planning from Breaking Bad

I doubt that I’m alone in my love of the show Breaking Bad. While I am sad that the final episode is done, I do think there are some great product planning lessons that can learned from the show’s creator Vince Gilligan. Thought I was going to be talking about meth, didn’t you?

It’s no accident that BB is a very popular, award-winning show. Not that I claim to know too much about the entertainment business, but the research and planning that goes into what eventually gets produced, I think it stands to reason that the business world can stand to learn a few things. Specifically how it relates to product planning.

Start Customers Slow

The character of Walter White at the beginning of the series compared to the end of the series is not recognizable. He may as well be a different person. The reason viewers kept watching and even sympathizing with him even when it was clear he was completely evil is that we were started off slow. He was a geeky guy doing something bad for a good reason at the beginning, and then the baby steps that were taken to what he eventually became could be swallowed more easily.

A company that is great at doing this is Apple. Any one of their products can serve as a gateway to a number of others. When a customer buys one of their iPods, they are not just an iPod consumer. They will potentially buy another product and another, until they are so invested in the Apple Ecosystem that they can’t break away.

Listen to Your Customers

The original plan for Jesse was to have him killed off at some point in the first season. Then the writers strike happened and while this was going on the producers of Breaking Bad spoke to viewers. What they found out is that people loved Jesse’s character, so the decision was made to keep him around. Imagine how different the show would have been without Jesse.

Companies which truly want feedback about their products and services stand to connect better with customers and potential customers in the long run. Rather than trying to guess what people want, ask them and they will tell.

Innovate, Within Constraints

The idea of the anti-hero has been around since Greek mythology or before, but has taken on a new life in recent years. Shows like the Sopranos and Mad Men are always mentioned in the same breath as BB as examples of this. While Breaking Bad pushed the boundaries, they never went so far off the rails that people couldn’t wrap their mind around the concept.

The same can be said for putting out a new product. Most consumers can only handle a certain leap forward in order to consider making the purchase. If there is absolutely no reference point in their minds, no matter how amazing the product there is a good chance of failure.

Plan for the End

One of the things I respect most about Breaking Bad was the decision that was made to end the series when it was arguably at the height of its popularity. That is counter to most other TV shows out there. Rather than drain every last drop of profit from the show,the story arch was completed in a satisfying way and it will go down in history as one of the greatest shows.

Similarly products don’t last forever. Without reasonable improvement or complete overhauls, anything that can be developed will one day be obsolete. Keeping this in mind ensures that there is adequate preparation and future planning that goes into the process.