Poor Execution

I wanted to schedule a vacation. So I needed some plane and hotel reservations. These days there are a lot of choices for services that assist you with this. My default choice is to use Yahoo Travel. I don’t do this because they have the best service or interface. I do it because for many years, Yahoo provided a number of services free of charge for me. And I like to return the favor whenever I can. I figure that I have to buy tickets and stay somewhere anyway. So I might as well throw my old friend Yahoo some business.

Yahoo Travel started to make it easy for me to find flights. I entered details about my origin and destination. I also entered how many people I needed tickets for. The site helped me choose departing and return flights. The cost seemed ok. After entering some more personal information, I clicked the button to purchase some airline tickets. I got back an error message stating the transaction would not go through because of lack of availability. That seemed strange. I repeated the whole process a couple more times. Each time it bombed out when I tried to finalize the transaction. I spent a lot of time trying to give Yahoo my business.

In the end, I used one of the airlines direct web sites to purchase tickets. The transaction went through without a hitch. Yahoo should really get their Travel site working for me. They already have me as a loyal customer. Now they just need to perfect their execution and they will make money off me. The free services Yahoo provided in the past such as games, e-mail, and finance have gone a long way to win me over as a customer. I truly feel like I owe them a lot. Even with the troubles and wasted time I spent with they Travel site.

To demonstrate how loyal a customer I am to Yahoo, I went back to their site after I purchased airlines tickets elsewhere. I successfully used Yahoo to purchase a rental car for a week. At least Yahoo made some money off that transaction. However they really could have cleaned up if their Travel site worked for me the first time. I am such a good customer, I might even take some time to get in contact with the guys that work their Travel site problems to see if I can help them correct their service. So I guess this post is really about the benefits of free services that might gain a loyal customer following in the end.

Price and Value

It is time for me to get a new fridge for the kitchen. There is only one problem. One of my wall cabinets hangs directly over my existing fridge. And the new ones I have been looking at are taller than my current fridge which barely fits. At fist I started limiting myself to smaller fridges. But then I realized that was crazy. I am about to spend a lot of money on my new fridge. I might as well get the one I want.

So I called up a handyman I found in the yellow pages. A guy came out and gave me an estimate of $250 to remove the cabinet and paint the wall behind it. That sounded like a reasonable price. In a few hours, another guy from the company came out to do the work. He complained that the wall had wallpaper under the paint. He said the wall would require "mud" to be applied before painting. Then he told me he did not do mud jobs. All I cared about was getting the job done.

Later this guy left me a message that somebody else would come do the mud and paint. And this would cost me an extra $50 to $75. Now I was not happy that a fixed price job was turning into a time and materials one. But as long as they got it done quickly I would not worry. Nobody came out that day. I called the original estimator. He said he would schedule his mud and paint person to come out the next morning. Nobody came. So I called back and asked what happened. Apparently there was some mix up and the person went somewhere else to work. I told the guy that I needed this work done immediately.

Miss mud and paint came by later that day. She seemed to know what she was doing. I was disappointed when she said her boss asked her to collect a $350 check from me for the work. By this time I just wanted to be done with these people. I did not even argue the second increase in price. I normally vote with my feet in these situations. That means I will not be using their services again in the future.

The only positive surprise was when there was some extra mud left over that was starting to harden. The handywoman asked if I needed any other things patched up. I showed her some holes in the wall that she proceeded to fill in, sand, and paint. She did this at no extra cost. She told me she was going to start her own business in about a year. I will not hire her company again. But perhaps I will swing some work her way. It is all about good customer service after all.

Executive Compensation

There is a lot of financial turbulence in the United States right now. Many companies are turning to the government for bailouts. This started with the government sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). It then spread to the banks. It quickly started with insurance companies. Now it seems the automotive industry is trying to get on board. Most of the time, this bailout money comes with some strings attached. One such stipulation is that there is a cap on executive compensation.

I do agree that if a company is about to go bust, and they want the government to save them by providing taxpayer money, then the company needs to keep its CEO pay in check. You don’t get a bailout, then turn around and hand out a huge CEO bonus. The CEO or other officers should only profit if they run the company in such a way that it creates a huge windfall, not a need for a bailout.

Here is where it gets interesting. Suppose a company did not ask for a bailout? This is the case with some of the banks that the government decided to include in its plans. Essentially they were forced to agree to help from the government. They were made to agree. This might turn out to be the best for everybody. But do those companies then need to submit to rules on executive compensation?

What this boils down to is a fundamental question. Should a CEO be able to make unlimited profit from working at a company? Suppose you are the founder. Does that not entitle you to most of the profits? Looking at this another way, should you be able to negotiate whatever compensation the market will bear if you are the CEO? I am sure it is hard to attract top talent to banks these days. A company may need to really pay out to get the best. In theory this should work out, as the best CEO would be able to run the company in such a way that it is ultra profitable.

This post raises more questions than it answers. At heart I think I am a believer in the free market. The government should not normally step in and mess with business. If a company makes good profits, the government should not interfere. And if a company does not, the government should let the company fail. This is the law of the free markets. The market itself should decide which companies stick around, and which ones are profitable. CEO compensation should be determined in the same way. Whatever the market decides, let that be the pay for the CEO.

Making a Game

I read some advice on how to get into game development. This coincides with me reading about a class offered at the local community college about writing games. I remember back at a small development shop where all the developers wanted to be games programmers. However we wrote uninteresting applications for clients there. The hard core developers said that the best developers write games. In their spare time, they were writing code for the next Doom or Quake. We also played a lot of multi player PC games there.

So what does it take to actually learn game development? Should I be like my old coworkers and start up my own Quake variant? The blog post I read said that this was just not realistic. You need to start with baby steps before you are ready to join a team that works on games like Quake. The first recommended task is to knock out a Tetris clone. That sounds like an easy task. But I don’t want to speak too soon before I actually try it out. Tetris has the advantage that the user interface is not too complicated. You don’t need an art degree to draw some blocks that make up the Tetris game.

The blog post I read went on to recommend that you try writing a breakout clone. Then you should attempt Pac Man. And finally you should try to replicate a Mario Brother style game. I tell you what. If I can knock out a game as complex as Mario Brothers, I am going into the game development business full time.

I actually have a great idea for a game. The problem is finding spare time to actually work on the thing. I get a chunk of time and then write some code. But the constant business of life makes me shelf it for another year. Who knows? Perhaps you just need to get good enough and leave the day job to get something like this done. It would sure be nice to be one of those game developers that my old peers said were programming gods.

Bad Experience

I noticed that 87 octane gas was selling for a low $2.15 at the local Exxon gas station. This looked like a great deal given the high price for gas in the area. So I pulled up and found a spot. I pressed the 87 octane button. Then I entered my credit card. The pump screen asked me to choose the fuel type. Even though I already had done so, I pressed the 87 octane button again. Then I was able to pump the gas.
The strange thing was that the gas price was not displaying over the 87 octane button. I looked around the gas pump and found that a $2.63 price was highlighted above the 93 octane button. So I immediately stopped filling my gas tank. I had filled about half my tank with the high octane gas. I tried to enter my credit card again. I wanted to fill the rest of my tank with 87 octane gas. The machine said I needed to see the attendant.

At this point I just left. The gas station overcharged me by selling me the higher priced gas. Then it was about to waste my time by having me go talk with an attendant. This defeats the purpose of paying at the pump. Furthermore I do not like the new gas pumps. They dispense three types of gas from the same nozzle. It sounds nice in theory. But it is no good if they are going to trick me into buying the high priced gas.

Normally in these types of situations I vote with my feet. That means I would get gas from another location. In theory, if enough people did this, the places with bad services would go out of business. Since this gas station is close to my home, I might give them one more chance. However today I went to another gas station. I am not punishing Exxon as a whole. I went to another Exxon today that had separate gas nozzles for different octane levels. The price was a little higher. But at least there was less chance of getting ripped off.

Things are getting tighter in this economy. Now more than ever you need to provide good customer service. Otherwise you are going to lose customers like me. You will not only lose me if you provide bad service, I will also tell my friends. And there is another effect. I will write about you on my blog. Nobody wants bad PR like that.

Customer Service

My buddy stayed home today. So I decided to eat lunch alone. I went to this Chinese food place that has great food at reasonable prices. I was taken aback a little by the large number of cars in the parking lot. However I went in for lunch anyway.

I got seated quickly. But it took a while for my waiter to arrive. I ordered a lunch special and chose white rice. These specials come with a spring roll and soup. I got the soup fine. However the spring roll did not follow. The waiter showed up with my main course. It had fried rice instead of white rice.

The waiter said he would go get my spring roll. I had to ask for hot mustard. There was not anything out of the ordinary about my needs here. You would think this should be easy work for a Chinese food restaurant. Today the service was poor. I will give them a little break because they were busy.

What do you do in these circumstances when service is sub par? I have read that you are supposed to speak with a manager. Personally I reduce their tip. And as a habit I make sure I go elsewhere the next time. In this case however, I will be returning. The fact that the food is so good and the price is right makes me overlook some service issues.

This is the lesson here. If you do not have consistent service, you run the risk of losing customers. However there are other ways to produce excellent goods that might override the normal course of business and help you keep your customers. The goal should be to have great products plus awesome customer service. Then you succeed with the one-two punch.

Sweepstakes Scam

I received an envelope in the mail with a return address of Sweepstakes Clearinghouse. That sounds promising. Inside I found a letter stating that I had won a consolation prize. This was part of a 10 million dollar giveaway. My hope was that the consolation prize was 10 bucks or something equivalent.

The only thing I seemed to have “won” was $400 credit vouchers on merchandise. The problem was that all the merchandise was priced above $400. Now I initially was excited to see some computers listed as merchandise that I could apply the vouchers towards. However my excitement waned as I saw the specs on the computers.

I think these computers were leftovers from some bargain bin. They only had a 3 month limited warranty. This must have been due to the fact that they were refurbished. I had to look in the fine print to see that. They only had 256 megabytes of RAM which is weak. The real kicker was that they had hard drives sized from 10 to 20 gigabytes.

At first I thought this might be some kind of joke. However the joke was on me. The more fine print I read, the more I did not like about this so called prize. Apparently I had to pay the difference between the merchandise value and my voucher. I would also be responsible to pay an undisclosed shipping and handling fee.

Now I do not know all the laws involved here. However something was definitely fishy. This company was trying to make me think I had won a prize. However they were actually trying to sell me some junk. There is supposed to be no purchase necessary in legitimate sweepstakes.

They did provide a business reply by mail envelope. So I wrote them requesting that they take me off their mailing list. Hey. At least it was mailed on their nickel. They should be happy I did not report them to some government agency that regulates sweepstakes. If I receive another mailing from them, I think I shall. Come on people. Start running a real business and stop with the scams.

Startup Rules

I read a recent blog post by Mark Cuban on rules that startups should follow. This seems to be a popular topic in some blog circles. Mark was blogging in response to another blogger’s post on the subject. Some of the things Mark said made a lot of sense. However there were some controversial recommendations as well. I guess that is what makes for a good blog post.

Here are the hot topics that Mark recommended. He said there should be no offices in start up. There only needs to be one big open space. Startups should not buy SWAG. They should never hire PR firms. And they should also not buy espresso machines.

The real interesting part of the blog post was all of the comments. Some people said that although the rules made sense, they would be difficult to follow. Some readers felt that it was good for a startup to not spend money unless there was a current need. The main comments seemed to center around the rules about no offices. People chimed in that productivity of developers goes way up if you have offices. Other people pointed out that it would be detrimental to be on a sales call when there was a lot of noise in the background due to the open space.

A lot of people commented that they used PR firms successfully in startups. And a bunch of coffee drinkers said Mark was absolutely wrong about not having espresso machines. This seemed to be a religious debate issue.

Personally I drink soda with caffeine. I liked when a small company I worked for provided free drinks. It was a small cost to them. It paid off well with the developers. I can also attest that having a real office with a door helps both productivity and phone calls I need to make. There is something lost when you are not all in a room together. However I strongly prefer the office.

Startups are a special case of the normal workplace. You might have some rules that differ there. I bet the best rules may even differ between the types of startup. The emphasis should not be on the rules themselves. It should be on the value that the startup provides its customers. Or more importantly, how well does the startup company fare.

Rebate Nonsense

My family wanted some new phones. I ended up purchasing four of them. To ensure compatibility, I bought them from our wireless network carrier Verizon. Each phone came with a $50 rebate. So the price was not that high for the phones, or so I thought. I filled out all the paperwork as soon as I got home from the store. Then I received rebate cards in the mail. These are supposed to be debit cards I can use like any VISA. What a hassle.

I just want my money rebated from the company. There is a way to do this with the rebate cards. However I had to go online and create an account for each of the four debit cards. Only then was I able to request a check for the proceeds. Right now I am still waiting for these checks to arrive.

Now I think I understand what is going on. On the whole, there are going to be some people who will not follow through with the rebate. Then the company gets to keep the money. They also get to hold on to the money paid up front for those that follow through with the rebate. It is like the consumer is floating the company a short term loan. This might make a little business sense.

I look at this from the good customer’s viewpoint, namely me. You are not fooling me with the rebate discount. I know how much I paid for the phone. Each time I have to mess with the hassle of getting my money back through the rebate, I get more frustrated. And guess who I blame this frustration on? You guessed it – the company that made me go through this in the first place.

This reminds of another story where I fell for a trick from the local Best Buy. They had a huge rebate on some merchandise they wanted to move. It turned out that I was never able to obtain the official rebate forms. What did I do? I never shopped at that store again. They just lost a customer with deep pockets. I figure that if enough people do this, the bad ones will go out of business, making the world a better place.

Here is my advice to retailers. Build any discounts into the purchase price. If you must lower prices via a rebate mechanism, apply the rebate automatically at the point of sale. You might be fooling some of your customers. But you are not fooling me. If you gamble with some difficult rebate games, you may end up losing a valuable customer such as myself.

Customer Communications

The windshield on my car is in sad shape. The wiper scraped a scratch in a circular path. A pebble made a hole in the middle. Finally a large crack has been spreading across the whole thing. I saved up some money. Then I called a company that comes out to your location to replace the windshield.

I had done this before. For some reason my car’s windshield is expensive. I was relieved to find that the price had come down a lot since the last time I had to replace the windshield. So I asked them to come right out and replace mine.

The salesman asked me for my e-mail address to send out a confirmation. I was impressed with the e-mail I received from the company. It contained a picture of the guy that was going to come replace my windshield. It also told me his name, and a short bio of him detailing his experience.

Yes this is not needed. But I thought it was a nice touch. It made the experience a little more personal. That’s some top notch customer communications. I did not even care that another guy actually came out to do the install.


I recently read a blog post about a small start up that failed. They were about to enter an incubator program when almost all of the founders quit. There were four partners total. Once three out of the four quit, the incubator company decided not to invest in the start up. A lesson learned from this event was that networking is crucial for start up founders.

The author did admit that personal networking is uncomfortable. It is also hard to justify, since there is usually no immediate benefit from the work. Not all members of a company must do it. But if you are starting up a small company, then it is essential for you. Networking is a skill. You must work on improving your skill at it. Not everybody has this talent naturally.

I can relate somewhat to this story. The latest company I joined is primarily a management consulting company. One of the top priorities of the company is personal networking. This is required for landing new business for the company. However it is also how things are accomplished internally within the company as well.

We were instructed about the importance of networking at one of the first company classes you are required to take. Our instructor sent us out in the halls of the training facility, and told us to get out there and meet people. I found it a little difficult as I had no business cards. However that should not stop the progress of networking. I ended up scribbling my name and phone number on small pieces of paper. Hey. I had a good excuse. I was a new guy.

Now I am finding that although the most intimidating part of networking is making that initial connection, it is also tough work to follow up. It is easy to tell somebody that you should do lunch some time. It is more difficult to follow through when everybody has a tight schedule. I was impressed with one of my classmates in the new hire class. After class she immediately called upon people she had met in her class to help her with her latest project. I was impressed enough that I signed up to help her myself.

I suspect this skill may help me a little at my new job. It will be more useful in my ISV though.

Sex Sells

When reading any magazine, I like to pay attention to the advertisements. This month's Doctor Dobb's Journal was no exception. One such advertisement rose to the top. It was an advertisement by Servoy. It is funny that I never heard of them or their product before. However their ad jumped off the page. They had a large chested girl in a bra clutching a laptop computer. Sex sells. This was the only ad in the magazine that prompted me to go to a web site.

The web site continued the good marketing work. They said that by downloading their free product, I would be entered into a contest. The prize was a free trip to Las Vegas to attend their conference. I have never heard about their product, and they have their own conference? Who cares? I would like to get free tickets to Vegas. There was another interesting thing on the web site. The ad in the magazine asked "Can Sexy Be Easy?" The web site answered YES.

The world of marketing appeals to me. I guess you could go to school to learn these things. However I prefer to study examples from the real world such as Servoy. My own company may some day need to put out ads that sell. When that day comes, I would prefer to do the job myself. I don't want to hire some person or company to do this essential task. The result may make or break me.

Although I am normally stingy with my outbound links, Servoy deserves one this time.

Stock Options

A long time ago, I received a couple shares of stock in a company. This was received as a gift. I have held on to these shares for a long time. I have benefited when the stock split time and time again. Each quarter I receive dividends from the company. Normally I also receive a proxy to vote my shares in the annual meeting.

This year I just received a postcard in the mail. It told me to go to a web site to download the proxy information. I don't think so. I am old fashioned in this regard. So I called up the company and got them to mail me a printed copy of the proxy information.

There was a strange proposal up for vote this year. It had a strange name and I could not figure out what it was. So I poured through the proxy information. Buried down on page 62 of a total 68 pages was the information. They were proposing to increase the number of shares available as incentive options for employees. There is already 26 million shares authorized for this purpose. They were trying to add another 5 million with this proposal.

I do not hold it against employees to earn a good salary. And if you started the company, and still hold on to a big portion of the company, then good for you. I even think that a little stock option incentive is good for employee morale. But let's not get greedy. And let's not dilute the my common shares. You would think they would be cautious in this regard given the current financial situation. Maybe that's why they tried to switch me to electronic proxy delivery this year automatically. Nice try guys. I am voting no for more stock options. Keep my share price up.

Out of Office

I read a blog post of interest on the Netflix blog. So I posted a comment there. Sometimes I like to be a part of the blogosphere. A Netflix employee must have received an automated email based on my comment. I think that because I received an email from that employee a little while later. To be more specific, I received an automated reply from that employee.

Here was the contents of the reply from the Netflix employee. They were on a leave of absence. They stated they will not be checking their Netflix email regularly. The provided the email of some other Netflix employees that would be backing them up during their absence. Finally, they provided a personal email address in case somebody was sending them personal email.

What kind of operation are these guys running? All I did was post a comment to their blog. If you are the person who automatically receives email responses when somebody comments, get that changed before you leave the office. It looks very sloppy when I get an out of office email from you when all I did was post a comment to your blog.

This kind of incompetence is not specific to Netflix. Previously I downloaded some software from Intel and got some similar shenanigans. Hey. I can complain all I want and get nowhere. I am just internalizing this behavior. And I will make sure that I myself am not guilty of this. You got to be careful of your actions when you are part of the public facing portion of your company.

Value Added

The missus told me the garbage disposal stopped working. I pressed the button to turn it on. There was no noise at all. I pressed in the reset button near the switch. This did not help. So I did what any responsible homeowner would do. I called the plumber. Mine happens to be BGE Home.

The person who answered the phone had a couple of suggestions on how to get the disposal working without their help. They told me how to locate the reset switch on the disposal. Then they walked me through how to manually turn the disposal to get it cranking again. These two hints actually did the trick.

I was happy for many reasons. They topmost was that the water that was backing up into my sink went down the drain. I also did not have to take a day off from work to wait for the plumber. And my plumber is not cheap. I think they charge $90 just for showing up. My disposal is also expensive. It ran somewhere between $100 and $200. I was going to go out and buy another one so I would not have to pay for two plumber visits.

Now I do not know for sure why the plumber helped me out for free over the phone. Perhaps they are just too busy for easy fixes. Or maybe customers get mad when they shell out the big bucks and the fix is actually this simple. I do know one thing. I am going to remain loyal to this plumber. Hey. If they take care of me like this, maybe they won’t rip me off when I have much more expensive work to do.

BGE Home is doing some good things here. These are tough economic times. Businesses who get it right like this are going to prosper no matter what the economic climate. Thanks again BGE Home for your help.


I got a heavy stock yellow envelope in the mail. My name was printed on an address label. The back of the envelope only said “Biotech Research”. This was a mysterious letter indeed. Therefore it was the first piece of mail I opened.

Inside I found a letter on heavy off-white paper. It stated that this was a verified special delivery. It even had a tracking code. The sidebar of the letter had a long list of management positions and names in the company sending me the letter. The letterhead stated that the company had been in business from a year prior to when I was born.

The second page of the letter appeared to have a real physical signature. Along with the letter I received an authorized discount form. Here was the pitch. I had 10 days to purchase a space heater at a significant discount with free shipping.

Wow. All of this turned out to be a sales pitch. I will tell you something. I almost wanted to buy the darn thing to reward their awesome delivery. Even the names of the products sounded good. They were the Model 500 and the Model 1000.

This company provided me with a security envelope with all kinds of high tech decoration. I guess they wanted the whole experience to be good. It was working. You can’t put a price on a slick sales pitch like this. I hardly ever felt like I was being pitched. I was being wowed.

Phil Katz

I have seen a couple blog posts about Phil Katz recently. This seems strange as he died eight years ago. However this is no reason to ignore this pioneer. So I thought I too would write about him. Perhaps his ghost is stirring up blog writers everywhere.

Phil produced a program named PKARC in the late 1980s. ARC was a compression utility. Phil apparently rewrote the compression algorithms in assembly language to speed it up. This was well received by the personal computer community. The authors of ARC were not happy. They ended up suing Phil. He paid them. Then he proceeded to release the famous PKZIP program. It was also a very fast compression utility that allegedly used a new algorithm and all original code written by Phil.

I have heard that PKZip stands for Phil Katz zip program. It ran under the MS-DOS operating system. Initially Phil released program PKXARC as freeware. When it became popular, he then released PKARC which was shareware.

Phil started working on the compression software as a hobby. It turned into a successful business. Phil’s family helped run PKWARE, the company Phil started to market his software. PKZIP was popular because it was faster, and some say better, than ARC. The makers of ARC worked for System Enhancement. This is the company that sued Phil.

The real tragedy about Phil Katz is what happened after his company became successful. He got into fights with his family over money issues. I think he even ended up firing his mother. Phil spent a lot of his time and money in strip clubs. He had an elegant condo. However he hardly ever went there because he was hiding from police trying to serve arrest warrants. Phil died at the age of 37 years old. His death was caused by complications related to his alcohol problem.

I remember downloading and using the PKZIP program. And I think I even registered the shareware. That says a lot. I was a poor college kid in the 1980’s. Back then I really did not know much about Phil Katz. Now I do. And so I share what I know with you here. You can draw your own conclusions about the moral in the Phil Katz story.

Dell Versus QVC

I had some free time while dinner was being prepared. So I browsed the cable channels. I saw a channel that had some Dell computer deals. It turns out this was the QVC channel that was reselling Dell computers.

The deal they were offering was a Dell Inspiron for $999 plus $30 shipping. The actual computer would not ship until October 20th. They were really hyping that it had 4G of RAM. There were also a lot of colors available. My own question was why should I go through QVC instead of heading to the Dell website directly.

After dinner I did go directly to the Dell website. They have specials as well. Dell also provides free shipping. They have the same colors available as QVC. My price online turned out to be $848 after the discounts were applied. This even included a better processor than QVC

I ask myself how exactly does QVC make money. They probably get a better rate than me. However they have additional costs such as the sales guy I was watching, as well as advertising costs to broadcast their show on cable.

Perhaps a more important question to the consumer is why should they go with QVC? Maybe a user does not want to go directly to Dell. For example, you might not have current Internet access. Then you could not check out the Dell website. Or maybe QVC was looking for impulse buyers that do not spend the time to compare the Dell website deals.

To tell you the truth, if I had a lot of money, I would not mind going with QVC. That would require me to be rich. Right now I am not. So I figure I am going to be buying my next laptop from Dell. However this was a very interesting offer from QVC.


I attended an event where I was handicapped by the lack of business cards. Therefore I decided to get myself some. I went to the company website where you request that business cards be printed up. I chose my own title, instead of using my official title. This caused the request to automatically be denied. What the heck? It was going to take a while to sort this out. So I went out on the web looking for a cheap and easy way to get my own business cards.

The first Google search result I found for business cards was Vista Print. They stated that they provided free business cards. Hey that sounds like the right price. So I went through their configuration menu. At every point, I was provided the opportunity to make a choice that would incur some extra charges. They were upsell crazy. This was defeating the purpose. I wanted to get free business cards from them. In the end, there were no truly free business cards. You have to pay a shipping and handling fee.

When I get in the mode to obtain something for free, it has to be totally free. There can be no out of pocket costs. Visa Print violated this fundamental rule. But they got me to use their site. I found how easy it was to design some business cards. After some time, I decided that maybe I did want to spend a little money. Once I got over that hump, I decided to use Vista Print for no reason other than I was familiar with their process.

I still made sure I did not get upsold with anything I truly did not want. So I tried to choose just the minimum that would get me business cards that I would be proud of. There were no blocks to me obtaining whatever I wanted this time. After all, I was paying for these things out of my own pocket. In fact, I decided to penalize my company and leave their name off my business cards. Hey. If I foot the bill, then I decide what goes on my business card.

Vista Print gets a few points for have a nice web design. They have a true WYSIWYG online card designer. You can configure and preview your business cards directly from your browser. I do wonder what they had to do to be number 1 in the Google search results. It must have cost them some money. I wonder where they get the funds to do this. In the end, I paid ten bucks for my set of business cards. There can’t be that much profit in this sale.

Job Well Done

I entered a contest by Marzetti Corporation. They sent me a free game piece by mail. There was a web site on the entry. I went to the web site. I was able to immediately type in my code. What do you know? I was a winner. Well that's what the site said. I won a recipe book from Marzetti, which I downloaded immediately.

The recipe book was a PDF file. The photos in the book were top notch. In fact, the whole experience was top notch. That's why I'm linking out to their company. If somebody asks me if I entered any contest lately, I am going to have good things to say about Marzetti. You can't buy good will like this. It must be earned.

When you interact with your potential future customers, every step in your execution is crucial. One wrong move and you have lost a customer. Make a couple bad moves, and not only do you lose a customer, you get bad will. Marzetti did everything right with their execution. It was very professional. Moreover I had a good experience. I would think that the same applies to the product they are selling. This is how I want to run my own business. I am not sure if they spent more money on this campaign, or they just made sure to do all the little things right. However they did it, Marzetti I salute you.

Airheads for Air Heads

I found out about a sweepstakes by Airheads. They required an official code to enter. So I sent in a self addressed stamped envelope to get the code. I got a letter back with the code and instructions to go to their web site.

When I got to their web site, there were some loud background noises from the web page. I had to mute my computer sound. Annoying. I went to the registration page. Here is where the real problems started.

I entered my birth date. Then it took me to another page to enter a lot of information. I was unable to click in any of the fields. So I clicked the only icon available. Turns out that was the cancel button. I was motivated to enter their contest. So I tried again. This time a submit button was displayed. I enter my birth date, then click submit.

I still end up with a page where I cannot click any field. Desperate, I press the tab key. Yes. It gets me to the first field. I continue entering data for all the field, pressing tab after each entry. Then I finish my entry. There is no button to click to submit the information. I try pressing the enter key. No luck. The only button to press is the cancel button.

Airheads has to have the worst registration page I have ever seen. I wonder if they are getting the message since nobody is signing up. Here I went and expressed interest by writing to them, supplying a self addressed return envelope, and I visit their web site. It is almost as if they are tyring to get me to stay away. Weak. Note to self - hire competent forms programmer when I make it to the big time.

Public Speaking

One of my favorite authors is Guy Kawasaki. He used to be a Macintosh evangelist. Now I think he speaks and writes about a number of things. I read his article “How To Captivate An Audience” with great interest. This is very relevant to me as I have a presentation with our customer tomorrow morning. My team is truly disorganized. The meeting has been rescheduled a bunch of times. The people presenting, including myself, were not sure who had to attend the meeting. There was no rehearsal or coordination on how we shall present the material. This is how you plan to fail. I suppose we are supposed to wing it.

Guy recommends you change your perspective when preparing for a presentation. You need to ask yourself why the audience is there. You should determine what does your information mean to the audience. You should be passionate about your topic. To test whether you are going to sink or swim, you should get an unbiased opinion on your presentation prior to the real one.

The context of your presentation material must be what the audience needs. The slides should be easy for the audience to read. You have to rehearse a lot. You should tell how you can solve the audience’s problem. You need a strong facilitator on your team to get the presentation in order. I think our team has a very weak one. More evidence that we might be doomed.

Multiple presenters is a good thing. Tension can stimulate the audience. You should in general avoid animation on your PowerPoint slides. The speakers should internalize the key messages. The audiences should only need 3 seconds to scan the text of your slides. This information has been a lot to take in. I bet this is how Steve Jobs prepares for his outstanding presentations. I took some of these recommendations to heart. Tomorrow may be a bloody day for our team. I must do my best for us to have any chance of pulling through. After that, it will be time to point the team to Guy’s article for starters.

DRM Kills the Party

The creator of the Sims family of games has created a new game named Spore. You would think this game would be well received. The Sims have sold over 100 million copies so far. However there has been a backlash from users regarding the digital right management (DRM) schema used to prevent users from making copies of the game. The DRM only allows you to install the game 3 times. After that it will not work. This has led to a user revolt at Amazon. The users have given the game a 1 out of 5 rating for the game, complaining mostly about this restrictive DRM policy.

The creator of Sims and Spore is Will Wright. The Spore title was released to the public earlier this month. There are versions for the PC, Mac, iPhone, and Nintendo DS. Spore is an open ended game where players evolve. It has a creature creator module. You can upload your creations online the Sporepedia for sharing with others. However Spore is a single player game for now. Future versions may incorporate multi player capabilities.

Spore may have received some bad press due to the DRM issue. However from the business perspective, what was the result? Did this prevent a lot of users from buying the game? Maybe it really prevented a lot of piracy. This is a tough call. Part of the current issue is more of a public relations one. You do not want to release something huge like the Sims but have everybody stealing copies through piracy. It is a tough line to walk.

So far I have only produced freeware. I encourage people to pass copies on to other people. When I get to the point where I am selling software, I will want to have a revenue protection strategy in place. I don’t want to piss of legitimate users. However I would not want to make it easy for the thieves to run my game.

Ad Arbitrage

I read a New York Time article by Joe Nocera entitled “Stuck in Google’s Doghouse”. It described a businessman that created an industrial product web directory. He drove traffic to his site using Google AdWords. He would bid 5 to 6 cents per click through to his site. He put Google AdSense on his site to make some money. He received around 10 cents a click for the ads. He used the difference to turn a profit.

Initially this businessman spent about 75% of his revenues on AdWords. He was still earning over $100k a month in profits. Then Google started requiring a minimum bid of $1 to get AdWords to give him traffic. All of his 5 to 6 cent bids never got any more traffic because the bid was too low. Without this traffic, he could not get visitors and more importantly clicks on his AdSense ads. This guy was pretty much out of luck. And he would be out of business without a change.

The guy desperately inquired with Google as to why he got a huge AdWords price hike. He was told that his landing page had a low quality. He attempted to correct this situation. However he still had a $1 minimum bid for AdWords. Then the guy thought that perhaps his business was competing with that of another Google partner. So maybe he was getting the shaft intentionally.

Our business cried foul. He felt he was the victim of Google being a monopoly. The guy had his lawyer send the information to the Justice Department. I can feel this guy’s pain. However he probably knows that he has no case. There are plenty of other companies with programs similar to the AdWords program. This guy’s main beef is that Google will not sell him clicks for 5 to 6 cents through AdWords. There is nothing monopolistic about that. That is just business.

There is problem with this guy’s business model. He is buying ads to make money selling other ads. There is nothing illegal about that. But Google considers that ad arbitrage. You have to add some value. It may be arguable that this guys site does add some value in listing industrial business information. But the way he makes money is floating viewers to ads on his site. That is the key problem. He is dependent on Google giving him cheap click through to make more money in clicks back to Google through AdSense.

I don’t have anything personal against this guy. I hope he finds a better business model to make money. However I don’t think we should listen to people who cry monopoly when their businesses fail.

Comcast Bait and Switch

Over the last couple years, I have added more and more services from Comcast. They are good at marketing. I get some new services for free for a while. Then the trial period ends, and they add on the new feeds. It got so that my Comcast bill was out of control. So I cancelled most of the services. My bill went way down and I was happy.

Then I got an offer in the mail. For $30 I could add Digital Cable. I immediately called up Comcast. I was already paying $15 for cable. Did this offer mean I only needed to pay $15 more to get Digital Cable? Well not exactly. There would be some other fees for the remote, and some taxes, and such. But it would be thirty something. I asked whether I would get On Demand? I was told yet. I asked to be signed up immediately.

So the cable guy came out and did some work in the outdoor cable box. He gave me a digital converter. And everything should have been ok. I tried a couple On Demand options. They worked. However some other ones did not work. I got errors on screen. So I called up Comcast. They told me I had to pay extra for those features. I told them I was told I would get On Demand. The Comcast operator could only tell me that I would get a subset of On Demand. I decided this sham was not worth it. Later I called back and said I wanted to cancel the upgrade I got. The Comcast rep said she would add all the options I wanted at no extra charge. That sounded good if it would work. She said I needed to wait one day for the changes to take effect.

Two days later, my cable was still not working properly. I called the Comcast operator back. She had forgotten about me. As I re-explained my situation, she said she recalled me. So she said she would make the changes at no cost. This time my cable worked. I thought I was maybe out of the woods. Nice try. Today I got a whopping Comcast bill with all kinds of extra charges on it. Thanks for the bait and switch Comcast. The only reason I am putting up with this and not switching to a competitor like Verizon is that they are probably just as bad. But I will be wasting my time calling Comcast back up, explaining how I got screwed, and demanding they fix the charges and cancel the new upgrades. Thanks for the sham Comcast. I can't imagine how this is good for your business. How's about a little customer service?

Do Developers Click Ads?

I was reading a forum on software development. One member asked whether developers in general click on ads when browsing. This guy had released a product specific to developers. He was getting a lot of impressions per day on his web site. However he really did not get many clicks on ads. So he was wondering whether this was specific to the development community audience.

There were a lot of interesting responses to this posting. Many developers said they use ad blockers such as AdBlock+ in FireFox 3. So there may have been a large portion of the development community that never even saw the ads. Other developers said they flat out never click on any ads. They just go directly to the target sites by typing in their URLs. However some developers said they would click only when they wanted to buy something. Others said they would click if the subject matched what they were looking for.

The majority of developers who responded said they did not click on ads when they were browsing. The rationale was that it costs somebody money when they click on the ads. So they did not want to do it. One guy piped up and said he did click, but only about once a year. There were some developers who themselves were advertisers. They said that they do get hits and sales when placing ads on Google AdWords, especially when done on the content network.

I have some experience in this area. I author a number of technical blogs that target the development community. What I have found is that I do get occasional clicks, but it is a small percentage of people who view my web pages. I tried a number of techniques to try to get users to click on ads more. None of them seemed to help much. On some of my blogs, people hardly ever click on the ads.

The good thing is that I usually make a good amount of money per click on a technical or programming sight. The goal is to make more money. So I might have a non-technical site with a lot of clicks. But if the profit per click is low, my total earnings are low. Development sites may get fewer clicks. What they lack in volume, they make up in higher costs per click. The important lessons to learn is that you will probably not get rich off this advertising. You will get enough change to buy a Big Mac.

Weak Offering

I was reading a technical article this weekend and saw an advertisement for the RegCure software. Since I have been having some problems with Windows on my machine recently, I thought I would give it a try. They had a free download of a trial version. So I figured there was not harm in taking it for a test drive.

RegCure detected a number of items in my Windows registry that were problematic. For example, It detected that some Windows startup item files were missing on my file system. I guess I had manually deleted the applications. However the links in the registry still existed. The RegCure application went on to detect problems in about 8 categories of the registry.

The trial version I downloaded would only correct 2 of the 8 areas in which it found problems. These were trivial changes to the registry. In fact, even if I had the full version of RegCure, I anticipated there would be no impact to my Windows performance. This program was definitely not going to cure the more serious problems I was encountering with Windows. So I decided to remove the application from my system.

I was a bit unhappy when the RegCure uninstall program continued to try to get me to buy the software. Hey. I am uninstalling your software. So I obviously don’t want to buy the thing. You are losing more points by making hard for me to get rid of your software. Not good. In fact, your software claims to speed up Windows by correcting registry problems. What kind of speed increase do you think this is going to give me? Windows can deal with registry items pointing to non-existent files. I this application of little to no use.

Now that I got a little worked up with RegCure, I did some research on the net about it. It seems that the forums at CNET have bad things to say about this program. It was funny to see the RegCure PR people trying to keep the boat afloat by responding. Judging from the bad experiences that people had with RegCure on CNET, I would say I got lucky. At least my computer is not working any slower from having installed and run the program.

Poor Man’s Web Stats

To run an effective web site, you need to track statistics of user behavior on your web site. This requires some tools which I do not have and do not know about. In addition, you may not have the ability to administer the web server where your site is hosted. I have stumbled upon an easy way to track the number of people viewing my web sites, while making money at the same time. This requires the use of the Google AdSense program.

Here is what I have done. For each of my web sites, I have put Google ads on the pages. Each of these ads has a separate Google channel associated with it. Google AdSense reports then show you how many people visit each of the channels each day. You can also run other reports, grouping the numbers in different ways. I am already doing this to make money off the ads. So I kill two birds with one stone here. Just be careful when interpreting page impressions. If you have more than one ad per page, the Google AdSense impression count is per ad, not per page.

I have heard some rumors that Google offers more powerful tools to monitor web site activity. As of today I have not investigated these. They might not work on the sites where I host most of my blogs. I have limited administrative rights on those servers.

This is probably no great discovery. However I was pleased when I first saw these statistics. The first thing that caught my eye was the money I was making with Google AdSense. However these statistics help me figure out where to invest my time to get the most return on investment. It also let’s me try different things out and analyze the result on web traffic.

I imagine I need to graduate up to some more powerful tools if I want to take my business to the next level. And if that means I can make more money with smarter analysis, sign me up.

Selling Free Forms

I was reading an online article about fake identities. There was an advertisement on the web page for social security cards. So I clicked through and arrived at the United States Vital Records Assistance Service site. That is a mouthful. This was an official looking site with a picture of the white house at the top. It had a nice layout. There was official looking text on the landing page.

The “advertisement” web page said that the Social Security Administration web site is poorly designed. This commercial site would get me the forms I need to get a Social Security card for $13.99. They provide the forms either through download, or by e-mail. Alternatively they will mail you the forms for $29.99. The company accepts PayPal. There really was not a lot more information about the actual company behind this web site.

There was a lot of fine print at the bottom of the web page. This company is not associated with the Social Security Administration. The forms they provide are also available for free on the Social Security Administration’s web site. The company does not issue refunds for any reason. They are not selling you the forms. They are selling you a service which costs them bandwidth. The web site was copyright 2004 by Social Security Card Services.

At first I thought this web site was some sort of scam. At best I thought it was some trickery to charge people for free forms. However I thought about the proposition a little more. Perhaps it is time consuming to search the real government site for the forms you need. And perhaps it is worth 14 bucks to have another site just give you the forms. It still felt like something was not right with the site.

Deep inside I wish I had thought of this idea. All the company needs to do is keep up the web site and accept payments. Maybe they need to provide new forms when the Social Security Administration updates them. I bet all of the transactions from the site are automated. This business must have a very low overhead. I wonder how much money they are making. The idea could (and maybe should) be duplicated for the same forms. It could also be applied to other popular but hard to find forms.

Write Windows XP

I read the most hilarious request for bids on GetACoder the other day. Some buyer had a budget of 20 to 100 dollars. They wanted a new operating system to be written. You were allowed to code it in C++, C, or Visual Basic. It has to run on all PCs. It cannot be just a redesigned Windows. The buyer intends to sell the operating system.

But wait. There’s more. This operating system must implement every Windows XP operating system feature. Any program that runs on XP must run on the newly created operating system. This operating system must also be “hacker safe”. In other words an install of this new operating system must require a serial number.

If that was not enough, there are even further requirements. It has to be fast. It has to be good looking. I think the list goes on. Now I wondered how I could respond to this joker. Maybe I could write a replacement for Windows Explorer. And I can ensure the install of this app will require a serial number. But that is no good. Even a little Explorer clone is going to cost this person more than $100. It would be a good joke though.

I confess that I have never actually used GetACoder, for either work or having someone else do work for me. However I hear that freelancing development sites in general are getting kind of crazy. Projects are bid extra low by competition that is hungry for any job that pays peanuts. On the flip side, you have jokers like the one above who will ask you to write Microsoft Windows for upwards of $100.

Oh well. I guess anybody is free to ask for huge jobs at any price they deem fair. I wonder whether this guy got any takers for the XP clone. If only the amount was around $1000, I could have passed off an Explorer clone with serial number registration. Yeah it would have been evil. But then again, this started out with a truly evil request.

Backup Program

Recently I had a scare where I thought I lost all the information stored on my Windows desktop. I had many files that were sitting only on the desktop. And I had shortcuts to files and programs on there. This made me realize that I needed to back this stuff up. Currently I have no backup software. I can backup actual files to some other media. But that will not take care of files on my desktop. It will also not store important settings like the configuration of my Outlook Express e-mail program. So I thought this might be a good program to write myself.

I figure it is a dangerous thing to mess around with a backup program. That is a mission critical application. You have to get it right. So I figured I would first test out the backup program by restoring to a new machine. That will be a hard core test. The new machine will not have any of the software or files already. If I can restore to there, I should be good. Then it will just take a final test to ensure I can restore to my original system.

My initial source of concern to want a backup program is the Windows desktop. A little research has shown that the desktop is really a folder on the file system. Any files that are stored directly on the desktop are in this folder. And and files referenced on the desktop with a shortcut are stored as link files in this folder. This seems simple enough. Maybe I can just copy the entire desktop folder for backup purposes.

What other things could a “smart” backup program do? By smart I mean a program which will do something other than making an image of the whole hard disk. I know I need my Internet Explorer favorites. And I also want my Internet Explorer security settings. There are some specific data folders of interest on my hard drive. Maybe my program can let the user choose these. I also like the theme of my Windows configuration. For example I like my wallpaper and screen saver.

Obviously there are some tricky points. Can I easily backup to a different version of Windows? And what about storing off portions of the Windows registry? Then there are some design decisions to make. Should I implement some strategy for organizing different backups? Do I allow incremental backups? Do I use compression on the backed up data?

I doubt any of my research and resulting program will turn into a commercial product. It is just fun to think about and investigate. I knew a guy that ran a business developing and selling software backup solutions for MS-DOS. Perhaps I can talk him into letting me have his source code.

AdSense Denied

Previously my Google AdSense account had been disabled. Google was never specific as to why. They just said something like their advertisers would not benefit from my account. I tried some other advertising companies. None of them were as good as Google. The bottom line was that Google made me more money than anybody else. It might be due to the fact that Google has a lot of advertisers. And Google is able to match ads to the content on my site. So I submitted an appeal to my account being disabled.

It took Google a little while to respond. However they decided to keep my account disabled. Come on Google. Help a brother out. So I did one more trial run with a Google competitor. I did not make any money during the week when I put ads up on one of my blogs. Now I know I get a little traffic on that site. So either people were not clicking, or the new advertiser was not crediting me. Either way I was not making any cash.

So I decided to return to using Google ads. However since my account was disabled, I had to use a friend’s account. The downside to this is that my friend collects money when people click on my ads. Oh well. I owe this friend a lot. He always buys dinner for me. I am talking about once a week forever. So this is like paying him back. Maybe we can work something out if the ad revenue is large.

What is the moral of the story? Make sure you follow all the rules in the Google AdSense program. And hope that nobody hacks you, so you get to keep your AdSense publishing account. I think it may finally be time to try another technique to make money. It might actually be time to code up a program to sell. Products are hard to make money from. But I am finding that making any decent money with advertising is also hard for the small guy.

Powerful Advertising

This weekend I read my copy of Spin magazine. To tell the truth I find that I am not interested in the content of the magazine that much. However I focused on all the full page ads in this month's issue. I thought I would review the advertisements from a consumer viewpoint.

Here is what I want to know immediately when I read your ad: What are you selling? What is the name of your company? Where can I buy your product? You would be amazed how many ads miss out some or all of these answers.
I have noticed some mistakes repeated in many ads. There are a lot of weird sayings. That is a turn off. And there are multiple ads where I cannot comprehend the text. That is just not cool. And its also unproductive.

A simple ad is a good one. And here is another fact that should be no secret. Attractive people sell. So use the models. It helps if you show me your actual product too. I don't mind if you team up with other companies to advertise more than one thing in your ad. More and more companies are doing this.

By the end of the magazine, I found 2 ads that were clear winners. MySpace did very well with a simple ad with minimal and to-the-point text. However the best was an ad by Lugs. The dudes were wearing the product. They had nice cars in the background. Most of all their models were smoking hot. Powerful marketing. I might even have to run out and buy a pair of Lugs shoes. I already have a MySpace account.

Discount Coupon

This weekend I received some coupons from Home Depot in the mail. One coupon offered $10 off $100 of purchases this month. The other coupon offered $10 off $100 of purchases next month. Now this seemed like good timing since I needed a bunch of stuff from Home Depot. However money is tight. And my schedule is also pretty tight so I have been putting off the Home Depot trip for a couple weeks. The coupon was just the incentive I needed to get to the store.

I thought I would review the effectiveness of the coupon and the Home Depot experience here as a business case study. I ended up spending $336 on Home Depot goods this weekend. After applying my $10 discount, my total bill came to $326. But the funny thing is that I actually felt good after the Home Depot trip. I got the stuff I needed anyway. The $10 discount seemed good. It also helped me get out and finally take care of some business I needed to take care of anyway.

The other great tactic Home Depot used was that it gave me a coupon that is valid next month. Do you know what? I am going to return to Home Depot in a month. And I will probably spend a couple hundred more dollars on Home Depot goods then too. The trick here is not that Home Depot created a need with that $10 coupon. I already have the needs. And Home Depot already sells the solution to that need. However they got me past my worries about the economy and my habitual procrastination by adding a little more value with the discount.

The other real coup from Home Depot is that they just have to get me in the store. I thought initially that I could spend $100 to maximize the savings percentage. However once I was in the store, I realized that I might as well pick up all the things I needed from my list. The only challenge for them was to get me in the store. And I also felt happy when I left. I did not think I was part of some bait and switch and got robbed.

Due to the overall bad economy, as well as the morbid housing market, I believe Home Depot as a company has been hurting. If Home Depot could reach more people like it reached me this weekend, they might be able to turn the tables on the bad times. I want to learn from them. I wonder if their marketing department knew in advance how their coupon would spur me on to big spending. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they did. I hope they are analyzing my coupon usage, spending habits, and return on investment. Even if they are not, I myself need to learn from them and apply this to my own software business. I have what I consider some good products. The trick is to get the customer to make that move and buy. The rest is taken care of.

Working Smartly

Forbes magazine published an article criticizing the 4 day work week. They bashed a theory that you can substitute 4 ten hours days with the normal 5 eight hours days successfully. Forbes cited a lack of moral and productivity with this method. A focus on face time is no good for business. You need to emphasize results to benefit the business. This arrangement is also tough for employees with children.

Forbes also mentioned that there is a lot of wasted time already in the workplace. Some examples are surfing the web, attending useless meetings, and going on frequent coffee breaks. Forbes recommends that you should work smartly. I agree with Forbes on this matter. It is not the amount of hours you put in that determine the benefit you provide your company. I was surprised that many people chastised Forbes magazine for taking this approach. I thought I would review some of the arguments against Forbes here in my blog.

A big opponent to Forbes in this area is the company 37signals. They shared their own company’s philosophy on the 4 day work week. They require their developers to work 4 eight hours days. They employees get Fridays off without having to work extra on the other days of the week. They figure that actual people don’t work 8 hours a day anyway. The main point they brought up is that when there is less time to get things done, you will force yourself to be more efficient.

The 37signals response itself had a lot of comments from readers. Some pointed out that classical company payrolls are based on a 40 hours work week. Others states that in some industries you need to be there for customer and/or employee support. This scheme may only apply to desk jobs such as programming. One woman claimed that, after having a baby, she switched to a 3 day 8 hour work week. She said her productivity skyrocketed.

This argument cuts down to the core of how you add value to a business. Are you getting paid to show up for 40 hours per week? That’s what my contract says. Or are you getting paid to make your company more money regardless of how many hours or days you work? Unfortunately my company makes money from me working and charging a client money. They like people to come in to the office for face time. However some individuals have negotiated a partial telecommuting option. I personally don’t do it. I like to separate my work and home locations and life. This is not to say that this is not a good idea though.

I am Rich

Two weeks ago, developer Armin Heinrich released an iPhone application called “I am Rich”. This caused quite a stir in the Apple community. The application costs $999.99, which is the maximum an iPhone can list for on Apple’s site. Eight people bought the application the day it was released. The real kicker is that this application is “a work of art with no hidden function at all” according to the author. In other words, it does nothing useful except show that you have enough money to blow $1000 on an iPhone app.

When you run the application, a gem shows up on the screen. This is to “remind you that you were able to afford this”. You can press the i button on the main page to get a secret message from the author. This application is pretty much a simple screen saver. It was listed under the lifestyle category on Apple. Given that the app costs $1000, and Apple takes a 30% cut of the revenue, the author made $5600 on the first day of sale.

Apple removed the application from its site the day after it was released. The author publicly stated that he did not know of any rules that were broken by the application. Some people thought it was some sort of scam. Two buyers complained that they purchased the app in error. They were refunded their money by Apple. The author has stated that he did not want to collect the price from anybody who purchased his application by mistake.

I do not think it was easy to accidentally buy this application. You have to choose the application, click on the price, then click Buy, and finally enter you password. I guess there may have been some one click buy option selected. One of the purchasers from the USA was Debbie Norom. She said the press has made fun of her for being stupid to purchase such an application. However Debbie said she was looking into reselling the application on EBay for a profit.

On the surface this application may sound like a fluke. However I for one think this was a great idea. The author was not charging $1000 for a weak screen saver. He was selling the idea that people want to demonstrate that they are large. Some people agree with me that this is worth $1000. I bet Armin Heinrich is pleased with all the publicity his iPhone application has gathered. I wonder if he shall capitalize on this with some follow up apps. I need to get an iPhone myself to check out some of his stuff. The iPhone 3G only costs 200 bucks right?

Prisoner Inc.

A while back I was reading Joel On Software. This is a favorite software site of mine. There was an interesting post by one of the readers there. The guy wanted to start a software business. However he was currently in prison. The poster stated that he was in a minimum security prison. And he said that programming helped him out. It was almost a spiritual exercise for the guy. Now he wondered whether there would be any problems starting up a business while he was in prison.

Many people commented on the post. I would like to talk about some of the comment high points. Multiple people advised the prisoner to not accept payments in somebody else’s name. There was also some concern whether it was legal to charge customers money while serving time in prison. Some advised the guy to partner with somebody outside of the prison. That might sound like a good idea. However it also comes across as potentially something sketchy.

One funny thing in the prisoner’s favor is that he has a lot of free time on his hands. Some posters advised the guy to attend some college business courses. Just like on the outside, you don’t have to start a company to start coding up a product. It is better to prepare first by improving your skill set. In general, a criminal record will not affect you business. Martha Stewart did fine while she was in prison.

A local problem to solve might be to improve the prison computer systems. Just stay away from any hacking activities LOL. Being in prison and starting a company might get you some goodwill as well. People like a good turn around story. That could count for some positive PR. Somebody advised the prisoner to go by the handle Convict Coder. Nice.

Good luck prisoner guy. I always like to see people starting their own businesses regardless of their background. Of course I advise you to stay on the up and up.

Curse of September

A recent TechCrunch blog entry gave some grim recommendations for releasing products in the month of September: Don’t do it. The reason is that there are two big conferences for product releases in early September.

One September conference is DEMO Fall 08. It is being held from September 7th through the 9th. It is billed as “The launchpad for emerging technology”. There are 70 six minute presentations. I understand that you need to pay over $18k for the opportunity to speak and release your product at DEMO Fall 08.

I think I know the reason for the TechCrunch blog entry. TechCrunch sponsors its own TechCrunch50 Conference from September 8th through the 10th. I think it is safe to assume it is scheduled to coincide with DMO Fall 08. This year will mark the second annual TechCrunch conference. The goal of this conference is to find the best startups and launch them in front of venture capitalists.

The list of judges at TechCrunch this year is quite impressive. Their panel includes Marc Andreessen, Henry Blodget, Marissa Mayer, Tim O’Reilly, Kevin Rose, and Robert Scoble. It may be worth it to attend the conference to see if I could speak to any of these judges.

So the TechCrunch advice is to skip a release of your product in September due to the heavy competition. Or at least you should avoid a release date close to the conferences. However the big story may be the competition between these two conferences. Obviously TechCrunch is sponsoring the conference to make some money. But it originally started the conference last year in protest of the high fees that DEMO charges for presenters.

I could go both ways. If you are only going to have 70 total presentations at the conference, and each one is very short, you are going to want to hear from the best of the best. One way to achieve this is to review all applicants. Another filter would be to charge a high price for even being eligible to present. That is the route that DEMO is taking. I might be more inclined to put my money behind a new company/product from that conference. Still it would be fun to meet the all star cast at the TechCrunch50 judges table. Where would you like to go this September?


The other night I was watching TV when the station turned to some infomercials. I can’t believe I actually watched a couple of them. The first one was a local car dealer that came up with some new way to finance the cars he sells. It was boring to say the least. However the next infomercial was actually fun to watch. It was a sales pitch for the MagicJack. I am actually thinking about buying one of these devices. I thought I would mention some of the good marketing skills used in their pitch.

They used the same sales technique of starting out with a price of $69.95. Then it went down to $59.95, $49.95, and finally $39.95. No rocket science here. The guy making the sale had a nice suit on. He estimated that this device could save me $1000. To demonstrate he pulled out ten $100 bills and counted them. He said I could save all that the same way he pocketed the bejamins.
The salesman wanted to demonstrate how easy this device was to install and use. He had an 11 year old girl come on. The guy hands her the device. The girl says that it is as easy as “One two three” to use it. She plugs it into a computer USB port. Then she plugs a phone into the MagicJack. Finally she calls her grandma. Of course this was staged since she says “Hi grandma” and hangs up the phone. But the point was well taken. This thing is easy to use. Either that or grandma just got a prank phone call.

Now to seal the deal, the salesman says you can get the device for a 30 day free trial with no cost to you. If you don’t like it they will pay for return postage. This sounds like a deal where you can’t lose. There are some testimonials from people such as a CNN anchor. The sales dude says the device is FCC approved and has 7 patents pending.

The only thing holding me back at this point is my instinct. When things sound too good to be true, they usually are. I checked them out on the Internet. They did not previously mention that you need a broadband Internet connection. But I have that covered. These guys were good enough to get me to check out their Internet site. I also Googled them, looking for any signs of a scam. There are additional details which caution me. Their app requires me to view advertising. And some people state that there is no way to return the device without being charged.

Whether this MagicJack is a scam or not is beside the point. These guys put out a first rate sales pitch that got me interested in at least taking a second look. I am going to try to learn from them for my own marketing.