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.


I subscribe to the magazine 2600 (The Hacker Quarterly). It is one of the most interesting magazines I have ever read. I can recall but I think I have been a subscriber for a number of years. This magazine has an interesting advertising policy. Only subscribers are allowed to advertise in their Marketplace section. You can only submit one ad per issue. However the ad is free. The cost is included in your subscription price.

It is strange that I have never placed an ad in the magazine. However the readership is probably a good match for my Black of Hat blog. And I have always told myself that I should advertise my blog in this print magazine. It was only today that I got my act together and submitted my ad. When you are running a one man business, you need to maximize your existing opportunities. This is critical.

So if you are so inclined, check out the Autumn 2008 issue of 2600 The Hacker Quarterly. Look in the 2600 Marketplace section near the back. And you will see the fruits of my labor. Or just click over to my Black of Hat blog. That reminds me. I need to get more in the habit of cross posting links to my blogs. I run a bunch of them. I suspect it can only help if there are more cross links between them. Go me.

Big Bucks

I subscribe to the magazine Information Week. So it caught my eye when I say a link to an online article by them. The article was of some interest. But they had three interesting ads at the top of the article as well. These ads were links to sites on an image view, entrepreneurs, and mashups. I click through the first ad. And I might mention that it was a Google AdSense ad. This brought me to an imaging company’s web site. I initially wondered how much that link cost the imaging company. Information Week is a big and important web site. The click may have cost around a couple bucks or more.

The imaging company web site was very professional. It had nice and consistent navigation. I was able to zoom in on the detail for an interesting image processing tools for developers. As always I quickly jumped to the pricing page. It was then that I realized why the company could advertise on high profile sites like Information Week. Check out the prices that were listed for their development editions of this product:

  • $2500 Express Edition

  • $5000 C++ SDK Version

  • $5000 ActiveX SDK Version

  • $7500 C++ SDK Version with Forms

  • $7500 ActiveX SDK Version with Forms
I walked away with two lessons from this experience. On the one hand, I want my web sites to advertise for this company. Just providing leads may earn me a lot of money. And on a more important note, the pricing structure for development tools is extremely high. I wish I could develop and successfully market a product that retails for $2500 to $7500. That could help me quit the day job. Now I do realize all that money is not profit. But it is still wonderful nevertheless.

There were some funny things on the imaging company’s web site. They offered free trial downloads of the product. And they also stated that there were no refunds if you bought the software. At an average of $5000 a pop, I can understand why they would want to keep all sales final.


This weekend I read a New York Times article about a prototype jetpack. The inventor took the pack for a spin in a posted video. The video shows what looks to be a double air conditioner on a guy’s back. A couple guys lift the jetpack and man in the air (the inventor says this was to stabilize the contraption). As the assistants and the inventor hover, they move along the air. I laughed when some overhead tree branches got caught in the “jetback”. The more laughable matter was that somebody was calling this contraption a jetpack. I think I need to post a comment to the article with a link to a Jetsons video.

The self proclaimed jetpack is being described as the world’s first practical jetpack. The inventor states that he worked on the jetpack for 27 years. It would cost $100k to buy one currently. The jetpack is described as a 5 foot tall device. The inventor estimates that smaller jetpacks will not be available for another generation. The inventor confessed that the device was not truly a jetpack, since it does not produce a jet steam. It has a 200 horsepower engine. The jetpack itself weighs 250 pounds.

Here is a little more comedy. The inventor refused to declare that his jetpack was safe. Perhaps this was on guidance from his lawyer. He anticipated a future user of the jetpack to have “a bad time”. He did state that he has tested the thing as high a 6 feet off the ground. And there have been a total of 12 individuals who have been involved in the testing. The inventor compared his progress to the initial flight by the Wright brothers. That statement only resulted in more laughter from me.

I do not think that this was a comedy piece by the New York Times. They were reporting on an event that was deemed significant by the inventor, if nobody else. Perhaps the problem is that I have already reserved a certain set of images in my mind as to what a jetpack should look like and behave. The twin air conditioning units, lifted by a couple buddies, does not in my mind qualify as anything close to a jetpack. But I could be proven wrong. Although it may take another 27 years of development to do so. Go figure.

Undercover Car Salesman

I do not link out to other sites often. But today I want to make an exception. Edmunds hired Chandler Phillips to go undercover as a car salesman to give us the low down on the business. Chandler did this for a couple months working at a number of dealerships. His 9-part series documents his findings. I could not stop reading this excellent piece of journalism.

Yes the article encourages you to go to Edmunds dot com. However I found the inside scoop very insightful on how the salesmen are motivated and make money. There is also a lot of information that bucks the stereotype of the crooked used car salesman that you hate. I will confess that I do not go to Edmunds for anything auto related. I use Kelly Blue Book to estimate used car values. And I use MSN Autos for new car information. Finally I shop used cars at caxmax dot com.

I did a little work to track down Chandler Phillips and tell him what a good job he did with his article. It turns out that is a pen name for Philip Reed, who is an editor at Edmunds dot com. Mister Phillips, or Phillip as it may be, nice work on your undercover series. My hat is off to you.

Navy Marketing Stinks

I am watching the X Games on TV right now. There is a lot of adrenaline pumping due to the Motocross and BMX competition. I have been paying attention to the advertisements. And I must say that the Navy has let me down. I even think they are a sponsor of this event. But somebody in their marketing department has totally screwed up.

Here is the commercial. It starts out with a scene on a deserted beach in the dark. The it gets darker. Next thing you know there are footprints in the sand. The waves come up and wash away the footprints. The commercial ends by telling you to go to the Navy Seals portion of the Navy site. I would call this commercial weak. But that would be a serious understatement.

My recommendation to the Navy is to fire whatever marketing department created this commercial. Hopefully the work was done by an outside agency that needs to get the boot. If an enlisted man created this crap, they need to be demoted. Even the shallow razor commercial with the large breasted shaving cream girls beats this ad. Heck. I am even tempted to create a better Navy Seal commercial myself and forward it to the Navy gratis.

Failure x 4 = Success

While on vacation, I took a tour of the Hershey Corporation campus. During the tour I got a lot of Milton Hershey history. This was quite an amazing guy. You could say he was inspirational. He started working when he was 15. That was probably normal for his times. But then he started his own company when he turned 19. That sounds a lot like Bill Gates. Mister Hershey's first company was nothing like Microsoft though.

Milton Hershey's first candy company went bankrupt. So did his second, third, and fourth companies. I think he had a fifth company that also went belly up. Sugar was just too expensive to turn a profit in the candy business. But even after all these failures, his motto was to never give up. Those are words to live by.

Mr. Hershey talked his aunt into mortgaging her house. With the proceeds, Hershey founded the chocolate company that is still alive and kicking today. I hear it is worth billions of dollars. Hershey weathered many failures. His grit helped him persevere through many failed companies. In the end he triumphed.

Here is the real amazing part. When Mr. Hershey finally turned his company around into a smashing success, he toured the country with his wife. He found there were many orphanages overrun with boys that nobody wanted. So he took a bunch in to live with his family. He later went on to found a school that took in orphans, schooled them, taught them a trade, and paid for them to live while they studied. This was no free ride. The orphan boys needed to work hard on the Hershey farms. But they had a home and a future. Here's to you Mr. Hershey. May we all learn and benefit from your lifetime achievements.