Web Failure

Some guy came out with a service on the web. You are supposed to be able to compose letters on his web site. Then he will actually print out the letter and mail it for you via postal mail for a flat fee of 99 cents.

Now this is not an entirely new idea. I’ve seen the same service being rolled out this past year. The nice part about this latest version is that you get to mail your first letter for free. That at least got me interested to give it a try.

The web page had 4 tabs on it. They were “How It Works”, “Features”, “Types of Letters” and “FAQ”. I tried clicking on Features. Nothing happened. It still displayed the information from the How It Works tab. What the heck?

I guess this guy’s stuff is either broken or does not work with my browser. Come on. I am using Internet Explorer. And with that the guy lost my business. If he can’t get the web page to work, what makes him think I will trust him to deliver a letter for me? Ouch.

Desktop Support

I work for a big consulting company. We are supposed to report all problems to our Help Desk. The last time I rebooted my laptop, I got a message stating the Windows Service Pack 2 was not installed. It is now required at our company. So I called up the Help Desk. A local desktop support guy came and ran some command on my machine. He told me to reboot the machine in 5 minutes and I would be set.

After rebooting I got the same error message. So I called the local guy back. He did not return my call. I had to call the Help Desk again. The same guy came back and tried some more things. It looks like he needed to manually install an upgrade. He got impatient and told me the last download he did would take 15 or 20 minutes. So he left. That was the last I saw of him.

Come on. Stay here and complete your task. This last visit got crazy. The guy was complaining that my machine was slow. He had some precious ideas on how to fix that. He recommended I defragment my hard drive or clean up some temp files. I would have preferred that he just actually fix the problem he got called in to do already. It has gotten to the point where I am doing the upgrade on the machine myself. It is hard to get good help these days.

Fulfill Orders Quickly

There is a mail order company that I have been using to buy my clothes. They are sending me more and more mailings. I find stuff I like in just about every mailing. However they are not getting extra business from me. Why? They can't fill my orders fast enough.

I generally don't want to place a new order with a company until I have received my previous order. Normally companies like Amazon rush my orders out immediately. They get repeat business very quickly.

However my favorite clothing mail order company takes its time. They often back order my clothes. That is fine with me. But they are losing out on sales. I got a stack full of offers from them. But I am not going to act on any of them until I get my goods.

Let this be a lesson to all you mail order companies. Ship me my stuff fast. You will be rewarded.

Krispy Kreme Delight

Previously I had written about the weak guarantee provided by Hostess for their doughnuts. As a result, I refuse to buy any Hostess products. The company is just too sleazy for my taste. I still want to eat some doughnuts. This time I tried Krispy Kreme.

Krisy Kreme cost about the same as Hostess. However their box did not have any bogus quality guarantees on it. I ate up most of the doughnuts. They were not as fresh and good as Hostess. However there was not marketing mumbo jumobo involved. Out of principle, I am going to stick with Krispy Kreme. These guys even get a doughnut link from met. Good job guys.

Hostess Non-Guarantee

I picked up a bag of powdered doughnuts from the store. The price came out to $3 before tax. These things tasted good. When I first broke into the bag to chow down, I read the back of the back. This is where I found the Quality Guarantee: "HOSTESS is committed to providing quality bakery products. We invite you comments and questions."

WTF is that? It sounded like some crap that their lawyers wrote. I guess I am a little spoiled by real guarantees where the company backs the guarantee with a money back offer. That is standing by your product. What is Hostess backing their guarantee with? If I don't think the product has quality, I can ask them a question? It seems they take their customers for fools.

Come on Hostess. If you cannot offer a real guarantee, don't try to hide behind some lawyer mumbo-jumbo. Either skip the guarantee or stand behind your product. What an epic fail. And to think that I actually like the taste of their doughnuts. The stinking "quality guarantee" left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Weak I tell you. Weak.

Customer Service is King

I am reading a technical magazine to get some ideas for blogging. That is where I came across a picture of a guy in an airport talking on his cell phone. It was an advertisement for a wireless phone company. And the ad was working.

Here are some quotes from the ad copy. "Increase billable hours. Respond to clients quickly. Access data. Connect with clients. Get more 3G coverage". I don't know about you. But just by reading this, I am sold.

Now I am not going to link to this wireless phone company. Do you know why? Their sorry customer service and shady billing practices have made me dislike them. I am looking to replace them with another carrier. Isn't that a shame? They won my attention with great marketing. However poor prior service ruined the sale. For shame.

Advertising Business

This post is about a company named Demand Media. They are paying film makers around $200 a day to record short clips on topics the company likes. There are a bunch of weird subjects. This company, in turn, is the number 1 supplier of YouTube videos. And they are all original.

The business is not a small one. Demand Media is on track to making $200M in revenue this year. Their company is valued at $1B. The work they give out is steady. These guys normally do not cover the news. They focus more on timeless information.

Demand Media is not just into videos. They also pay for writers. The going rate is around fifteen bucks for an article of a couple hundred words. The payments are made via PayPal.

The company uses freelancers for its work. Google is their partner. Online content is general is not worth a lot of money. However this is one company that is cleaning up with advertising. I am in the wrong business.

Delivering a Good Message

This time I wrap up discussing the wisdom I gained by reading The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. My topic today is that of effective messages. In other words, how to you give a good speech?

You presentation must be simple. It is difficult to deliver complex ideas in a speech. Remember to KISS. However the information you present must be concrete. Don't have a lot of intangible theory in there.

It helps if you through in a few unexpected items. This will help keep the audience engaged and guessing. Another technique to keep interest high is to be emotional.

You need to be able to come across as credible. There is so much information out there from many sources. People do not trust what they hear in general. Finally, the best speeches tell a great story. Do so, and you will be on the road to success.

Source of Ideas

How do you get good ideas for your own business? You can brainstorm. Figure on spending an hour to generate upwards of 100 ideas. I have heard two sides to the best ideas. One camp says that daydreaming produces the best ideas. Another states that meeting customers with problems is king.

If you think your idea is unique, it probably is not. Therefore you need an idea that is totally unheard of if you are basing your success on something new. Remember this. Don't be afraid. You should also avoid being practical or following the rules.

What you should do to think outside the box is to be playful, ambiguous, and foolish with your initial ideas. Forget about getting an MBA. Get a Master of Fine Arts instead. They say this is the new cool thing.

Next time I will wrap up the knowledge I have received from The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. I will cover how to get a great message across to your audience.

Shorter is Better

You often need to pitch an idea or business quickly. The best presentation has 10 slides and lasts just 20 minutes. Any other numbers or durations are non-optimal. You should be able to cut to the core concept in 7 words or less.

There are over 1 million start up companies in the USA. This is amazing given the fact that there are only a few hundred million citizens total.

How can you succeed at business? Be a customer. This may sound funny, but you cannot learn business from a book. There is no easy formula to come up with a good idea for a business. However you should go do something. Prototyping is a great method to figure out success or failure quickly.

Next time I will go over some other neat idea generators.

On Employees

What can business books teach us about coaching employees? First you need to realize that research shows great managers help employees be more of themselves. In other words you should build on your strengths instead of trying to patch up your weaknesses.

Other tips include letting teams develop on their own. This has historically worked for HP. It is also the method used to excel at Google. Empower employees to make decisions. Then get out of the way.

I will cover all kinds of topics next time like presentations, customers, and brainstorming.

Legend of Deming

I am sure most people have heard about Deming. He had ideas on how to improve quality. When he went to Japan, they listened to him intently. Toyota used his methods to eliminate waste and become the number 1 automotive company in America. Dang.

Here is a question to ask yourself. Do you have a best friend at work? I know I do. Now this may not have any bearing on my success in business. But at least I have somebody to talk to and go to lunch with. Some business books say that will actually have a positive affect on me.

Next time I am going to go over some advice to empower employees to do their best. Tune in.

On Customers and Employees

What do you call an employee that brings in revenue? No, this is not a trick question. They are the rainmakers. I am not talking about somebody who does a job that nets the company some cash. I am talking about the business development folks who bring in new business.

Here is a tip for almost any business situation. Be the best dressed person you will meet today. So unless you show up the CEO, you will be looked up to.

What should be the goal of a business? It should create a customer. All else stems from this act. And what should be the role of employees? It is a singular goal. Perform. Do this in a responsible manner and you will have served your purpose.

Next time I will start with Deming and his message to the Japanese.

Customer Service and Selling

Here is a saying worth remembering: customer service wins the day. There are more where that came from. Action is paramount to success. Stretch past your comfort zone. And "do something right because it is the right thing to do".

Let's get back to customer service. Strangely enough, researchers have found that customers remember the beginning and end of an encounter. You got to provide a strong delivery at both ends of the transaction. Otherwise you may lose business.

There is a bunch of psychology involved with selling. Therefore you must choose your words carefully when advertising. Words that help sell are proven, health, easy, and discover. Conversely, some words that prevent sales are deal, pay, contract, and sign.

Next time I will start off with branding and introduce you to the Rainmaker.

On Being a Leader

This time I continue outlining the traits of great leadership. Storytelling is the best way to motivate people. At my last company, the top guy in the building could tell gripping stories to an auditorium full of people. You felt like he was talking directly to you. He was not some stuffy VP. He was a regular, likable guy.

I did not know this superstar personally. But I did know an up and coming guy who wanted to be a VP. In a similar way, he would make he speeches into stories all the time. This happened even when he was talking to two or three people. That's a leader.

Communication and motivation are the keys to changing people and ultimately the company. You got to spread the ambition of the leader to all employees in the company to get traction on a grand scale. It is the faith of the people, not facts, that enables workers in the trenches to move mountains.

Next time I will get more concrete and discuss customer service strategies to grow the business.


Today I continue with things I have learned reading a book on the 100 best business books. I will be talking about leadership. A good leader makes people feel important. The leader is not afraid to step out of their comfort zone.

Leadership is one of those skills that cannot be easily taught. You can sum up leadership as doing the right thing. Here are some traits of a great leader: honest, forward looking, inspiring, and competent.

A leader needs to put theory into practice. Strangely enough, a leader must make decisions that are not fashionable. A leader has to get a company into a business where it can thrive.

Next time I will continue this track on describing what a leader ought to be.

What To Do

Succeeding at business requires you to choose the right things to do. You don't want to waste time on things that just don't need to be done. A good founder needs to learn how to delegate well. You should also not do things that cause other employees to do unnecessary work.

Optimal work styles have you do one thing at once. Don't multitask. You should also solve a problem just once. There are often org charts at work. However there is also another "real" organizational chart which reflects the reality.

What traits does a star at work posses? They are smarter than others. They are also better problem solvers. Stars are more driven and outgoing. Surprisingly they also take greater risks.

Next time I will go further into what makes a great leader at work. TTFN.

100 Best Business Books

I read a monster book called The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. This was quite a read. I felt like I was in an MBA program. If I had a lot of time on my hands, I would read these 100 best books themselves. There were references to a lot more must read business books. Let me share some insights I learned in this book.

In 2007, there were 11,000 business books published. Ouch. Who has time to read all those books? The authors review books for a living. They sorted through the good and the bad. They ranked the books on factors like quality and applicability.

Note that most gems from these books are actually from the books they chose. To success at business you must feel that your skill set is enough to solve the challenges you will encounter. You need clarity on what actually needs to get done. That is better than spending a lot of time on needless worries.

This is just the tip of the iceberg from this book. I plan to blog more about the gems I found in this reading. Next time I will talk about "doing the right things". See you then.

Successful Traits

I read a blog that caters to entrepreneurs. It has a software development theme to it. But the main topic is how to start a small company on your own and become successful. People often discuss what it takes to thrive in this world. The same themes keep being discussed. The result is surprising. Technical abilities play a small role in excelling. Go figure. Programming skills do not make a greater software sales business.

You need to stick to your goal of running a business. You need passion and persistence. It is essential to stay in a good mood. You must have extreme dedication. 90% of the work is advertising, marketing, selling, processing payments, and finding supplies. The other 10% is writing good code.

Ouch. This almost seems like an endeavor for an MBA, not an MSCS. This got solidified when somebody commented that you need to be willing to put on a suit. This is the world of business after all. And as usual, you need to be “smart and get things done”. Ha ha. I guess that gives away where I read up on this stuff. Stayed focused and you might have a chance at doing will in the software sales business.

Esquire Hits Some Home Runs

I normally try to scan the linker in Hacker News for interesting stories. Today I found a few cool titles from Esquire online. So I decided to bite on all of them. Usually I make a decision in the first 10 seconds on whether to read the web page that Hacker news links to. For each of the Esquire articles, I ended up staying and reading the whole long page.

The first story was a simple technique to take command of interactions with almost everyone. You can get service folks to notice you. You can also do better in most negotiations. That alone is worth the time to read about The Invisible Grip.

Next I read about an experiment which tracked what a $20 tip could get you across America. Strangely enough, there are other factors at play in Los Angeles. Often times $20 can get you almost everything. However there is an even more powerful trick to get people to do your bidding. You will have to read to the end of The 20-Dollar Millionaire to figure it out though.

Finally there was an article about how to deliver the answer No in the best way possible. This was an uncomfortable article to read. I wonder whether I will try some of the techniques it documents. Regardless I highly recommend When To Say No along with the article Esquire articles I linked to. Whatever you are doing online Esquire magazine, you got my attention and my link juice. Keep up the great work.

Comcast Spam

Today I got a spam email from my Internet Service Provider Comcast. They tried to get me to buy some concert tickets. I don't like spam. So I decided to click the link at the bottom of the email to opt out of this nonsense.

I want it to be easy to opt out. I should be able to reply, or check a box on a web page. Comcast did not make it easy. I guess they want to keep spamming the majority of their customers. When I clicked the link in the email to opt out, I got a page that said I needed to log in.

Ok. I decided to bite. I logged in. However that just brought my to some general Comcast main page. I had to hunt for the place to opt out of spam by email. When I tried to get to that place, Comcast made me agree to some long list of terms and conditions. I declined. Then I got logged off. WTF?

After having been strong armed into agreeing to the terms in conditions, I get asked to set up a "secret question". Again WTF? I just want you to stop spamming me Comcast. I am already your customer. Don't piss me off. Yeah I get that you are trying to earn a couple more bucks out of me. Make it easy for me to tell you to stop that nonsense. I tell you. Some companies make it hard for me to be their customer.

Bundle Marketing

Recently I messed up my Windows installation. I could no longer log onto my system. Luckily I had recently backed up my important files. My system is from Dell. They offer an option where you can restore the hard disk to the state it arrived in. This is done by them saving the restore state in a small portion of the hard drive. This helped me get past the Windows issue. But it also exposed me to an aggressive Dell bundle marketing program.

The PC I received from Dell a while ago was a good deal. The price was right. It had a lot of extras I wanted. It also came loaded with a bunch of junk pre-installed. All I wanted was a copy of Microsoft Office. Instead I got all these trial programs which clogged my system. I had to spend a lot of time uninstalling this junk. When I restored my system to the factory settings, all these programs came back to haunt me.

The list of junk that comes installed from Dell is crazy. It slows down the loading of Windows. And I have to deal with ads popping up from time to time. These are not ads from browsing the web. They are from marketing programs running in the background. To make matters worse, some of the crapware could not be uninstalled. Yes I know Dell makes money including these programs on my laptop. Why can't they just charge me an extra 50 bucks, and keep all this garbage off my machine? I am a bit hesitant to buy from Dell again because of this. It is a real pain I tell you. Rant off.

Customer Non-Service

This month I received my cable bill with a serious sticker shock. The price had jumped more than twice the previous month's rate. I guess I had stopped qualifying for some promotional rate. So I immediately called Comcast, the company that services my cable.

I asked about the plans that could lower my bill. It was disappointing to hear that there were not that many choices. That seemed strange as I thought Comcast had plans all the way down to bare bones local channels. I told the service rep that I needed to think about this and call them back.

It did not take me long to decide I would just go with the cheapest plan. I called back and discussed my plans to change my service. The new person I talked with had information about other plans from Comcast. I thought we were out of the woods. Silly me. Then I asked what amount I should pay for my current bill. I was told to pay the whole amount. That was just crazy.

I asked when exactly the new changes would take effect. The answer was immediately. I asked what period the current bill covered. And I was told it was next month. Then I asked why I had to pay the high rate when I just cut out all these services. That is when I was told that's what the bill showed. However I would get a credit back. I asked for the amount, did the math, and determined something was not right.

During this call I tried to be patient. However I needed the facts. And I had to double check that everything was right. As I questioned this minimal credit back for overpaying, the technician started changing the numbers on me. That was disturbing. I tried to make the math as simple as possible. I asked what my new monthly rate would be. The person on the other end of the phone would not tell me. I was told there would be FCC taxes imposed that they could not calculate.

This transaction was getting nowhere. I asked to speak with a supervisor. All I could get was a promise that one would call me back. I ended up paying the incorrectly high bill. However no manager has called me back. It is time to break out the arsenal to show this company I mean business. I think a good start would be a complaint to the FCC. Then I think I should just go to the top and pen a letter to the CEO. Comcast is a big company, and the CEO probably makes millions a year. If that does not get anybody's attention in the company, I will just turn this over to the Better Business Bureau. They will probably be tired of dealing with Comcast if my experience is typical of their non-existent customer service. Rant off ... for now.

Quality Inspection

I ordered some pants from a mail order company I use frequently. The price was right. Sometimes the quality is lacking, but they stand by their products forever. You can always get a refund or exchange. There are no questions asked. In the pocket of one pair of new pants was a slip with the following verbiage:

I have personally examined every detail of this garment to make sure it meets our high quality standards. Thank you for buying our product. Inspector: 32.

Now I have seen tags like this before. But something is not quite right with them. They are trying to convey some sort of personal assurance. However it was signed Inspector 32. That is most impersonal. Yeah maybe they internally collect metrics on which inspectors miss defective merchandise. That does not make me feel any connection with the inspector though.

Don't insult my intelligence. If I don't know your name, and I cannot communicate with you, there is nothing personal going on here. Luckily this is only a pet peeve from a pretty good company. They will still get my business. But I am hoping that I do not find another one of these Inspector tags.

Relative Value

A company got my name through my response to their ad. They had a super special offer going on. Some software they normally sell for $250 a seat was being deeply discounted. The cost during the sale week was only $5. It sounded too goo to be true. However it appeared to be legitimate.

I downloaded a trial version of their software. Unfortunately I found that it did not solve my problems. Still how could I pass up such a severe discount? The regular price was 50 times the sale price. That equates to 98% off right?

You need to look at the big picture to gain clarity sometimes. The software that they were selling for peanuts was this scaled down version of their flagship product. I believe their goal was to give me a taste of their software in the hopes I would buy the enterprise version, which costs over $1000 a pop. At the end of the sale week I decided to pass on the great sale. They could have been selling the software for a penny. I still did not need it. You got to watch out for these ambitious marketers. And you also have to make rational decisions on what to buy, and more importantly what not to buy.

Strong Value

These days I seem to do a lot of catalog shopping with Haband. They are a clothes mail order business. Their prices are low. And they seem to carry the sizes I usually need. There is a lot of competition in this business. I get a lot of catalogs in the mail trying to get my business.

Haband tries a lot of methods to get me to buy more. They flood me with catalogs. There is usually a bunch of free stuff that comes with any order. Once in a while I will get free shipping on my orders. Between you and me, I always plan to buy stuff anyway. The free gifts or gratis shipping just encourages me to buy stuff right now.

Other companies also send out frequent catalogs, offer gifts, and free shipping as well. Here is the thing that keeps me coming back for more with Haband. They stand by their clothes forever. If you are ever dissatisfied, you can get a refund or exchange. I have to tell you that some of their stuff does not seem to be of the highest quality. But with Haband, that is not hurting their reputation with me. I just ship the stuff back and get an exchange.

Let me tell share some examples with you. The button fell off a shirt. I did not sew it back on. I returned it and got a new shirt. The zipper broke on a pair of pants. Free replacement. Another pair of pants ripped. They replaced it without hassle. Their costs must be low enough that even with the occasional replacement, they still make money. As long as they keep up this policy, I will continue to buy most of my clothes from them. Good customer service is hard to come by. When I find it, I reward that company with my hard earned money.

Teens and the Movies

This time around I am going to complete my review of a Morgan Stanley research report on teen behaviors. It was authored by a teen intern at the company. So you would think it had some extra authority.

The teen stated that most teenagers download songs illegally from file sharing sites. You don't need a PhD to discern that. He also went on to say that teens do go to the movies.

Teenagers almost always own a cell phone these days. They like the Ericcson brand. Most teens are not on regular mobile plans. They pay for minutes. Surprisingly enough, teens don't fall for the paid ring tones you can get. They also do not get new phones often.

Some other curious facts shared about teenagers is that they usually have TVs. The also have computers with Microsoft Office on them. No wonder Microsoft is making a killing off their applications. Now the real story is how we can benefit by understanding this profile of the average teenager.

Teen Outlook on Internet

Let's get back to that research report produced by a young intern at Morgan Stanley. He says that Facebook is the ubiquitous social networking site.

Strangely enough he stated that Twitter is just not used by teens. Well I know a lot of teens who beg to differ. He also comments that teens really don't use directories. Neither do I. At least not since the 90's.

It is no surprise that teens use Google for search. So does everyone else who lives on earth. Here is another obvious observation. Teens like viral marketing. Who doesn't?

Next time I will wrap up my review of the teenage review. We will cover movies, music, and cell phones. Peace. Go hug your teen.

Teens Outlook on Media

Morgan Stanley put out an interesting research paper on How Teenagers Consume Media. It was researched and written by a 15 year old intern at the firm. That's a fresh perspective. I thought I could use this to determine how to get these teens as my customers.

Here was a disappointing finding. Teens are reluctant to pay for media. However they will go to the movie theater. Texting is still very popular with teens. I can attest to this as I had to sign the family up for an unlimited texting plan.

Teenagers do not listen to the radio that much any more. They also do not read newspapers in general. The latter is due to the cost of papers. That seems strange. My paper cost a quarter. Moving right along, teens live the Wii. Once again I can attest to this fact. My family plans to buy a Wii and the games and accessories that come along with it.

Here is something that took me by surprise. Teens are not that into PC gaming. I wonder who the PC gaming demographic is then. Is it older, single males? Who knows. Next time I will delve further into the Morgan Stanly findings on teenagers and the media. We will pick it up with Internet usage.

Dreaming Big

I want to continue my previous post about a guy that quit his job to be his own boss. He has reached a point where he just gets paid without further action. That is a great state to be in. That does not mean that he does not do work. In fact, he is available at a contract rate of $97 per hour. He does encourage others to live their dream by working towards a lofty goal. Now let's talk about the monster feedback that his article has generated.

Here is one thing to keep in mind. If you dream big, you sometimes need to "take a leap of faith". In other words there comes a time when you have to take some risks. To use a cliche, no pain, no gain. Personally I don't like pain. But I would like to be my own boss. Therefore I need to do some risky activities to achieve that goal.

When you do become self employed, you are essentially liberated from working for the man. You escape the bondage that the majority of us workers endure. You know that's a great feeling. I know I have dabbled with some business activities on the side. My reward has been a few peanuts. I am still looking to cash in on my own dream. And I am not talking about winning the lottery either.

Work for Yourself

Some guy recently tendered his resignation to his boss. He is now happily self-employed. How did he do it? He made a goal to quit within a year. Things went well. He got to meet his goal. There was a monster list of comments from the blog entry declaring this guy’s freedom. I thought I would discuss some o9f the tactics he used to generate the recurring income needed to quit.

The first was a general principle he applied to his writing. He made sure that he truly added value. That is a rare commodity these days. You get a lot of ranting on the Internet. But how much of it actually adds tangible value to you? Not a whole lot I bet. I have not read any substantial writing from this author. If he is truly adding value to his readers, then I can see why he might be successful.

The second principle this author uses is ensure his blog posts are must reads. He had tried hard to set himself apart from the bunch of bloggers out there. That seems like a good angle. You tend to want to read those bloggers that push the limits. Or you like somebody who is extremely controversial because it is interesting. I need to learn how to do that. Normally I write about the daily grind, which is normally not too exciting for anybody other than myself.

The final thing I want to mention about this self-employed author is that he wrote and published an e-book for sale. The thing is actually bringing in money for the guy. I find that exciting. Authors whom I respect have repeatedly stated that there is no money in writing books. Just yesterday I read a post about a Ruby developer who, in the end, made less than minimum wage on his book writing endeavors. Perhaps you get more profit it you self publish and release your book electronically. I will have to look into this.

Be on the lookout for more insight from one man who now is his own boss. I think I about going to learn more about him, and write about my findings here. The guy’s name is Jonathan. His blog is the illuminatedmind, which is “the less boring side of personal development”.

This Is How You Do It

I was searching for blog information on a particular book. One such blog had some advertising links. I followed one link. It brought me to a page with more advertising links. I clicked through and landed on the Unreal Stocks landing page. That is where I saw some great advertising.

This page had a lot of features in common with other sales lead generation pages. They promise some type of big money. Then they ask for your e-mail address. Normally I pass on these offers. I don't want any spam. And I don't want anybody trying to sell me stuff.

However the Unreal Stock page had a great set of closing arguments. They said their stuff was not free. In fact, they stated that their services cost a lot of money. However they were willing to let me try them for free without any credit cards or any other such nonsense. That was a good start. Then their sign up area had the killer picture. Here was a young hot girl, wearing a tight t-shirt, holding up a lot of cash. That's a winner. For that picture alone I am giving them my e-mail address. They have reached me. Now they just need to have a good product and they have won over a new customer.

Advertising Failure

I saw the image to the left in an advertisement for Burger King. The sandwich is a seven-incher that will BLOW me away? Yeah. I get it. You are trying to make references to a blow job. I have a message for you. That is totally weak.

Burger King has some good food. But their advertising makes me gag. I will give them this. The blow job ad beats the guy with the weird kind plastic face. But not by much. No wonder I usually go to McDonald's for lunch.

Listen up Burger King. I know sex sells. But don't try to be coy. If you want to employ sex to sell your new sandwich, then show me show blond bimbos with huge jugs. Just come right out there and admit what you are doing. Then I will buy your stuff. Otherwise you should quit while you are ahead. I am trying to help you out here.

Startup Success

I read the overview for an interview with Roy Robin. He is founder of Varien, which has the successful product Magento. He stated that the company was founded while he was still in school. There initially was not much of a plan.

The company took off when they started using AdWords. They also delved into consulting work. That gave them deep insight into the needs of customers. Developers in the company started getting bored. They got a side project to work on. This resulted in the Magento product.

Company employees blogged to establish their reputation. They blogged daily. It was rare for them to pitch their company. They were just sharing very good information. One thing was a bit disappointing. Roy confessed that the hours worked were and continue to be crazy. I guess that is the life of a successful startup.

Great Guerrilla Marketing

I read this huge post on techniques for guerrilla marketing. There were so many ideas. Many of them seemed liked things I could do myself. I think I will give it a try and see where it takes me. I am always willing to do things outside the box to make some money. Here goes.

One whole set of ideas revolves around business cards. I am not talking about handing out your business cards. Instead put them in books at the library that relate to your business. Or you could slip them in magazines at the bookstore or the dentist. Nice touch huh? Finally you can enter contests where you drop your business card in a big bowl. Do it to win and to do some marketing.

Doing some guest blogging is a no brainer. Author an e-book whose only purpose is to market your business. You can also write editorials for newspapers. Make sure to include a byline which references your web site URL.

I will try some or all of these great ideas. When I do and analyze the results, I will let you know how I fare. Good luck to me.

Media Coverage

I just read an interview with one of the founders of HotOrNot. They had some great insights on running a startup business. These guys did most of the work for the site with the two founders out of one of their living rooms. As such they knew it would be easy to code a clone of the system. In fact, they said there were hundreds of clones. How then did they get to the point where the company was making millions?

Here was one key factor. They worked hard to get as many reporters to write about their service. The goal was not just to get exposure. It was to ensure that reporters would only write about their implementation of the service. By the time the copycats came around, they hoped that reporters would have already covered their own site and ignore the others. Brilliant.

These founders worked hard initially. After a few years they got tired and hired on some employees. They started out making money as a paid model. Then they went free to get more users. However that allowed spammers to clog their networks. In the end they reverted to a paid model. They found their profits did not suffer from that move. Eventually they sold the business.

I used HotOrNot for some enjoyment when it first came out. The idea was great. Many people submitted their pictures so it was constantly fresh. Sure there were some clones that added some value. But I found the original brand stuck with me. Congrats to the original founders. I wonder what other businesses they will get into next.

Customer Non Service

I had a need to buy some camping equipment quickly. So I headed over to this store REI. I think they specialize in camping equipment. When I saw an employee, I gave him my list and asked for help in locating the items. He took the list and walked me over to a section for camping. He then handed the list to another employee in camping and said the other employee would help me.

The other employee took the list, handed it to another guy, and told me he would go look for the first item on the list. The other guy started talking to me about my list. He was very talkative. Since I was in a hurry, I took the list back from him and started collecting some goods. When I asked him where one of the other items was, he confessed that he did not even work for the store. He was just hanging out there.

I tried unsuccessfully to get all the items on my list. They only had about half the items I wanted. I needed to get out of there so I got in line to pay for the items. Finally I saw the second employee who was supposed to locate my first item. I told him that he abandoned me. He said that the store did not carry the first item. Then he said he got busy with six other customers.

This was some pretty weak customer service indeed. I can appreciate when you are busy. But if you are too busy to help me, don’t take my list, give it to another customer, and promise you will help me. I understand it is hard to get good help these days. But I shop where I can get decent help from the staff. I am not returning to REI. The final insult was when the cashier tried to sell me some type of membership to the store. They had to be kidding me.

Anti MLM

A few months back, I clicked on a web advertisement link. That brought me to a web site by a guy who supposedly retired very young. There was an annoying speech in the background. Some parts of the site were comical. Others seemed insightful. I thought I would describe some of the things I saw on the site.

Let’s start with some of the cheesy stuff I saw. There were a lot of pictures of happy people vacationing. I guess they were trying to say that if I followed the advice, or bought something from them, I could vacation as well. Umm yeah. There was a picture of the guy running the sight with Donald Trump. Yes I do know who Donald Trump is. No I am not impressed that you got your picture taken with him.

Now let’s talk about the angle this guy is pitching. He said you need a mentor that shares tools with you. I bet you this guy wants to be my mentor … at a price. He also says that products should sell themselves. I like the sound of that. Selling should not require high fees to do the business. You should have a marketing plan that is simple.

The guy continues in saying that direct sales are best. You should not need to get involved with any multilevel marketing. That is music to my ears. A lot of business opportunities on the web are just tried old MLM schemes in disguise. He also goes on to say that you need a team to support your sales. I just hope he is not in the business of supplying teams to people like me at a cost. Finally he recommends that you trust your instinct in business. I am not sure how to feel about that. I guess it hinges on your instincts.

I do not plan on doing business with this guy. He is obviously paying money to get people to his web site. Often times I wonder about people who are trying to teach me how to success at business. If you know the secret to becoming rich in business, why don’t you use those secrets to get rich yourself. You would think that knowledge of true successful techniques would be kept secret. And at the very least, you would not want to hawk those secrets for only $19.95 plus shipping and handling.

Chain Mail Redux

Today I received a chain mail via e-mail. It claimed that I would receive "a Ericsson T18 Laptop" if I forwarded the e-mail to 8 other people. Furthermore it stated that I would receive "an Ericsson R320 Laptop" if I forwarded the e-mail to 20 other people. All I had to do is ensure the e-mails carbon copied Anna Swelung at Ericsson dot com.

Ha ha. What a joke. Some people actually fell for this. That's how I ended up receiving the e-mail. Come on people. How dense can you be. There is not even any T18 or R320 laptop that is produced by Ericsson. Those are model numbers for old Ericsson cell phone. Ericsson has stated that there is no employee named Anna Swelung working for their firm.

Watch out for other variations of this prank. Some versions promise you a free cell phone from Nokia. It is not like big cell phone companies do not give anything away. But when they do, you don't get entered by forwarding chain mails. You fill out an official entry form and mail it in, or at least go to their web site where they host the context. Why are people propagating these chain mails online? I guess somebody is getting a good laugh out of this.

Good Karma Through Freebie

I was clicking around the web because I was bored one night. That's when I came upon a special offer from MOO. They provided me with 10 business cards free of charge. Even the shipping was free.

Usually there is no free lunch. I have bought some "free" business cards before where I had to pay postage. Let's just say that company did not get a referral from me. Sure the business cards were fine. But I felt tricked when I had to pay around 10 bucks for postage. It felt like a double cross.

Not so with MOO. I just got my 10 pack with absolutely no costs to me. The cards ain't bad either. So now I am thinking that I may want to order some of these bad boys. And I know I want to give MOO the link love they deserve. Thank you MOO!

Product Advertisement

Today I am reading a trade journal for managers in my field. There were a lot of interesting technical articles this month. Only one ad caught my eye in the whole magazine. It was for a software product that might be something we are looking for. But their ad turned me off. They had the prominent name of their software package on display. However it was the 2008 version.

Now I do not know whether their 2008 version is sufficient or not. But it is 2009 now. Why are they calling attention to the fact that this is last year's software? Heck. Microsoft is talking about Visual Studio 2010. I guess Microsoft is not completely guilt free in this department, as they sell Office 2007. Microsoft has my business for other reasons (they are the defacto standard).

This product I saw in the magazine may cost a lot of money. The demo which is given away for free might blow my mind. However they will not even get a chance to win me as a customer. Sure their latest offering may be the 2008 version. But do they have to call attention to that? I wonder what they were thinking.

Wolfram Alpha

I have been seeing a lot of buzz about something called Wolfram Alpha. At first I tried to ignore it. However I could not help myself. I decided to check it out. Some people have been saying that it is a Google replacement. Ok. It is supposed to understand the web with some sort of artificial intelligence.

Let's put the darn thing to the test. I asked it, "Who is the hottest chick in the world?" All I got back was a computation time out error. At least the site confessed that it did not know what to do with my question. Damn.

I did a test with Google and Ask Jeeves. These both brought me to a site which asks you to rank the hottest chick in the world. That's more on topic. It did not answer my question. But it showed Lucy Lu as the first choice for you to check.

Is Wolfram Alpha the next big thing? No chance. Given the simple test I gave it, my initial feeling is that it is a failure. Good luck to the people behind it anyway. You are going to need it.

Free Versus Paid

I am a programmer at heart. And I would like to make money using that skill. So I should write some programs and sell them, right? That is easier said than done. Sure I know how to make my programs do what I want them to do. This is my expertise. But how do I get other people to pay for them? That is the question.

At first I thought I would test the waters by giving my software away for free. Even then I had some problems getting a massive amount of users. How then could I get any subset of them to pay for my product? Perhaps I am targeting too small of a niche to get customers. However perhaps I am having a problem with my marketing in general. I am not a marketer. I am a programmer. Today I thought I would muse about the practice of giving away product to develop paying customers in the future.

Unfortunately I have read that once you give away your product, it is hard to convert to charging customers. It would have been better if I had initially hinted that the product would not always be free. For example, I could have said that the beta release of my product was free. The real task here is to be in sync with your customer. You need excellent communication with them. That way they do not get surprised and skip out on the paid version of your programs.

It is not inherently evil to charge money for your software. At least I do not believe it is so. That’s why I pay for software that I use. For example, even though the price is somewhat high, I buy Microsoft product like Office and Visual Studio. They solve a need of mine. Microsoft is the expert on marketing tactics. Maybe I can learn something from them.

Affiliate Networks

I really like reading Website magazine. Not only do they concentrate on web technologies, you get some other viewpoints like the business side and Search Engine Optimization. There was this one article in this month’s issue that peaked my interest. It was on high paying network affiliate programs.

There is a very low barrier to entry in getting money from affiliates. You can just throw a web site together and put some affiliate ads on it. And there is a potential for a big payoff it you get lucky. The article did not cover the big gorilla affiliates such as Google and Amazon. It also did not talk about conceptual networks (e.g. Price Per Click or MLM programs).

The article cited “Ranking.com” for top tier affiliate networks. Here is what I found interesting. I had never heard of the top 4 networks on the list. Do you know about ClickBooth, OurFreeStuff, Copeac, or XY7? I sure don’t.

There were at least some networks on the Top 50 list that I had at least heard of. These included FriendFinder and LinkShare. It might be time to look further into the offerings they have to make me money.


I am not selling any of the software I have written so far. The products I have created were tests of applications that I gave away for free. I first thought I would determine all the things needed to create and release products first. I also used this to gauge how minimal marketing methods would reach an audience. However I eventually planned to write software that could be sold to customers.

Traditionally there is a science to the pricing of software products. Conventional wisdom states that you set pricing based on concrete factors such as competitor pricing, costs to manufacture, and customer needs. However I read a bold article on ways to think about pricing that are out of the box.

This novel approach to pricing advised you to not price based on what other people are charging. Instead you should choose an astronomical price. That way you can find out what the maximum your customer is willing to pay. I have tried this approach with several customers for some work. This normally resulted in the customer rejecting the price. And they used their negotiating expertise to find out how low I would go for pricing.

Some of this pricing applied to custom work for a specific customer. My problem is how to price a software title that I will mass distribute and sell. It still might be prudent to set the price point very high. That means I will have less customers to support. It also might set the precedent that my software is very valuable.

Failed Ad Campaign

There has been a lot of hubbub about Tropicana's decision to rebrand their orange juice containers in the store. The result was a 20% loss in sales for a few months before they reverted back to the old design. How did this happen and why?

The old design was well established. Customers have complained that the new brand lacked creativity. It also seemed a bit feminine. I heard one guy say there used to be a lovely girl on the cover. She has shrunk over the years, and finally is no longer displayed.

These things probably do not account for the loss in sales. The old motto that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" seems to apply here. More importantly, it would seem that no test market runs were done to gauge customer response.

I think there may be some new confusion over the new orange juice containers and the apple juice containers. The colors were more washed out in the new version of the branding. The type was harder to read. It looked like the general brand of orange juice.

This reminds me of the failed New Coke campaign. I bet Tropicana will be hesitant to mess with the magic that currently works for their orange juice. This affected the bottom line heavily. They got lucky in that a return to the old label restored their orange juice sales. You don't always get a chance to recover from such business failure.

The Story of WordPerfect

I have just finished reading the delicious story about WordPerfect as told by an insider. Now I have to link to an online version of the book. It is Almost Perfect by W. E. Pete Peterson.

Mr. Peterson was employee number 6 at WordPerfect. He was one of three members of the Board of Directors. This book tells his story from then time he got hired, until the day he left.

I must confess. Once I started reading this book, I could not put it down. I used WordPerfect in the early 90's. And I would not say that I was a hard core fan. But I am a fan about inside stories of software companies.

This shout out goes to Mr. Peterson. You penned an awesome book. I bet you are wealthy from selling your stock in the company. But I still clicked through on one of your Google AdSense ads sir.

Earned Value

The company I work for tries to tie specific performance (value to the customer) into more money for our company. This effort requires a large task of tracking and measuring the value. To me it seems like a pseudo science. However if this helps my company stay in business, and therefore paying my paycheck, I can’t complain.

One of the handles broke off a faucet in my house. So I called the plumber. Since he was coming over any way, I decided to get another faucet upgraded at the same time. The plumber did the upgrade, but he said the other faucet fix would take a long time due to the fancy sink that I have. He had to reschedule for another day.

The plumber gave me a fixed price estimate on this second faucet. It was going to run me $350. That seemed kind of steep. But so far this plumber seemed competent. So I scheduled him to return and do the work. Today he came and spent some time installing the faucet to replace the broken one.

When the plumber was done, he said he also secured my sink. I had noticed that it was loose. However I did not give it any more thought. The real bonus came when I got the final bill. The plumber said the actual price was lower because he applied a discount for me. In the end it cost me $315 for the repairs. That was still a chunk of change. But I felt like I got a good deal.

That is the way you earn value and respect. The plumber did not go into any deep analysis as to how he was giving me a good value. He did some extra work. He charged me less than the estimate. And he came early so I did not have to wait around for him. When I need to get a big plumbing job done, guess who I am going to call first? Yep.

Returns Department

I found an inexpensive mail order company where I get a lot of clothes. The price is great. However I am finding that sometimes the quality is lacking. It may be more accurate to say the quality is not consistent. Some things I buy fall apart immediately. Others last a lifetime.

A coat I ordered from them came apart at the seams. I still needed a coat. They have a great returns policy. You can return anything at any time for a refund or exchange. I decided to choose another coat which actually cost less than my initial purchase. I wrote on my exchange request that I wanted the difference refunded to me.

What I got back was a letter from the CEO. He said he also serves as the head of quality control at his company. He noted that I was a good customer. And he was sorry about the problems I encountered. He also had sent a check for the difference in price between my return and the defective merchandise. Who knows? Maybe this is a standard form letter for anyone who asks for a refund. But it felt good. That's what it is all about - making the customer feel good. I do not link out frequent or lightly, but if you are looking for bargain clothing I highly recommend Haband.

iPhone Riches

I read an interesting blog post about the author of the iPhone game Dabble. He estimates that he spent over $30k of effort on the game. But his sales were disappointing at best. There was a landslide of comments to his blog entry. I feel like I have learned a lot by reading them.

Selling is hard. Sometimes nothing you do will help, as the gold rush may have passed you by. The software and games market is often a saturated one. To win you must stand out from the crowd. You need to set your price points correctly to compete. Lower prices equals more sales, although maybe not more profit.

You might be able to generate sales by releasing a lite version of your application. In addition, a free trial can help sales if your game is good. You could release a free and paid version of your game at the same time. Something that hurts sales is having your game cracked and distributed for free by hackers.

Some parts of sales depend on user perception. If it takes too long to download an online game, users will balk. Other times your success depends on plain luck. You might be able to tip the scales in your favor by advertising. You can also employ frequent updates to keep your application fresh.

An entirely different way to make money is to give away the application, but make it ad supported. One thing that seems to not affect sales is reviews, positive or otherwise. You could also release your game for multiple platforms. Or you could create multiple variants of the same game.

There are only a select few that will makes millions on their games. The rest of us may not even break even. What is the goal of your game development? Do you want to have fun? If so, you may succeed with a little hard work. If you want to make a fortune, the odds are stacked against you.