Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Putting The aaS Back In SaaS

A lot of the companies that I talk to who are considering some sort of SaaS (Software as a Service) strategy - seem to be missing one important aspect: the Service part of the equation.

They have the first part: software, and they're usually pretty good at it (or they would have been out of business a long time ago). Even if their current tool is lacking (and 99% of the time it is - and thus why I'm talking to them) they generally have a good idea of where they want to go - and most of them want to get into the SaaS business in some way.

So, they focus on the things that they have done the best in the past - plan what parts of the software will be ported to the browser, and what the "user experience" should be, and they have a good idea from their customers on what they would be willing to pay, etc.

But they generally miss one important aspect - the service aspect.

This is something that's easy to overlook - because, after all, one of the reasons customer like the SaaS idea is because of the low barriers to entry, the lack of having to install and maintain software, the predictive pricing, etc. But what happens when one of these users gets stuck? What happens when (not IF, but WHEN) the service goes down? What if someone wants some kind of customization? What if this all happens at 2:00am from a customer in Europe?

The important part of any SaaS offering is the service part - and I would argue it's just as important as the actual software part, and how a company deals with customer service and technical support becomes really focused when there's no one else to blame.

It's not running on their hardware - so they don't need to "get the latest service pack" - or "uninstall the latest service pack." There's no client-side software (usually) - so there goes the "it's conflicting with something on your computer" portion of the excuses. In general, all the "good excuses" for flawed software or a crappy customer service experience just go away.

To be fair - the expectation of service is also tied to whether or not the offering is free or not, as well as how front-line business critical the application is. The more expensive and business-critical to a customer who is trying to get their work done it is - the higher the expectation of good service becomes.

People also recognize that you get what you pay for. If you are using the free version of Google Apps - and the service goes down - you're not only S.O.L. - but you really can't (shouldn't) bitch about something you're getting for free.

On the other hand, if you're paying Salesforce.com $125 per user per month - and their service goes down - and your whole business comes to a halt as a result... that's the time when the service portion of the program comes into play.

Remember: it's really about how you handle the communication and support when things go wrong that stick in people's mind. Even if you have 15 straight years of up time, they will be screaming and yelling when the site goes down for an hour.

So, be prepared. Think about how to provide excellent customer service, excellent technical support and still make a good profit. Don't be afraid to have different tiers of support - and have a strategy to provide SLAs (Service Level Agreements) to customers (for an additional fee, of course).

Regardless of your SaaS strategy from a technical point of view - don't forget to cover your aaS!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Google Be Nimble

I just love it when Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, opens his mouth in public. He nearly always says something that is either outrageous, stupid, embarrassing - or all of the above.

This week was no different. He was doing a webcast interview at the Gartner symposium (the equivalent of their "user's conference) and if you watch the video - about 24 minutes into it he tries to completely dismiss Google Apps saying it's not even in the same league as Office.

He cites one example: "you can’t even put a footnote in a document." And, that was the case. Until two days later.

Yep, Google added that feature and rolled it out to its more than 1 million users within 48 hours of his comment.


On one hand you have the largest software company in the world - one that is battling the irrelevancy question of their operating system by throwing money at it - and here's another huge software company with a pure SaaS (Software as a Service) offering that is just proving that they're more nimble and in touch with customers while at the same time proving that Microsoft isn't.

You just gotta' love it. I mean really. If that wasn't the biggest bitch slap I've seen in a while - it was close.

The other bitch slap came this weekend while I was watching some prime time TV. I got a glimpse of the new Apple "I'm a Mac" ad - this one feature our dynamic duo - but this time PC is wearing an accountant hat and counting money into two piles - one for "advertising" (with an enormous stack of cash) and one for "development" that has a tiny pile of cash.

Ooops. Looks like poor little Microsoft is getting picked on by the "little" guys - big time. There was a time not too long ago that no one would dare take on Microsoft (at least that publicly) for fears that Microsoft would just buy them and kill their technology.

As Microsoft gets ready to debut Windows 7 (which Steve admitted is Vista [again] - but "better") - they better get this one right because it seems that the world is getting to be a pretty competitive place where just the mention of "Microsoft" doesn't carry the same weight as it once did.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Don't Throw The Baby Out

Most executives in most companies are really freaked out right now. It sucks to be the leader of a company right now - and it sucks to be the head of departments - because the buck's gotta' stop somewhere. In this case, crap flow UP hill.

The economy is in full meltdown mode, and lots of people are losing lots of sleep - and are self-medicating with booze (at least someone is making money in the downturn!).

It's easy to get caught up in the general panic and malaise - and therefore lots of people are reacting to what others are reacting to - not the realities of the day. The herd mentality is ruling the average business person rather than the facts - and it's kind of pissing me off.

I'm all for cutting costs and watching expenses. I'm all for trimming the "dead wood" of non-producers out of the workforce. I'm all for delaying "luxury" purchases until the smoke clears out a bit. I'm all about watching travel and entertainment expenses and cutting marketing programs that don't produce tangible results.

However, I'm totally against just cutting for cutting sake. Some companies are just going absolutely nuts - cutting 20% to 50% of their staff; stopping all marketing; etc. They are "cutting to the bone" in order to go into "survival mode."

In fact, Sequoia capital came out early and hard - as documented in the Om Malik blog basically telling all of their portfolio companies that "Cutting deeper is the formula to survive, and this is an era of survival of the quickest."

As a result, a bunch of their companies shed anywhere from 30% to 50% of their staff - even though they were (are) cash-rich. Maybe in those cases it was a case of hiring some "fluff" people or just the giddy feeling for an upstart entrepreneur that you don't have to do everything absolutely by yourself anymore... I don't know.

In any case - you have to carefully weight the "costs" associated with cuts in terms of your current sales, current customers - as well as what it will do to your chances of thriving when (not if!) the economy returns to its "full glory."

In the spirit of not throwing the baby out with the bath water - here's some questions for you to ponder if you're thinking about massive cuts in your company:
  • If you just up and layoff a bunch of people - what will that signal to your current customers?
  • What about people that are evaluating your product for possible purchase - how will they view massive cuts?
  • How long will it take you to replace that person/function when things get going again?
  • Can you really afford to stop all your marketing? What will happen in 6 months when the current flow of leads dries up?
  • How will you continue to make enough money to keep even your "reduced" company going?
  • How will you mitigate the inevitable drop in productivity and morale with the people you don't cut?
Sure - there's the herd mentality and things are clenched up at the moment. And, it very well be that there are cuts you could make (and SHOULD make). Just be sure that you're not throwing out the future of your company - and something you've worked very hard at (and invested your retirement in) for a number of years - over a short term panic in the marketplace.

Hopefully, the "sliver lining" in this economic mess is that we'll have stronger, smarter, healthier companies come out as a result of these difficult decisions and (sometimes brutal) cost cutting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apple's Recession Pricing

I tried - I really did. I wasn't going to blog about Apple today - but after I put out a "status update" on the social media sites that I wasn't going to blog - I got some Mac-type fans asking me to do so - so... here goes.

First of all - either Apple is unclenching a bit - or their security really sucks - because most of what they announced today was pre-announced by all the gadget sites last week (for a good view of the event today - check out Engadget's coverage).

They did a "refresh" of their entire laptop line - new MacBooks, new MacBook Pros, and a refresh of their 17 inch and 24 inch Cinema displays, and they're really, really proud of a new "unibody" construction process.

YAWN! There was one bright spot - they've replaced all the trackpad with a new, bigger, glass "touchpad" that is gesture-aware. This means that you can now give Apple "the finger" multiple times per day. But seriously, you can use 2, 3 or even 4 fingers to map gestures to common commands. And rather than having buttons to click - the hole trackpad is a button. I'm not sure how that will work with click and drag... but I have to assume they worked it out somehow.

They added a new NVIDIA graphics chip to increase graphics performance "...up to 6 times..." - and they knocked $100 off the low end MacBook.

Yeah, $100.

Everyone was hoping for $200 - to make the thing $899 - but I guess they really, really wanted that extra $100 per unit. It makes sense if you stock fell 40% in two weeks... but really - $100?

To be fair they knocked off $700 from the next-from-the-bottom MacBook - new price $1,299... but the one that people will actually want (with a bigger hard drive and backlit keyboard) is $1,599 - so, in reality, they only did a $200 cut there.

So, it's interesting. They've cut the price points a bit - but in my mind they should have cut them a bit more. If they could have hit the $899 level for the low end MacBook and then priced the next one at $1,199 and the "feature-packed" one at $1,499 - I think people would have just flocked to the stores.

It's only $100 per unit (and I don't know their costs on the thing - but I'm guessing they still have a pretty nice margin) - but the perception by consumers would finally be that Apple "gets it" when it comes to pricing.

As it is, at least they're consistent. They've trimmed a little bit of the price, but if you compare it to other hardware - and the new ultra-cheap "netbooks" - they're still in the elitist, don't-care-if-there's-a-recession, standard Apple pricing mode.

Which is good - if you're Apple.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's All About Productivity

Over the weekend I was continuing my thoughts about how companies are going to face the "interesting" economic times ahead. For sure they're going to reduce expenses and try to maintain or even boost sales - that much is obvious.

The other part of the equation, of course, is keeping on keeping on doing what they do. That takes an orchestrated effort of getting the most out of their people and processes. In order to do that - it will require that folks take a look at what they're doing - and being able to do it better and with more efficiency.

If you sum it all up into a single term - that means that everyone will want/need to be more productive. More productive, and therefore more efficient, in all aspects of their business. This means that the salespeople need to do better - but it also means that product development, customer service, support, marketing and all the other moving parts be enabled to do what they do - better, smarter and faster.

Then I came across an article in CIO Insight that talked about Business Process Improvement (BPI) - and it just confirmed my thoughts and gut instincts:

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Blue Stove" Pricing

Bob's Note: My wife posted a great piece on pricing today on her blog - and I thought it was so good that I've re-printed it here in it's entirety. For those of you who don't know her - Brenda has an MBA and has been doing marketing and consulting for years. This article was originally posted on Marketing FlyTraps just this morning:

How do you price things -- and keep your profit margins as plump as possible in a recession? I like to call my concept "Blue Stove" pricing.

Allow me to explain. Nordstorms - that upper crust store, aimed at selling shoes (and other stuff) to women, is smart enough to know that they need to feed us women while we shop. In the past, they have offered an excellent cafe or bistro within their stores - keeping us with in the store to eat, so we can shop again. It was convenient, had excellent food -- and while not as cheap as going outside the store -- it wasn't Soooo expensive that you were willing to drive somewhere else.

But now comes ... *dum - dum - dum* (cue the recession...) and women are watching their pennies (we want money to spend on shoes...not food).

So recently, Nordstroms introduced a "pairing" restaurant. Its called "Blue Stove". The restaurant literally has a blue stove. The "pairing" menu means they offer "little plates" of delicious food -- priced very reasonably (most are about $5* Actually, they are priced at the .95 cent mark -- this is called psychological price breaks...I'll write about that in my next blog...) and are meant to be shared. For example, a little plate of chopped veggie salad. A small platter of chicken wings - seasoned and cooked to perfection. They can be "paired" with a glass of wine - from very reasonable price ($6/glass) to more expensive($20/split of champagne).

So what, you are asking, does this have to do with pricing my software or my consulting services? Well -- in a recession, we ALL become nervous about our income. Our cash in the bank. We want a bargain, and we want to be conservative.

Your customers do too.

RIGHT NOW, you need to re-think your pricing. You need to do the following:
  1. Figure out what are the top 3 or 4 things your customers buy the most often.

  2. Assess how can you make the price as small as possible. (Chop out stuff, re-plate your offerings into "Tapas" or small plates!)

  3. Determine how you can you make it appear as "value" oriented as possible.

  4. Figure out what other things can you pair it with (e.g. - have the sales guys suggest the "chef" (the expert) says to get 2 or 3 plates and share, wine, dessert -- all these items also re-priced to recession "small bite" pricing...)

Nordstroms NEVER gives the impression that their new Blue Stove restaurant is "cheap" - but they DO reposition themselves (very elegantly, staying within their realm) as giving the customer quality, value, choice -- with the option to spend a "tiny" bit more (on the wine) or a dessert or one extra "small plate".

I bet every lady is spending (almost) the same amount on lunch -- but, boy. Do we feel smug -- having ordered lunch at only $4.95 (well... times 2, plus a small glass of wine, plus a dessert -- that we shared...). Actually, I bet we all spend exactly the same - but we don't feel as jittery about it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Google Goggles

So, I'm not sure where this great invention came from - but Google launched a new feature in Gmail called "Mail Goggles" that gives you the ability to make sure you REALLY want to send that email you wrote at 2:00am after your fifth shot of Jack Daniels.

Really, could I make this up? Here's a blog post of the guy that came up with it

Remember - Google allows their engineers to use 20% of their time for their own projects - anything that they want to pursue. Well, I guess this Mr. Perlow sent a few emails he regretted so... being a geek... he came up with a technological way to program common sense. Oh, I get it - "beer goggles for email" - brilliant!

I guess it was too much of a hassle to just hit "save" and not "send" then wait until the morning to review the email. Nah, that's too easy.

Jon's "big idea" is to make you do some simple math questions (that you have to get right) before the email will be sent. Ahhhh.... geeks with time on their hands!

I guess the thinking is that if you have to answer some math (or are sober enough) - that it will make you think twice before sending that potentially embarrassing or snarky email. In the Gmail "Settings" (upper right side) click on the "Labs" tab - and turn it on.

It will allow you to set a time range so any emails sent on between the times that you specify will all automatically have the safety blanket enabled. If you're a real hot head or a professional drunk - you can set it up so it will check the mails for you every day of the week - not just on Friday and Saturday nights.

Wow - how did I ever live without this?

I mean, it's a "cute" idea and all - and I'm sure someone, somewhere will find it useful and everything - but frankly, I would appreciate it if the engineers spent more time on stuff that actually matters to more than 8 people.

At a time when Google's stock is down more than 20% - one suggestion would be to actually ship one damn product and get 99% of their current products out of "beta."

Oh crap - I guess they don't have Goggles for Blogger yet... oops.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Focus On SaaS

I just got off the phone with world renowned analyst Amy Wohl - and she had some very interesting insights into where SaaS (Software as a Service) is headed in the enterprise world.

As part of the research for her new eBook about the SaaS trends and technology - she and her staff have talked to dozens of SaaS vendors and SaaS technology companies to get their take on where things are going.

PLUG: Check out her website: http://www.wohl.com for availability of the eBook - it should be coming out in the next couple of days (IBM has already bought several thousand copies to give to their customers).

Amy believes that the SaaS adoption rate will continue to climb - even beyond the numbers projected by other analysts like Gartner. She pointed out that in the enterprise - the choice for the adoption of a SaaS solution is driven by whomever has the budget - and not necessarily just about what "IT wants."

As a software entrepreneur that brings up the classic question: What are YOU doing about a SaaS strategy? Do you have one?

If you don't have a strategy - that that becomes your strategy. Not having a plan about what you're going to do about on-demand software is just plain bad business. Even if you decide that SaaS isn't somewhere that you want (or need) to go into - at least you have a plan and a strategy.

If you do decide you want (or need) to go into the on-demand marketplace - there are a lot of other considerations:
  • How much work will I need to do to my current application?
  • Do I even use my current application - or create a new one - just for SaaS delivery?
  • How will I host it - in the cloud (e.g. Amazon), at a service provider?
  • What about SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and guaranteed up time?
  • How am I going to charge for on-demand and still make money?
  • Can I just continue to charge my customers like I do now, and charge them an additional fee to host the app?
  • How am I going to market the new service?
  • Will I cannibalize my on-premises customer sales?
  • What do we think the adoption rate will be among current customers?
  • Should be consider making our application a "white label" product to sell to other providers (or competitors) as well?
  • ... etc., etc., etc.

There are no easy answers - but now's the time to take a good long look at where you're going with your business - and how you can maximize your strengths. It might even be a good time to branch out into other related services or industries with similar needs to the one you're currently serving.

The time to plan is now. The time to take action is now. The health and well-being of your business depends on it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Recession Pricing

Let's face it - times are getting tougher. If we're not in a full-blown recession now - we're on the brink of another nuclear winter - much like the dot com meltdown of 2000.

With credit being tight - and billions in market cap being wiped out by the minute - everyone immediately turns to the place where they perceive they can make the "easiest" cut - their prices. But this is a lazy, knee-jerk reaction at best - and at worst it could kill your business.

A couple of weeks ago Brenda Duncan wrote an interesting article about Pricing In A Recession. She makes my point exactly:
Pricing theory (and in real life!) states that the price of a good or service sends a message to the consumer - about the quality or value or a product. Think about it - do you want to be a “cheap date” or a good date?
Personally, I'd rather be a good date, than a cheap one - and I think my customers would, too (ok, so SOME of them may prefer a cheap date - but that's a subject for another posting). The key to pricing in a recession (or depression - depending on your bullsh*t meter) is the same as it is in good times - those that provide VALUE to the customer will get their business and their dollars. Those that don't, won't.

It's really not rocket science - but it IS a critical issue to every business owner (and consumer) out there. How you handle your pricing and the demonstration of the value that you provide are critical in times like these.

Now is not the time to be shy. If you have success stories (and you should), articles in the press (and you should), customer quotes (and you should) - now is the time to put them front and center in your marketing materials, email signatures and website.

You want to remind people of the value that you're providing - and the fact that your pricing justifies the value you provide. Then you have people who are also verifying that - and you have a much better case when it comes to the "...I love your product (or service) now if we could only do something about the price..." portion of the sales process.

Do yourself and your business a favor - and take a look at your pricing model(s) - and just verify that you're offering the best possible value for the money. If you are - you have a much better chance of survival. If you just keep going on a "business as usual" track - you may not be around to make adjustments later.

Monday, October 06, 2008

10 Ways To Just "Do It"

If ever there was a time to take the Nike slogan to heart - it's now. As I write this - the DOW tanked below 10,000 (9,525.32) for the first time since October 24, 2003 when it hit 9,497.72. That's AFTER a last-minute rally brought it back from another 800 point drop earlier in the day.

Needless to say - the financial markets are going to hell in a hand basket. And not just ours - now it looks like the Europeans are getting into the act as well. French BNP Paribas is going to buy 75% of Belgium's troubled Fortis after a Belgian government buyout didn't do anything to quell investor fears. In Germany (Europe's second largest economy) just struck a $69 billion deal yesterday for commercial lender Hypo Real Estate AG

So, what does that mean for the average Joe Sixpack ISV or Corporate Workgroup?

GET BUSY... NOW! As the budgets tighten and threats of losing customers and potentially weaker sales loom - what can you do today to ensure you're around tomorrow?

I've been thinking about it - and here's 10 things that I think business owners need to take a look at:

1) Reduce non-essential expenses.
OK, OK, so I get the"duh" award for this one - but it's the easiest place to cut expenses. Do you really NEED that new laptop right now? Do you HAVE to travel business class rather than coach on a 5 hour flight? Will your current phone system survive another 6 months?

2) Enhance your own revenue
Again, this falls under the "duh" column - but as the general economy gets tighter - think about how you can position your product or service in such a way that your value proposition is irresistible to your potential customers? Remember - everyone is in the same boat!

3) Enhance your customer's revenue
Are there ways that you can help your customers' bottom line? Can you implement a new system that makes them more efficient - or help them realize hard-cost savings? If you can help them either reduce their costs by making them more efficient - or you can help them add revenue to their top line - you will not only save a customer - but chances are you'll have a customer for life.

4) Help your customers who are in financial trouble
If you're in a position where you get timed payments from your customers - perhaps you can work with them to ensure you will actually get paid when their invoice comes due. Typically, people won't pay the "big ticket" invoices for as long as possible - trying to conserve their cash. However, if you contact those customers and work out a monthly payment schedule or some other way of creative financing - you'll help to boost your own cash flow - and help ensure that you keep a customer - long after this temporarily bad situation shakes out.

5) Do more with less
You need to ramp up your own productivity - and those of your employees. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to prioritize your activities - as I pointed out in Thursday's entry. Have a simple goal - either reducing expenses or raising revenue - and allow that to become the filter for your daily activities. Before you jump into 2 hours of answering emails - ask yourself what you could be doing to lower expenses or raise revenue. It will help you focus on the important issues and allow the "busy work" to take a back seat.

6) Do NOT cut advertising and marketing budgets
This is one of the classic "knee jerk" reactions in a tight market (ok, ok, a recession). The reason that cutting that nice, juicy advertising and marketing budget is a tempting target is because you're not tracking the results of your advertising. If you're tracking the results of your marketing efforts - then you don't have any idea on what is actually making you money and what is just costing you money. The key is not to cut out advertising and marketing - but cutting out the wasteful stuff that doesn't return any value to the company.

7) Take stock of your available resources
Are you making the most of what you've got? Are your team members all aligned on a single goal - or do they just care about their own department's metrics - and nothing else. When times get tight - employees can get jittery about their jobs. This makes them want to do either one of two things - either kick some serious ass and get results - or hide their head in the sand. As a business owner - take stock of all the human assets you have and make sure you're not wasting them. Give them a challenge and you'll be surprised to see how much they can accomplish - without you having to micro-manage. People are smart. They want to work. Give them a chance to shine.

8) Do NOT "slack" on your payments to vendors
This is the second biggest temptation after cutting the advertising and marketing budget. If you know you have some big, timed payments coming due - see if you can work with your vendors (in advance - not after the bill is due) - to see if you can apply some creative financing to what you owe. They will be glad to get in the cash flow - and you won't be faced with paying a huge amount all at once. Everyone will win - and this will allow them to pay their vendors in a timely way, and so on and so on.

9) Project where you want to be
Beyond just doing a triage on your business - this a terrific time to take stock and project in your mind and business plan where you want to be when the economy turns around (and it will turn around eventually). Try to get past the "hang on by our fingernails" portion of the program, and be mindful on how you can add value - and set yourself up for success. The way you conduct your business in down times really says a lot about a business. Make sure that what you say about your business will allow to come out of the other side even stronger and better than you are now.

10) Take action
Failing to take action - is taking action. Don't be a victim - take control of the situation the best you can and kick some butt. Unless your business is less than 4 years old - you've been through some tough economic times before. If you just sit there and do things "business as usual" - you might be around when the smoke clears. Have a plan, adjust it often based on what works, and keep moving. It's always hardest to hit a moving target...

Put on some rain gear, lash yourself to the main mast - and get ready to ride out the storm. The good news is - like all storms - this one will also pass. What shape will you and your business be in when it does? Will you be poised for greater success or will you still be playing catch-up?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Choosing A Dev Tool

I came across an eWEEK article "Armed & Ready" in the August 2008 issue - written by journalist Frank Ohlhorst - and found it to be very interesting.

The article talks about development tools - and how to choose them. He has a look at Servoy and Alpha 5 - as well as a look at customers who are using those tools in the SaaS businesses. One of the most striking things was an outline in a sidebar.

In the article Frank outlines the "7 Criteria For Choosing The Right Tool" - and it sounds like it was custom-designed to describe exactly what Servoy is although the context is from a developer who chose to go with Alpha 5. NOTE: The sections below in italics are my comments and they did not appear in the original article:

  1. Commonality: A single development model has to cover both desktop and web users, and support native RDBMS, SQL Server, MySQL and PDF reporting. They didn't mention Sybase, DB2, Oracle, PostgreSQL, etc. that Servoy supports - but hey, you get the idea.

  2. Speed of Development: The tool must have a professional IDE that reduces or eliminates the need for handwritten code. Eclipse is the most-used IDE on the plant - and code samples allow you to get fully working code in a single click.

  3. Performance: The tool has to be on par with desktop-only applications. Of course performance is important - but so is scalability. Any product is "fast" with a single user!

  4. Ease of use: Language tools are intuitive and allow faster development than Visual Basic, PHP or others. Yes - especially these days. You want your tool to be more productive, and not less productive. That's why we've done a direct comparison between Servoy and .NET.

  5. Versatility: There is complete end-user customization of forms, field rules (via XML) and styles (via CSS). In Servoy you can also extend and integrate the environment itself via Java.

  6. Integrity: All processing is centralized There would be no client/server or thick client updates. We totally agree - that's why Servoy's Web Client processing is all done on the server side - maximum performance, maximum security, maximum concurrency.

  7. Functionality: Extensive use of standard library functions cover just about anything, including instance XML DOM manipulation, instead of having to use third-party libraries or extensive custom development. Servoy has it - CHECK!

While I was reading the quotes from the developers using Alpha 5, I could have SWORN they were talking about Servoy! So, I had to check it out for myself.

I went up to the Alpha 5 site and checked out their video library. After watching about a dozen or so movies - I couldn't help but come away with a some thoughts:

  1. Dialog boxes... sorry Wizards... sorry "Genies"... are nice - the first time you do something - but I would absolutely stick a pencil in my eye if I had to go through that many dialogs every time I wanted to do anything;

  2. They have some "interesting ways" of doing common tasks (some good and some awful);

  3. If the dialogs are going to just generate code on the back end - then just generate code. Don't try to create dialog boxes that have every single possible permutation of things that you can do in two lines of code with parameters;

  4. You still have a proprietary DATABASE? WTF? This is 2008!

  5. "Active Link Tables" - or copying the schema of a SQL table in your own proprietary database and then doing "silent" SQL calls (a la FileMaker 9) seems like MUCH more work, setup and maintenance than just acting directly against the table or view;

  6. Ummm... got a Mac or Linux or Solaris version? Anybody?

Ah well, that's just my opinion. I'm sure that if you've used it for years that you're used to the complex interface and the literally hundreds of options, links, states, modes, control panels, and all the other stuff that they've put in there to try to make it more approachable.

I guess if you're going up against developers who are using other kinds of desktop databases - then that might be a good approach.

The bottom line is - use the right tool for the job - and use one that will help you be MORE productive, accomplish more in less lines of code, have a single development paradigm for both web and client/server apps - and one that is based on open standards and links to any (and every) standard SQL database on the planet.

Ummm.... that would be Servoy, in case you missed the reference...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Do More With Less

There's a big temptation when you're creating a software product: work harder. Do more. More marketing, more features, more platform support, more blogging, more money raising... just MORE.

But you can actually do less - and get more done.

Whether your a one-person-band or part of a small start up - you will have to wear... well... 47 hats! That much is a given. However, if you can apply a filter to your activities - you'll find that you're actually able to accomplish more - while doing less work.

Let me explain. Let's say that you're working on the next great "it" and you're working on your own, and you've decided to bootstrap it until things get rolling. As we all know - there are 101 things that need your attention and that must be done in order for you to get that first, all-important sales dollar.

If you're like me - you find yourself pulled in all directions all the time. Between getting the actual product coded there are manuals to write, a website to create, graphics, promotions, Google Ads, blogging, order fulfillment, technical support, marketing, advertising, forums to post to, social media to keep up with - not to mention your social life and family time.

The key to accomplishing more by doing less - is actually very simple. You need to ask yourself a single question before you start down a particular task: "How much revenue will this generate for me?" If you begin to apply that filter to your list of activities - you'll find yourself changing what you do, and the order and importance of your daily tasks.

Now, I'm not really a big "list" guy. I don't have a compulsive need to write detailed lists and get them "checked off." But, I will say - if you ask yourself that (potentially) million dollar question "How much revenue will this generate for me" - you'll be more focused on what you do, and will be able to make measurable progress toward your goal.

Come up with an outline list of all the things you need to do to make that first sale. For example:

1) Product Development

  • Debug login section
  • Add paging feature
  • Get latest URL to outside testers
  • Investigate iPhone version
  • Investigate Blackberry version

2) Product Marketing

  • Finish website
  • Add page for ordering
  • Add comment page for support
  • Fill out the "about us" section
  • Make a version for mobile devices
  • Link blog to main site
  • Add blog entries
  • Post to forums to raise awareness
  • Take out banner ad on xyz.com
  • Make PDF brochure
  • Write "intro" email
  • Update social media with blog entries

Of course your list will be more comprehensive - this is only a guide. But in taking a look at all the stuff that "needs to be done" - ask your question: "How much revenue will this generate for me?"

If you put each task through that filter - you may decide that getting the mobile version stuff can come out in 1.x. You can also see that getting your site where people can actually buy something directly relates where tasks like "fill out the about us section", while important, can wait until you get the basics done.

Once you've put all your items through the filter - it may wind up looking something like this:

A) Product Launch TO DO:

1) Product Development

  • Debug login section
  • Add paging feature
  • Get latest URL to outside testers (by Monday)

2) Product Marketing

  • Finish website
  • Add page for ordering
  • Write "intro" email

B) Directly After Launch:

1) Product Marketing

  • Finish website
  • Add comment page for support
  • Fill out the "about us" section
  • Link blog to main site
  • Post to forums to raise awareness
  • Make PDF brochure
  • Write "intro" email

C) 1.x Enhancements

1) Product Development

  • Investigate iPhone version
  • Investigate Blackberry version

2) Product Marketing

  • Finish website
  • Make a version for mobile devices
  • Take out banner ad on xyz.com

D) On-going tasks:

1) Product Marketing

  • Add blog entry (1x per week - Wednesday afternoon)
  • Update social media with blog entries
  • Post to forums to raise awareness (2x per week - Wednesday & Friday afternoon)

You still will accomplish everything on your list - but what you wind up with is a prioritized list of just the stuff you need to do in order to answer the question "How much revenue will this generate for me?" Everything else, no matter how "fun" or "interesting" needs to be put on hold until the appropriate time.

That's the only part that really sucks. Sometimes you have to do the "gotta' do" rather than the "like to do." But, in the end, you're the only one that can determine how much revenue your actions will generate for you.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Way Back Machine

As part of its 10th anniversary - Google has brought back the web... to 2001. They have put live the oldest copy of the index they have - a snapshot of the web in 2001.

A lot has changed since then - but one thing hasn't - this blog.

That's right - if you go to the Google 2001 site - and search for Bob Cusick - you'll see that the second entry is from a Bob's World back in 1997. Unfortunately, the link doesn't exist - so I went back through this morning and tried to find an old archive.

(Bob doing his best Dr. Evil Impression): Then I realized that back then my "column" (the term "blog" didn't exist) was actually in a database being served up live with "dynamic" pages. A big concept back then.

It was actually in a FileMaker database using a new "CGI" (Common Gateway Interface) called "Lasso." The site was called ClickWorld and it catered to the FileMaker Pro community. The site was a collaboration between myself (database and CGI programming), Jason Fried (graphic designer extraordinaire and founder of 37 Signals [you know - BaseCamp, CampFire, Ruby on Rails])... and... and... and I'm sorry, but I don't remember the 3rd guy's name - but he was a co-founder of one of the first "ISPs" (Internet Service Providers).

We had a fully dynamic site that users could register for (23,000+) and they could customize their view of the data; we had "loyalty points" that could be redeemed for consulting services, software and other goodies; we had guest blogs and articles; a basic search engine for our knowledge base - basically it was a more crude version of Facebook meets Engadget meets iGoogle.

Good times... good times.

So I went back to my oldest archives to see if I had actually kept anything from back then (first I had to find my oldest archives!). That was many, many machines ago - so I knew the chances of actually finding stuff would be bleak, at best.

Well, I managed to find a really old text file - an export of SOME of the old Bob's World Articles - circa 1997-2001 (it seems that 2001-2006 are missing). I fired up Servoy and did a quick import to see what was there. In looking back through that stuff... AAAAHHH! It's like reading an old high school yearbook.

Here's the actual picture I used back then on the site:

It was interesting - because some things never change - and other things have. I was totally cringing at some of those posts - let's just say I was wwaaaaayyyyy into Apple and FileMaker Pro at the time. I did have to clean up some of the HTML (I was writing raw HTML in BBEdit on my Mac at the time) - but other than that I've left them 100% unedited.

So, to celebrate my 10 years of blog... er... "columns" - I've published them in their original form - dated on their original dates. Look on the side bar for the year.

WARNING: Best viewed with bell bottoms and a lava lamp...
Web Analytics