A low cost printing option

We just had a need to print some office material, and I decided to try It was an excellent experience and very good pricing. We had pre-done artwork (which many of the online printing companies do not easily handle). They also help you with designs if you do not already have something ready. All in all, a good experience.


The future of digital signage screens

Although it has been around for almost 10 years, Digital Signage is still in the early stages of it’s evolution. It has only started getting involved in integration and standardization, which is typically the beginning of explosive growth. That combined with the poor economy, the changes in how “customers” receive their information and the poor performance of traditional marketing mediums will help fuel the growth – especially during the economic recovery in late 2010 or early 2011.

One are of evolution is the screens that are used to display the digital signage content. Since digital signage is a computer based technology, there needs to be some sort of computer processor in all digital signage systems. How it is packaged is another question though.

Traditionally, the screens have been flat LCD screens using existing cable tv wiring for hotels and theme parks or a direct connection to the VGA or DVI port of a computer. The prices of screens with embedded pc’s is coming down, so they will remove the need for a separate pc to drive the content, but tend to have lower processing power. There are also small pc’s that can fit to the back of the screen. They too are short on power. As processing power continues to improve, prices drop, and more Linux based signage systems go online, these shortcomings will soon be gone too.

The future holds amazing things for digital signage. With 3D movies and commercials being produced, it is only a matter of time before 3D becomes a standard feature of digital signage software. Although tricky to get through local government reles and regulations, digital billboards will become more commonplace. And of course everyone’s cell phone will become a mobile billboard with great money saving coupons sent to you right as you shop. It will probably even be tied to the Internet shopping portals immediately as you browse the product offerings.

After being in this industry for over 6 years, and in the software industry for more than 20, I eagerly await the exciting changes that we will see in the next few years. I am sure they will be revolutionary (again).

Lessons Marketing

Investments in Marketing

We recently advertised with USA Today after being covered in one of their editorials. Typically, we do not advertise in print medium, but this seemed like a worthwhile experiment since it was reinforcing the article.

Over the years, I have seen “what works” for marketing change dramatically. Twenty years ago, print media and trade shows were the best way to spend marketing dollars. The best (and perhaps only) electronic marketing was the fax and self-managed bulletin board system. We also saw great benefits in public relations efforts – which indirectly reaches most marketing mediums if done well.

As you know, electronic mediums (particularly through the Internet) are the way to go now. Most everyone is involved with computers and the Internet to some degree. Face to face communication has been supplanted by this medium often times too. Brick and mortar businesses have lost much of their foothold over virtual ones. The mail has been replaced first emails and next by tweets. Print marketing (including magazines and newspapers) have lost much of their impact that they once held. Even television has been impacted with DVR’s that let people watch what they want when they want – and skip the commercials. With the cost of travel (dollars, time and frustration), trade shows are attended by fewer busy buyers.

Obviously, the web site is an important part of marketing in today’s world. Unfortunately, you need to create your own traffic, which relies on new and old marketing mediums. Digital signage is probably one of the biggest potentials to leverage your existing marketing collateral to motivate your staff and communicate to your customers (in house and on your web site). I still believe in the public relations route since it can be seen as someone else talking about the product – which helps to build trust in the product, brand and company. When focused, trade shows are good to expand into a new market. It helps to get the “buzz” out about a new product. When combined with an article, I will let you know if an ad works. Taking time to be involved in your market (in non-promotional ways) is probably the best way to build traffic. Create (and update) a blog. Answer questions on industry forums. Offer your knowledge as white papers. Tweet about relevant topics. And of course, don’t plan on immediate results – unless you pay millions for it.


How Valuable are Patents

I have just heard that our first patent has been filed (not sure what that means yet). I had started the process for several countries in my previous company, and it never completed prior to me selling the company.

This one was first submitted when I started in the beginning of 2006 which means that it took most of 4 years to get to where it is now (my lawyer told me I can talk about it now). The process is amazing to me. There is most of a week worth of work to get the idea put together to communicate to the patent attorney. He then goes off for several months and writes the draft. Then you have to read the 20 to 30 pages of legalese (and try to stay awake and attentive). A couple rounds of revisions, then if goes to the black hole for several years. Eventually you hear back that everything is thrown out – and that they totally missed the point of the differences that you and the lawyer had worked out. A few more responses into the muddy hole (3 month response instead of years) and you finally get somewhere.

So once the patent is granted, then what? We have strategies of our own to execute, but I would love to hear from anyone who has gone through the patent process. I am in new territory and would love some advice!

Lessons Marketing

Keeping Customers Happy

Do you ever wonder if you do too much for some customers? I sometimes do. We are a company that responds quickly to most every customer issue and request. It does give us a reputation of a great company to work with. Unfortunately, most of the time, this additional work does not create additional revenue and it also pushes back our revenue generating projects.

Thankfully, I have been running software companies where the customer (and employee) is the focus for almost 20 years. I know that going the extra distance with customers and employees not only keeps them happier, but also builds tremendous loyalty. There are many times when the things that we are doing for customers are actually problems that our development team has mistakenly created. If we were unresponsive, they would leave our product and go to another. There are other times when the requests enhance our product for the future. Even though the timing is not exactly as we had planned, the new feature usually helps close sales with new customers.

All in all, it appears that keeping people happy by being responsive to them has long term benefits that are not obvious in the short term. So if you have the option to help someone out, go ahead and take the time to do it.

Challenges Lessons

Get R Done

Most of us have probably heard the cable guy with his infamous “get r done” phrase. There are lots of times when I have lots of things to do, but would rather put in a movie and vedge out. Although there are times to do that, there are also times to make time to get projects that are on our minds done.

I didn’t do a post last week because I was busy working on getting my accounting completed and put together for the year for tax preparation. In the middle of that, I had to rebuild my desktop (windows blue screen is so fun). The week before that, I rebuilt a server that was causing problems. All in all, I am starting the week off with a much better attitude since those nagging projects are done.

If anyone is like me, having too many projects actually slows me down on all my projects. If you find yourself in that position, make the time to knock off one or two of the big ones before you sit down to the television set.


Get to know an old person…

First off, happy new year to everyone.

I usually enjoy visiting with everyone young and old. I was reminded yesterday of the monstrous benefits (and fun) you can get by visiting with older people (in particular retired people). I just spent yesterday with one of my older uncles (and I’m pushing the “old” category myself now). I wanted to get a piece of equipment that this uncle had a lot of experience in, so I asked him to go shopping with me.

He jumped at the chance and we had wonderful conversations and I could tell that he was thrilled to have something else to do (and of course spending someone else’s money is always nice too). It is amazing how many life lessons that he had learned were shared – and they just popped up in conversation which I accept much better than getting preached at. The best part was the fun that I could see on his face the entire time and the big hug at the end of the day.

I have learned so much from retired people during my career as a business person. I love that they share so much of themselves with no expectations and no concern that someone will overtake them on the career ladder. I would recommend that you add a monthly goal call to an older person for an hour long visit (or better yet, see them personally). You wont even notice your own growth, but you will notice their smiles!

Happy Hew Year!


Risk, Care, Dream, Expect

Last night I gave the commencement speech for the Fall 2009 graduates at Chippewa Valley Technical College. The thoughts I shared with them are applicable to everyone. It revolved around a quote from Claude Bissel.

RISK – More than others think is safe
CARE – More than others think is wise
DREAM – More than others think is practical
EXPECT – More than others think is possible

By getting out of your comfort zone a little bit, it helps you grow personally and professionally. Each time you do that, it does two things for your life.

  • First, it helps you notice your life more as you “feel” the discomfort (last night it was the butterflies in my stomach).
  • Second, it helps you realize that the task can be done – which help you to expand your comfort zone and grow your abilities. You will probably do fine. You may mess up. In either case, it expands what you have learned before.

If you risk more than others think is safe, you experience growth, you will become more valuable to your employer, may get bigger raises and promotions and may even choose to do like me and become your own boss. Remember that it is also a risk to ask for help when you need it – and critical to a successful future.

Care – more than others think is wise
More than anything else, the time spent with people that you care about that will matter to you when you are sitting in your retirement easy chair. It is not the day-to-day successes that matter in the end, but rather the quality of the relationships you share with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers that will define how happy you are with your life. As you take your life journey, take the time to nurture the relationships in your life.

Dream – More than others think is practical
When I started my first company, I dreamed of selling our product around the world with millions in sales. I turned those dreams into goals for my business plan. The experts who reviewed the plan figured the goals were “pie in the sky”, and unattainable. The reality was that all of my goals were surpassed with partners around the world, and I believe it was by having a big goal to reach for that I found success.
Life will consistently offer you small opportunities to take if you want to. Each opportunity that you take builds on your previous experiences. Having big dreams helps you to see the opportunities that may fit with your goals. Remember to take a risk when you see them come along.

Expect – more than others think is possible
In my case, my dreams became expectations by writing them down as goals, both professional and personal.
If you take a few minutes to write down some things that you expect to see in 5, 10 and 20 years and look at it once a month, you will be amazed at how fast you will get there.


Take time to watch the clouds

Life seems to be getting faster paced than ever before. Technology is advancing at an amazing rate which is pulling each of us to do the same. The economy is unsettling which causes us to work even harder. Breaks are shorter, days are longer and weekends are full. For those around the younger generation, technology has shaped them to multi-task and their social network is largely online.

Amidst all of this chaos, I was reminded again to take time to smell the roses (except I prefer to watch clouds as they evolve from shape to shape). Yesterday I was at a funeral of my wife’s aunt. At first it was difficult for me to take time off during the middle of the week. Although it was a somber occasion, it was great to be reminded to live life to the fullest, rekindle relationships, and that life is fragile.

Now that I am back, I am more productive than I have been in a week. It is good to be reminded to take a break now and again.

Challenges Lessons

Do you ever wonder how to get ahead

Today I’m in the middle of a month long major rewrite of our player software – and it is fighting me – and almost winning. I am writing about my philosophy so that I can have a marvelous day enjoying the challenge instead of the non-productive dread that I feel now… To get ahead, I think that it is mostly about your responses and perception to life’s little “opportunities”.

Every person in the world is different in many ways. I believe that every person – no matter their differences – has the ability to make their life wonderful, so-so, gruesome or somewhere in between. So many people that I talk to (and I must admit I go down this road sometimes) think that life is putting us in the position we are in. If you can remember that It is all in the choices you make every day.

I have the choice to look at complex coding as a major struggle that fights me for days to get it right or I can look at it as challenging way to enhance our product for better support for our many customers. I can look at my weekly post as something I don’t have time for this morning, or I can write about something that will improve my perception of life today (and positively impact my employees and family in the process).

Remember that your daily choices are many. You have the choice to see on an opportunity that crosses your path. Every day brings hundreds of opportunities for you to get ahead and enjoy life. You have the choice to take action on one or several of these opportunities. You have a choice to have future goals written down that help decide the opportunities to take. Once you start down a path, you have the choice to continue or not. You also are able to see the best or the worst parts of the path. Obviously focusing on the best parts gives you a more productive and better day – getting you ahead of the alternative. I believe that if the bad parts continue to overshadow the good, you should get out of it – at least temporarily. If it continues to make you unhappy, it is time to stop going down the path – no matter what the short term cost. Being miserable is your choice, and is definitely putting you way behind in all areas of your life for the short and long term.

So, to get ahead in life, you need to “see” your life with rose colored glasses and enjoy it. With that, you will be rewarded by heading down the path towards your life goal. Without it, your life may head below the so-so category.