Challenges Lessons

When should you break everything to fix something

I am in the middle of much thought regarding communication between multiple servers, some production, some development and some on customer’s premises that are fire walled from the world. Getting all of these to talk properly is getting very tumultuous and causing lots of necessity to tear things apart and start over.

So, that go me wondering when is a good time to tear down the walls and start over (using what we have learned from the past to speed construction and build a better foundation for the future of course). My current issue is programming of software, but I have run into it with business processes, employees and even constructing several buildings over the years. It is a question that actually has a time and place in most every decision.

One of the trickiest things is to even notice that parts of our “building” are getting rickety because there are pieces nailed onto other pieces that were nailed onto pieces before it. In the case of houses and office buildings, that is a little more obvious, but not so much with intellectual issues. That being said, I have seen some contractors try to hide lots of things behind the sheet rock. Sometimes the best way to see the band-aids is to have an outsider take a peek (when working with a contractor, you are typically the outsider).

Once you have identified that something is getting cobbled together, you have to identify whether it is safe to keep it as it is (or safe to add to it). Safety can be defined in terms of future costs, revenue, capacity, morale or actual personal safety (among other things). If this is putting you in a dangerous future situation, you need to correct it immediately.

If it is “safe” to keep it as is, you may decide that it is not aesthetically pleasing. This could relate to how it looks to yourself, your staff, your customers or potential investors of your “house”. If you decide that it could “look” better, then you need to decide if now is the time to do it. I often look at the amount of time already being spent on it compared to the time to fix it right. If it is not more than double, I make the extra effort to rebuild it. Typically rebuilding the component from scratch makes the needed repair much quicker, so it costs a lot less than doing the steps separately.

If you decide that it is time to rebuild, then you need to come up with a plan tear out all the bandages and start over on that piece. Of course you need to plan for it to be massively torn apart for the time (perhaps go to a hotel or if rebuilding your stairs, put up a ladder on the outside of the house to get to the second floor). You also need to plan for contingencies to handle customer issues that come up in the meanwhile. The most important part is to come up with a plan to test all affected areas before you start. Following those steps will help to keep your remodel job a lot more manageable.

Challenges Marketing

Now is the perfect time to partner!

Partnerships are a way to expand your current offerings into new areas that support your core sales. Interestingly, with the tougher economy, most companies are quite open to creative approaches to working together.

Of course giving a piece of your business away often seems questionable in good times, much less bad. The tricky part is the cost of doing it yourself – and the potential for lower sales than you need to support a new product or service. Worse still, there is the risk of unhappy customers due to high cost, less than perfect implementation and slow turnaround. These can easily jeopardize your business relationship with them.

Of course you can never offer a product or service that your customer’s are requesting, but then you are forcing them to look for another vendor — a vendor that will probably try to undermine your relationship and take the rest of the business.

To me, it seems that the best option is to partner with a product or service provider that has the ability to deliver the system as specified — and as part of the relationship, you each agree that you won’t come after the rest of each others business. You each focus on your strengths, and are able to exchange customer leads back and forth as they come in.

So, if you are thinking about how you can refresh your business and give your customers another reason to buy from you, this may be a good time to step back and assess what your strengths truly are. Then, determine if the most efficient and cost-effective way to satisfy your customers is to continue to develop needed skills in-house, or expand or enter new markets through partnerships. With the slowdown of business today, it’s time well spent that can add more to the bottom line in a shrinking market and broaden your horizons when businesses loosen their purse strings.

Challenges Marketing

When is “Free” not good enough

The economy is taking it’s toll on all of us, and it is interesting how it impacts people’s thinking. Digital signage is one of those areas that actually makes money for a company that uses it. Our prices are low compared to most of our competition, yet I feel that in this economy, it would be good to help people out with a free digital signage software product.

I have been talking with several people about free or low cost products to have people talk about it and create a buzz. Since software has it’s cost on the front-end while it is getting developed and very little once it is completed, there is some flexibility. Of course a company cannot stay in business for long without some revenue stream. We would create a lower end version that offers enough functionality to have positive reviews, and limit some of the high end features that we offer to get revenue from the larger corporate accounts.

We have experimented a little with this. We offer a free 30 day demo that is initially setup in 5 simple steps. From there, it can be further customized and fully run for the trial period. This obviously is good to get a feel, but not good enough to create a buzz. We also have offered a free product for some companies that are on the edge of closing their doors to try to get their revenues up with the great advertising that digital signage can do. Some have taken part, but many do not. I suspect that everyone is so overworked and overwhelmed that something outside of their core business is just not something they want to deal with.

I was told to get the book “Free” by Chris Anderson. I have not started it yet, but I will report later on what I discover from the book. I hope that it offers insights into how, when and what approach helps gain a large customer base that also offers some revenue opportunities. If anyone reading this has insights into this subject, please let us know.


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!

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.

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.

Challenges Lessons

Is volunteering ever bad?

I had a request by my wife yesterday to help a friend’s parents out with a handicap accessible ramp for their house. I had just enjoyed the morning being at the department of motor vehicles to see if my daughter passed her driver’s test (she did – Yeah!). I knew that if I did this, I would be leaving my customers up in the air until Monday. I told my wife that if I did this, I would need to work over the weekend to finish up some time critical issues. I decided to do the project, and it was completed in 6 hours. They were thrilled with the results, and I only had a couple calls that were able to wait.

There are always options in life. Do you ever wonder which ones to take? Do you ever wonder how many options we are missing? I know that this time, I was pleased with the results of an impromptu volunteer project. I guess that will help me decide in the future too. The work always seems to be there, doesn’t it.


My views on competitors

My view on competitors is kind of weird. A competitor is anyone who works against you. As for people working against you, that is great! That means you are in a market that is interesting to other people. Whenever I identify a new competitor, I take a moment to relish the thought that someone is interested, and then put my personal focus back towards moving forward with sales, and let the competition trail behind me.

I have discovered that when I focus on what other people are doing, my time is not spent moving forward, and as a result, our progress does not move forward. Its like trying to drive my car forward, looking behind me like I am backing up. Who knows where the car will go, but probably not where I want it to. I have had many occasions in the past where I could have sued someone for “wronging” me. I usually didn’t go after them because it would have diverted my focus into a defensive position. Even in a large company, that slows future growth. When I am the main person doing the work, it stops it. Focusing on the offensive position may not give me the short term satisfaction by getting a wrong-doer, but I’ve found the life will take care of them one way or another because they do wrong to most everyone.

Being a technical guy, I don’t like sales. I’ve been learning that I have to be on the phone with customers to make sales and move forward. Although I have a hard time staying on that not-so-nice task, it needs to be done. My advice is forget about people doing little nasty’s and give them a real reason to come after you by making loads of sales.