We Now Offer TOTALLY Free Digital Signage

After much research on Free, and much work to offer a great product without the need for a lot of support, we are pleased to announce the Summer of Digital Signage Giveaway program under which we are offering a free digital signage subscription for one year to anyone..

The promotion runs through August 31, 2010. To get your own free subscription, simply complete a test drive from the StrandVision Digital Signage web site at, fill in “SDS-SV” as the promotion code and begin your personalized digital signage displays. If you are seeing this message on a computer, then you have everything you need. You can be up and running in just a few minutes. We also send you tips over the first couple weeks to help you know where and how to install your screen, tips on good signage and even how to make money from your free subscription by sharing the news (and sharing the free subscriptions with others).

The Summer of Digital Signage program is designed to introduce companies, non-profit organizations, schools and government agencies to the benefits of digital signage. It offers you the opportunity to create your own custom digital signage content and have it delivered over the Internet directly through an existing personal computer to your existing display monitor or television.

For a quick overview of free digital signage and how it can add to your communications mix, visit

The StrandVision Summer of Digital Signage package is a full-featured digital signage system that allows you to incorporate your own photos and graphics into your digital signage display. Several advanced features are also provided including scheduling, scrolling text, a graphics library, time and date notices, as well as local weather and Radar. The digital signage can also be displayed in a frame on your own Websites.

We decided to give the full boat for free – no hidden fees, no gimmicks. We don’t even ask for a credit card. We see the Summer of Digital Signage as an opportunity to introduce and educate everyone to the potential of digital signage. We also think that, as the economy begins to improve, we can help you increase your business by giving you another powerful promotional tool. We’re confident that once you see the potential of StrandVision digital signage, you’ll want to make it a permanent part of your communications mix.

StrandVision provides the digital signage service through participant-provided Internet connections, Windows PC computers and displays. The promotion runs until 5:00 PM Central on August 31, 2010. Summer of Digital Signage subscriptions are valid for one year from the signup date, providing participants meet minimum usage standards. See for details.


Starting a business – a couple of links

I was going through old emails and came across this one from my accountant. It has valuable information that I thought would be good to share.

LLC or Other Form of Entity:

I would definitely consider forming an LLC. You could contact an attorney if you wish but many people having been setting them up on their own using the following web-site . It does cost a few bucks so you need to evaluate whether the cost is worth the liability protection depending on how many sales you will have.

If this thing really takes off and you want to (you would not have to) change to a corporate form of business in a few years, it is very easy to do with an LLC. Also, an LLC would not complicate your tax situation. LLC’s with single owners are considered “disregarded entities”, a technical firm that means that the IRS treats you as if the LLC didn’t exist.

Income Taxes (Yuck):

As to deducting expenses – keep track of what you’re spending. You would definitely want to offset your sales with expenses as much as possible. If the expenses exceed sales result in a loss, we can make a call on whether it makes sense to deduct the loss.

Sales Taxes (Mega Yuck):

Don’t forget about the state sales tax permit for in-state sales. You can apply for the Wisconsin one at


Our patent is issued!

After lots of years and dollars, our patent was issued. Being my first completed patent, I’m kind-of new to all this and all the benefits.

The patent is really quite broad which is quite amazing to have it through. The patent covers displayed content of digital signage at distant locations that is at least partially controlled by a processor and database at a central location. The processing system collects, samples and evaluates general information to determine what specific information should be displayed on local signage. The system also provides for additional signage content to be selected by the server based on general parameters setup by the user.

Almost 5 years ago when I applied for the patent, we were one of the few SAAS providers and I have always believed in the technology (even though SAAS was seen as a disadvantage back then). Also, patents are an asset for the business. So, we decided to pursue it.

As for our plans, I am not sure of all the avenues that are available to us. Obviously licensing arrangements are beneficial to everyone involved. Reviewing competitive products to determine infringement is also an option. We also have plans relating to future products and features which the patent has provisions for.

For more information, check out


More about free products…

After reading lots of information regarding how free can earn revenue, it definitely came to light that you have to be careful with it. Obviously it can forever diminish the value of a product.

One key point that I gleaned were that it is important to find ways that people will WANT to pay a little extra. Another is that it needs to be valuable enough to not only get people to take the time to select your free product, but it is best if they tell their friends and associates about it.

One valuable thing for people is to save their time, so upgrades should include some time saving features. Another way to make paid for products valuable is to offer free support for them and keep free product support limited to automated methods. The best thing is to have supplemental products that make the setup easier. In our case, we are considering offering a free digital signage software product, and we will have a pre-configured set of hardware that makes the installation quick and easy.

Getting people to talk about it is a tricky area. There not only needs to be a good reason to talk about the free product, but it is beneficial if they can make money, recognition or some other value for them to talk about it. Getting the word out to existing customers is a starting place. Advertising can be beneficial to get the buzz started. Using the social networking mediums can do some, but again, it is better to have hundreds (or better still millions) of people using those mediums rather than you. The key is to add value to everyone who “gives’ your product away. We think we have got an interesting approach – but that is confidential until the day we announce it…

More to come I suspect! Have a great Easter everyone.

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.


Digital Signage Expo Review

First off, thanks to everyone who took the time to meet with me. This is an update of what was discovered at the Digital Signage Expo show in Las Vegas last week.

One of the first things that I learned is that the Digital Signage industry is definitely an early market. The Digital Signage Association is pushing to get their own trade show and stand on their own financial feet. At the same time, the Digital Signage Federation is trying to start a new user group. First off, it tells me that there is getting to be a lot more interest in Digital Signage. Secondly, my past experience in other industries tells me that if both try to go forward, both may die an unfortunate and untimely death.

I feel the same for digital signage shows. Exhibitors (the people paying for the show) want to see a return on their investment. Yes, we do like to see some of our money go into growing the industry (this is the strategy for the DSA group), but we need qualified attendees. Too many shows just dilutes the user group so that again, all shows have trouble. I would like to see consolidation to one organization and one major show. Of course I have little say on the matter!

Other than growing the business, we had a focus to learn about options for a dedicated linux based player PC that mounts to the back of screens. There are several options that we are researching and hope to announce this new product offering soon.

We also focused a lot on discovering available content to help our customers even more. We have begun the process of content partnership with several companies for animated images / backgrounds, safety information for employee communication and general news, sports, trivia that is licensed and presented in interesting ways. Again, we hope to announce the integration with these companies soon.

I used to go to Vegas for trade shows over 20 years ago. Vegas has changed dramatically – especially the prices. It used to be a great place to get away for a few days. It has definitely become a tourist trap that in my case, makes me want to stay away even more….


Patent Lessons

I just had a question about the whether pieces of a software product can be patented. Here is my reply….

You can patent just about anything if you pay the money and wait the time. We actually got our first patent almost through (where I can talk about it). We had applied for one with StrandWare, but brady let it fall through because it took so long.

What I have learned about patents….

1) expect to pay over $30k to get it through the process – start to finish. I talked to one president who is over $100k already on his, and it is not even submitted yet.

2) It will take 3 to 5 years to get it through the process. So expect no return until after that.

3) Once you get the patent, it really means nothing unless you pay more money to defend it. (again, the laywers get rich).

4) You can use the patent to get “reasonable” royalties from competitors if you take the right steps.

5) There is always a way around the patent which makes all your legal work to defend or get royalties worthless.

So, if you have a quarter million to throw away towards the goal, the technology wont change too much in 5 years, and the potential return is worth at least that much, go for it. Otherwise, you may want to think a second and third time about it.


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.

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.

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.