Skedsheet Blog

Where we talk about the product, calendars, organization, and business

Archive for May 2009

Specials, deals, and other tricky stuff

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I saw a funny YouTube ad for a software company running a special, and after I got over the laughing, it made me think about the fact that we haven’t done any sort of special deals, tradeshow specials, or negotiate on our pricing… for a really long time.

Our first two customers got smoking hot deals on our software – because we needed real customers and testimonials, it was worth nearly giving away our software to make sure we had something that could become a product. 

After that, we did a tradeshow special at the first show we attended, where we offered a generous discount (something like 25%, if I remember right) if people bought at the show or shortly after.  It was good to give folks an extra incentive to take a chance on a nearly unproven company and scheduling solution.

But, after that, we stopped doing the specials and deals.  Why?  There was a cost to doing discounts.

  1. We want our company to be an open book.  Discounts and deals lead to a sense that you’ve got an adversarial and sometimes underhanded relationship with your customers.  Just go buy a car sometime.
  2. Our customers are happiest when they buy software on their timeframe.  If we try to hustle people into buying before they’re ready, they end up with shelfware – software that just sits on the shelf.
  3. I’m not a good negotiator.  I’m generally a pushover. If I think too hard about people’s reasons for wanting a bargain, I’d probably end up giving away our software.
  4. Eventually, word gets out that you’re creating a false sense of urgency.  We’ve seen companies who offer discounts on a limited-time basis, but it seems that they’ve got to keep doing the specials at every opportunity.  At some point, they’re constantly having a “50% off sale”.

There are legitimate reasons to give discounts early on – if you’re just starting, or trying to prove your concept, your first few customers are most likely going to be beta testers.  But we’re really glad we weaned ourselves from the discount addiction as soon as possible.  We could have probably made more money in the short term, but long term I’m sure it would have hurt us.

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Written by Harry Hollander

May 28, 2009 at 4:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The cost of chaos

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mandelbrot 2 by lowjumpingfrog - http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenorton/2174896417/A customer came up to our booth at StonExpo and said “You’ve taken away a whole lot of chaos from our business.” Now, this wasn’t some poorly run shop, where we came in and fixed everything. They were already one of the largest and most respected fabricators in their region. Yet this guy was cheering the fact that their chaos has decreased as a result of using our software.

That got me thinking about how much chaos is actually costing us as business owners.  But how do you measure chaos?

We have chaos in many forms: customers, vendors, markets, employees… but I think the root cause of most of this chaos is uncertainty.  And the place where we have the most direct control over chaos is with our employees.

It’s the uncertainty about exactly what any person should be doing at any given moment. I’m not talking about dictating a schedule like “9:10-9:12am – bathroom break.” What I mean is this: Does every employee know exactly what they should be doing? Do they all the information they need to do that right now? 

As managers and business owners, we do a pretty good job of making sure every employee knows what they are supposed to do. If that is not the case in your business, stop reading and go fix that right now!

But the second part of the question is the cause of much of the chaos in businesses we’ve seen.  Employees may know what they need to do, but don’t have the tools. Often the information they need to do their job is incomplete, difficult to access, or ambiguous.

As  a result, you need superstar employees, you waste lots of time, and make avoidable mistakes:

image 

If you’ve got a business with all three of those, there’s chaos.

Without access to information, you get a huge waste of time – unproductive, unhappy employees who miss deadlines or can’t deliver on promises.  And you have mistakes that lead to upset customers, higher costs of doing business, and in the end mistakes end up costing lots of time, too. 

Typically, the solution is to hire superstar employees, who can go the extra mile necessary.  But superstars are expensive, hard to find and replace, and if they get burnt out or go on vacation, you’re in big trouble.

Any one of these is a measure of chaos… but what’s the solution?  For us, it always comes back to having a system in place where any employee can get the information they need when they need it, how they need it.

Written by Harry Hollander

May 26, 2009 at 5:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The skedsheet concept

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When we first started talking about skedsheet, we thought we’d make something that could integrate with JobTracker… but, as we kept trying to simplify the concept, it seemed better to start from scratch. event_calendar  Since it’s been a while, I wanted to review the “why and how” behind skedsheet for myself.

If we make skedsheet really easy and really cheap (or maybe free, in some limited cases), there seems to be a big opportunity, even within our existing markets.  The biggest obstacle to our existing business is the sales and support cost of “implementation”.  If we can get over that hump, we can blow away any competition and actually have a whole new way to approach the business.

Maybe it’s just a dream, but we’d much rather be in the business of selling inexpensive software to lots of people rather than relatively expensive software to fewer customers.  The progress on skedsheet has been slow, because it’s hard to take resources away from JobTracker, which is what pays the bills.  But, we’re trying to get far enough along to have a “proof of concept”.

The idea of a prototype like this is to figure out:

  1. Can we make it self-explanatory?  Without being dead simple, this is just a different approach to what we already do.  This is probably the number one thing problem that we need to solve to have a product with little or no sales and support cost.
  2. Can we make something valuable?  If there’s no value, nobody will give us any money for the chance to use our software.  I think there’s value, but until we run it by a few potential customers, we won’t know for sure.
  3. Can we do it and make any money?  There’s always the chance that we can make something that people will pay for, but the development costs will be too high to recoup.  Is it worth spending 10’s or 100’s of thousands of dollars on an experiment?

So, getting to a prototype is a big step… but we’re not there, yet.

Written by Harry Hollander

May 22, 2009 at 8:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 tips for leaving a voicemail

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Old Bakelit phone by aussiegall - http://www.flickr.com/photos/aussiegall/279804967/We’ve been busy on the JobTracker side of things – new release, new pricing, and trying to do a better job of keeping in touch with existing customers.  The long and short of is that it’s tough to balance two development projects – especially one that brings home the bacon, and another that is a complete unknown.

As part of trying to keep in touch with customers, we’ve been working on our voicemail skills.  I get quite a few voicemails, and I’ve gotten the whole gamut of long, rambling, incomprehensible voicemails from people who haven’t identified themselves, mumbling phone numbers that I should call for unknown reasons.  Here are 5 tips to avoid that.

  1. Keep it short.  At best, you have 30 seconds to get your point across if you’re selling something.  In order to jam something useful into that short timeframe, I have to prepare by scripting out what I’m going to say.  Then, if you listen to the message you plan on leaving, you’ll find out if it’s possible to do it clearly within a short time frame.
  2. Say your full name, company, and phone number…twice.  Not everyone enunciates clearly, sometimes you talk too fast, and you might even have an accent that’s difficult for someone else to understand.  If you give your name, company, and number once at the beginning and again at the end of a voicemail, there’s a much better chance that the listener will understand.
  3. Cut out pleasantries.  Using phrases like “I just called…” only take time away from your valuable message. (well, unless “I just called” is followed by “to say I love you”).  In regular conversation, expressions like “hope you’re doing well” and “It was great meeting you” are nice, but they just extend the already painful experience of listening to a message.
  4. Be enthusiastic.  Sounding even slightly hesitant or preoccupied in a voicemail is even worse than in a regular phone conversation.  If you sound confused, you immediately lose credibility, and chances are that your voicemail will get deleted before you’ve had a chance to say anything useful.
  5. Don’t sell.  In the 30 seconds you have to get your point across, everything you say should have value to the person you’re leaving a message for.  They don’t care about my software, but they may care about solving their scheduling problems.

Example:  Hi Bob, This is Harry Hollander from Skedsheet at 650-242-4272.  When we met in line at the DMV last week, you sounded interested in getting rid of the spreadsheet and whiteboard you’re using to schedule your trucks now.  Please call me to discuss how we can help.  Again, my number is 650-242-4272.

Written by Harry Hollander

May 21, 2009 at 5:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Lesson #4: It’s never as good (or bad) as you think it is.

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I’m examining some of the lessons I’ve learned from working at other companies – trying to figure out how experience matters when you’re running your own business.

Hi/Fn – The internet boom was rocking and we were in the heart of it.  Even though Hi/Fn was a semiconductor company, our chips were going to be used in every gateway, router, and maybe every computer connected to the internet.  We all believed (with a capital “B”) we were going to change the world.hifn 

I regularly worked 12-hour days, and one of my buddies made a cocoon out of bubble-wrap so he could sleep in the office.  When the company went public, the champagne flowed, but we all rushed back to work to protect the vast riches we had just “earned”.

In the frenzy of the good days, we all lost sight of reason.  It didn’t take too long to sober us all up – having the stock lose 75% of it’s value in a few weeks made the illusion of wealth disappear.

That was the “dot com crash”.  Supposedly all of the frenzy was useless and nobody added any value.  Sure, it was harsh having reality come into the picture and realizing that the fundamental rules of business hadn’t been rewritten… but now with a little hindsight, it turns out that it wasn’t so bad.

Even though there was excess and waste, it turns out that on the whole, it was a good thing – nobody can imagine going back to the world before this explosion in the internet.  The consequences have been global, and to get there lots of people had to speculate and lose in order for everyone to benefit.

Without going through that incredible boom and bust, we wouldn’t be able to offer skedsheet on the web with confidence that people get the concept, and actually feel comfortable putting their lives on the internet.

Written by Harry Hollander

May 8, 2009 at 4:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Lesson #3: If you see a bad situation, get out fast.

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I’m examining some of the lessons I’ve learned from working at other companies – trying to figure out how experience matters when you’re running your own business.

zipdriveIomega – After working on a small renegade team within General Instrument, I hungered for more.  Several of the same folks that I’d worked with had moved over to Iomega to join a project that seemed the same…from a distance.

I should have seen some of the indicators of a bad situation ahead of time – huge building, separate executive level offices, fancy marketing materials, and a product that was cool but didn’t solve a real problem for anyone I knew.  This was a project that was geared for success in every superficial way.

The idea was to build a shrunken-down version of the Zip drive that had made Iomega so successful, something that would become the new storage for mobile devices – cameras, laptops, PDAs, and maybe someday phones. 

As I started digging into the technical details, all of the pieces I needed already had already been designed– for flash drives… which were cheaper, faster, and more reliable than the product we were building.  Despite all of the smart people who were involved, apparently nobody had researched this – and when I started asking questions, nobody was concerned.

I still feel like this was the only job where I wasted my time – I didn’t make a big contribution, didn’t learn any new skills, and generally felt frustrated.  Luckily, my tenure there was only a few months.  After a while, the team eventually produced a product, but not long after, they closed the office and the Clik! drive never made it to mass market.

Written by Harry Hollander

May 5, 2009 at 8:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Lesson #2: Small teams work.

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I’m examining some of the lessons I’ve learned from working at other companies – trying to figure out how experience matters when you’re running your own business. 

motorola-surfboards

  General Instrument – I moved to San Diego from Boston for this job.  Culture shock!  My first interview started with “You should take off your tie, and you probably don’t need the blazer, either. Unless you’re cold.”

GI had decided that they were going to go from just providing equipment for cable and satellite TV to going into the data business.  I was on the team that was defining a completely new type of product – a cable modem. 

Someone within the corporation had the insight or foresight to understand that they couldn’t do it with their existing employees and processes, so they hired outsiders almost exclusively to manage and develop this game-changing product.

Working for a small team within a huge organization was awesome – my individual contribution was incredibly valuable, I was free to be an expert at what I did well, and the organization was very flat.  We were able to make incredible advances in defining a whole new industry with a tiny team. 

Having a small, disconnected team allowed us to focus on defining  a new product and a new market without worrying about the existing structure.  Because we were empowered to do our own thing, it lead to a sense excitement and drive that didn’t exist anywhere else in the company.

Unfortunately, that ended when the first generation product was done, and all us in the renegade group were dispersed into the old-line corporate hierarchy.

Written by Harry Hollander

May 4, 2009 at 6:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized