May 21 2010

Shady business practices – Not required


I’m always amazed (sadly) when companies do things that are just plain shady. Not dishonest, but boarderline, more just icky, things most people would feel guilty about.

Case in point (I’m not naming names… at least not right now)

At the most recent 360|iDev conference I met 2 guys who run a small software developer newsletter/newspaper. They also do events. One of them paid for a regular attendee ticket, they other asked for and received a press pass.

They came and said hello when I was at the desk, and nicely let me know they were planning their own iPhone conference.

More the merrier, sure I’d love to be the only show, but I’ll settle for being the best. They expressed their desire to not overlap, or in any way interfere with 360|iDev, and presumable receive the same from me. Cool.

One thing that stuck with me was that they flat out said in the course of our conversation, “we like to think we’re the good guys in conferences”

I didn’t see them much the rest of the conference, turns out the “press” only came for 1 day and posted a nice post on his personal blog about the conference.

The other guy spent (to the best of my knowledge) the rest of the conference poaching speakers (and possibly/most likely sponsors)

Now, don’t get me wrong, poaching speakers and sponsors is par for the course. Recruiting speakers to your events, involves seeing them at other events. However I find it completely slimy that I basically helped finance the poaching by giving a press pass.

Sure passes are largely a soft cost, but there’s an expected quid pro quo in giving someone from the press a pass. IF they even come (a lot will ask for a pass, but then never show. I don’t get it, but whatever) they write about it. Heck even a “X event was nice” something to show that you appreciated the pass, and the courtesy extended for the press.

I finally wrote one of the offenders, expressing my feelings of being taken advantage of, and got back

“There wasn’t any hard news  (ie, product announcements) that were picked up but Alan did blog about the conference:”

No explanation or denial that I had indeed helped fund their fishing trip, no apology for an act that didn’t come across as the actions of a “Good guy”. Just the above and “If you want to come to our event, let me know” Not even a “here’s a discount code”

Off the top of my head there was the merger of two indie iphone dev companies, Fastmac had all kinds of cool new products they were announcing/showing, we had a round table discussion about Apple’s SDK agreement clause 3.3.1, we had a 12 year old who had several apps in the app store, and was working on iPad games in attendance, we had a 12 hour game jam going on over night,  and more. Other press had no trouble finding plenty to write about (see here)

It’s sad that there are businesses who find this type of behavior ok.

It’s sadder still that as a result, the “no longer allowed press credentials” list has an entry on it.

May 4 2010

When the formula works you’ll know it.


360|Flex San Jose made over 110k…. We of course were in huge debt coming out of 2009, so we cleared no where near that. but that’s the most a 360|Event has ever made.

Clearly we’re doing better at this than before :)

Not super terrific awesome, but better.

I think we’ve found pricing that works ($499 first 100, $599 the rest), and stays true to our “Not breaking the Indie bank” ethos. We’ve also found a rhythm in selling sponsorships. Turns out I’m actually pretty good at it. These two things combined, with really aggressive selling to the community, seem to be paying off.

Our sponsorship package has gotten more wide ranging, and I think truly offers our sponsors a great value. For 360|iDev, I actaully had to turn people away, we simply didn’t have anything left to make into a sponsorship, and I refuse to simply take people’s money without giving them the absolute more value for their spend.

As the transition from 2 man team to 1 man team (Actually my wife is a major part of the company now) finishes it’s 6 month progression, I find myself even more excited about 360|Conferences. There’s lots to do, and plenty of uncertainty, but that’s exciting. I’m working hard to get 360|Mobile locked in. I’ve already begun looking at locations for 360|Flex and 360|iDev Fall. I’ve even started the ball rolling for 360|iDev Spring 2011, if you can believe that!

Oh and Europe. We might actually make it to Europe in 2010. Still TBD.

Mar 20 2010



Well…. not really.  I recently returned home from 360|Flex in San Jose. I spoke at the conference along with Randy Troppmann about “Talking Satellite” where covered the subject of utilizing GPS data in Adobe Flex. We had a fairly good turnout for our talk and had some really good conversations before, during, and after. One of those conversations that was interesting happened between Randy and I at dinner the day before our presentation. I don’t remember the conversation exactly, but it went something like this…

Randy: It’s really interesting how limitless the ideas are when it comes to using GPS data.

Andrew: Absolutely! Your idea to start is a perfect example of that. When it started, you’re estimating distances by clicking on a map, but now you can just track the data, upload, and presto, a fully featured logging system for runners.

Randy: And it doesn’t even have to be a particularly in-your-face need. Look at Dan Florino who’s also speaking at the conference. He created and it became an internet sensation. I mean…I could track where my dog takes a crap, put up a website, and people might find it useful to find out where all the doggy hotspots are.

Andrew: Brilliant! Maybe I could add some heatmapping capabilities like we’re going to demo in our talk tomorrow so you could really see those “hotspots”. Maybe if we got enough people to upload their dog pooping spots, we could even track hotspots by breed, size, etc… The possibilities are endless.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know my startup, Swift Mako, is working on a new GPS tracking device called Swift GPS. I’ve recently completed an early prototype and in the last week, I’ve been able to integrate the battery system. Therefore, I can now “realize the dream” and take it on dog walks with me.

I give you…!

Nov 24 2009

What Advice Would You Give To Start a Business?


A lot of the blogging I do is in direct response to questions that people ask me.  I love answering questions.  This post is no different; and the question comes from one of my Flextras customers:

I’ve been wanting to explore selling some things that I have in my head, but have no idea where to start. Can you steer me in the right direction and let me know the pitfalls to avoid?

Wow, that’s a broad request; but I’m always up for a challenge.  Every business is different; and I don’t have any secrets.  But, here are some of my thoughts along with how I think they apply to Flextras.

I’d start by writing a business plan.  It doesn’t matter if you need or want funding.  A business plan will help you organize your thoughts and give you a road map for what to do.  What are you going to build?  Who are your customers?  What need does your product fill for those customers?  Who are your competitors?  How are you different from competitors?

With Flextras, I believe we are different from other commercial component vendors because of our licensing model.  We provide a fully functional free developer edition that never times out.  We also charge you based on the number of domains you want to deploy to, not the number of developer’s on your staff, and not on a percentage of your yearly revenues.  In some cases this can be huge savings.  Combine that with the fact that our unlimited deployment option is less than a single developer license for some of our competitors, I think we have an intriguing offer in the Flex Component space.  But, also realize that cost is only one factor in a comparison of two companies.

How is Flextras different than open source projects?  I believe this comes down to support.  When you need help, we are there either by e-mail. or phone or IM or twitter or facebook.  We go out f our way to be as accessible as possible to help you become a success with our components.

So, ask yourself how your product or service going to be different or better than your competitors?

If you don’t have competitors, think twice about your business because there may be a reason no one else exists in the space.  If you do have competitors, that’s a good start.  What can you learn about them?  What can you learn from them?  Don’t plan to compete on price.  Compete by offering something that your competitors don’t.  As one example, we can examine ice cream shopes within 10 minutes from my house.  ColdStone Creamery competes by mixing candy into your ice cream for you.  Pralines is a local chain that makes their own ice cream and whipped cream on-site.  Friendly’s is a sit down restaurant that puts up with kids with a smile no matter how loud the baby is screaming; and they often provide free Sundaes with your meal.  Blackstone has lots of outdoor seating.

Did I ask how you’ll be different from your competitors?  It is an important point to drill home.

When you plan for time lines and budgets, multiply everything by three.  Stuff will always crop up that delays things.

I also recommend that you read as many business books as you can.  If reading isn’t your thing, look for other forms of education, such as videos or a business coach.  I try to read at least one business book a month myself.

You might want to start with the E-Myth.  The gist of the book is that there are three successful “positions” that any start up needs.  The technician is the guy who does the work.  The Entrepreneur is the one with the vision.  The Manager is the guy who runs day to day operations.  To be a successful one-man shop–and grow beyond that–you need to balance skills in all three.  The book claims that most businesses are started by technicians who are fed up in their day job and/or think they can do it better; not Entrepreneurs or Managers.

DotComIt, the Flextras parent company, started as a technician business, and I picked up the other skills along the way.  Depending on your perspective, I am either sufficient or sufficiently lacking in all three.  Programming is my strong suit, of course.  When I was focused on consulting, being a better manager meant more to profit margins than good coding.  Sometimes it is tough for technicians to hear that.  I’ve seen a lot of technician started businesses close in less than 12 months.

It is unlikely that quality of your product/software will be the reason for failure, so be sure to devote time to items such as marketing.  When you’re a small business, marketing means talking to customers.  How do you get yourself in front of customers?  With Flextras, The Flex Show is one way.  The Flextras Friday Lunch live Q&A sessions is another.  Presenting at conferences like 360|Flex and Flex User Groups is another.

I also recommend that you read Jump Start Your Business Brain.  It focuses on positioning your product / service.  To sell products you need an overt benefit,  a dramatic difference and a real reason to believe.  That means, your product must benefit your customers; it must be different than competitors, and the customers must believe you can deliver on your promise.  The book explains it much more elegantly than I could.

With Flextras we believe our benefit is that our components save you time when compared to building it yourself.  That leads to quicker development times, which leads to happier clients.  Our dramatic difference is that you can download a developer edition at no cost and try it out with no restrictions.  You can prove to yourself or your boss or your client that our component will work in your application.  Some of the reasons why customers would believe we can deliver is that we’ve been in business for 10 years, we’re an Adobe Solutions Partner, we produce The Flex Show to help educate Flex Developers, and we hold a live session each week to answer your questions.  We are part of the community and are out there helping other Flex Developers the best we can.  We also prioritize responding to e-mails and fixing bugs as quickly as possible can also help people instill faith that we’ll deliver what we promise.

The The Cluetrain Manifesto is another good book to pick up, it talks about how markets are conversations and to be a successful business you should be taking place in the conversation.  Other than at the Flextras Friday Lunch Q&A sessions, and the occasional twitter conversation, I don’t know if people are talking about Flextras yet; so there isn’t much of a public conversation to join in.  I try to put top priority to be as accessible as possible.

So, in summary, I’d tell you to read a lot and don’t ignore marketing or customer service.  Does that help?

Nov 20 2009

8 Secrets of Success


Some dude I’ve never heard of, has 8 words that are the secret of success. They’re below with my thoughts on them. I found them over on Small Biz Bee.

1. Passion – Duh. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, why are you doing it. I’ve found (although i never would have guessed it) that I’m passionate about bringing people together, helping people meet, creating an atmosphere were great things are born.

2. Work – Yeah it’s work. Doing what you love feels less like work, but it’s still work, it’s still hard. Possibly harder than a “job” since failure is on you, you don’t just punch a clock go home, and not care.

3. Focus – This is hard. Tom and I have struggled with this. We’ve been lured to Europe earlier than we probably should have (though we learned good lessons there). We’ve tried to expand into things without looking, etc. Focus is important it’s something I’m trying to get a better grasp on.

4. Persist – I can’t agree more. It’s hard, at least weekly I wonder if I should fold up. Do our last two events and try to find a job. It’s hard, we’re not making much right now, though I feel that’s on the verge of changing, i know it is, but i’m in the now financially, which is tough. I know though, if I persist and work hard and as Gary Vee would say, “Crush It” I’ll succeed.

5. Ideas – This is the fun part. I’m usually not short on ideas. Ditching paper surveys, USB Drives instead of CDs, an AIR app for surveys, etc. It’s fun to think of ways to 1. be a better company, and 2. innovate the completely whacked out, old school conference business. Some ideas are awesome, some, not so much. Tom and I are at our absolute best when we’re throwing ideas at each other, sharing the “Ah snap! That’s awesome!” moments.

6. Good – This is important. Tom is a bible thumper :) I’m not, but I do believe in Karma, and we both agreed, even before we had money to give that we’d make sure we gave 20% of each event’s profit to charity. Whether it’s a check, or service, or something else. We agreed, and as Tom moves on I intend to continue the tradition, that 10% goes to the community out event serves, and 10% will be to a charity making the world a better place. I firmly believe that any business not doing good for the world around it, isn’t doing enough. We haven’t always been in a position to write a check, and it makes us sad, but when we are, it’s the best feeling on Earth.

7. Push – This is tough. My wife pushes me. She pushes me because she wants to see me succeed, and she pushes me because she wants the company to make money so we can pay the bills. Both are incredibly important. I also push myself, for both of those reasons, but also I push myself (And I push Tom for a few more months) because I think we’re doing a good thing, and I want to continue to do that good thing.

8. Serve – Easy. Tom and I have never lost sight of who we serve. We serve two masters; sponsors, and attendees. Sponsors pay us to get in front of our attendees, to meet them, to introduce them to their product or service. Sometimes they sponsor just to help the community. But we owe it to them to make the event the best it can be, have the most attendees we can, etc. The attendees on the other hand, pay us to see and hear the speakers, to meet the rest of the community, and to learn. We owe it to them to make sure the event delivers all that and more. It’s not always easy, but we’ve never lost sight of why we do events. We do them to serve the community with something we believe it lacked. We’ll continue to serve them, until they tell us otherwise :)

I’m not sure these were necessarily secrets, but they’re truths for sure. At least in my opinion. What do you think? Are there more? Are there other ‘secrets’ you think valuable?

Watch the video it’s a good use of 3 minutes. My take away. Success is charging people $4000 to attend an event, that they they have to be invited to… ok it’s not, but damn talk about reinforcing “A fool and his money…”

Nov 11 2009

The Consequences of a Win/Win Agreement


I’ve been reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  It is an “old school” book, and is a much heavier read than a lot of the more recent business related books.  The content is golden, though.  One chapter is on thinking win/win.  A win/win mind set is when you go into an agreement, or negotiations, with the prospect of coming up with something beneficial to both parties.  Over the years I’ve heard a lot of folks talk about “win/win”, but I get the impression it is more lip service while folks look out for their own best interests.  In business relationships, I believe it is better to walk away than to enter into a relationship that is not mutually beneficial.

A very small part of this chapter talks about how consequences are the natural result of a win/win agreement.  This is an important point that I feel was glazed over in the book.  There are four type of consequences that can be the result of an agreement:

  • Financial: Do a successful job and you can get more money!
  • Psychic: This is the ego boost, or the act of recognizing someone for their accomplishments.  Programmers answer questions on Stack OverFlow or the Adobe Forums because they want to help people and feel good about it.  The book mentions that this type of reward is often a bigger motivator than money.
  • Opportunity: If you’re a success, you’ll get more opportunities.  Opportunities are going to be related to the job.  As a consultant / vendor, many clients are going to say this to you as a way to negotiate your price down.  “Do a good job here and we’ll hire you for the next, bigger project.”  That is usually bunk because the next project is going to have similar budget issues.  However business folk do talk to each other, and being a success one one project will get you referred.  In fact, the entire 10 years of DotComIt Consulting was funded primarily by referrals.  Other opportunities could be training or comp time off, or… well, be creative.
  • Responsibility: If you do a good job, you’ll get more authority, or a wider scope of duties.

The idea is that in a win/win agreement, you are defining the actions that need to be done, the consequences of success ,and the consequences of failure.  You are not dictating the procedures or path, only the end result.  I’m still absorbing this idea, but I can think of many ideas where I failed in this.  Here is one:

When building the Flextras e-commerce site, I outsourced it.  I had a detailed mock up of how I envisioned the site would work; the pages that were needed; and some “business logic” style comments on each one.  I virtually sat down with the developer and went over the specs and we worked out a time frame for development.  We agreed to an hourly rate, signed a contract, and off he went.  He missed the first two deadlines.  I wasn’t keeping tabs on him because I was off building product.  Finally, I was ready to launch, but had no site.  I spoke to him two days before Christmas and asked if he could make final delivery by the end of the year.  We worked out a new list of deliverables, with less functionality to be ready and off he went again.  He missed the deadline a week later.  I was upset.

The problem is that there were no consequences for missing the deadline.  And no consequences for making the deadline either.  It was an hourly agreement, where I paid a contractor for the time he put in.  The missed deadlines, and late delivery were a direct result of me not defining the consequences.  How could consequences have helped the project?

I could have offered a bonus for on time delivery, or I could have received a discount for missing the delivery date.  I may have been able to offer psychic rewards, such as a hand written thank you note upon successful completion or a shout out to all my twitter friends, a public thank you on my blog.  I’m not sure what extra responsibility I could have offered to a non-employee; but you can be sure I’ll think twice before recommending that developer for future opportunities [or jobs].

I try to think of successes I’ve had where defining consequences has brought about successful implementation, but unfortunately I cannot think of one.  It is something I plan to explicitly incorporate into the agreement I make with future employees, contractors, or business partners.

Nov 5 2009

Philly Startup Leaders Interviews.


Jeff tweeted about this, and I had to write a post about it.

I had no idea this group/organization existed, but Philly Startup Leaders has a video  series (6 deep at the moment)

Screen shot 2009-11-04 at 9.22.21 AM

I just started watching the videos, which I plan to rip and put on my iPod (sorry youtube, but these are gonna be gold mines I’ll want offline), but what’s nice it’s not your typical tech startup schmoes talking about how great they are, how hard it is, how cash flow something to worry about tomorrow, etc.

These videos talk about real entrepreneurship (IMO), not just the sexy tech startup stuff.

Great find Jeff!

Nov 4 2009

Because you can, doesn’t mean you should


I read this interesting interview with the twitter Co-Founders during Startup School.

The very first sentence is what struck me. “Biz Stone: We should start with Odeo, our older podcasting service. We realized we weren’t passionate about it. We were building it but we weren’t using it.

Tom and I have had discussions about this concept a lot, especially when looking at areas we thought bringing a community focused conference to would make sense. Sometimes we’ve ruled a community/industry out because while there were no events like ours (In our opinions) there were several events already, or even one big one, that weren’t worth fighting with for mind share. But more often than not it came down to, “Are we interested in that technology or community”

Stone: I remember earlier on when we were in Odeo, Ev went home and brainstormed for a weekend and thought about how we could make a successful business out of Odeo. And I thought it was genius. We were going to be the kings of podcasting. And then I slept on it. I told him I thought his plan was genius — but I asked him: do we want to be the kings of podcasting?

A perfect example was Microsoft Silverlight. It’s a growing community, much like Flex was when we started 360|Flex. We gave some really serious thought to a 360|Silverlight. The two main reasons we didn’t. Adobe would freak out, and it wasn’t worth the drama, but more importantly did we have an interest in Silverlight? Neither of us had plans to become Silverlight developers, nor did we even plan to tinker. Silverlight was out. I do hope someone steps up and does a Silverlight event like a 360|Conference. MS Devs need that.

This quote is funny, doesn’t really have anything to do with Conferences, but makes so much sense. “Early on people said Twitter is fun. It’s not useful. And Ev retorted, ‘So is ice cream. Should we ban ice cream?’ We realized we were engaged with it. It was right up our alley.

Williams: One of our biggest lessons time after time is to focus. Almost every time I meet with a startup and I give them feedback — it’s do fewer things.

I imagine one of the most common things i’ll write about on this blog is this. I hope that as a one man shop, focus isn’t as big a problem. Tom and I tended to feed off each other when it came to tinkering. Tom’s by far more easily distracted, but I’m easily sold on new ideas :) So we’re perfect for each other in the wrong way. We love to try new things, and in a tech startup there’s less issue (but I agree, control it buddy!) but trying out a new event, that’s risky. There’s a ton of investment (money and time, and brain cycles) in creating a new event, and if it doesn’t pan out, that’s that, you’re potentially really screwed, or just out some money and time, and possibly other events suffered a lack of attention.

The entire interview is a good read, i was really impressed. Startup School as an event looks really interesting as well.

Nov 2 2009

A Bird in the Hand…


Tom and I had an interesting discussion the other night.

In looking at past sales Tom noted that offering a Team price, resulted in about $10,000 more in profit at the end of the day (the last day of the event, for the sake of discussion), vs. our current model of offering 100 tickets at a reduced price, typically $100-$200 off the regular price.

It was interesting because while $10,000 is certainly nothing to scoff at, at this point in the business, early sales are more important. While I hate the concept of early bird ticketing to inflate early numbers, I do like offering those who want to save some money, the opportunity, AND I like having some early money to pay the bills

So is $10,000 down the road, worth no sales, and no income in the short term? Currently, my answer is no. In the longterm, I think the answer is different, obviously I want to do right by my customers, and make money, so I’m not sure it’s ‘either or’, but I do think things with change down the road.


Oct 29 2009

migrating from 2 to 1 is not fun or easy


So Tom and I are moving on from 360|Conferences, well I’m moving forward with it, Tom is moving away from it.

The move has started, we’re transitioning things over to me, that he has been in charge of, up until now.

It’s not fun. My latest “It’s all yours moment” came when I opened quickbooks for the first time. If it’s possible to have a massive coronary, while awake and aware, that’s what I experienced.

It’s not Tom’s fault, when we got started, i made it known I didn’t want to run the books. I’ve never liked “the books”. My wife runs the household books, and I barely manage at running my own bank acct and Discover card. Not for a lack of skill but more for a lack of interest.

I won’t lie the books were in a sad state. Without getting into specifics, I’ll be spending more time than I imagined getting them to a cleaned up place where I can get our new acct involved in them.

My advice, run your books yourself, you’ll be better off and it’s something every business person should learn. This is now in the “Lesson Learned” column for me.

On the upside, I think I’m taking a liking to quickbooks, as i work thru it. Who knew!