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March 2007 Archives

March 1, 2007

Stupid Furniture Story

This week has been interesting to say the least. Code is coming along well and the application is shaping up to be something special. Now, if the furniture that we purchased (actually went in and bought it) would show up, without me having to burn cycles calling to ask where it is, that would be fantastic.

My experience with 2 separate stores now have ended the same way, me making the order and them taking my money but me having to call back at least twice to find out where the goods are, like I have time for that. What gives? Seems kinda strange that they build the stuff but the likelihood of it actually showing up at your door is low. This makes me wonder why I don't go back to building my guys' desks out of saw horses and doors.

March 3, 2007

Someone, anyone, build a simple, web-based accounting package...

I think this Internet thing has been around for a good few years now, and every other application I want to use is available in a web-based ASP flavour, so why is it so difficult to find a simple online accounting package?

Quickbooks, the market leader for small business, has an online edition, but it only works on Windows machines running IE. Are you kidding me? Then there's Netsuite, which is almost there with a standards-compliant web interface. But configuration is a major pain, and it's too much, too soon for our little company. And that's about it...

Please, someone, anyone, build a web 2.0 accounting package. Your first customer is waiting for you in North Vancouver.

March 5, 2007

Getting Ready to Gaboogie

We are making good daily progress and the crew is on track for our internal beta, which is just around the corner. The interface is still quite boring to look at but it excites me knowing where we will be, two weeks from now. The foundation has been laid, the walls are framed and the roof will be mostly done by the end of the week.

Next week we are within sight of the finish line, although it seems to continually move one way or the other the closer we get. If you are interested in getting in on the action just go to www.gaboogie.com to register for the beta. You will never think of teleconferencing the same way again.

P.S. Why is it whenever I budget for network hardware it always ends up being at least 20% more expensive when I actually order it? It's a good thing we think of these things when creating the financials... errr, we did think of that right Dan?

March 7, 2007

It's nice, I like it.

It's so cool to think that an idea can take form and grow even though the people working on that concept are in Calgary, Vancouver and Australia (Caloundra to be exact). We use VoIP and intelligent teleconferencing almost everyday now. If our usage is any indication of how valuable this service will be to other SMBs, Gaboogie.com should be quite popular.

March 8, 2007

Surveys suck

It's increasingly common to receive online surveys, sometimes after using a web-based service, and now just as frequently after doing something in the offline world, such as taking one's car to the dealership.

Maybe surveys don't always suck, but often their results are skewed by simply reflecting the thoughts of those who have time on their hands to answer 15 tedious questions, not the typical real-world business user. I think it was the folks at McKinsey that figured out it was best to ask nothing more than "Would you recommend this product or service to a colleague." Says it all really.

Anyway, at Gaboogie we'll be encouraging as much participation as possible from our users, but we'll promote customer satisfaction simply by making our product good enough that customers will want to use it again, and spread the word.

March 9, 2007

Holy crap I'm tired!

Not sure who dreamed up this blaze until you drop startup thing but they were obviously too far gone on too much of their own product to think it through!

Wait a sec, I volunteered for this... WTF was I thinking!! I'm not 20 anymore, I can't possibly hang with these young bucks and expect to endure 16 hour coding sessions, can I? Ahhhh yes, I nearly forgot, I am impervious to that. After all I am an entrepreneur and co-founder of an ubercool start-up (or so I have been told), leading a team of fearless developers driven by the satisfaction of completing the mission, accomplishing the task, self-preservation forgotten and rarely missed.

It's ok we can sleep when we're dead.

March 13, 2007

Dawn of a new day

It's Monday in North Vancouver and we are all feeling a little crispy. Another couple of weeks of heavy lifting and we will be most of the way there, for now, I think.

The app is really shaping up to be something special. I can't wait to get this recording code tested so I can get back into recording interviews for my podcasts again, I am SUCH a geek.

March 14, 2007

The people under the stairs

This is the home of Gaboogie and some of us gaboogers. Many a night is spent here, each of us huddled in front of our friend, Mr.LCD.

Lining up nicely.

Feels like the pieces are really falling in to place at Gaboogie and it's great to be back in start-up mode after a year or two in the corporate wilderness. The closest thing we have to office politics is me trying to figure out how to stop my surprisingly smart cat from opening the front door and terrorizing the neighbours.

The most refreshing thing of all, though, is being back in an environment in which all that matters is getting the job done, and that the job is something we love. There's no-one looking over our shoulders, and there's no-one to blame for our mistakes but us. Wouldn't have it any other way.

March 15, 2007

Four myths about small business customers.

1. They only care about price.

Not in my experience. Usually that's an excuse made by those who aren't really innovating. Offer a small business owner a killer feature that genuinely makes his life easier and he will switch. Price your product fairly and competitively, but there really is no need to give away the farm.

2. They're slow to adopt new technology.

Another lame excuse, which derives from a lack of attention to EASE OF USE. The interface, the logic, the value proposition, each of these needs to be simple and clear. That's why the guys at 37signals are doing so well with alternatives to mainstream productivity apps, because, to paraphrase Colin Chapman, they simplify then add lightness.

3. They aren't sophisticated.

Are you kidding me? Most small business owners and employees do more multi-tasking in a day than the average big company middle manager does over his entire career. That's why they make such great customers, because they are quick to embrace change that helps organize the chaos of doing so many things at once.

4. They don't respond to marketing.

Probably because they've got better things to do. Seriously, though, all this means is they can't be tricked by the slick pitch. And if you've got a great product that solves a real problem, then a slick pitch is the last thing you need.

Really, small business customers are the best kind. They buy if your product is compelling and does what you say it will. What could be simpler than that?

Giving SIP the Slip

Session Initiation Protocol or SIP is the undisputed champ of VoIP. Anyone who has a phone likely has used it at some point and doesn't even know it, but isn't that how it should be? Who cares what protocol the network is running, as long as your call doesn't drop or doesn't sound like... well, you fill in the blanks here.

The problem is that most SMB VoIP applications out there have zero Quality of Service (QoS) and therefore calls on those networks sound like a big steaming pile of... yes you guessed it. There are really only a couple of ways to address the piss-poor quality that some of you might be used to from best effort VoIP service providers. One such option is we can forgo VoIP on the last mile but still leverage SIP at the core of the network. Another option would be to make sure we select a provider that delivers QoS on that last mile of IP connectivity.

Us Gaboogers have decided not to put our users through the headache of NAT traversal (hopping over the firewalls), which undeniably accompanies premise-based VoIP solutions. Our customers will be able to use our service from ANY telephony device as long as it has a functional phone number attached to it.

March 16, 2007

Cisco and WebEx

So Cisco is buying WebEx in a $3.2 Billion deal. As well as providing Cisco with a strong foothold in the (primarily) SMB conferencing space, there's also some consensus that the move is part of a broader strategy to compete with Microsoft's SharePoint in the collaboration arena, leveraging WebEx's MediaTone network.

While I agree that the acquisition is likely a smart move on Cisco's part I'm not sure that expensive and proprietary collaboration products are going to win out against the faster development cycles and better focus on "killer features" of open source products. I'm also continually frustrated by the WebEx user experience and I think we're in a transitional phase, in which WebEx has been successful by virtue of early entry and innovation, but will struggle to respond to expectations of a smoother, more intuitive web conferencing experience.

March 17, 2007

What 2.0?

I recently stumbled upon this survey of web 2.0 usage patterns, conducted by Oxford University's Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). It makes for interesting reading.

I wasn't entirely surprised to find that my own circle of colleagues and friends aren't representative of the survey respondants, but it did make me think about how easy it is to presume trends as relatively mainstream when they're barely scratching the surface.

Just a couple of extracts from the survey:

Check out Figure 2 in the PDF of the survey results, and you'll see just how large a percentage of Internet users haven't heard of del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, Flickr and Slide, to name just a few. And perhaps even more significant are the dozens of 2.0 sites left out of the survey altogether.

Generally the younger the respondant the more likely he or she is to have used the various tools included in the survey. Again, not at all surprising, but what's interesting to me is what this says about reaching mainstream business users with 2.0 applications and services (i.e. they're generally not spending time flitting about the Internet to find the next new thing).

Of course I hang out with people who work primarily in the technology industry so it's not surprising that I get pinged with new stuff to try (a lot of which, admittedly, is a solution in search of a problem). Same old chasm to cross, I guess, so we better do a good job of making Gaboogie compelling enough to break through.

March 19, 2007

Highrise is live. Another killer 2.0 app?

9:05 pm in Calgary. Don't know yet. I'm signing up right now in the other tab of my browser...

9:08 pm. First nice thing: I logged in with my OpenID and it worked like a charm.

9:09 pm. First not-so-nice thing: Can't import people from a csv file, and it didn't alert me to a duplicate contact.

9:15 pm. Would be nice to have a go with the Cases feature, but I'll have to upgrade to the paid version for that. Not convinced yet.

9:32 pm. OK, I caved in record time. I need the cases feature and have signed up for a Plus account.

I am, however, seriously annoyed that I didn't get a free 30-day trial on the Plus version, because I upgraded from the Free one. Great, 27 minutes and I lost $49.

10:07 pm. Now I've gone from seriously annoyed to seriously impressed. David Heinemeir Hansson emailed me directly to offer me a free month. Let's add customer service to the list of things these guys are really good at.

Update, March 20th. I've been using Highrise quite a bit today. Really starting to see the power of the application, but it's quite onerous having to add contacts one by one. Just discovered I can export everything from my Apple Address Book into one vCard, and then import that into Highrise. That's not bad, I guess.

Lots of positive press for the 37signals guys so far. 

March 20, 2007

4:30am Tuesday and All's Well

4:30am Vancouver time. Actually 16 hours later here on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland Australia. The guys have invited me to join in with my two bits worth, so here goes...

Let's start with how I came to be involved in this project. Innocently enough. Erik had piqued my curiousity about his latest venture that needed some graphic design help. Since I run a graphics and photography studio here, he was hoping to capitalize on my brotherly good nature to lend a hand at cut-rate prices. I wanted to do a bit of skiing so it seemed like a good idea to fly out and have a chat, preferably on the slopes.

Within two hours of arriving in Vancouver I had agreed to help with the graphics, GUI, and oh yeah, the accounting, banking, ecomm AND also tipped in an ungodly amount of hard earned cash into the venture. Little did I know that as the latest founding partner I had also just signed up for two weeks of late nights, long hours on the computer and lots of conversation and brainstorming. But you know what? There's been no buyer's remorse. I'm blown away by Erik and Dan's smarts, speed and stamina. I'm going full blast just to keep up with them...

I took off for a day of skiing at Blackcombe and came back to find two programmers hard at work with me in Erik's basement suite. Great guys, and they worked in the other room, so I didn't mind sharing. A week later I snuck out for some skiing at Mt. Baker and came back to find almost all my bedroom furniture missing and a desk in its place. Love you bro.

Run Forrest Run!

Yikes! The internal alpha deliverable is approaching fast. The designers have nearly completed the public-facing GUI and next week we are expected to start GUI and CSS integration on the gaboogie dashboard.

Man, we have a lot of work to do before then. The guys have been real troopers, pulling some long hours to get this completed on time.

It's time to sprint to the finish line.

RUN GABOOGERS RUN!!!

Run Forrest RUN!

Life in a startup.

What other kind of company could have a meeting interrupted by my cat falling out of a tree?

 

Life is good.

I know! I'll hire a bunch of sales guys!

I was having a conversation with a research analyst a few days ago and he was a little concerned about our sales model, specifically that we were expecting customers to buy exclusively via e-commerce. Apparently only about five per cent of conference calls are booked online today, and his instinct was that this number was unlikely to change any time soon. Business users are simply too entrenched in their old stick-in-the-mud ways.

I'm not naive enough to claim that Gaboogie's about to engineer a global paradigm shift, but guess which of the following reasons I buy into about why business users aren't booking online:

a) They love carrying around a little wallet card with a dial-in number and PIN.

b) Getting cold calls from Slick Rick trying to sell you a new conference service is awesome! 

c) They feel that they need the personal touch of a conference call "account manager" (aka an outsourced call centre rep.) for a service that should be so simple their grandmothers could use it.

d) It's great when no-one dials in because you forgot to send them an email telling them the time, date, dial-in, PIN, and your life story to boot.

e) None of the above.

I'm biased, naturally, but I'm voting for "e". Gaboogie will be successful if we make the user experience simple and efficient; if we don't it won't. Business users buy things that make their life easier, and I don't think I need an army of sales guys to sell them something that just works.

That cat has changed

Not sure what happened but after that cat fell out of the tree his fur turned white and all he wants to do is drink beer and watch TV.

Crazy beer drinking cat

Weirdest thing I've ever seen. 

Take a spoonful of VoIP and stir.

Mashup is another of those terms that felt overused on the day it was invented. There are, as of right now, 6,875 blog posts referencing mashup on technorati. But today I was reading an entry by Jon Arnold, and a follow-up by Irwin Lazar considering whether or not VoIP has peaked. I really like Jon's point that, though we are heading to an all-IP world, VoIP is simply one of the disruptive technologies allowing that to happen; it's not an industry and consumers rightly don't care to know a thing about it.

What does all of this have to do with mashups? Well, maybe not a lot, except that it strikes me that we're going to see a lot of applications that don't assume we all want to make calls through our PCs, OR choose between service providers based on their underlying technology rather than functionality, price and usability. In other words we're going to see IP get more transparent as it becomes ever more relevant.

In the world of audio conferencing it's simply not viable to offer a purely IP-based offering when most business users still live on the PSTN (not to mention demand perfect call quality and reliability, no excuses accepted). Our version of a mashup is to take the bits of IP communications technology that facilitate a more efficient and convenient conference call. It's transparent to the user, which is where this all (kind of) ties back to the concept of the mashup: take the elements you need from places that may be otherwise disconnected and add more value than the sum of the parts. That's what a mashup should be.

March 21, 2007

CRM Hell

So after posting about my experience with Highrise, a client I'm doing some consulting for asked me to assist in cleaning up their Netsuite implementation. Netsuite is obviously a far more complex app than Highrise, in that it deals with every aspect of the customer lifecycle -- from sales force automation, pipeline management, quotes and orders through to customer service, trouble-ticketing, financial accounting... I expect, for a large fee, their professional services team can get it to do your laundry.

But even though it's complex, why does the interface have to reflect this? As a neophyte user it would in most cases be literally impossible to figure out the functionality, which means expensive training and frustrated users, many of whom are sales people who should be outside getting orders not inside learning software.

There's a great article here addressing the challenges of interface design. I was particularly interested in the points the author, Mike Padilla, makes about the balance between too much information on the screen so that the user can't process everything he sees and too little information so that the user needs to work too hard to find the functionality she needs.

Netsuite is firmly in the too much information category, and benefits from the extent to which users have been conditioned to expect complexity, and those making buying decisions budget for near-endless professional services and training. There's all kinds of song and dance on their corporate site about the use of AJAX in their interface, but that's missing the point on an epic scale: I don't care if I can drag and drop in the browser window if I can't figure out how to use the app!

Not that Netsuite are the only ones. I've used salesforce.com and a few other competing applications and found the same story there. I'm fairly tech-savvy but it's just too frustrating to figure out the inconsistent navigation and arcane labelling of functions. There's a list here of some more intuitive alternatives, but I don't think any of these has fundamentally solved the user experience challenge.

My primary hope about the promise of Web 2.0 (yes, yes, I know it's a terribly cliched term these days) is that there will be a from-the-ground-up demand for better user experiences as they are delivered at the consumer and lightweight business application level. We've all been sadly mistaken in expecting the supply side to deliver what we want, so let's keep our fingers crossed that this demand trickles upmarket.

March 23, 2007

I heart wireframes.

I've spent about 20 hours over the last two days building wireframes to assist the GUI developers. Let me make something clear: I really don't heart wireframes. But it did make me realize how important it is that everyone in any organization really understand the product from back to front. It also reinforced the extent to which, agile development or not, there's no room for ambiguity or assumptions if you're truly concerned with getting the user experience right. What I mean is it's no use having us marketing types pontificate in purely general terms about how we'd like things to work; if we really want to have any influence we need to get our hands dirty.

Marketers get frustrated with engineers because they often feel as though the engineers are speaking a different language. (More often it's simply that marketers shut down instinctively when they hear words that sound remotely like techspeak.) Engineers get frustrated with marketers because they often feel as though the marketers trivialize what it takes to get the product right. The result is a yawning chasm between expectations on both sides: of what the product is, how it does work and how it should work. It also leads to misguided marketing (because marketers don't understand what they're selling) and misguided product development (because engineering isn't alinged with what's saleable).

This chasm is easier to avoid in a startup than, for example, a large software development firm, but I'm happy to immerse myself in wireframes if it means getting the product right now, not trying to fix it later, hampered by entirely avoidable disconnects and misinterpretations.

Burning the midnight oil

It is truly awesome when the pieces that you have cut so carefully start to actually fit with the other pieces that you have been cutting. We have been working very hard on this project and the finish line is now in site. Another 72 hours or so and we will hand this puppy over to the designers.

Who needs gas, fumes i say! 

March 25, 2007

Please Take My Money

I've just wasted half an hour trying to transfer $20,000 from my personal account into the Gaboogie account at the same bank. Seems like my daily limit is $2,500 and there aint no way the bank will increase that limit. It's for my own safety. There's no way I'm logging in for the next 8 days to move my money across sack by sack. I've looked all over but can't see any other way to do this. No telegraphic transfer option either. Looks like I'm going to have to write out a cheque and mail it to Canada from Australia where I'm based for the next few months. By the time it arrives and the funds clear, Gaboogie will have had to wait the same 8 days. But hold on, what's that I see on the right side of the screen? Interac email transfer. You beauty. That'll do, and it only costs $1.50. After setting up all the email addresses and secret questions I gleefully press SEND. Wha?... my limit is $2,500 there too. I've just sent an email to our Gaboogie bank manager - Ronnie. Please. Take my money...

Coding on a sunny Sunday mornin

You know you are dedicated to your craft and a true geek when you voluntarily tuck yourself away in a dark basement coding on a sunny Sunday morning. Don't try this at home kids!

 

Mike and Dan, blasting rails. Mike is also our resident DJ. Dan does this meditative thing that helps him find his center. Whatever it is I'm not complaining, he can churn out the rails code like no one else I have ever seen.

It's the product, stupid.

I have to admit, I do like advertising. A well-crafted TV commercial (or better yet, a movie trailer) can be great entertainment, and though predictions of its death abound, the 30-second spot lives on.

I don't think of myself as an especially naive person (of course, most naive people don't), but I'm sure I don't respond to ads. I've never bought a car because of some wistful image of a winding, leaf-strewn road. I don't drink a particular brand of beer because I feel it'll endow me with the same witty charm as the man on TV. I definitely don't buy software or online services because of magazine spreads or "oooh, let's use the Internet!" PPC ads.

For a while, everybody jumped onto the viral marketing bandwagon, eagerly citing Hotmail's pre-Microsoft success in building a user base of millions with the simple PS in every message: Get your free email at Hotmail. It seemed for a brief moment as though there was an answer to driving mass exposure without spending millions on advertising. In other words, people like me, who (or so I claim) don't respond to ads, but did get a Hotmail account in 1996 or so, were open for business.

The majority misinterpreted this success as evidence that users could be encouraged to spread the word about virtually anything. Sony really jumped the shark last year with their fake campaign, which sought to use a contrived blog and equally phony videos on YouTube to spread the word about the decidedly un-awesome PSP. Appropriately enough, the fake blog URL now returns: Bad Request.

The point is this: viral marketing (or to give it its less exciting but real name, "word of mouth") isn't a service that an ad agency can provide, and in fact it's more evidence that advertising doesn't work. Sure, you can do your best to tell those in your network, and do your best to expand this network and encourage everyone to spread the word, but it just won't work if the product or service you're selling doesn't have a simple, immediate appeal.

The latest generation of web apps typically can't attribute their success to the marketing budget so much as they can to doing something new and innovative, and making it so simple that the barriers to trying it virtually disappear. Or to put it another way, it's not a killer app if you have to tell someone why.

March 26, 2007

IM OK. You're OK.

My IM chatting has skyrocketed since joining Team Gaboogie. At first I was a bit concerned about interrupted work. You know, the traditional business efficiency coaches advise against being 'available' for phone calls, impromptu visitors, and emails except at designated times. This allows you to focus your total concentration on the job at hand. Now I'm a believer.

Gaboogie absolutely lives and breathes on IM. IMs flash between Calgary and Vancouver like St. Elmos fire. Less so from there to Australia. I recently updated Dan's email address on GMail but in the process somehow dropped him off my chat list. I couldn't see him, and he couldn't see me for a couple of days, but I was immersed in my stuff. I eventually fixed it up, but by then the damage was done. Boy did I cop some abuse for being incommunicado so long.

Which brings me to the psychology of IM. It does give warm fuzzies to see members of the team winking on and off (mostly ON for way too many hours a day). And the immediacy of contact, completely free of spam, makes it much more than a great real time communications tool for our management team. It's a way for us to feel right next to each other, though separated by mountain ranges and the Pacific Ocean.

And uh, there's no hiding for slackers. (Cue: sound of bum being spanked)

Gabooger in training

Kyler, my 21 month old son has decided that the computer is a pretty cool thing. During a break today I brought him down into the gaboogie dungeon and he immediately jumped on a vacant workstation and started coding rails!? For a moment I was bewildered but after a few minutes he seemed to really get in a groove and whipped up some great helpers.

Well, if he wants to work who am I to say no? 

March 27, 2007

Bad desktop hygiene = good progress.

Not having had time to clean up my desktop must mean that we're making progress, right guys? Let's just say this is the opposite of a good user experience.

 

I can still see Susie's glass of champagne, though, which must be a good sign.

Update, March 30th. Things are now officially out of control.

 

 It's taking over my life.

March 28, 2007

"Go Ahead, Mac My Day"

Dan's post got me thinking. The screen capture was of his Mac desktop (Creative types are always messy). He pushed a button and the screen capture was taken and automatically saved to a PDF file. One of many very nice features of Macs. I'm a Mac man from way back. OK I'll date myself... I used a Mac Classic back in '86. This was just past that nostalgic era of mono orange screens and 9pin dot matrix printers.

Over the years I've climbed the evolutionary ladder from Quadra 650 to PowerPC 8500 to Powerbook to iMac to G4 Powerbook which I'm using to type this. And I'm eyeing the latest MacBook Pro.

After all these years market penetration for Macs in the $1000+ computer range still only runs at just under 6 percent. But for anyone that appreciates a fast intuitive user interface, handy suite of built in tools, and elegant lines... the absolute computer of choice is the Mac. And they're the pinnacle of cool. And they're all over the place at Gaboogie HQ.

The team is slaving away, building the equivalent of the Mac in the stodgy world of audio conference calls. Get ready to throw off your pajamas and gaboogie.

PS. To kill some time while you're waiting for Gaboogie to launch, drop by the www.apple.com site and have a chuckle at their witty Mac vs PC ads.

Murder in Vancouver makes Cray nervous

Cray, one of our illustrious gaboogie engine software developers shared some interesting news with me this morning. Apparently, unbeknownst to him, Craig has been living in a drug lord's basement suite who recently made news (Drug War, BMW Driver Murdered, Driver Shot) in Vancouver.

It's so weird to see this happening so close to home. You never really think about it until it's brought right into your world. Needless to say, our developer is a little out of sorts today. All the more reason for him to be safe and hard at work in MY basement.

If only Dan would move his head.

OK, so this post is a little self-indulgent, but we're genuinely excited about how close we're getting. Here's Erik and I reviewing the GUI and getting to see the app really come to life.

 

So close, it hurts. Now if only Randy would get himself that MacBook Pro he keeps talking about, Erik and I wouldn't be the only ones with embarrassing pictures for all the world to see. I really need a haircut.

March 29, 2007

Hmmmm, It Could Be Me.

I mentioned that when I signed up for Gaboogie I had barely uttered the words "I do" before being unceremoniously chained to a computer and given a long list of things to do before midnight. It hasn't changed since coming back to the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia. Here's a shot of Moffat Beach, about a 20 sec walk from my front door, taken in more relaxing times last winter. If you find the right hand tree and move straight up to the horizon, that's Vancouver. Wave Erik. Haven't actually seen this scene for real for two weeks now. That surfer in the middle foreground could be me, about to commune with the sea gods. But now I, I serve a greater G ...

MoffatBeach-Queensland.jpg

I used to be uptight, but I'm better now.

Something that inevitably comes up in the early stages of starting a company is the subject of intellectual property. The issue of patent trolls has been <a href="h