Thursday, March 26, 2015

More Frustrating than the Chicken and Egg Problem....

So you've been brainstorming for the past five hours and you've finally come up with the next billion dollar idea. It's a platform that lets buyers and sellers talk to each other and transact business while you take a cut of every penny that passes. You're going to make billions, right? Of course!

You start canvasing your area talking to buyers, introducing them to this revolutionary idea of yours, but one question keeps popping up: How many sellers are there on your platform? You pause. You realize that a change of strategy is in order - get sellers then come back and get the interested buyers.

You head out the next day, this time hunting for sellers. You get some meetings and each time at the end of your fancy presentation you get the question: How many buyers are there on your platform?

You, my friend, have a classic case of common "chicken and egg" syndrome.

This, no doubt, is frustrating and you are, in fact, tasked with finding very creative ways to overcome this problem. However, what if I told you that there's something worse than this? What if I told you that there's something more frustrating than spending months setting up meetings, tweaking the product, getting the word out and polishing pitches only to end up sitting late at night propping your jaw trying to figure out how to get sellers and buyers to drink from your milk saucer?

What if I told you that there is a situation in which you create the "perfect product" that escapes the clutches of ye old chicken and egg and is aimed squarely at a unidirectional audience that loves it but simply won't try it because it's a new product that nobody's tried before?

There is a name for this type of situation. I call it the "You Go First" situation - that's where several potential clients are standing in a circle around your product; all of them waiting for the other to try it first meanwhile you just sit there cueing them on to "step right up" while they all stand there stroking their chins; it's like you're the only guy at a kissing party and the girls all want to kiss you but they're each waiting for someone else to make the first move because nobody want to appear to be the thirstiest of thirsties. You know what happens in that scenario? The parents come home and break up the party before any lip locking gratification can be had - everybody misses out because nobody wanted to be the one to make that bold move. Who knows where the evening cold have gone? I digress...

It's amazing - you come to a client that loves you and your product. They believe that the idea is novel, and it's the shot in the arm that the industry needs. It will cost them $0 to try and involve very  minute changes (if any) to their business process while maximizing profits and saving them tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process... but they're skeptical to try it because nobody else has tried it yet.

That, my friends, is the state of the soil that we entrepreneurs are attempting to till to plant the seeds of innovation here in T&T. That's one of the reasons why great products (especially technology products) aimed at a T&T audience seldom succeed.

You think it's because most ideas are crap? No! Well, some of them are, but the point is that some of the great ideas, the really good ones are left out in freezing limbo until the money in their veins dries up and the entrepreneur has no choice but to move on and either a.) get a job and become another working stiff or b.) hunker down and set up camp somewhere else.

Is the situation unique to T&T? Of course not. I'm pretty sure this exists in other places as well, but does that mean it's acceptable?

As for what can be done about the situation, I'm fresh out of ideas. All I can suggest is prayer and patience. Every business owner has the right to accept or not accept any business proposition no matter how good it may appear to be. Here's hoping that this generation will see the last of this type of thinking.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


So this is where we've gotten to, huh? A teaser, for a teaser for a poster that will probably tease a teaser for the first official trailer.

Back in my day the official trailer served as the teaser for the movie. I wonder what happened?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Yes It's Still Coming...

Those of you in my other social circles would have seen me tease a bit of big news a couple weeks back and promised to reveal the big surprise shortly after.
Admittedly it's taking just a tiny bit longer than expected, but I want to make sure all the nails are flush, screws are tight, I's are dotted and T's crossed before I yank the veil off. Trust me, it's that big a deal, both for me and for the latest iteration of my pet project - Linq.

Stay tuned to the blog this coming week to see what's happening.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Only Fools Rush In

Image of Java, er, Old Faithful
I fear I may be getting old. There was once a time when I rushed for the latest technology stack being touted as the "hip new way of doing x, y and z" and scoffed at the older "dinosaur" programmers who were reluctant to try out this new hotness that's being lauded by Reddit users and is steadily gaining traction on Github.

Four years have passed, and upon reflecting on my habits for selecting technologies for projects as of late, it would seem that I, too, have joined the dinosaur herd... but is that necessarily a bad thing?

I mean, sure, this new framework or tool has a flashy new website with parallel scrolling and SVG animation out the wazoo, but does it mean that it's time to flee from my resting place on the rock of surety and hop and skip on the ever changing, ever shifting (and ever deprecating) sands of "the new hotness?"

The obvious answer would be yes and no - yes, because in this line of work you need to keep that skill base very up to date, and no because nothing is worse than setting your heart on a way forward with a framework only for it to get uppity and start meandering down a winding road of deprecations, refactorings and (sometimes) outright revamps and you find yourself pushing back deadlines as you scramble to re-learn the damn thing because v2.0 took v1.9's APIs out into the back yard and put two to the back of its head.

My point is don't rush for the new technology/framework/stack as soon as you hear about it. If it's still in version 0.x.x it's probably best to keep away from it until it matures a little bit more. Basing any of your production applications on a technology this early in development is making ample room for headaches later down when updates are due. No one is saying to avoid new tech completely though - download it to your sandbox and build a few small apps; it won't hurt. You might even be able to contribute code to the project in the process.

At the time of writing NodeJS is currently at version 0.10.35. Will I select it as the foundation for  my next official project? No. I will, however use it and the (very awesome) Gulp plugin to compile my Less CSS files, minify my Javascript and other small things. And yes, I've only just started using build tools over the last week or so. For my next major project I would much rather rely on the stability and "boringness" of Java. I can bet my bottom dollar that there's a library to perform almost any task and a documented solution to any problem I might encounter during development. The framework launched about a year ago is not as likely to afford me this comfort. Sure Java might not be a sexy as [insert new-fangled language here] but it sure is faithful and, most importantly, predictable - attributes that make it my primary choice for major application development.

It might seem obvious, but don't use early stage technologies heavily in production. Stick to something that's a lot more mature and stable to avoid surprises and headaches come update time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

About that Customer Service...

Yesterday I wrote a review on Amazon about some screen protectors I had bought and was very dissatisfied with. About two hours later I received an email from the vendor telling me that they were sorry to hear about my bad experience and as such were willing to send me another pack of screen protectors to try again or issue me a no-questions-asked a full refund.

A couple months ago I ordered a fried beef pie from a bakery around the block from where I work. Upon reaching back to the office I realized that they erroneously gave me the wrong type of pie, so I returned to the bakery and asked for an exchange. The cashier, with whom I had interacted with almost every day for the past 18 months proceeded to tell me that even though it was the wrong product I've received, they don't do exchanges on purchased items.

What's the difference between these two businesses? The bakery will NEVER receive another cent from me, while the screen protector vendor will actually receive high commendations and wide recommendations from me (provided the replacement batch is good).

That, my fellow business folk, is the difference in customer reaction when your customer service is top notch.

It's about going to great lengths, and sometimes beyond the call, to show your customers how much you care and how much you value their business. Falling short in this area can actually cost you more money not only in the long run, but in the immediate term. Remember, you're not just disrespecting one customer with your bad service, you're disrespecting all 50 of the people that that one customer would have recommended your business to. The inverse remains true.

So remember, no matter what line of business you get in to - fast food, retail, online services, etc. - the customer is king (or queen). Give them your utmost respect and make them feel like their money was well invested and not simply spent.

I got the exchange on my pie though. I wasn't about to allow my $5 to go down the drain.

Update: I got the new batch of screen protectors, and they were awesome! Here's the product in question:

Friday, November 14, 2014

You Can't Run a Company When You're Dead

5lb ain't nothin' to mess with!
As the founder of the next billion dollar startup, it can get tempting at times to just hunker down, dig in and pull out all the stops for the sake of a 4 month coding stretch. As the founder of a new company, myself, the temptation to just let everything hang out and grow out while I go for that 1.0 release is strong and sometimes overpowering.

Unfortunately this kind of activity does more harm than good. That diet of potato sticks, juice, water and fried chicken isn't doing ANYBODY any favours. Sure your code is lean, optimized and DRY but the body being used to create such a beautiful code base is slowly, but surely withering away.

As the title says, you can't run your billion dollar company when you're dead. Try as much as possible to keep a reasonably healthy diet. Nobody is saying to break out the dehydrated meat loaf and the soy milk, but keep things civilized. Also, make some time for exercise. I do a 30 minute jog then about an hour of some gym work at most 3 times a week. 90 mins out of your day every other day or so can do wonders for your health.

As a programmer, I'm all to familiar with the importance of that mental momentum. However, I've found that that a brisk jog and some gym time allows me to take a step back and clear my head for a bit. I may even use this time to think about the solution to a nagging bug that's been tormenting me all day. I've found that this works out better for me as opposed to sitting there and staring at code and hitting F5.

So take a break for the sake of your health. Lift your head up and see the beautiful sunshine, hear the birds and get that blood pumping. Your mind and body will thank you for it in the end, and the journey to 1.0 will be so much sweeter.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Keep On Keeping On

Becoming one with the code
As some of you may know I've started a small company about 2 years ago in my spare time and I've since created 2 products/services. One of which has just seen its second iteration and is currently in that ticklish and oh-so-stressful stage of customer acquisition.

Now, even with a free 60 day no-risk trial, no additional hardware or software to buy/install and no drastic changes to current workflows, getting members of the target market to use the service (or even give it a try) is like pulling teeth from a very timid, very untrusting bullshark.

Thank God that thus far I haven't received an outright "no" from any of the folks I approached, but boy it sure does get annoying constantly being thrown into that big grey abyss of "let me talk to my boss/let me think it over".

Honestly, sometimes I feel like giving up and resigning myself to being a permanent member of the working class. Paying $X a month to my VPS provider for a service that brings in $0 (as at writing time) isn't exactly one of the things I look forward to every pay day.

So what keeps me going strong? What keeps me dialing back the phone numbers of potential clients even when my emails go unanswered and their personal assistants sigh at the sound of my name? Aside from heavy reassurance from God and my nightmare of my wife having to quit her job to sell shoes door to door, I found inspiration in the most unlikely of places - a group of people I ignore every day on my way to work - roadside vendors!

You see, every day on my way to work a vendor would ask me if I'm interested in buying watch bands, cell phone cases or the one ring to rule them all and their offers to me would usually be met with an unapologetically blank stare and a strong breeze, void of acknowledgement, as I swoosh by on my way to get a taxi. Now that's just me, on person, turning down their offers on my way to work every day, 5 times a week for 18 months. Multiply that by about 10 thousand other no's they get daily and you see some interesting things starting to form in the mathematical soup.

One of those things is that they have a high tolerance for disappointment. They're resilient and persistent enough to boldly approach the same person over and over no matter how many times that person passes by ignoring them. After (literally) more than a million no's they still come out, set up shop and ply their trade daily; they keep banging on the market's door until the market responds with a yes, and it's that yes that keeps their fire burning until another yes comes along to stoke the flames again.

Compared to the 20 or so "I'll have to think some more about it" responses that I've gotten, things really aren't that bad in my court, and it probably isn't that bad in your court either, my fellow entrepreneur.

Sims on the grind
Being a young tech company in T&T is tough, and especially so when you don't have an illustrious family name that makes potential clients quiver and have to sell your product "door to door" because that $500 000 marketing budget is just slightly out of your reach at the moment. However, as someone who is currently in your shoes, I just want to encourage you to press on. I assure you that it's not a solid stone wall; there are soft spots, and with the right hammer, attitude and persistence you can make a breakthrough.

Just hang in there.