Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why Are You Not On the Cloud?

Junk your servers and enter the cloud.
I have been in business for six months.  In that time, I have networked relentlessly and done over 12 major revisions to the Sully® web service.  It also looks like we are close to our first customer.  We have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.  All this effort is exhausting considering I also work as a consultant during normal hours. 

Getting the word out is important for a small business.  This blog is just another example of that effort.  I hope you have found the content of this site helpful and informative.  This week Crain’s Chicago Business confirmed what I already know, businesses are saving money by switching to cloud based web services. 

The article clearly states how email, pay-roll and other services are moving to the cloud.  At E3 Systems our specialty is inventory and logistics.  Instead of spending thousands of dollars a year on software, servers and employees to keep it all working; you can spend a few hundred to view your inventory in real time.  With Sully® you can view that information on the web via a laptop or tablet computer.  We have also created an optimized version to work on your smart phone.  We think it is a great deal. 
So if you want to save money, time and aggravation managing your inventory you need to ask yourself why you are not on the cloud and using our Sully® service.
Until next time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New MSTag is Great News.

QR Codes are now a sexy addition to the MS Tag family.
I have spent most of my career working with Microsoft technologies.  I have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly over the years.  What strikes me is how much effort Microsoft has put into improving their products.  Visual Basic 6.0 is nothing like the present version and visual studio has come a long way since the 1990’s. 

In the eyes of some bloggers, my loyalty to Microsoft makes me a willing collaborator with an Evil Empire.  I do not see it that way.  As a .NET entrepreneur and consultant, Microsoft has kept me fed and the mortgage paid for over twelve years.   That loyalty has been returned when I joined Microsoft BizSpark.  For my new business, they have given me advice and guidance.  They have also provided me with licensed software to help me develop my on-line applicationservice – Sully.  It is a nice partnership and I hope it continues. 

This is why I am so excited about the latest news regarding the MSTag service.  Now products can be tagged with the standard MSTag, a QR code or use the latest technology from Android NFC.  It is a big deal because now you can be platform agnostic for 2D bar codes.  If you want to use QR codes tag supports it.  If you want stick with the MSTag format, you can.  Now a smart phone becomes the ultimate bar code reader and you will never have to purchase a bar code scanning system for employees.

This places E3 systems into an even better position to manage your inventory and logistics.  Thanks to MSTag any piece of paper can now communicate with your smart phone.  You can follow a bill of lading as it gets shipped and your sales force can learn in real time what they have in stock over their phone.  It is going to help you save time and sanity as you try to stay on top of all your merchandize. 
It is an exciting time and I am glad to be part of it.

Until next time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Frogy Fear and Loathing in the Cubical

French workers need better managers. 
One of the benefits of being an MBA is that you get great deals on business magazines.  Over the last year, Business Week, Crain’s Chicago Business and the Economist have become sources of information and inspiration.   Plenty of times, I receive text book examples about how to run a business.  I also receive many more examples of how NOT to do business.  I find examples of failure to be much more instructive. 

Case in point came from the November 18th issue of the Economist.  In the weekly Schumpeter column, they pointed to the French Economy and how many people consider their workforce lazy and inept.   It made me feel bad for the French office worker.  Nothing is bigger demotivation than failure.

One could argue that France has been a case study in failure since the formation of the Vichy government over seventy years ago.  You do not hear discussion about French entrepreneurs outside the fashion industry.    Its politics are notoriously messy and riots throw into stark contrast the inability of the French economy to create jobs. 
The nation which gave us de Gaulle, Descartes, Pasture, and Sartre deserves a better reputation in the global economy.  I also believe that the French worker has been unfairly stereotyped. The grim reality pointed out by The Economist is that much of the poor performance of the French can be blamed squarely on how French businesses lead their organizations. 
Unlike firms in America or Germany, who attempt to cultivate leadership inside the firm, many French companies are led by people who get most of their experience from civil service or academia.  As explained in the article:
(snip)
“…too many big French companies rely on educational and governmental elites rather than promoting internally according to performance on the job. In the country’s many family firms, too, opportunity for promotion is limited for non-family members. This overall lack of upward mobility, argues Mr. Philippon, contributes largely to ordinary French cadres’ dissatisfaction with corporate life. A study of seven leading economies by TNS Sofres in 2007 showed that France is unique in that middle management as well as the lower-level workforce is largely disengaged from their companies.”
Since French workers have little if any chance to earn promotion or additional income because of this system, they just don’t try as hard.  French business laws also make it difficult to remove bad employees so you have the worst of all worlds for a business; bad management and workers with no incentive to work. 

I am not going to wag my finger shamefully at the French.  American business can be equally dysfunctional.  Still, it is clear to me that France offers a great example of what happens when credentials are given more value than experience and leadership.  The French worker deserves better than the French executive.
Until next time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Saying Thanks

Have a great Thanksgiving
The last ten years have been a huge challenge for me and for America in general.  I can understand why people are filled with anxiety and frustration. Yet, each time this year, I make an effort to take stock and give thanks for the simple things in life.  This year I am going to share that list with you.

  • I am grateful for tap water which I can drink…over a billion people do not have that luxury.
  • I am glad that I have my family and friends.
  • I don’t know where I would be without the support and love of my fellow parishioners at Lifebridge Church.
  • After a scary stretch, I glad that I am caught up on my mortgage.
  • I am grateful that even during this period of economic hardship I can start a business and find clients who are interested in buying.
  • I am proud that I live in a country where we have both a Tea Party Movement and Occupy Wall Street.  I hope the folks in the Occupy movement are as good at rocking the vote as the Tea party. 
  • Finally, I am grateful to all of you who have read this blog and supported me as I go through the startup process. 
I may not have any clients on the books but I am close.  So in the spirit of optimism which all entrepreneurs must have I can gladly say my cup is full.  I am grateful that all of you have given me nourishment along the way. 

Until next time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Veterans Deserve Better

A future vet from Afghanistan, I want to hire people like this.
Friday was November 11th, 2011 came and went with little fan fair.  It is one of those quirky days on the calendar which reads 11-11-11.  For fans of the movie Spinal Tap, it became Nigel Tufnel day.  For others it was an excuse to start a three day weekend.  To me it was Veteran’s Day, which is a pretty important spot on the calendar. 

For American’s Veteran’s Day traces its history to the end of the First World War.  The armistice between the allies and central powers went into effect on the eleventh hours of the eleventh month of the eleventh day in 1918.  Troops continued to fight in the almost criminal stalemate up to the final minute.  President Wilson declared that Armistice Day would be a day of national reflection.  Congress later changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day so that veterans from all of America’s wars could be recognized. 

In the ninety three years since the end of the “War to End All Wars,” American soldiers, sailors, air men and marines have been fighting to preserve liberty and peace in places as diverse as the Chosin Reservoir in Korea to the hills of Helmand Province in Afghanistan.  Contrary to the opinion of a vocal minority, we have never acted as an empire but rather as liberators and nation builders.  American’s seem to invest a great deal of blood and treasure in other countries. 
No one pays a higher price than the men and women who do the fighting and the dying for us; veterans.  The biggest change for these young men and women is learning to make the transition from the military to civilian life.  For a person who understands how to fire a rifle and avoid roadside bombs, the daily grind of the business world could seem trivial. 
As a nation we have done a poor job helping these people find meaningful work.  According to business week, the current rate of unemployment for Veterans is 12.1% compared to 9% for the general population.  The figures are even worse for vets ages 18 to 24 who have an unemployment rate of 30.4%.  This is unacceptable.  Veterans have paid a steep price for our freedom; we owe them a chance to make a living in the civilian world. 
If you are a veteran from any of the armed forces, I want to put you to work selling my product.  I will not make promises because of our start-up nature but I think you can help us be a success.  Drop me a line at jobs@goeeethree.com.
Until next time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gold in Them There Mobile Phones.

Mobile phones are gold for a developer and E3 systems.
The last two weeks have been very eventful for E3 systems.  We have hired our first Account Executive so please take time out of your day to send an email to Thomas Rednour and welcome him aboard.  Thom is a marketing graduate from Lewis University and we look forward to how he is going to improve the business.

This issue I want to talk about something software developers ignore at their own peril- mobile development.  The facts are becoming clearer.  According to Development Notes, the release of the iPhone has created a spike in the use of the mobile web.  Furthermore, Mashable mentions that by 2015 the majority of our computing will be done over mobile devices. 
This paradigm change in how people use the web is exciting and scary.  For a developer hoping to remain employable, the will have to learn some kind of mobile development.  Applications today need to work equally well on a traditional web browser and a mobile device.

This is one of the main selling points of our Sully® application.  It works both on the web and on a smart phone.  We are also working hard to improve the mobile experience of our application with JQuery Mobile and Microsoft Tag.  This way it will be even easier to use our services with a mobile device. 
I am proud of Sully® and our potential clients are impressed with how we are providing an economical solution to shipping and receiving problems.  This one of the main reasons I enjoy being an entrepreneur. 

Until next time.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Selling It

I am NOT John Galt but Ayn Rand
would still like me.
October is a challenging month for anyone.  It is the start of fourth quarter which drives retail and sales organizations toward a mad rush to profitability.  In the IT world, managers looking to impress their betters push their departments harder hoping to get the most out of them.  I am no different.  I am firmly fixed in two worlds.  I am building my business while at the same time trying to work as a mild mannered software developer during the day. 

In this span of about three weeks I have learned a little about myself.  I am not super human.  I need sleep and food like everyone else.  I also learned that I need to push myself harder than I have in the past because if I am going to break through the clutter of what people are selling I need to make an impression. 
This is the month; I joined the chamber of commerce in my community.  I walked into their office and showed off my Sully® product and they asked me to join right away.  I am pretty proud of that because there is usually a vetting process.  In addition, I have a big trade show this week and I want to close at least one client before the New Year.  It is pretty exciting. 
Many people ask me what I am selling, let me try to explain.  I have noticed for the last few years that many small and medium sized businesses are keeping track of invoices, bills of lading, and packing slips with plain paper and pencil.  Inventory is often managed with index cards or excel spreadsheets; no one had authored a set of tools which could do inventory and warehouse management.  This was a problem begging for a cloud based solution.
Over the last year, I began to write a web application which would work on smart phones, tablet computers and standard web browsers.  I called it Sully® to give it a little blue collar credibility.  Just over a year later I have a working piece of software and I am starting the sales process.  Ayn Rand would be very proud of me.  Like many cloud based applications it is low cost because I didn’t think a business should have to pay a lot of money to have a 21st century inventory management system.  It is a dream come true but the reality is this is only the beginning.  Now I have to sell my creation. 
I will do my best to keep you posted and up to date on my progress.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Saying Good-Bye

Remembering Steve Job's in China
There are three types of businesses in the current economy.  The first are businesses which make their money providing services.  The second are businesses which make their money pushing paper.  Finally, there are businesses that make their money building things.  Apple Computers was one of those companies which made things and in the process changed technology forever. 

I suppose that is why there is such an emotional outpouring for Steve Jobs.  Steve made things and they were stylish, innovative and helpful.  He had a few duds along the way but no one will deny that his influence in the computer science field will be felt for decades to come.  I doubt that the CEO of Goldman Sachs will be remembered as fondly if at all.

This is why I wanted to start a technology company and go into business for myself.  Life is too short to be working for others and I hope to make things which people can use.  If I make a little money and provide employment for a few people along the way so much the better. 

Good-Bye Steve, you will be missed. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Am a Job Creator

During this political season there is going to be a lot of talk about “job-creators.”  I feel pretty strong about this subject but I do not think that this is a proper place or time to vent my feelings on the matter.  Suffice to say, my focus is on business and NOT on politics. 

I am now hiring sales people for my start up.  I am looking for some folks who want to change the world and get involved in a chance to provide small and medium sized businesses with cloud based software. Please send a resume, cover letter and contact information to jobs@goeeethree.com.  I am looking for people who can legally work in the United States who want to sell.  We will try to get back to you as soon as possible. 
Being and entrepreneur is a little crazy.  I am looking for a few more people to climb on to the crazy train with me and see if we can make a difference. 
I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why I Use TFS 2010

Team Foundation Server 2010 is not a muscle car.
Developers are a temperamental and combative in nature.  Many business people justifiably treat us like the troll under the bridge due to our gruff and matter-of-fact way of addressing controversy.  Some of us even look and smell as bad as these mythical creatures.  Nothing inspires more troll like behavior than developers debating which technology or tools are superior.  Another chapter in this ongoing discussion came from Derek Hammer and his blog “TFS is destroying your Development Capacity.”  This article is well footnoted, inflammatory, and filled with plenty of reasons not to use Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server 2010 or TFS for short.  I want to take time to answer some of his criticisms and explain why I am sticking with TFS for my business. 

Hammer’s criticisms are fairly clear:
1)      TFS version control is frustrating to use.
2)      Bug Tracking is hard to use.
3)      TFS is not flexibile enough for Agile project management.
4)      The build system is clunky.
5)      Finally, the vertical integration of the product makes it impossible to use best practice tools.

Let us start from the beginning, if you grew up in the business with Visual Source Safe and Visual Source Safe 2005, you will understand that TFS is a quantum leap forward.  Code can be exclusively checked out to one developer or several developers can work on the same code and merge it together.  Also the ability to branch and merge code is clean and easy to understand.  This makes it possible to have code in development, staging and production environments existing in source control.  This is a huge help if a problem crops up in production and it cannot be reproduced in the other environments.  The label and history functions make things easy to track and using project settings forces developers to comment check-ins and associate check-ins with work items. 
Hammer does have some legitimate gripes.  TFS forces you to be connected to the server via your “workspace.”  This is a bit of a pain for people who think source controls consists of copying and pasting folders.  Fortunately, this criticism will soon be moot because the next version of TFS will allow you to work locally and then connect to the server to synch changes.  He also talks about a simple four window three-way merge.  Personally, I have not seen this and I did not even know it was a standard.  I would like to see an example of this.  Please leave a link in the comments. 
Next, Hammer dislikes the bug tracking system.  This was what sold me on TFS.  Work items, bugs and tasks can be entered via Visual Studio or the web site which is built into the system.  The web interface in no more difficult than SharePoint and customer service reps can easily be trained on how to fill out the information.  Finally, TFS has its own API so if you are not happy with the interface you can write your own web form or MVC application to place bugs into the system. 
Moving on to Hammer’s third criticism, TFS is not suited to Agile management.  My biggest challenge as a developer and consultant has always been having the client adopt any kind of Project Management Operations.    This is particularly true in the organization that thinks project management consists of leaning over a cubical wall and asking a developer to build a website.  Thus, TFS is a fantastic introduction to agile and its principles.  I still use a white board for the project team however; TFS helps creating excel reports for management a breeze.  Also, I create custom reports all the time to view specialized data.  When I was at a client, I act as scrum master entering data into the system and leading the project.  I also spend a lot of time training others on how to use TFS to get the most out of the system.  For a mature Agile teams, TFS may seem like an impediment but for companies just getting started, it is the perfect set of training wheels.
Next, Hammer talks about how the build engine is clunky.  Without any reservations, I can agree with his criticism.  In my nearly two years working with TFS, the build system has frustrated me the most.  Often, I simply rely on Microsoft Visual Studio’s publish tool, web.config transformations and FileZila to get work done.  Fortunately, I see this changing.  The Chicago ALM group had a great meeting on Sept 14th 2011 illustrating how to customize the build process and I look forward to more people coming forward and sharing their knowledge of the subject.  Until then, I am sticking with FileZila. 
Finally, Hammer criticizes the vertical integration of the product and how it is endemic of “The Microsoft Way.”  It has been my sad experience that most people who make decisions about technology are not technologists themselves.  Thus, they are not thinking about best practices or better ways of doing things.  To this kind of individual vertical integration is a perk and not a defect.  With TFS, they see and all in one package that is easy to install and does what is required of it.  This leaves it up to the technologists to us the tool they have been given as best they can.  If that means we write web apps for the customer service people to put bugs into the TFS system and we run reports each week and send them out as excel, so be it.
Let us compare software to automobiles for a moment, Hammer sees TFS as a clunky minivan which gets people from point “A” to point “B” with little speed or flash.  What he wants is a sport car where he can open the hood and swap out engine parts for better performance.  Talk to any Mom and they will tell you when push comes to shove they will settle for the minivan.  This is why most businesses are moving to TFS as well.   It may not be sexy and flashy but it gets the job done in a way technical and non-technical people understand; this why I am sticking with TFS.  I understand the tool.  I know that I can train other developers how to us it.  Finally, it makes sense to business people who usually pay the bills. 
As someone who used to be a troll under a bridge, I understand Hammer’s perspective.  Now as I begin my own company and transition to working with C-Level executives, I see that there is more to a technology decision that just the technology itself.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why I Have a Board of Directors

When you decide to go into business for yourself you want to succeed and you want to do it now.  It is easy to get angry or impatient.  Fortunately, I have a board of directors who keep me focused and moving forward. 

They were the people who suggest that I get an attorney to draw up sales contracts so people who are using my service are legally obligated to pay me for that service.  They have made numerous revisions and suggestions to my business making sure nothing is missed for a venture capitalist who might want to help me out.
I found a good collection of people who I trust.  I hope that as we start selling the board will prevent me from killing my business before it has a chance to take off.  Every entrepreneur is a bit of a maverick, but I am glad that I have a board of directors who will watch my back and act as my posy.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Respect - good for the soul

R-E-S-P-E-C-T tell you what it means to me.
This is the final part of my four part discussion of E3 systems corporate values.  This week, I want to discuss respect and how it applies to the business.

When talking about respect, it is easy for an author to rely of clich├ęs about the subject.  Countless leadership books have covered the topic.  Sports radio has countless hours of conversation devoted to players and coaches who have earned it.  Finally, it is one of those intangible things which a business can create but cannot measure.  In short, a business lives and dies based on the respect it has in the marketplace.

To me, respect is about as simple as the Christian Golden Rule or Kant’s Categorical Imperative.  If you treat people like you want to be treated respect is just a natural byproduct.  I am terrible with names but I try to make a point of calling people by their given name rather than their nick name.  This simple gesture values them as people rather than as the moniker others have placed on them. 

When I used to work at a casino we were trained to thank our staff for a good days work and say goodnight.  That little acknowledgement meant the world to me as a line employee.  As a pit boss, I practiced it religiously.  It is a habit I still have.  Again, it seems like the respectful thing to do for employees and peers. 

When I look at people like Al Dunlap, Carly Fiorina, John Bolton, and Martha Stuart; I see people who have found success but forgot how to respect others.  I will strive to remember that everyone who works with me have a family, friends, and a soul.  Nothing crushes a person’s soul more than working with ignorant, arrogant, and disrespectful people.  It is my hope that I can create an environment of respect at my workplace. 

Finally, I see respect as how you treat your community.  A business only exists because people in your community are willing to work for you and purchase your product.  This means using locally sourced vendors, keeping outsourcing to a minimum, and paying a fair share of taxes.  It isn’t very glamorous but if you do simple things like this in the community people will notice and be more predisposed to buying your product. 

So that is what my firm is going to stand for: agility, growth, development and respect.  I am ready to start selling and I hope that we have more adventures to report as the weeks move on. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Talking About Development

Development = Winning
This is part three of my discussion of my corporate values.  This week, I want to talk about development.  In corporate parlance, you hear professionals talk about developing “human resources.”  I disagree.  A business is not made of resources; it is made out of people.  It is people who sell your product.  It is people who innovate and help grow the firm.  Finally, it is people who will purchase your product.

Once you realize you are dealing with people instead of resources your attitude changes about how you do business.  Instead of wringing every ounce of productivity out of your resources like a technocrat, you will start behaving like a choir director attempting to get everyone to sing the same tune with enthusiasm.  It is a significant paradigm shift.    
Since we are dealing with people instead of resources, a successful business person should do everything in his power to make the people who work for them successful.  In a modern day economy it means the following: 
1)      A clear understanding of mathematics up to the Algebra level, even better an understanding of calculus.
2)      A clear understanding of science including basic physics, chemistry and biology.
3)      The ability to effectively communicate with the written and spoken work in both formal and informal settings.
4)      Being able to use a word processing program, spread sheet, and presentation software.
5)      Understand project management techniques.
6)      Be able to work with others in a team environment.
7)      Understand the basic cannon of Western Philosophy, Religion and Literature.
8)      Be able to write basic HTML and CSS.

This level of proficiency is earned by college graduates.  Unfortunately, we do not produce enough of these people each year to fill the roles in our modern workforce.  This means that business leaders have to provide training and education to the work force.  This means providing in house training to employees and providing access to continuing education at local colleges.  I find this doubly important for technical professionals who have their skills erode every 18 months as newer and better ways come along.  I know that I am struggling to keep up as XML Web Services are replaced with WCF and HTML 5 becomes a web standard. 
For a business to be successful, you need to be developing your work force.  As they grow they become more productive and you have the opportunity to make more money.  This creates an upward spiral where a well-developed workforce becomes a competitive advantage. 
Nothing is more frustrating that being put into situation where you are destined to fail.  Developing employees and co-workers mitigates this risk.  If you are going to winning company then you are going to teach your people how to win.  This is why development is so important to me and my company. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

On Growth

I have spent the last 20 years as a professional.  Instead of graduate school, I opted on going to the school of hard knocks to see if I could make a living.  In that time, I have swapped careers three times moving from radio to the casino business to finally winding up in the technology profession.   In that time, I picked up a little wisdom along the way.  I noticed that people who said one thing and did another were often rewarded for their deviousness.  The Peter Principle wasn’t just a fancy premise for an essay and that being a jerk was often forgiven if you made your monthly sales figures. 

I also learned a few things about the growth along the way.   Today, I want to talk about growth and how it will relate to my new firm.  The job of any business person is to grow their business.  A small business has to keep selling and growing in order to pay vendors and employees.  This simple formula of sales equaling growth quickly becomes complicated.  As customers increase, you have to hire more employees to service those customers.  The proper balance is how to keep customers happy while keeping employee costs down.  It is not easy.
Sorry, I am worried about growth not olives
I have witnessed a lot of funny things called growth which are fraudulent.  For instance, one company I worked for purchased regional competitors and other firms which provided the same service.  Sales increased but only because more market share was concentrated in the firm.  In many respects, it resembles building a house of beer coasters.  It looks impressive but it will fall apart the moment anyone pokes at the structure.  Which is what happened when bad weather affected the business, the share price of the company went from $33 a share to $12.50 and really hasn’t recovered in the eleven years since I left the firm. 
Another example, is fiddling with margins which boosts profits but really doesn’t solve a customer service problem.  I turn to the famous olive example, where an airline generated over $40,000 in profits by having fewer olives in its in-flight salad.  This is not growth.  It is accounting tricks and stiffing customers to create the illusion of growth. 
I plan to grow my business the old fashioned way with sales.  It will not be pretty but it will be honest and generate wealth and prosperity without all the smoke and mirrors. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Making Sense of Agility

Just like dancing...only with business
In the next few blogs, I want to discuss the corporate values of my organization.  I have four guiding principles which shape how I want to run this business they are; agility, growth, development, and respect.  Today, I want to share with you my feeling about agility. 

In 2009 I was working for a dysfunctional family business, the technology staff was banished into the server room and was not allowed to do much interaction with the rest of the business.  When we were interacting it was usually to get reprimanded for not delivering what the rest of the business wanted.  It was like living in a Kafka story.  Introduced into this ugly environment was agile project management.  I was skeptical but decided to give it a try.  Much to my surprise, I liked it and I quickly became a convert. 

For those not familiar with Agile and Scrum, it is a better and faster way to deal with software projects created by developers and project managers at a ski trip in Utah.  They even have their own manifesto which is much easier to understand than the one Karl Marx cooked up.  It reads as follows:

·         Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
·         Working software over comprehensive documentation
·         Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
·         Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
Thanks to Agile, it was now possible to put in place processes which helped the business user rather than get in the way.  Documentation is still necessary in Agile but could be changed to meet customer needs.  Changes no longer caused controversy because they were handled in a judicious manner.  Finally, developers and business users had to work together to get things done because they both depended on one another. 
In the course of developing my web application, I have made several major revisions to the product.  Each correction or improvement, never say change, did make the software better.  It also created an understanding between the developers and business users.  The developers set the deadlines for a project while the business users set the priorities of what needed to get done.  Each side had equal power and they both developed a mutual respect for each other’s challenges.  Best of all, we had working software which met expectations. 

In this business environment, being agile is going to be a competitive advantage as we strive to meet customer demand and make things happen.  I would rather have something people can use that is improving than vapor ware which promises to be perfect, whatever that means. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Its All About the Business Plan.

As I stumble into the world of entrepreneurship, I have learned a lot about myself and business.  I have also learned how much work goes into a business before a single sale is made.  I put together a board of directors to help me avoid dangerous mistakes and they also helped me put together a primitive business plan.  For those Type-A personalities, the purpose of writing a business plan seems foolish; you have a product and sell that product to others.  The rest is just details.   

What I am discovering is that the devil is in the details.  Without understanding the details of your business or hiring people who understand those details you are doomed to failure.  I realized this when I was being asked questions about my market, what my competition was doing and pricing comparisons between myself and others.  I knew everything I needed to know about my business but nothing about the environment where it would work.  It was humbling but necessary. 
So I am back to the drawing board with my business plan and spending a little more time doing research on where I fit in on the business food chain.  I suppose by sweating the details now I can enjoy better sales in the future. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Crazy and Not in a Good Way

Consider me the Anti-Carly.
Being a business person exposes you to lots of people.  Most are hardworking attempting to a make a living and support their families.  Others seem muddle along in a lazy haze and others are so cutthroat you would be nervous if you left children in their presence.  It just comes with the territory.  Still, it amazes me to this day how many mentally ill, damaged and just plain mean people I meet in the course of my career.  Usually they wind up as my managers or as a client.  These individuals take all the joy out of doing business.  In fits of despair, I cry to heavens and ask why. 

Business week gave me a little insight into this existential problem.   According to author Jon Ronson, many people who are business leaders fit the operational definition of psychopathy.  In fact, many corporate leaders score “alarmingly high.”  I suppose this is because many business leaders crave power and strive to be in charge; just look at Ken Lay, Al Dunlap and Carly Fiorina.  All of those individuals tended to view others as mere tools to be used, were concerned about their personal brand over what best for their organization and when the stuff hit the fan, abdicated any personal responsibility for what happened.  I encountered similar behavior in the advertising and gift card business. 

Business schools for the last ten years have been railing against this kind of behavior.  Two of my favorite books on the subject are Primal Leadership by Daniel Goelman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee and The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton.  Both books illustrate the damage to the bottom line jerks cause.  Still when I go out in the business community, I see an abundance of people who exhibit this kind of deviant behavior and consider it an acceptable way to conduct business.  Again, I ask why. 

I turn again back to the business week and they say researcher David McClelland divided workers into three groups:  those who need power, those who need to achieve and those who want to be liked.  The ones who excel at achievement and being liked wind up as customer service representatives while those who crave power get the corner office.  In the Social Darwinism of the office, those who need power often get their fix at the expense of others.  More troubling, when these individuals are held accountable for their actions by employees they have the power to hire and fire.  This is creating a feedback loop of fear and repression at the office.  It stinks and it explains why innovation takes place at startup companies which are purchased by larger corporations. 

I know I will be forced to be a jerk from time to time starting up my own business.  I will have to fire people for poor performance.  I will also have to make some difficult decisions but that does not mean that I have to become like Lay, Dunlap or Fiorina.  Being an entrepreneur is a touch crazy but I hope that it is crazy in a good way rather than the psychopathic fashion that is all too common in business. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Times Are a Changing

Amateurs market software, pros sell software.
Back in the good old days of the internet, say between 1998 and 2002; if you had a dream and some venture capital you could found a company, hire a few friends, and play business.  That is until the money runs out and you have to file bankruptcy.  Many of those early start ups were huge vortexes of cash and bad management.  Many of them resembled fraternity houses populated with engineers and developers who attempted to have the fun they couldn’t have in college. 

There were a lot of great flame outs; Pets.com comes to mind right away.  Still in the aftermath, Amazon became the destination for one stop shopping on the internet and Google is one of the most valuable companies in the world.  This is the nature of business.  The strong survive and the weak are culled to make room for other attempts at innovation. 

I talk about this because another wave of internet companies are offering IPO’s on the stock market.  The professional marketing site LinkedIn is now said to be worth nine billion dollars.  All of that worth is investor enthusiasm; sales are but a fraction of that market capitalization.  It is easy for an amateur to look at this situation and think that they are ready for another gold rush.    
I am not an amateur. 

I have been in the trenches during the Dot.Com boom and bust.  I know what it takes to put together a good product that works on the web and mobile devices rather than in marketing presentations.  I am going to grow the business with sales and reasonable application of money.  Yes, a time will come where I will have to get some venture capital to grow the business but I want to be smart about it.  People are counting on me to manage their logistics and warehouse data.  That is trust that is earned through hard work and good engineering. 
My hope is the sales will take care of itself.  If not, I am going to be making a lot of cold calls and sending out a lot of mass e-mail. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tags are Going to Make the World go Round.

Found a great article on the Procurement Leader’s website.  The general theme is that most ERP and Supply Chain Management systems are too complicated.  The most shocking statistic was the following snip:

“…More than 65% of respondents age 35 and younger would be at least somewhat likely to change jobs due to negative experience user their company’s enterprise software. 

In other words, bad software equals employee turnover.  We have something to correct that situation.  We have an easy to use web based interface which works over the cloud.  We have provided a way for you to look at information with your smart phone using the Microsoft Tag technology so that at any time you can view a Bill of Lading or piece of inventory. 

Go and click, you know you want to!
E3 systems wants to promote easy to use software that solves real world problems, we think that Microsoft Tags are going to make life around your loading dock easier.  Now you don’t have to type or lookup information.  Now you just scan the information and it shows up on your smart phone.  Tags can be incorporated in sales materials and are easy to use and reproduce.  The best part about tags is that they hold more information than a standard bar code so they can be hooked into web pages and other systems. 
Once you see tags in action you are going to be surprised how they will make the world of logistics go round. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Liberty of Being an Entrepreneur

The grand experiment gets another year older.
I hope that everyone has had a good Independence Day weekend.  I would think our founding fathers would be pretty impressed with the nation they created many years ago.  We are in the midst of political problems and economic challenges but I still think that we are the grand experiment of western civilization.  We are the example that other nations strive for and I look forward to the future as the 21st century becomes another American Century.  

One of the reasons for American exceptionalism is we are able to take abstract ideas and convert them into concrete solutions to problems.  The cotton gin, telegraph, telephone, electricity, transistor, and internet were American inventions which we were able to adapt to the real world.  Seven years ago, Facebook was the product of a sexually frustrated young man.  Today, I have to promote my company on his service or face bankruptcy.  America is one of the few nations where this kind of story can take place.  You don’t see many entrepreneurs coming from France or Spain.  China seems very good at undermining human rights and violating patent regulations but they still do not have the track record of innovation we have in the United States. 
I am part of that tradition.  I created a company called E3 systems.  What we provide is a means for small to medium sized trucking companies to use the internet to manage their inventory and bills of lading.  In the future, I will have features which use the Microsoft Tag Technology to track items and inventory with smart phones.  I also plan to make it possible to view truck driver log books and fuel charges in real time.  I plan to do this at a reasonable cost and over the web. 
No software to install and nothing to purchase.  You lease it over the web.  I think it is a reasonable means to address the challenges that the smaller provider faces. 
If America is going to recover from this recession, then it is going to take the efforts of Entrepreneurs to make a difference.    I think I am up to the challenge. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Lake Wobegon Company

A bad day at the ball park. 
Where does one find major league tallent?
One of the joys of being on Twitter, is that you stumble upon all sorts of interesting ideas.  Some of the most news worthy items comes from the Harvard Business Review.  This week two though provoking blogs were posted by Bill Taylor discussing talent inflation in the technology business.  In short CEO’s in SiliconValley will pay big bucks for the correct engineering talent. 
As Mark Zuckerberg said in the article snip:
"Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good," he argued when asked why he was willing to pay $47 million to acquire FriendFeed, a price that translated to about $4 million per employee. "They are 100 times better."
In other words, dad’s teach your kids SQL because they have a good chance to make as much money as a Major League closer. 

I am deeply conflicted about this.  I do not have Zuckerberg’s money.  I also am starting out from a very different place than he did.  As I grow my company, I need to hire good people because if I don’t it is going to affect the quality of my customer service and product.  So how do I find top performers without having to break the bank?  I don’t know the answer to that question but I do have clues. 
I will lean on my college’s Delta Mu Delta honor fraternity for business students.  When I was inducted as a graduate student I met a lot of sharp people who want to succeed.  I could use them.  They may not be the rock stars that Zuckerberg is chasing but they could grow into that role.  Also, I will be auditioning developers and leaning on my network of recruiters to help me find the right talent.  Again, I may not get rock stars but if I have a diverse team of programmers who work well together and are just as committed as I am, I think we can take over the world. 
Talent does matter but let us not get crazy.  My Chicago Cubs have spent lots of money over the last ten years and it still hasn’t broken there ugly tradition of losing.  I would rather have some misfits and malcontents with talent and something to prove that a roster of all stars any day.  I suppose that means I want a Lake Wobegonecompany where the weather is always nice and everyone is above average. 
I understand this is not realistic but one can always dream.