Monday, July 30, 2012

Getting away from the mistress.

My business is my mistress.  Not as good
as this one but it is still my mistress.
Sometimes, you need to step away from your business and spend some time with family and friends who are not entrepreneurs.  When you are building your own company your business becomes your mistress, child, and unhealthy obsession.  I needed a chance to break away and set the business aside and just enjoy the moment.  I have also been dealing with health problems and I have not been as focused as I should. 

The most interesting part about taking some time off is that I notice particular things.  First,  it is pretty difficult to find a good breakfast buffet.  Next, that your struggles are not different than other peoples struggles.   Many of us get up in the morning, shake off the sleep and try to earn a living for our family and friends.  Finally, when you tell people you are an entrepreneur you are greeted by a mixture of responses which range from mild jealousy to fear.  Some people are totally frightened by abandoning all security to pursue a dream and others wonder if they have what it takes. 
I wonder sometimes myself.  I have to try and find out.  I don’t want to say I never tried.
Until next time.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Our New Website

Dude Nice looking website.
Rebuilding a web site is a big deal.  It is not undertaken lightly and usually includes a committee of people attempting to be creative.  I hate redesigning web sites because everyone seems to know how a web site should look but many people do not understand how to make it happen.  This leaves me confronted with power point slides and Photoshop graphics with marketing people telling me that it should look exactly like the file they sent me.  Thoughts about cross browser compatibility and how the site should look on a mobile phone seem like secondary considerations.  It was a website redesign which finally pushed me over the edge and convinced me that I should be an entrepreneur.

It has been almost a year since I formally founded E3 systems.  When I did I had a clean and easy to understand website which leveraged the latest web technologies and looked good on all the major browsers.  I decided to ignore IE6 because Google and Yahoo decided to. I was pretty proud of it but I knew as we were reaching our one year anniversary we needed a refresh. 

I took inspiration from Microsoft's MSDN website.  The good folks at Redmond are getting ready for the fall release of Windows 8 and are slowly changing over their web sites to have a more metro look and feel.  I decided that I should do the same.  This biggest challenge was finding an easy way to create the tiles and icons used in a Metro layout.  Searching around Microsoft's blog network, I was pointed toward a company called Syncfusion and they had a tool which manufactured Metro style tiles.  Armed with this tool I began the site redesign. 

To avoid making the swap too jarring, I decided that I would only change the front page of the web site and keep the remaining pages in the same format with Metro style flourishes.  I also wanted to make sure that users of the web site had access to all of our social media venues including our YouTube channel.  I also wanted to see if I could leverage the grid 960 css frameworks.  It was like putting together a complicated puzzle which would better appeal to our customers. 

The results speak for themselves.  The landing page contains all the information which old landing page did.  The social media icons are not as distracting.  Users do not have to scroll through the page to digest all the content.  It also looks good on tablet computers and PC's. 

Look over our web site and let us know what you think.

Until next time.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Making QR Codes Useful.

Dare you to Scan this Code.
Sometimes you stumble on to the strangest stuff when you are reading a business magazine.  This week it was the good folks at Bloomberg who claimed the use of QR codes by marketing firms are not generating expected results.  I mentally rolled my eyes and finished the article.  Those of us in the technology business had been noticing this trend for a while and it is clear to me that the good folks at Bloomberg are just starting to catch up.

I have been following QR codes and Microsoft Tag for the last two years and I can say that they are just not the correct tools for advertising.  This is because advertisers just think that QR codes are an easy way to generate mobile engagement.  What I am discovering is that there is no easy way to generate mobile engagement.   Just because you slap a QR code on a flyer or poster does not instantly give you an inroad to someone's mobile phone. 

It does not help that the content behind these QR code is poor to begin with.  Most web sites are not optimized for mobile browsers so when you scan a QR code they do not look good on the phone.  Also the content is not unique so they can access this from their desk top.  It would be farcical if it wasn't so sad.  I was speaking with a fellow company at a trade show and they complained about this and I told them if they linked their QR codes to YouTube videos or special coupons they would get more scans.  Simple advice but people are paying thousands of dollars to advertising agencies and are getting poor return on their money. 

I see QR codes and MS Tag differently.  These technologies make it easier to track paper documents and share them with the digital world which means they are perfect for the world of logistics.  Naturally, they are part of E3 systems application Sully®.  Scanning a QR code or MS Tag should make the traditional bar coding application obsolete and that is what I intend to do.  So I dare you to scan that MS Tag above and check out our video and learn a little more about Sully®.  I also hope that advertising agencies get a little smarter on how they use QR codes.

Until next time.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sucking It Up for the Business

We made the cut thanks to everyone who helped.
One of my early mentors when I worked in the casino industry was a 30 veteran of Harrah’s Casino Lake Tahoe.  His name was Andy LaChapelle and he said this on the first day I became a pit boss at the punkie age of 26.  He said, “I have known people who get by on charm and cuteness their whole lives.  I have no use for them.  Sooner or later you are going to have quit being charming and cute.  Someday you are going to have to suck it up and know what the hell you are doing.  Then we can work together. “ 

It was a shocking message to a twenty something college grad.  Hard work and personal debasement was something expected of you.  You were expected to sacrifice for your career and may-be the pay-off would be respect from colleges and possible security.  For someone who was accustomed to being encouraged to achieve excellence to being expected to achieve excellence, it was a very swift wake up call.  It is also a message I have passed down when I coach speech and work with young people at my church youth group.
On June 30th, I had to experience one of those suck it up moments.  I wanted to share it with you.  For those who have been following me, it has been no secret that I have been attempting to earn a grant from J.P. Morgan Chase’s Mission Small Business program.  $250,000 would be a huge boon to our organization.  We could get some equipment, hire some people and finally devote full time attention to the business.  It would have been foolish for us not to take a chance. 

I have spent the last five weeks working with members of my board of directors to craft my submission.  It was a difficult back and forth and it took four revisions but I feel like we put together a good bid.  In addition, to our bid we needed 250 votes from Facebook to qualify for consideration.  Five days before the deadline we submitted our bid.  Then I expected, wrongly, to spend the month of July gathering votes so that when Chase makes their decision on September 15th we would make the cut.  That was when I received a tweet from Chase which said the deadline for voting was June 30th.  I had 35 votes and I would be locked out of the competition if I didn’t get more. 
I sent out emails to people.  I started spamming Facebook with messages and I leveraged every social media contact I could.  I even nagged my pastor to put out the word to his friends to pitch in and help out.  I had 55 votes and I had three days to get the remaining 200.  It was looking very bleak.  This was when I went on to Twitter to complain and discovered a hash tag where small businesses were swapping votes to qualify.  In a tit for tat fashion, I voted for someone in exchange they voted for me.  I got to meet all sorts of interesting people from shoe stores to consulting companies who work with business women.  I even made some friends in the process.  It was Thursday night and I had just over 100 votes. 
I went to bed with visions of failure and decided that after I worked a full day I would dive back into it on Friday night.  I met more cool people and was scolded by a woman running an organic business telling me not to be too eager.  I also used up my daily quota of 250 tweets.  I had 150 votes and as I shuffled off to bed I could see any chances of helping my business fade away. 
The next morning I got up.  I took my time showered and had some breakfast.  I knew it was going to be a long day.  I was going to need over 100 votes and I had fifteen hours to make it happen.  I started sending messages out via Facebook soliciting for votes.  After three hours, Facebook forbade the process and blocked me from sending messages.  This was when I dove into Twitter and began hustling for votes.  Saturday morning on the 30th wasn’t so bad but as the day wore on tempers began to get shorter and people started getting more desperate.  It was madness. 
This was when a funny thing happened.  People began sharing my messages on Facebook and sending me messages of encouragement telling me they were not only voting but showing their support for us.  I had the matron of a major branch of my family put out an all-points bulletin to my cousins to cast a vote.   I was inching closer and I was at 190 votes.  The messages kept coming and people I worked with in the past began to pushing for me.  It was very humbling.  I had really abused my social network and the response was that network pitching in to help me reach my goal.  I do not want to do that again.  I certainly do not want to abuse that good will. 
It was eight hours into this exercise and I was still 20 votes short.  Many of the people still on twitter had already swapped votes.  It was pretty sad that so many good businesses could not get the votes they needed.  Finally, some new companies came on and over the next two hours we were able to swap votes.  It was 6:30 in the evening I had spent an entire day and I had gotten the necessary 100 votes to put me over the top.  I stuck around for another hour helping others and then logged off thanking everyone. 
Over three insane days, I had gone from 35 votes to 261.  I was now in.  I haven’t won the 250K grant but at least now I would be considered.  I could not have done it without the help of people on twitter and Facebook pulling for me.  I have a lot of gratitude for those people and a lot of thank you notes to write. 
For three days, I sacrificed my dignity and reputation to suck it up and make something happen for my business.  I get the feeling that this will not be the last time.  Some times during the process, I felt like a beggar pleading for the kindness of others.  It was humbling.  Still people believed in me and I was able to make a difference for my small company.
Now, all I can do is wait until September 15 until Chase decides if I am worthy of 250K.  If they can lose six billion dollars on some phantom bets on real estate stock then I think they can take a chance on a small business which actually builds something.  An entrepreneur can dream. 
So Andy LaChapelle’s wisdom lives on.  I sucked it up and sacrificed.  Now I have a chance to earn 250K for my business.  It wasn’t pretty but it was necessary.  I hope that the effort was worth it.  Thanks to everyone who chipped in and helped out.  It means a great deal to me. 
Until next time.