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When Apple took the world by storm and created the iPhone, it was the device’s simplicity, rather than its complex list of features, that won the day. In technical terms, we call this elimination of unnecessary state; the process of reducing the list of options to eliminate the clutter.
Apple understood this concept, and made brilliant decisions to reduce features in order to give it the friendly factor. You will notice one button instead of 18, one device instead of exposing their iOS to the open market, one place to download apps and music, the latter of which has given them much control profitability.
Consumers rave about the iPhone’s intuitive and user-friendly nature. The reduction of state and good design is what gave it life, allowing only one application at a time with only one physical button. No confusion. Easy. beautiful.
Programming is the same in many ways, with no fewer temptations to add multiple features.
Look what happens if you add one parameter; You are creating a true condition and a false condition. Then add another parameter. Now you have 2^2 or 4 conditions that you will need to test. Add a third and you are at 8 conditions. In this vein, Windows clearly offered many features and services (internet, phone, contact management) but its first phone, with all its working parts, was a bust.
More features = more working parts = more opportunity for clutter or failure. Complex API’s are necessary. Nowhere does this rule hold truer than when you are dealing with vast amounts of working data. In the end, if it is not simple to read or use, it will collect dust.
I have seen many instances where a new piece of software was installed to solve “every” problem a company was having. The challenge? Such solutions are big and scary and often come with a giant learning curve. This is why Basecamp grew so quickly (it solved one big problem), and why Workamajig, a much more complete system, requires so much effort to sell, train, and install, and why they need a one-year contract to get things going. If people don’t invest in the idea, they will not use it. It’s just too hard.
The world of apps is taking off so successfully for the very same reason. Mobile Apps handle one idea, big or small, at a time. So, if you want your launch to be successful, you may want to do a little elimination of unnecessary state on your own. What big idea do you want to solve?
Traditionally, I had been the first to recommend that friends go online in order computers. Typically, better prices could be found. If you were a high end user, you could configure it to your desired specs. Recently however, I was presented with a business problem that caused me to rethink my stance on where to buy computers. The original problem was one of turnover. We seek out high performance machines for our developers and they simply don’t carry those in your local Best Buy. So online it is. But wait. Most custom build shops on the web require at least 2 weeks of build time before it ships. Most hires are two-week-notice scenarios, and even shorter if the person isn’t gainfully employed. This leaves my new employee without a computer for over a week in the best case scenario. I don’t know about your business but that simply wouldn’t do.
What if I don’t need my computer right away? It’ll save me money to buy online right?
Nope. Here’s why. Parts are covered by manufacturers warranty typically for at least a year. Online companies and brick and mortar alike typically offer the labor and service to replace and fix defective parts during this time. So if both companies are repairing the machine, it all comes down to turnover and shipping. If you purchase the computer at a brick and motor nearby, you simply take it in and pick it up the same or next day with no charge under warranty (assuming they keep items in inventory, otherwise they are ordering online just like you). With that same computer purchased online, you have to pay to ship it back to them. Knowing that you will be without a computer for several days or weeks prompts you to go running the nearest store to pick up another one to get you by in the meantime. Or worse, faced with this fact, you throw the computer in the corner, purchase a new computer, and tell yourself that you will return it later, which never happens. The warranty that made you feel warm and fuzzy when you purchased the computer is now quietly expiring while your machine sits cold in the corner.
What’s the solution? Find a custom builder locally that keeps an inventory of parts on hand at the store and has a parts and labor warranty. Don’t go to Best Buy. They only have consumer level configurations and if you do have to come back to them for support, be prepared for it to take weeks, after all they have 50 people with spyware problems ahead of you. Also, even with the greatest service they wait for the defective item to be returned to the manufacturer instead of pulling an identical item off the shelf in order to get you up and running again.
Why am I writing this article? Well since Dell figured out how to get the price of a pre-built system down to unseen levels, most of the custom builders have shifted into service revenue models and no longer keep an inventory. I want you to support the mom and pops that provide this much needed service with your business so that they will still be around the next time that I’m looking for a new build.
If you are in the Birmingham or Trussville area, I recommend Microcomputer right across the street from the Lowe’s in Trussville behind the Hooters at the intersection of 459 and 59. They have top end mobos, graphics cards and memory, and will configure a system for you on the fly. Drives are imaged and ready to go. I was pleasantly surprised to find their prices better than I was finding online.
If you know of any custom builders that keep an inventory on hand, have great prices and services, tell us. Let’s bring them out into the lime light, put them in the comments of this article and let us know about them.
When calculating the value of a project, consider the lifetime value of a client
Early in my career as a freelancer, I would look back on projects that went way over budget on time, and when eating a large portion of my time I would tell myself “I’m never doing that again”. However, on the very next project I would fall back into my old habits of trying to make sure that the customer got what they wanted for their budget.
Many times looking back, I considered this a business error. After all, how can I make any money if I flush it down the drain by going over budget and eating a large amount of my time on every startup project? Time and time again on new projects, I would add unnecessary features early in the project, and then late in the project regret it because of the non-billed time I spent in order to close the project out to the client’s satisfaction.
Lately however, I’ve looked back upon my career and a successful application lives on, grows and needs to be nurtured and enhanced. Some of my biggest failures on the initial project have virtually made my business. Without giving any numbers in particular, I’ve had several projects that, over the lifetime of the project, have provided revenues of over 70 times the initial project costs. Now with this comes a great deal of service, but after all, that’s what we sell right? And unlike the initial project, where there is usually some risk with the client, add-ons after the project is a success are typically a no-brainer. Adding a report here or a time-saving action there provides immediate quantifiable value, and is usually an easy target for us to stay on budget.
It’s so important to make sure you get to the finish line with relationships intact, even though at the end of it you may be so tired of the project that you want to rip all of your hair out and go be a greeter at Wal-Mart. I think this is where a lot of freelancers and businesses fail. At the end, they are so frustrated with the project and client relationship that they are ready to move on to something and someone else, where they swear they will not make the same mistakes.
With a focus on the life of the relationship, it has taken the pressure to avoid eating the cost of some overtime on the initial project off of our chest, and allowed us to focus on the long term goals of the client as if they are our own. After all, their success is our success and embracing that has made all the difference.
Read more about how we invest in the initial project for the sake of the lifetime value of the client with Test Driven Development.
The general consensus is that Generation Y is less trustworthy than any before it. This is not the case and we are getting a bad rap for a few bad apples. Our entire social graph is online now and in many cases publicly exposed. Our interactions, our relationships and our friends are public record.
Everyone complains about the death of privacy. In another sense, however, it is the birth of accountability. Whether privacy is an inalienable human right is up for debate, but in today’s world it’s much less likely for a con artist to be successful because of our growing reliance on social reputation. In the past a con artist might move from town to town leaving their bad deeds behind them. Now, unless you are willing to assume a new identity and start over, your history will follow. Beware of those that have no history.
In today’s world of interconnectivity and social reputation there is no starting over unless you are in the witness protection program. The more connected you are, the more transparent you are, and the more trusted you will be. Your social reputation demonstrates your trustworthiness. So get out there and be nice to people and don’t be a crook. Today’s world will hold you socially accountable and that’s a price you can’t afford to pay!
Sunset arrives and your afternoon nap went a little long. Suddenly you launch yourself from the couch and hurriedly begin closing your shutters using the new bolts you located on Amazon, which also introduced its latest product; Zombie Preparedness Kits; complete with HK1 hydrokinetic adjustable wrench that you never knew you needed until now. With local distribution centers, you need not wait 43-days, the new UPS-Ground delivery time from the West Coast. It avoids most cemeteries where the undead are mostly concentrated.
Your shoe closet is worthless. The boxes are great for your kids new hobby of collecting and burying reanimated human digits that squirm on the ground; one of the creepiest normalities of this new world. Prada’s sales have plummeted, while Zappos more practical Kevlar boots and thick leather mid-calf selections are flying off the virtual shelf. Everything has changed. Graphic novelists now became useful, hired as consultants because who else knows more about reanimated human life forms? This is was one of the millions of ways uninfected men and women needed to reinvent themselves.
The CDC.gov document was prophetic, as was the reportedly fictional work published by the Weather Channel. They were ready. Those who didn’t adapt digitally were eaten alive. Literally. Fortifications needed to be strengthen, food needed to be hoarded, and e-business became competitive to the extreme. Why? Clothing racks are great hidy-holes for mindless “Walkers” eager to eat your brains.
Smart businesses prepared early, using SEO strategies with key words like Brain Delicacies, Undead, cross bow, and throwing axes. Knowing how to play ball, they saw the trends before-hand and coded their sites appropriately. Security features didn’t just deal with PCI compliance, but maintained new rules on delivery men, including those who rode shotgun. Old school sites were still optimized for Gangnam Style queries; laughably useless in days like this.
Analytics and trend analysis has now saved many lives, feeding families with profits earned by businesses ahead of the horde. But even if there were not zombies, they would have been ready. Still – it’s not too late for you.
If you are thinking about how growing trends could impact your market then you have made your first step in staying ahead of the horde. Zombies or no, the tide is moving and you need to get on board.
CFO’s and business owners want feedback from their programmers, which is tough when often times the better programmers have spent their lives incubating skills that borrow from their ability to return phone calls. And costs for a web site are all over the place; from several hundred dollars for a simple revision to a hundreds of thousands of dollars for a site with vast databases, and volumes of functionality. So – when a project depends on a high level of accountability and communication, and all of them do, clients just want to know what is really happening behind the veil of code.
All consultants’ fees are based on a daily billing rate, which reflects the value they place on one day’s labor plus expected overhead expenses. These rates appear in fixed fees, monthly retainers, hourly billing or even by measuring a company’s performance. Either way, those fees must be justified with the quality of their work combined with effective communication and reporting.
The savior of the coding hero is to maintain good internal systems and to enjoy the ability to recognize weakness and to compensate for it by surrounding one’s self with colleagues of varying skills and personalities. This wisdom steers a client away from hiring one-man shops where “man-down” doesn’t mean the death of a project. Consistency comes when redundancies are as present as the front-line programmer.
At Whiteboard, we make a habit of communicating internally through continual education, participation in the open source community and a diligent internal peer review process. In doing so we encourage our staff to pay attention to the details. It also keeps us talking, keeping all parties informed. Upon request, our clients receive online access to reports that monitor the progress of each project, including time sheets.
We have cleaned up many messes created by one-man shops or companies who care little for the details. And while we are grateful for the opportunity to do so, we feel your pain and look forward to providing relief.
As your company grows and the demands on your time grow more and more monumental, it is easy to fall into the trap of just reacting to the emails, forms and communication that bombard you with increasing frequency.
Your insurance company wants you to get some forms signed for them. You answer the phone, and a payroll processing company wants to take you to lunch. Your recruiters are scheduling interviews. Legal council has some contract adjustments to discuss. Before you know it, the calendar for your whole week is full. While all these things sound quite important, what’s more important is that you become the decider of what is important.
If you live in this reactive state, then you are letting the world around you decide what is most important for your business. It’s not that the world is necessarily out to get you, it’s just that time is finite. If you want to truly be the master of your destiny then you need to take control of what is put on your calendar, what calls you take, what calls you make, and what deserves your attention.
So what am I suggesting you do? Don’t be a slave to your to-do list. You should have three or less major endeavors that you are personally pursuing. Being an executive is about looking into that crystal ball and trying to skate to where the puck will be. Once you have decided what you want to do then it’s time to either do it or delegate it or scheduled it. There is really no other decision. The delay it, file it for later decisions are for hoarders. If it isn’t important enough to get someone started on it now or schedule it, then it isn’t important. If it becomes important again later then you will be aware of it because you will be doing it or delegating it.
In the transition to this mindset, you will need to frequently ask yourself the following question throughout the day.
Am I doing the most valuable thing I could be doing for the future of my business?
The answer will not always be yes, but if it is not yes at least twice a day then you are doing something wrong.
I remember hearing it on the radio; another major retail store was targeted by hackers, a store I had shopped not two weeks prior. That sinking feeling struck, the one that calls me to drop everything in order to familiarize myself with my credit card company’s phone bank to cancel my cards.
New brawny standards protect us against such events and the incentive for a company to comply is tremendous, but tough standards are not great if they are tough to reach. So we ask; is the arsenal guarding us from online theft too hard to grasp for the average online business?
So to answer our initial question; PCI Compliance is too costly for the average businessman to comply, but we are fortunate to live in a free market that sees bureaucracy as an opportunity. Companies like Braintree may have been created with profit in mind, but they are offering a service that gives us carrots and saves us from the stick.