Misc Entrepreneurship Ramblings

I always jot down notes when I get the idea for a new post.  This week I’ve had quite a few ideas, none of which are enough for a full post really.  Too big for Twitter.  Too tiny for a full blog post.

Two final thoughts on funding your first business and generating your first cash flow.

  1. I just got my Inc. Magazine in the mail the other day.  The cover story is titled “How to Build Your Dream Company: Here’s how 10 savvy entrepreneurs got their dream companies up and running – and how you can do the same.”  I haven’t read it in full yet, but in flipping through there are quite a few details about each company (how much the initial investment was, how quick they broke even, etc).  Well worth your time if you’re interested in exactly how successful small businesses got their start.
  2. Even if you’ve got a feasible idea and you’re a very smart person, there are two other (related) variables that I think matter more:  hard work and persistence.  Give me the average student with the average idea who works their tail off and never gives up over the lazy brainiac who has the revolutionary idea.  I can’t tell you how many times I could have given up.  Times where things just weren’t working and a lot of people would have just said screw it and got a job.  Instead, I (and later on, we) made some adjustments and kept going.  Keeping start-up costs and living expenses low helps make those decisions easier, but at the end of the day you either have the resolve to keep going or you don’t. I can’t tell you how many super lazy brilliant kids I met in college.  They could have cured cancer, but instead squeaked by with 2.0’s because they couldn’t be bothered to work unless it was on their terms.  Right then I realized that I’d always value hard work over raw intelligence.

I made a pretty big programming error last week. The details aren’t important, but the end result was that my carelessness essentially erased an important section of our database.  Had I not been in such a rush to deploy a very minimal feature upgrade, I would have been more diligent and the mistake likely could have been avoided.  After restoring a backup from a few hours earlier, I took a break, and then dove right back into some difficult programming tasks.  I learned a while back that as soon as I make a mistake like that, I need to immediately get back my comfort and confidence, whether it’s programming or in my car driving or cooking.  The longer I wait to try again, the more I think about the potential for the mistake to happen again.  In this case, I got right back into the swing of things and it’s not really bothering me anymore.

Sometimes customers contradict each other. Our shipping policies are pretty standard.  We’re working to deploy more options so customers can get their packages faster and cheaper.  Problem is, that’s not what all customers want.  A lot of customers complain that we ship our packages too fast.  They want to add to their order or sometimes cancel it days later, and they complain that we shipped it too fast.  Now they have to go through all the hard work to return it…or pay for shipping again if they want to order more things (!).  Of course, we also get complaints that people think we take far too long to ship (because, you know, 1 business day isn’t reasonable at all).  I still think that 95%+ people want their order as fast as possible as soon as they pay (and we’ll continue to work to improve on that), but sometimes you wouldn’t know it from our complaints/inquiries.   We joke about having a check box on the checkout page that says “I’m an indecisive person – please hold this order for a minimum of 3 business days in case I want to cancel or adjust my order”.

I read a really interesting article about writing and supporting great software on Nick Bradbury’s blog. The basic premise is that you can’t write great software if you don’t ever have the opportunity to support it.  Couldn’t agree more.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned by answering every SportsLizard, iPrioritize, and Music-Alerts related complaint/suggestion.  On the new Detailed Image site I’ve jumped in and been involved with every single customer inquiry related to the shopping experience.  This is harder in a larger organization, but as a developer you have to value getting feedback…even if it’s super hard to hear some random person criticize your hard work.  You need to hear what they have to say because – as Nick says in the article – “The whole point of writing software is to create something useful – to create something that, even if in a small way, makes someone’s life better.  And how can you know whether you’re doing that if you don’t talk with the people who use your applications?”  My favorite projects are for our internal use because I can directly see the impact of how it makes my partners jobs easier.  I get to watch them use it, listen to their feedback, and make changes so it works exactly how they want it…which is super easy when you have only four users and you know exactly when, how, and where they’ll be using it.

It’s amazing how much less busy I am lately. I spent the first 5+ months of ’09 scrambling to get the new DI up, and then the next month moving to a new apartment and fixing any bugs on the site.  Now that the dust has settled, I just feel like every day I have so much time.  Even on days where my schedule looks “busy”.  I think that during that time I weeded out quite a few of my inefficiencies (mostly business, but some personal) by necessity.  It’s a nice feeling to not be scrambling through each day anymore, while still finding plenty of time to work, get some exercise, do some fun things, and then get a good nights sleep.

9 comments on Misc Entrepreneurship Ramblings

  1. Love the comments about raw work over intelligence. Its so true that even people who didn’t get high grades in school can be the most successful in life. It’s about the effort and heart they put into what they do. Hard work and persistence will come out on top 9 times outa 10.

  2. Oke says:

    Adam,

    The suggestion about leaving the order on file for a couple of days isn’t a bad idea (although, the language you used would be classic). It is just another option for those type of people. I would only do it if there is a significant amount of complaints and it is trouble for yall to deal with those type of clients.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Oke – It is a pretty common thing. I think our plan long term is to implement a system like Amazon has where it gives the user the option to add to or cancel their order before shipping, being very clear how much time they have to do so. Hopefully that will really cut into the inquiries/complaints that we get.

      • nethy says:

        Adam,

        Being in the biz, my immediate instinct upon hearing something like this is to start designing it in my head.

        When an order is cancelled, it needs to go back into the inventory. Then the money needs to be refunded. I don’t know of that facility in any existing shopping cart software. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that payment gateways have the facility (via API) to send money back automatically. Maybe you system should verify the card and only charge once you print the order, you will avoid fees that way. Will that introduce any additional problems? Failed payments that the customer doesn’t know about? Will people mind delayed invoices? At what stage is it impossible to cancel? Probably once the order is printed. That means you need to print/pull orders just in time, otherwise you needlessly shorten the cancellation window….

        Whew! This is getting complicated. You need to add stages to the order processing workflow. You need to have your warehouse workflows cooperate. You need to have the payment gateway cooperate.. You need to keep things simple for the client.

        I’m always impressed with how your processes. Having a system like this that works properly needs:
        a) the programming doing the work and
        b) someone to plan the process.

        That’s something that’s very hard to do on a small business budget. It’s something that’s hard to do via consulting, for example. For a competitor, they might think “Adam blogged that he took 1 week to do this. 40 hours. I can get that done for $4000 (or $400 on elance) by a consultant.” They can’t. The communication between programmer & business owner isn’t simple.

        I would be very surprised if your competition had your combination of low-tech & high-tech working together this well. The upshot is that they just won’t such smooth systems.

        • Adam McFarland says:

          Nethy – thanks for the kind words. As always, you’re thinking 🙂

          The PayPal Payments Pro API does let us cancel the transaction and refund the customer (see here), so I *think* we’ll be able to do it. Putting it back in inventory is pretty simple based on how we have things set up.

          Your second point about communication is really interesting. That will be my next post I think…

  3. Rob says:

    Adam – regarding your customers complaining about you being too fast… I ordered something just now and saw this message come up after I pressed checkout – I something similar might help you out…

    “Your order has been successfully placed and will be confirmed by email shortly. If you would like to amend any aspect of your order, you can do so within 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, your order will be processed and can no longer be amended or cancelled.

    Please note: When ordering several items they may arrive separately to give you the fastest service. This won’t cost you any more.

    Do you want to send the same order to someone else?”

    –Rob

  4. […] left an interesting comment the other day in regards to a potential new feature I mentioned: I’m always impressed with how […]

  5. Rob says:

    http://www.photobox.com, a popular photo printing company in the UK and Europe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Commenting Rules

I'm honored that you found this post interesting enough to leave a comment. Before posting, I have a few ground rules:

  • Please keep your comments as relevant to the post as possible.
  • No personal attacks or any other nastiness.
  • Your first comment is subject to my approval.

Thanks!