SportsLizard Entrepreneur Blog

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Are Entrepreneurs born or bred?

Nature vs. Nurture. Were you born an entrepreneur or was it something that you were molded into? The debate could be the topic of an entire blog. I was recently contacted by Northeastern University and asked to participate in a study about this from their School of Technological Entrepreneurship.

Not surprisingly I fell right in the middle. 50% nature, 50% nurture. If you're curious where you would fall on the spectrum, fell free to take the survey yourself, it only takes a few minutes. They're giving away five free subscriptions/renewals to Entrepreneur Magazine if you need a little incentive :)

Everyone's story is different, but in my scenario I can't help but think that I was nurtured into being an entrepreneur. Since I grew up in the capital city of NY State, it seems like EVERYONE I know works for the government, which is about as far away from entrepreneurship that you can get.

But I was lucky enough to be in the first group of five students in the country to complete a now national program called Project Lead the Way, that puts high school students through a series of technological innovation classes.

I followed that up by attending RPI, a college whose motto is "Why Not Change the World", and is one of the most technologically advanced schools in the world. Some of the coolest tech startups in the country started in our college incubator.

Mix in a few eye-opening internships and a couple of close friends who started their own businesses, and I feel like I was BRED to be an entrepreneur. Had I not been surrounded by entrepreneurship, I don't think it would have ever crossed my mind as a possible career.

But I know for every story like mine, there's the story of an entrepreneur whose entire family were entrepreneurs. I'd love to see a study of the best of the best (Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, Steve Jobs, etc). My guess is that most of them DIDN'T come from entrepreneurial families, but that's just a guess. So do you think you were born or bred?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fear of success?

Is it possible to be afraid of success? I read a great post about fear in general earlier today on the Career Intensity Blog, and this is what David Lorenzo had to say about fear of success:

If you do succeed, how will your life change? Will you always have to work harder? Will your old friends resent you and drift away? What other changes will result? First of all, the more success you attain, the more your energy will multiply and feed into work, which will make it more enjoyable and less stressful. Secondly, any friend who does not celebrate your success with you isn't really a friend. Most of the changes that come with success will be positive, and you are in control of how you deal with them.


I think there is a lot of truth to this. I know in my particular situation, I'm relatively new to the entreprenurial game so I'm in that phase where you see a disproportionate amount of failure to success. I would say that this month has been the first time that I can really see "success" in my crosshairs (right now I'm defining success as proving entrepreneurship as a viable career path for me, something that I can actually make a living doing).

But I have thought alot about what it will be like when iPrioritize and SportsLizard are 10x/100x/1,000x bigger than they are now, and I'd be lying if there wasn't some fear there. Fear of all the new problems I'll face and fear of how everything will effect my relationships with the people that are important to me.

Then again, I think there would be something wrong if there wasn't any fear. I was afraid when I started SportsLizard without a lick of business or internet experience. I was afraid when I left a career that I had just spent $120,000 on an education to prepare for. I was afraid when I ventured into the 'web application' industry with iPrioritize. And fear in those circumstances didn't stop me, it drove me to work even harder. And I think that's the critical thing with fear - how you manage it. Does it cripple you or does it motivate you?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Mediocre publicity better than no publicity?

So I checked my email a few minutes ago and there was a question from someone who didn't receive their iPrioritize confirmation email (which happens every now and again). So I went into the database and confirmed their account for them. While I was in there, I noticed that the number of registered users went up quite a bit today so I decided to dig a bit further.

Come to find out that lifehacker did a blog post review of iPrioritize today. The review alone generated about 1,000 unique visitors and 200 new accounts in the five hours that followed the post. That's the good news.

The bad news is what the review actually says:

Much like previously-mentioned Ta-Da Lists (but not nearly as good looking), create multiple lists of items with headlines and notes in iPrioritize, like todo lists or grocery lists. Syndicate your lists via RSS, get them on your mobile phone, and share your lists on a public web page. While Ta-Da Lists is still the better web-based list manager, iPrioritize does have interesting Microsoft Outlook integration worth checking out.


Not exactly a ringing endorsement (two not so good Ta-Da List references in 72 words is not my idea of a good time). And the comments from readers all pretty much take up the same tone.

BUT, I've still got a smile on my face. The exposure (and the quality links back to iPrioritize) is awesome. And I've learned in my short time running a web-application business, that you should take anything that the "technosphere" says with a grain of salt. Techies ALWAYS want more features (I fall into this category at times too), but I refuse to fall victim to "feature creep" and change a simple tool that works into something it's not (project management software, calendar software, etc).

There's a great post about this by Richard White (of Kiko fame) about lessons learned from selling Kiko:

You must have a plan for escaping the Technosphere

To a degree, it didn't matter how many posts we got on TechCrunch, LifeHacker or Scoble; we would still be stuck in the same Technosphere duking it out with Google, 30Boxes and everyone else. You can make a nice living just pimping your wares in the technosphere (which is what I'm attempting with SlimTimer) but if you ever want to gain any real traction as an online calendar service you have to target the cubicle dwellers and their Outlook calendars that only exist outside the sphere. Techie users are fickle, transient and demanding. You can spend all of your time implementing ATOM feeds and hCalendar export and never be the better for it.


Richard and I also exchanged a few emails this week on the topic of breaking out of the "technosphere", which is somewhat fascinating to me. So I listen to what they say (and gladly take the traffic and the users), but realize that the "technosphere" is different from the technically savvy corporate American, and that ultimate success will probably depend on people that have never heard of AJAX or Web2.0.

Mark Zuckerberg is one badass entrepreneur

I was catching up on some reading a little while ago, when I came across a story on Techcrunch about possible acquisition talks between Facebook and Yahoo! The fact that the two companies are in talks isn't all that surprising to me, but the apparent cockiness (or is it confidence) of Zuckerberg is.

The post cites a Wall Street Journal article that claims:

During one series of talks with Microsoft, Facebook executives told their Microsoft peers they couldn’t do an 8 a.m. conference call because the company’s 22-year-old founder and chief executive, Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg, wouldn’t be awake, says a person familiar with the talks. Microsoft executives were incredulous.

and

At one point in the Yahoo negotiations, the talks extended into the weekend, says a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Zuckerberg, this account continues, said he couldn’t take part because his girlfriend was in town. Others pointed out they were closing in on a billion-dollar deal. Mr. Zuckerberg said it didn’t matter: his cellphone would be off, this person says.


In the past there have been reports that Zuckerberg turned down $750 million because he was looking for $2 billion, so I always thought of him as a bit greedy and obsessive over his company...but none the less the living proof of what all of us YE's aspire to be.

But dude is one cocky badass mofo if those accusations are true. Blowing Microsoft off because he wants to sleep in? Blowing off a $1 BILLION deal with Yahoo! to hang out with his girlfriend? Either Zuckerberg has his priorities completely in line (he's living life to the fullest, work can wait, there's more to life than work, blah, blah, blah) or he's just f*cking bat-shit crazy.

Personally, I'm leaning toward the bat-shit crazy side of things. Dude, show some respect to Microsoft and Yahoo! You should feel honored that they even want to meet with you, yet alone buy your company for $1 BILLION. I can certainly understand why you want to sleep in and hang with your girl...but if that's the case, than sell off. No one would blame you. You'd have enough money to live the rest of your life comfortably, and you could take the Mark Cuban route of flying all over the world and trying to drink beers in as many countries as possible. But right now, you are the leader of a large company. Start acting like it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Being in entrepreneurial limbo

lim-bo [lim-boh] - an intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place.


The past few days I've been stuck in an entrepreneurial limbo, which seems to happen to me about once a month. You know, that feeling where you just aren't sure what direction to take. Most of the time I've got a long list of things that need to get done, but every once in a while I check the last item off of my iPrioritize list (shameless plug) and the next step doesn't immediately come to me.

Sure, I've got the long term goals hammered down, and even the intermediate goals (by the end of the quarter, year, etc), but the short term things seem to be escaping me. I don't know which of the 10 things I want to do next. I'm not sure which "project" is best to start now, and which one is best to wait until December.

So I pretty much sit there all day re-prioritizing my tasks in iPrioritize, each time justifying the move with what seems like sound logic at the time. Then I start to move in that direction, change my mind, and start the whole process over. Then I get pissed off at myself for "wasting" my day away. Finally, I usually chose action of some sort and just start working and after a few days I usually get back in my groove and conclude that I took the right path (which in reality probably could have been any path because there probably is no "right" path).

So what the f*ck causes these little hiccups? I *think* that this is a pretty normal thing (at least it seems common among my friends who own businesses), but I think it's even more common among businesses that are still on life support. By that, I mean new businesses that have yet to prove profitable and competitive in their industry for the long term. Obviously the only businesses I've ever run have always still been in that phase, so I'm guessing things change quite a bit once you get out of it...but I'm sure there are always problems along the way so I really don't know.

So as usual, I wasted away my day but I'm pretty sure I'm back on track. Anyone want to psychoanalyze all of that for me?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

5 Reasons Why Video Downloading Services Won't Catch On

I've been offered a sweet gig to write one article a month for Thumbshots.org. Since the articles will be e-commerce releated, I figured I'd publish them here too (yes, they've given me permission to do so). Anyway, here goes:

With the recent announcement of Amazon's Unbox movie downloading service and Apple's announcement that iTunes will now be selling movie downloads, many people seem to think that the future of purchasing movies lies online. And why not – it's a logical jump. We went from radio to television, CDs to DVDs, so why not go from MP3's to MPEG's? When something works with music, the video counterpart usually follows with the same success. But in this case there are several fundamental flaws that both Amazon and Apple failed to address with their services that will make it difficult for video downloads to follow the success of music ones.

1. Download time and file size


While it only takes a minute or two to download a 5MB audio file, 2GB video file can take several hours to download. It may feel like you are getting your music instantly, but it sure doesn't feel like your getting your videos instantly. If it's quicker to drive to your local Best Buy, pick up a physical copy and burn it to your hard drive, why would you bother downloading it?

Also, how many people do you know with 200 GB of empty space on their hard drives? I don't know about you, but I've got over 100 DVDs in my movie collection and that would take up a ton of space. Yes, hard drives are getting cheaper, but most computers still don't come equipped with the kind of space required to hold a library of movies.

Even more importantly, one of the key components of the digital music revolution is the ability to keep your entire library on your iPod/MP3 player. Right now, even with Apple's new 80GB iPod, that's still not possible for the hardcore movie fan. While few music collections will ever exceed even 30GB, it's not inconceivable to think that you would need a 300GB iPod to house your entire movie collection. Having digital copies of all of your movies won't truly be necessary until your iPod can legitimately become your personal entertainment device with all of your music, photos, and movies (in high enough quality and with enough battery time so that you can directly play your movies from the device on to a TV).

2. Cost

Most movies on Amazon will go for $7.99 to $14.99, and movies can also be rented for $3.99. New releases on iTunes will sell for $12.99 on a pre-order basis and $14 thereafter. Older titles will sell for $9.99.

Ignoring for a second that you can download illegally ripped versions of any movie, what would compel a user to pay $15 for a restricted file that has less-than-DVD-quality? If you want a digital version, it's still much more cost effective (and potentially takes less time) to purchase a physical copy and rip it to your computer. Most new titles are available at your local Best Buy or Circuit City for around $15. Many old movies can be found in the $9.99 bins, or as a part of 2-for-$15 or 3-for-$20 sales. If you don't want to leave your house, you can get free shipping from Amazon on any purchase over $25.

With a physical copy you can rip it to any computer you want, as many times as you want, in any quality that you want, and then do whatever you chose with the DVD (like resell it). Until it is considerably cheaper to download a movie (probably somewhere around $5), it makes no sense for the average consumer to make downloading a part of their routine.

When it comes to renting movies, Amazon's Unbox will undoubtedly fall short as well. For the same price as renting a movie from Blockbuster, you have to wait an hour or two to download a movie that you can only watch for 24 hours and can't rip to your computer or burn to a DVD. If you don't want to leave your house, most digital cable providers sell movies On-Demand for the same $3.99 price that require no download, can be started instantly, can be viewed on your television without connecting your PC to it, and can be watched for the same 24 hour time frame.

3. Restricted file access

People want the ability to do whatever they want with a file. And if they pay for the movie, why shouldn't they be able to copy it to each of the three computers in their house, their iPod, and burn a DVD to play on their TV? Unfortunately, Amazon and Apple haven't figured this out and continue to place unrealistic file restrictions on their downloads.

Lets think about music again for a second – some people complain about Apple's restrictions on music files, but when you think about it, you can do almost anything you want with those files – and that's why it still ultimately works. You can burn them to a CD (which then can be copied or ripped), you can store them on your iPod, and you can listen to them on your computer. Compare that to what movie downloading services are offering.

According to a recent article in the E-Commerce times about Unbox, “The downloads can be transferred onto DVDs for storage, and the DVDs can be used to play the movie on the computer which downloaded the movie, but they cannot be played on a regular DVD player.” They also give you a second file that can be viewed on Windows Media compatible digital players, but that's a far cry from the freedom that consumers desire.

Using readily available free software, it's pretty simple for the average consumer to rip a DVD to their computer in their desired format, and then to copy it to their iPod if they want. When it's so easy for consumers to get what they want with a physical copy, it still makes no sense for them to pay a similar price for a second-class product.

4. The way we watch vs. the way we listen

How do you listen to your music? Most people listen while they're driving (on a CD or their iPod), while they're on their computer (using a CD or files on the hard drive), when they're traveling (on a portable CD player or their iPod), or around the house (on a stereo playing a CD or hooked up to an iPod). All of those things are easily accomplished when you download an audio file from iTunes.

Compare that with how you watch movies. Most people watch movies on their TV (using a DVD). That's it. But what do downloading services let you do? Anything but that. You can watch it on your iPod when you're traveling, you can watch it on your PC, or you can watch it on your TV in inferior quality by hooking up your PC to your TV. While all of those things are nice, they don't address the main need of the consumer – to be able to throw a DVD in their DVD player and sit back and watch.

Mark Cuban explains in a recent blog entry: “watching video on a computer or on a PDA/iPod is a 2nd class experience. It works amazingly well as a time killer on a bus, plane, lunchroom. It works good enough in a dorm room or your apartment bedroom, but its not going to replace watching on a real TV. It will always be a niche market in every manner.”

5. There's already a better option

The previous four reasons all lead up to the obvious conclusion – there's already a better option! When it comes to CDs, your options are to buy them in the store, order physical copies online (or through the mail), or download them. The price is essentially the same, but you don't have to worry about delivery when downloading (i.e. driving to the store or paying for shipping), and you get the product within minutes.

But no matter what way you get it, you end up with the same thing in the end. If you buy a CD at Best Buy, you can rip it and have a digital version. If you download it on iTunes, you can burn it and have a physical copy. You don't lose out by downloading. It's obvious that when it comes to movies, you lose out considerably when it comes to download time, file quality, and file restrictions.

As a movie buff, you have three options that are far superior to downloading from Amazon or Apple. Hardcore movie fans tend to go the Netflix/Blockbuster Online route where they can rent somewhere around 3 movies at a time for around $20/month. When they get the movies, they copy them to DVD. Now they have their own copy that they can watch, rip, and copy anytime they want.

The slightly more legal approach is to simply purchase the DVDs you want. For essentially the same cost of downloading, you get your own physical copy that you can, again, do whatever you want with. Down the road you can always sell the DVD and make some of your money back.

Those of you that like to rent movies can go the On-Demand route that most digital cable providers now offer. For the same $3.99 cost of renting a movie on Amazon or going to your local Blockbuster, you can watch it immediately on your TV and have it billed to your cable bill. The downside to this is that you can only access it for 24 hours and usually can't make a physical copy (if you really wanted to you could make a physical copy if you have a TV Tuner card on your computer that can record TV).

Rich Greenfield of Palicapital summed it up best in an article posted on Mark Cuban's blog:

“At a premium price point we also question who is the target market? Illegal movie downloaders are unlikely to be attracted at these prices and physical DVD purchases are unlikely to be interested in dealing with primarily PC-based nature of the downloadable files (with heavy movie renters far better off with Netflix or Blockbuster than Amazon Unbox).”

Ultimately that leads me to one of two conclusions – either film studios are really dumb and don't understand their consumers, or tthey really don't want to take the necessary steps for movie downloading to succeed. I'd say it's more the latter than the former, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was the other way around.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Walamu - changing the way college students sell stuff?















Fellow young entrepreneur Rohail Rizvi recently launched his much anticipated site Walamu. Walamu is a place for students to buy and sell textbooks or post classified ads.

In general, I usually don't think there is much of a marketplace for buy/sell sites or classified sites, UNLESS you have a really unique selling proposition that's so good that users will gravitate to your site. I think that's the case with Walamu - it focuses on people buying and selling that attend the same school. That eliminates shipping charges and puts an emphasis on simply meeting the person you want to buy from (imagine that, actually getting off your computer to accomplish something!).

I think it's better than Craigslist because it's limited to students (and thus not covered in SPAM), it's better than a message board because of the way it organizes listings, and it's better than eBay or whatever you currently use to sell your books online because you don't have to deal with shipping.

As of now, it's limited to Rutgers students, but there are plans to expand across the country (another smart move to start local and then grow throughout the country, in my opinion). The site layout is extremely simple, clean, easy to navigate, and has a very "professional" look & feel to it.

On a personal note, I've exchanged a lot of emails with Rohail and he's always been nothing but professional to deal with. Over the past six months or so, he and I have developed a great relationship. As YE's, many of us know how hard it is to juggle all of the things a college student has to deal with AND try to get a business off the ground, which is what Rohail is doing now down at Rutgers. I have a great deal of respect for him and am really pulling for Walamu to be a big success!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Okdork selling himself on eBay

Over the past few months I've drastically reduced the number of blogs that I read (from ~100 to ~20), but Noah Kagan's Okdork is one of the one's I still subscribe to and enjoy a great deal. Why? Because he does things like this. He's selling an hour of his time on eBay. At the time of this posting there's only two days left and the auction is a surprisingly affordable $50.

Also, for mentioning Noah's auction, I apparently get 10 minutes of his time. Hey Noah, if I do this post six more times in the next few days, can I get an hour of your time for free?

The weirdest things rejuvenate me

Yesterday I was having one of those typical tough-to-get-going kind of Monday's until I read this great case study on MySpace on Startup Review (a great new site from a fellow YE that analyzes web success). It turns out that the majority of MySpace's marketing didn't work well at first, and it took 6-9 months to become the viral monster that it is today.

MySpace took 3 months to build a site with similar features to Friendster, launching at the end of 2003. MySpace did not launch with the strategy that they would target independent music bands and create a social networking site anchored around music. This developed more naturally as a result of who they attracted to the site. Interestingly enough, MySpace did not begin to see user success until 6-9 months after initial launch and promotion. They started promoting MySpace by running a cash prize contest for Intermix employees (~250 of them); asking them to invite friends to use the site. This had some success, but was limited to reaching only a certain size. Next, they made use of the ResponseBase e-mail marketing list, which made some impact, but was largely considered a failure. This was because e-mail marketing does not attract people having loyalties to the site through a pre-existing group of friends or other association. MySpace then began promoting the site offline, sponsoring parties in Los Angeles with clubs, bands, and party promoters. This began to build the buzz around the site, but more importantly attracted micro offline communities (i.e. groups of people) to use the site together. Small community groups of 100 to 1000 people got more of the viral snowball effect going than attracting individual users to the site.

Why does this motivate me? Because one of the most overwhelming web2.0 success stories took that long to achieve success. Some may think that it happened overnight, and to a certain extent it did. But 6-9 months of "failure" is a long time when you're living it. iPrioritize is only 3 months old and it helps me to see that even the best had their struggles. I am satisfied with iPrioritize's start, but it needs to increase it's rate of growth over the coming months for me to continue to be satisfied. MySpace is just one of the many examples that make me believe that exponential growth is possible if you keep at it (note: iPrioritize is not the next MySpace, nor do I really want it to be...I'm talking on a much, much smaller scale here).

Weird how reading something like that lights such a fire under my ass...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Money vs. Time

You're starting an online business (lets say a website of average complexity) and you can choose between:

  1. $25k in cash but you can only spend up to 10 hours per week on your business

  2. Only $1k in cash but you can spend up to 70 hours per week on your business


Which would you choose? Which choice would lead to business success quicker?

If you asked me this question back in 2004 when I was starting SportsLizard I would have answered #1, no questions about it. "You need to spend money to make money" or something like that. Ask me the same question now, however, and I'll take #2 any day of the week.

Why? Because I essentially have been in both situations and one thing I've learned is that time is far more valuable than money.

When I graduated college, I chose to run SportsLizard part-time while working as an engineer full-time. My logic was that I could use my job to fund my business...if that makes any sense. But I found that after working 50 hour weeks, many of which had me traveling all over the place, that it was hard to accomplish much of anything. It took me weeks to do something I can do in a half day now.

Even with more money, say for advertising, I was unable to properly put together and track an advertising campaign. So I was left with a lot of frustration and that ultimately led to me leaving my job.

Time is one of the great equalizers - no one, no matter how rich can cheat time. Donald Trump has the same 24 hours each day to do stuff that you do. He can't "buy" more time. He can pay a lot of people to work for him, which in essence might appear to be "buying" time, but he's not. HE is still limited in what he can accomplish in a day to the same 24 hours as you and I. It amazes me what some people accomplish in the time that others seem to carelessly throw away.

As YE's we might not have all of the resources that other people and businesses have. But if you are lucky enough to have the time to focus on your business like I do, you should look at it as one valuable resource that you do have. How you use that resource is up to you.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Preparing Your Site for Internet Explorer 7

Here's the scenario: one morning you open your email and your inbox is flooded with emails that your site isn't working properly. Maybe your text or images don't look right, or even worse maybe your site isn't properly processing credit card transactions. How could this happen when you didn't change a thing? Well, that morning could be the morning later this year that Microsoft releases Internet Explorer 7.

How are people going to get IE7?

According to Kevin Yank in a recent issue of the SitePoint Tech Times:

“Word on the street is that, upon its release (before year's end), IE7 will be pushed out as a forced update to Windows XP users everywhere, as was done for Service Pack 2. The move to IE7 among the end-user masses will not be a gradual migration, but a sudden and significant shift.”

One night Windows XP users will go to bed using IE6 and the next morning they'll wake up, install a routine update, and just like that they'll be using IE7 to browse the web. That means, that as a site owner, you need to begin preparing immediately for IE7's impending release.

What's different about IE7?

From a user's perspective, improvements include tabbed browsing, better printing, RSS feed integration, more advanced searching, and better security features, as well as a plethora of add ons to enhance the user experience (similar to Firefox extensions).

However, the most important changes that will have a more direct impact on how your site is loaded and displayed are:

  • RSS integration – IE7 automatically detects RSS feeds and asks you to subscribe. It also gives you the option to have IE7 auto-check for feed updates (even when it's not running). Is your feed properly recognized by IE7?

  • Updated CSS behavior – the IE7 team worked very closely with the W3C workgroup to ensure standards compliance. They made over 200 changes from IE6 to become compliant with CSS2.1. Even if your site is standards compliant, it may not be rendered exactly the same as it is in IE6 or Firefox.

  • AJAX XMLHTTP Request changes – the IE blog states: “to have your cross-browser AJAX work better with IE7, you really should be invoking the native XMLHttpRequest (the cross-browser one) first to see if it’s available before instantiating the ActiveX control, instead of the other way around”

  • Added security features – everything from more secure SSL defaults to disabling most Active X controls by default has been changed to help make the user's browsing experience more secure. These changes could drastically change your users browsing and purchasing experience.


You can get full details on all of the changes by visiting the IE Blog

What you should do?

The only way to know for sure how your site will work in Internet Explorer 7 is to download it and try. The IE7 team recently released Internet Explorer 7 Release Candidate 1 (RC1), which can be downloaded on the Internet Explorer web site. I'd recommend downloading IE7 on a computer other than your primary machine (you still want IE6 on your primary machine at least until IE7 is officially launched). RC1 is essentially the final version of how IE7 will display sites when launched, so if your site passes the test now you'll likely be OK when IE7 is released for real.

In testing my sites there were a few instances where my site worked flawlessly in Firefox and IE6, but had small problems in IE7. The changes I needed to make were minimal, but regardless of how well you code there could still be some potential problems. It's better to find and fix them now than to wake up one morning and have hundreds of customer complaints!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

E-Briefings - Business Books Without the Fat



I like my information fast and furious with no BS. If I can learn something by in 20 minutes then why would I spend 2 hours? That's the premise behind E-Briefings, a series of professional development books that can be consumed quickly online. The briefings can be purchased individually and cover topics like Leadership and Management, Business Communication, and Human Resources and Training.

E-Briefings can be found on the London-based Top Briefings website. Visitors to the site are able to sample E-Briefings before buying. Founder and Managing Director Duncan Gotobed was nice enough to grant me free access to their "Making Your Time Count" briefing about time management for this review.

By my estimations, the briefing is less than 2,000 words in total, yet succinctly covers the always hot topic of time management. It touches on everything from self-examination, to planning and prioritizing, to goal setting. My favorite part is the suggestions they offer for solutions to common time wasters such as email, meetings, and procrastinating. When it comes to meetings, they have an interesting approach:


Problem: Meetings


Everyone has attended meetings that were not run efficiently. While you may not have much control over meetings you do not direct, you can make simple changes in the meetings you do run.

Solution:

Hold meetings late in the day, when people are less apt to drone. Hold standing-room-only meetings, start on time, set a time limit, and stick to it. If the meeting is not needed, cancel. Prepare and distribute an agenda ahead of time, and follow-up on items discussed immediately afterward.

As an attendee, ensure that you need to be there; if you do, show respect by arriving on time. Participate actively, but keep your comments on point, adhering to the agenda. If you agree to follow-up on anything, do so quickly, prioritizing appropriately.


The best part of that was "hold standing-room-only meetings." No better way to make people focus on the task at hand than making them stand up! No one wants to stand for hours at a time so you likely can drastically improve your productivity by just removing the chairs (funny side note: at my last job, there was a guy who would always show up first to meetings to lower everyone else's chair and raise his own...he thought that "looking down on everyone" gave him an advantage...it's no surprise that he ended up being fired).

They also have a free newsletter that I would recommend to any entrepreneur or business owner.

So if you don't feel like picking up a 300 page business book, you can always get a quick and informative fix with an E-Briefing. Why consume that fat when all you want is the meat?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Listening to your customers without going crazy

As iPrioritize has grown over its first three months, I've heard an increasing amount of feedback from my users. I'd estimate that last month alone I spoke to roughly 100 users via email, phone, or face-to-face. Each one has their own opinion as to how the application should grow in the future. When I start to think about how much feedback I'll be getting as the site grows two-fold, ten-fold, and a hundred-fold I'm a bit overwhelmed.

Don't get me wrong, I ENCOURAGE customer feedback. Whenever a user contacts me for any reason, I always ask them for their feedback. I want and NEED their feedback to ensure that the application meets the continuously growing needs of its users. I have a good system in place for tracking the feedback so I know if there's a trend in the feedback. But it can be demoralizing to listen to people constantly tell you how to improve your application, and sometimes it borders on telling you how to run your business.

I think a lot of my frustration stems from the fact that it seems like every suggestion I get from a user is completely unique...yet I still want to please them. It would be EASY to know what direction to take the application if everyone was suggesting the same thing. I tend to think that the variation in suggestions means that there is no one hole in the application and try to take it as a compliment. Some of their suggestions I will use (or have already used), and others I won't.

Ultimately, you need to decide what makes sense for your business and what doesn't. You need to be the judge. No one knows your business like you do. Your business is not a democracy. The goal of every for-profit business is to make money and you need to make the decisions that will result in your company being as profitable as possible for as long as possible.

Many times, that aligns with what your customers suggest, but not always. And you will always likely alienate a percentage of your customers with your decisions. It is impossible to meet all of their needs - you will go crazy trying to do so. I think it's more important to let them know that you value their feedback than by actually implementing it. Make each customer feel as though their needs and thoughts are important and they will be happy. So many businesses don't even make the effort to do that. If you can, you'll be a leg up on your competitors.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

There are no shortcuts

There are no shortcuts to success. Whether it be in athletics, academics, or business, excellence is achieved not from luck and natural talent (although those certainly play a part), but from work ethic and desire.

Yet everywhere we look, we are presented with shortcuts. Shortcuts to weight loss, shortcuts to higher test scores, and shortcuts to business success. Entire industries are built on our societies laziness (liposuction comes to mind).

You ARE NOT going to lose 20 lbs in a week (but with proper diet and exercise you can lose it over the course of a year)

You ARE NOT going to look like Joey Porter by going to the gym a few times (but after a few years of working out and a strict diet you can get there)

You ARE NOT going to rock that damn Organic Chemistry final exam without any studying (but put in a few hours a day for a few weeks and you will)

You ARE NOT going to have your company featured on the front page of the NY Times a week after you launch (but with a few years of hard work you can get there, in the meantime you should embrace your suckiness)

You ARE NOT going to sell 1,000,000,000,000 of your widgets in your first month in business (but after a few years of steady growth you certainly can reach that number...or a similar number with less 0's)

There are always exceptions to the rule, but you shouldn't expect to be one of those exceptions. That leads to a sense of entitlement that only leads to disappointment. Ultimately you control your success in life. The sooner you believe that, the sooner you can start on the track towards meeting your goals. There is no substitute for hard work - there are no shortcuts.