iWoz – an engineering manifesto

I am looking forward to this book. Guy Kawasaki just gave a brief review on his blog.

The inspiring bit, I guess, is Woz??????s thoughts on being a great engineer:

  • Don??????t waiver.
  • See things in gray-scale.
  • Work alone.
  • Trust your instincts.

I sometimes think I am too negative in my attitude towards ideas. (Sorry Aidan, I don’t mean to be). I’m just a little set in my ways regarding some things and I think sometimes I carry it off with valid arguments and I really try not to railroad. I have a “vision” how things should be and I’m honestly not inflexible, I just see the vision as somewhat uncorruptable. I can be convinced and I can even bend my own vision (as he knows).

Anyway – Woz struck me as the archetypal geek. Enthusiastic. Eager to please. Instinctual. Self-driven.

I wanna be one of them. 🙁

Rumour Control

I got an odd call today which reminded me of an odder conversation last week.

Last week, an ex-employee in my day job called by and told us that the CEO one of our partner/competitors was swanning around one of thir clients telling them how he was going to buy us (my day job company). Odd chap I thought and then I mused out loud at how much I’d let it go for. It gave me a little laugh, a bit of gallows humour and a brief thought about exit strategies for companies and entrepreneurs. And I did wonder what I’d do with my half 🙂

This week, one of our customers was informed through the grapevine that they had just been bought out by another company. Of course it wasn’t true. We think.

It made me wonder how much of the rumour scuttlebutt was part of the exit strategy of companies that were built to flip (and be bought out). It wouldn’t seem to be prudent to try and manipulate the market with something as simple as spreading rumours.

Aidan and I have discussed our exit strategy. At this point, just because I’m idealistic – mine is likely to be retirement or death. I can afford to be philosophica about it after a rough day today and possibly a rough evening ahead. Wish me luck!

What happened to the housing market?

I’ve been looking at houses. Totally depressing experience. Back when I bought my first house, it cost me ???79K – for a two bedroom converted church in a rural area in the middle of a field bounced by rivers on two sides. These days I’m finding it hard to find anything under ???130K that isn’t in a ghetto. What happened to the market?

Being in the market for houses is incredibly distracting. I’m looking for somewhere in a rural area, ideally near the coast. Obviously it needs to be in a broadband-enabled area (which thankfully is just about everywhere).

Turns out we’re in the middle of a housing boom in Northern Ireland. A building society revealed that prices in the province rose significantly in the first quarter of 2006, jumping by 17.6 per cent, three and a half times greater than the British average increase for the period. Northern Ireland had been the cheapest part of Britain to buy property, but it is now more expensive than Scotland and the north of England, seeing average house prices of ???129,321.
This conflicts with another report which reports that overall average price of residential property for Northern Ireland for the fourth quarter of 2005 is ???145,987. That’s even more depressing. A mortgage of 130K (at 4%) means payments of ???700 a month for 25 years. No wonder I know some first time buyers who are taking 100% mortgages over 40 years rather than 25. A friend of mine can’t buy near her parents because their house cost them 6K but the house three doors down now costs a whopping ???195,000.

BUGGER

 

On other news, we may be about to hit a bit of a slowdown in development which we hope will not cause a release slip. Just kidding

Free Speech BS

Apple lost the recent case against some bloggers

There’s a certain amount of triumph especially from Dave Winer’s corner of the blogosphere that this was some sort of strike back for free speech or recognising blogging as a legitimate medium.

It’s not.

This tells people they can divulge trade secrets and get away with it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for whistle-blowing. If a blogger was taking a company or government to task for wrongness then that’s great. That’s what these laws were written to protect. But, on the other hand, if you have been trusted with a trade secret and you disclose it for fame or money, then you are quite simply a liar.

And if you are enticing or paying people to divulge these secrets then you have to assume guilt as well. The ignorant posturing of the defendants as harmless last refuges of free speech show me what crap people will spill in order to escape justice.

The bloggers should be immune. Their sources, in this case, should be named. They’re not blowing the whistle in the public interest. Sure – some members of the public may be interested but this disclosure will not affect the quality of life of the general public in a positive way.

In essence, the lying sack of shit who signed a contract to keep a secret should be thrown to the wolves.

Hot on the heels – startup pitfalls

This long article comes on the heels of the last one and is based upon a CNN Money article about mistakes small businesses make. Here’s some of my take on it.

1. Too Little Cash
Being under-capitalised is a pain. I’ve seen this in my day job. There’s jobs we simply couldn’t take on because we needed to extend insane credit terms to big businesses. Being a small business with shallow pockets meant we simply couldn’t do it. So – we walk away. And that’s not even touching on the idea that we have to make enough money to pay people, including the pound-of-flesh due to the VAT man. Buy what is essential. Listen to the second thoughts you will get when signing a cheque. Hold off on online banking for the same reason. It’s too easy to spend money!

2. Thinking Small
To some degree this is inevitable. If you have two engineers and you have work enough for 4 engineers coming in each week, then your guys are always going to be behind. Likewise, if building a service, you have to consider some sort of scalabilty. It would be terrible if the reason you missed out on the $million IPO was because you skimped on the server and were only able to handle 100 people.

3. Skimping on Tech
The article makes a big deal out of laptops, Treos, blackberries and wireless. I’d suggest that you seriously look at laptops (especially cost effective Macs that can boot any OS) and leave the Treos and Blackberries out for the time being. They’re an unnecessary cost in terms of up-front cost as well as subscription and IT resource costs. Consider going Bedouin (a bit like Infurious which in many cases puts the ‘bed’ in Bedouin). Get them laptops. Or a desktop with a monster screen. Leave the Treos and Blackberries to the sales guys that you’ll be hiring much later. And get a reliable email server. I’d suggest you outsource that! Small businesses have no business running their own mail server these days unless it’s actually a core function of their business (i.e. they make mail server software related stuff).

4. Underestimating the importance of sales
Remember those sales guys? This is where I say that you have to back them up except when they start to demand Blackberries and other macguffins (because I know that they will blame the Blackberry for losing the vital email that lost you the deal that would pay salaries for 6 months). Cut through the crap. Have a simple and solid infrastructure and make sure the printer works all the time. Sales people are impatient. And as long as the product you’re making makes more than you spend to make it, then you should do okay. In small businesses, cash is king. Make sure you have enough to cover everything. That means sometimes using your sales people as credit controllers and telling them to get the money in rather than just getting the sales in.

5. Losing Focus
It’s very simple. Have a vision. Follow it. Review it after some time. Does it make sense to realign the company along one product. Do you rebrand the entire company? Do you treat yourself as a product company or a portfolio company? Make sure you talk among your team about what happens when YMG come along and make a big offer for your little company. Make sure you talk about what happens if, after two years, YMG has NOT come along with the big offer and you’re still pulling 80 hour weeks for minimum wage.

OK
In closing, we make a lot of decisions in Infurious because they seem fun. We’re interested in the journey of how to “live the life” as much as we are interested in the actual achievement of the goal. We’re trying new approaches on the development side as well as new approaches in the marketing side. We’re not doing things conventionally as a brief conversation with a professional marketing person (for a big drinks company) discovered. She was horrified at our marketing approach (then again, her ideas revolved mostly around nightly promotions in bars, sponsoring race cars and television advertising). I’m not sure she “got” what we’re doing here. I’m not sure she saw the “fun” side of it! Thanks for the ideas, Anya!

Readily, Steadily Go.

Business 2.0 has an article on how to start your startup.. It’s never been a better time to start a tech startup according to them and the costs for doing it have more than halved compared to Bubble 1.0. They do say that it’s as hard as ever to succeed (though logic would say that lower barriers to entry would mean more entries which would mean more competition which would mean its harder to succeed, but I digress).

The article has links to a series of articles designed to help you go through the process of putting together a business. It briefly explains the pitfalls as well as touching lightly on the fun parts.

Anyway, for some it will be a clip’n’save article especially if you’re early down the road to starting your business

UI musing I.

Daniel Jalkut channels John Welch in some harsh criticism of the user interface to Videator, the CoreVideo app from Stone Software.

While I think the UI to Videator (and their previous CoreImage app, Imaginator,) was pony, I have to say that Andrew Stone has some great design ideas. Sure, his UI is based on years of working in the NeXT playground but he’s listening to the Mac crowd. His other apps, the Stone Tools, are in some ways the best of breed. I’ve previously used Create to do a book layout because at the time there was no other page layout software on Mac OS X

I reckon its a hard area to work out. Yes, the Ui is bad, but it’s not as bad as John or Daniel make out.

SyncBridge Status

So what’s the current status of SyncBridge? Barring any major issues, we’ll be conducting another round of testing of a release candidate within the next two weeks. If you’re interested in participating, please mail me and we’ll contact you when we’re ready to go.

Once that round has been completed and we’ve incorporated relevant feedback, we’ll be ready to launch.

Why are we waiting?

Some of you are wondering why SyncBridge is taking so long. After all, we initially thought we would be able to release in April. There are a few reasons, so I thought I’d outline them.

Details

The sync engine that powers SyncBridge has been working well for some time now. Of course, it still needs more exposure to real users, but the guts of it works fine. A reasonable UI is only a recent addition, and a fairly nice UI is what I’m currently working on. Simple things like help files and explanatory text, ways to log-off, storing the password in the keychain, and so forth. All the things that turn it from being a developer tool into a user app.

Real life

This is probably the biggest one. Life has been very demanding for both MJ and myself. I’ve shifted from Australia to Northern Ireland, albeit only for a few months, but it’s still a fairly monumental undertaking. I have three kids, and MJ has two. I’ve had to switch jobs and MJ runs another small business as his day job.

Motivation

It’s hard when you are working on your own. MJ has been a great help in keeping my motivation levels up, but not having anyone to bounce specific code stuff off has been tough. Getting over some troublesome bugs has sometimes been a matter of weeks, simply because I found it hard to face. At one point, I said to MJ “I have no idea how to fix these two bugs. I can’t even face looking at them any more.” I don’t remember exactly what he said, but a few hours later (after weeks of trying) they were fixed.

Time and Discipline

Snatching an hour here and an hour there to work on SyncBridge means that there isn’t the same consistency you get when you work on writing an app full time. If SyncBridge sells well, then I might be able to work on it full time, which would make things much better all round. I’ve been trying to remain disciplined enough to keep good programming principles in mind, while still solving the problem (even knowing that no-one else is looking at my code).

Company Administrivia

The nuts and bolts of setting up a company have been a little problematic for us. Partially geographical, partially fiscal, partially just procratinatorial (if there is such a word). We can’t really sell anything till we are a company 🙂

Definitely Maybe Green Light

We’re gearing up for release now. Fine-tuning the app. Making it prettified in the web admin GUI. Adding some UI feedback in the app. Building the Production server in the final configuration and taking it out of Debug. And of course planning a release party. Aidan has been an absolute demon in working on this and I don’t spend enough time thanking him.

(I’d also like to thank the Private Beta test teams who put up with crap, bugs and stuff. We owe them heaps too. I will personally shake their hands when we release 1.0.)

I also took SyncBridge to a customer site from demo as well and the feedback was very positive – always best to leave a product demo with a credit card rather than a business card. Things are definitely progressing in that respect.

I’m totally buzzed.