Discourse and Improvisation ON Entrepreneurship And…

September 27, 2007

I need you to want me

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 12:49 am

Small and medium businesses are supposed to be core to Kinko’s current strategy. Why don’t I feel wanted?

We’ve had a FedEx account in good standing for over six years. That, however, accounts for squat when trying to open a Kinko’s commercial account. I faxed off an application to Kinko’s 4 months ago. No acknowledgment. Dead silence.  Nada. I finally called today, the account application had been discontinued. They claimed that repeated faxed requests to my bank had gone unanswered. Their procedures wouldn’t let them call my banker directly, whose number I supplied. They also claimed they left me a voice mail — just one — which I never received.

Kinko’s spent $15 million retraining 20,000 people on quality customer service. I wish it showed. I guess the thousands I’ve charged on my personal card didn’t buy enough training.

June 28, 2007

Internalizing media

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 10:38 pm

At some point in my young adulthood, I figured out that all I accomplished by reading women’s magazines was to feel inadequate. They’re full of prescriptions for shoulds and oughts, and set the bar so high that no mere mortal could achieve their level of perfection and beauty. So I finally got enough sense to stop reading them.

Decades later, when starting my first business, I read tons of business media, looking to learn from others  failures and successes. Over time I slowly stopped, both because I was finding less to learn, and the more successful the business the less time I had to pay attention.

Outside of  industry news, I still don’t read much business media. But now my list of business  feeds  has started to increase. Most of the bloggers I read I either know and respect, or have come to respect after reading them over time.
But a few of them are starting to make me feel inadequate. I can’t help but compare their thoughts and actions against my own, their successes against mine, their clarity of writing against my struggle to formulate what I think.

Perhaps what’s missing is a discussion of their failures as well as their successes. So maybe I need a new personal rule: any business blogger who doesn’t discuss a failure in at least 5% of his or her blogs isn’t telling the whole story, and therefore doesn’t deserve to be read.

March 29, 2007

I’m a man. Not.

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 12:39 am

I stumbled on Online Gender Analysis, about how men and women’s word choices are differentiated by gender. (Found it via Colorado Entrepreneurs and Technology).

I ran all my blog posts through The Gender Genie. Omitting a few obvious posts (such as my last one), all the results indicate I’m a man.

I question the research, not my identity.

March 26, 2007

Sick to my stomach

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 2:48 pm

I am sick to my stomach after reading Kathy Sierra’s latest post, Death threats against bloggers are NOT “protected speech” (why I cancelled my ETech presentations). My heart goes out to her, I can only imagine how terrified and violated she feels.

That the world is full of misogynist  bullies is not a surprise. Every woman alive has borne the brunt of some very nasty comments. Pre- internet and caller-ID it was phone calls, which we could at least hang up on, and get the protection of an unlisted number. (I’m still listed in the phone book under my first initial instead of first name for this historical reason.)

That this blogosphere community contains misogynist bullies isn’t a surprise either. Any community that is majority male, as the software industry is, will have its bad apples.

I’d like to think that your normal run-of-the-mill misogynist bully usually knows to draw the line when it comes to death threats. Except some don’t, especially when it comes to spousal abuse. With the added global pool of misogynists and the anonymity of the web, it’s all to easy for lines to be crossed.

What is shocking, and what I can’t come to grips with, is that other members of this community allowed this to happen.

The death threat poster needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. As a community we need to shame, ostracize, and hold accountable those responsible for enabling him.

February 22, 2007

FIFO and LIFO

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 1:48 am

I’ve been flailing. So completely overwhelmed by the stack of stuff to get done, I haven’t been able to push myself to do much of any of it. Rather than stepping back or stepping away, I feed the cycle: longer hours trying to work, longer hours getting even less accomplished. Meanwhile the stack just continues to grow.

Although I’d like to say I’m a devotee to GTD (David Allen’s Getting Things Done),  I find his mechanical prescriptions unworkable for me. What generally does work is translucent color plastic folders, variable in number and contents, one per each current project, topic, or activity, stacked on the corner of my desk. Ideally those folders should only contain current working projects. Not shelved, dead, or completed ones. Similarly I use email folders, also variable in category and contents, to store copies of related project emails.

The reality is I have trouble decreeing a project done, dead, or nearly dead. So that stack of colored folders grew and grew until it was about 8 inches of pure psychic burden. The email stacks also grew, as I peeled off the top-most in a LIFO fashion (Last In First Out), and could never dig my way to the bottom.

So I stopped. I stopped responding to almost everything, and put an added delay in to what I absolutely had to respond to. And I flipped the stack, and started tackling it from the bottom up (First In First Out).  That 8 inches is now less than an inch. And, much to my amazement and surprise, there were only about three notes to self on opportunities I may have sat too long on, most everything else could be filed or tossed.

Just as importantly we took time today for a strategy and planning meeting, which help reset my sights a bit further down the road. I know I was focused on the space right in front of my feet.

Is it enough? We’ll see. For the moment I at least feel better about where were headed and how I’m going to be able to get there.  And I have a nice surplus of translucent colored plastic folders.

February 6, 2007

Too Much Wasted Marketing Money

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 2:38 am

I’m still shaking my head over a meeting with a trade-pub ad sales rep last week.  A big part of her pitch was the results from subscriber surveys. A simple question: which of these companies have you heard of? One of the companies on the list is a competitor, so I have a pretty good idea how much print advertising they’ve done. After years of advertising on a fairly regular basis, their awareness level is less than 10%. With some back-of-the-envelope calculations I’m estimating that they spent at least $9, and possibly more than $18 per person who’d check a box saying “I’ve heard of this company”.  That’s not a lead, that’s a modicum of brand awareness.  Given their price point, they’d have to do the impossible and convert as many as 1 out of 28 of the barely aware into paying customers to just cover their costs.

The ad sales rep pointed to their ramp in awareness as a selling point. I didn’t have the heart to point out the mathematical errors in her assumptions.

No thanks, we won’t buy print ads.

Too Much Marketing

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 1:46 am

I am not a professional marketer. I come to marketing out of necessity, and bear a long-lived dislike of being marketed to. I’m the type that goes a bit out of my way to avoid the onslaught: adblock in my browser, automatic image download turned off in email; an early adopter of Tivo, the Colorado No Call list, and the Direct Marketing Association’s junk mail opt-out list; and a long-time listener of NPR. I hang up on telemarketers  and close the door on solicitors, hopefully politely. I cut any and all sales pitches short.

I am not alone. I suspect that most of our target market either behaves in a similar fashion, or just ignores 99.9% of what they see.

It’s all just too much. We’re inundated,  and we’re just not going to pay attention any more.  Which of course raises the stakes for those trying to get our attention — hence stunts like the recent brouhaha in Boston. It feels like we’re in a swimming pool full of children all screaming “Look at me!” “Look at me!”.

But without marketing, buyers will never know about the availability of what’s for sale.

So rather than scream for your attention in every way possible, I let one question drive my marketing decisions. If you have the pain that my product cures, where do you look to find the salve?

More later…

January 31, 2007

This is a test

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 6:58 pm

I’ve been avoiding thinking about the ramifications of Outlook 2007’s new HTML rendering engine: the ever-so-old Word engine. What were they thinking? Word’s horrible at handling standard HTML, not to mention CSS.

But before I can worry about that bit of email design hell, I need to finish my current battle: RSS rendering. For some reason Google’s RSS Reader is clobbering some standard HTML tables that we’re trying to use in some ads. Hence this test, which you can ignore. However, if you don’t see a table full of bright colored cells, do let me know how you’re viewing this feed, so I know what other engines are broken.

This is a test


The quick brown
fox
jumped
over
the
lazy
that’s
over
the
lazy
dog
fox quick
brown
fox
lazy
dog
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
more fox more dog

December 2, 2006

High-temperature teams

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 9:40 pm

You’d think that as ancient an art as glassblowing would have an authoritative, hierarchical structure. You’d be wrong.

My neighbor’s explanation of how the team functions was fascinating, and full of lessons. These folk are sticking metal pipes in a 2000°F blast furnace and manipulating large blobs of molten glass. Gloves are not allowed, as they’d burst into flames before they could be pulled off in time. The only protection is feel, just how far down the pipe you can touch, and wooden paddles that are used as heat shields. A typical team consists of the gaffer and several assistants, and any wrong move can be disastrous. Imagine what damage you might do spinning a rod of molten glass around to the right when your team mates expected you to turn left.

The gaffer is the person in charge of making the piece, and the position of gaffer rotates throughout the team from piece to piece. The gaffer is also in charge of the team, and is fully responsible for anything and everything that happens. Did you, an inexperienced assistant, open the furnace door to soon shattering every piece inside? My fault, I told you to open it, but I wasn’t precisely clear as to when. Did you rotate the wrong way? My fault, I’m responsible.

Of course solid and clear communication is crucial. Add to that a clear sense of 100% responsibility, and responsibility that rotates. How refreshing!

Then, when they’re done for the day, the team sits down and eats a meal together.

Contrast this to the story in Joel Spolsky’s blog
How many Microsofties does it take to implement the Off menu?
Results will be hideous, stupid, or disastrous when no one bears responsibility.

October 30, 2006

It’s just business

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 2:35 pm

Seth Godin’s short, to-the-point post, it’s just business hit me over the head. Ethics does matter, a lot, and is inseparable from business or life. “It’s just business” is often used as an excuse for abominable behavior.

Whoops, I forgot about the negative connotations when I named this blog category “it’s just business”. I was trying to remind myself to:

  1. Put my priorities in order. Business should always get in line behind family and living a healthy life. As an entrepreneur I tend to forget that, daily.
  2. Not take my business, or myself, quite so seriously. The success or failure of any or all of my business is not life and death.
  3. While I try to live my business as I live my life, I should not let my business live my life.
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