Value & Time

Growth

When we think about value, we think about the cost we pay for something. However, that’s a very shortsighted definition. We probably only consider cost as defining value because most of the things we buy are defined this way. For instance, when we go to a grocery store, we look at two brands of cheese, and the cheaper one is the better value. It doesn’t matter much which is the better quality cheese, it simply matters which is the cheaper cheese. As consumers, we typically only consider the cost. To me, the definition of value is far more complicated.

Buying Vacuum Cleaners

Twenty years ago, when I would buy a vacuum cleaner, I only considered cost when purchasing. The cheapest vacuum was the best value and the one I would purchase. But time and time again, I found that my value vacuum cleaner would stop working after about a year. So, I’d go back to the store and buy another one. I was paying about $100 per year to purchase vacuum cleaners. Note that now my value definition has a time element. After several years, I considered buying a Dyson vacuum cleaner. It was four times as expensive, but I had hoped it would do a better job than the $100 vacuum cleaners and that it would last longer. And today, 15 years later, I still have that same Dyson vacuum cleaner. If it were to break today, I would have spent $400 over 15 years for my vacuum. That’s a substantially better value than before!

Value of Technology

The cost of computer technology is very similar. You can buy the $300 laptop and expect to replace it next year, or you can buy a MacBook and have it for 10 years. But custom software is a little more difficult to directly compare since the price tag isn’t as clearly defined. What I’ve found is that when customers purchase consulting services or software development services based solely on the cost of those services, they often find that the price tag explodes over the lifespan of the product due to poor development. When you find the developer with the lowest cost, he probably has the least experience. He will take longer to accomplish the work since he’s bound to run into more snags than an experienced developer. He’s also likely to overlook things that a senior developer wouldn’t. These issues will result in additional costs during the lifetime of the application to fix in addition to lost time and productivity from your software users.

Conclusion

Paying for custom technology services is more like buying a vacuum than it is purchasing a block of cheese from the grocery store. The true value of those technology services will be defined not by cost alone, but by how long those services solve your technology problems.

Classic Hacking

Security

I’ve been involved with technology since the mid 90’s. During the late 90’s, I worked on Unix systems. It was those experiences that lead me to love Linux, taught me to program in C, and helped me learn to automate tasks using various scripting languages. But the 90’s were a much different time for security. Nobody really worried much about hackers or social engineering. And now, over 20 years later, I see people in the workforce that have been robbed of some of the fun I had in the past due to increased security on machines. Of course, increased security is good, I’m not going to argue otherwise. But it has also made a lot of the ‘fun’ from the past no longer possible.

Remote Display

When I was working on old Unix systems, one of my favorite hacks was to set my display to another computer. Since Unix display works as a client/server model, you can actually set your app to appear on any computer monitor you want. So, it was common where I worked to find the most horrible graphic you could and display it on someone else’s machine. Always a good laugh. Other tricks would allow you to play audio on their speakers (great when the individual has fallen asleep at their desk) or turn their keyboard buttons on and off.

Password Files

Long before the /etc/shadow file, passwords were stored in the /etc/password file. And, since the file was readable by anyone, you could easily grab the entire password list and run it through a tool like John the Ripper. Even more fun, commands like ‘ypcat’ would allow you to get the passwords of all users on the network even if they weren’t on the local machine.

Email Overflow

My sister’s first experience with the internet was through a device called “WebTV”. This device was a small terminal that would turn your TV into an internet terminal. It was a cheap, easy alternative to a computer. It also suffered from a pretty simple flaw – you could only have a limited number of emails. (200, I believe.) I found an unsecured email relay – pretty common in the 90’s – and spammed my sister with enough messages to flush out all her email. As you might guess, she was mad.

A New World

How things have changed. Unsecured email servers are much more difficult to find, and Unix is now much harder to hack out-of-the-box. While most of the hacks of twenty years ago were mischievous in nature, today’s hackers are far more sinister. And, thankfully, the world has adapted to become a safer place. Nonetheless, I still look back to the simpler days of computing and the fun we had.

Payment Terms

Money

Recently, a fellow small business owner asked me how I handle billing. For a small business, money is often one of the biggest concerns. Without a steady flow of cash, you can’t meet your business objectives or your personal financial requirements. As a small business, you have to determine when to bill and how to bill. Even worse, you have to define how you deal with delinquent payments – which can kill your business.

When To Start Billing?

The first question to answer is when do you start billing? This is particularly true if you’re billing by the hour. Does the clock start ticking at your first meeting? After the project requirements are defined? After the project is complete? For my business, anything after the initial project meeting is billed to the customer. I think it’s important for a customer to understand that project planning, requirements gathering, and any other tasks completed before any actual code is developed is an integral part of the development lifecycle. I typically bill the first of the month after any billable hours have accrued. I’ve found that the longer you wait, the more the bill increases. Then, you risk the customer suffering from sticker shock when you finally send the bill after months of work.

Late Payments?

When I started my business, I was so pleased to have customers that I didn’t worry about late payments. I assumed that my customers respected me enough to pay me on time. I was incredibly wrong. What I’ve found instead is that many companies will put me at the bottom of the list of payees. Why is that? Well, I think it’s pretty simple. The customer knows they have to pay their lease on time or risk eviction. They know when they fail to pay their internet bill, they won’t be able to perform their mission. What happens when they don’t pay you? Likely nothing. Additionally, they know you don’t have a collections branch and are unlikely to use a collections agent. Thus, they have absolutely no reason to worry about when they pay you. I have learned to include verbiage in my contracts defining payment terms. I give customers a 5 day grace period, and after that the customer is charged a late fee. Additionally, all the customer’s projects are paused until payment is received. If you continue to work, you end up months behind on payment and continuing to work for free.

What About Equity?

I’ve had many ‘customers’ offer to pay me in equity. I do the work and they will give me a percentage of the revenue generated by the software. I have a very simple answer for this kind of relationship. No. While an individual may think that their idea will generate millions, they rarely do. Even worse, you’ve now wasted time developing software that you will never be paid for. The original ‘customer’ lost nothing. You lost countless billable hours to a project that will never be profitable.

Conclusion

Money is the lifeblood of any business. What I’ve learned is that it’s imperative to have clearly defined payment terms and procedures for your business. When you fail to make those terms clear to customers, you will quickly find that your business struggles to get by and that you are spending more time nagging customers to pay than you do performing your business’s objectives.

Social Media Etiquette

Social Media

Today, social media is increasingly being used as a tool for marketing and advertising. However, if done poorly, you run the risk of tarnishing your brand and being viewed as a spammer. Here are a few simple etiquette rules for social media.

Avoid Follow/Unfollow

Today, I was notified that I had a new follower on Instagram. After seeing that it was a local business, I decided to follow back. Trying to develop relationships with local businesses is an important aspect of my social media efforts. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I had an opportunity to visit their Instagram page. But when I did, I noticed that they had already unfollowed me. They had no actual interest in my content or in developing a relationship – they simply wanted to show me their products. This isn’t much different from spamming and does not present a positive view of your organization.

Create Content Not Advertisements

People are unlikely to follow you on social media to see what you have on sale this week. People want to see your personality, what your business stands for, and who you are. Of course, all businesses will occasionally create content that advertises their goods and services, but if that’s all you do, expect to be unfollowed. Social media is for growing communities – not a new tool to spam me with ads.

Stop Nagging Me About Services

On LinkedIn, in particular, this is common. Someone friends you and – wanting to grow your own circle of connections – you accept. Then, you get a private message about the services they offer. Viewing it for what it is – spam – you ignore the message. A week later, another message. Then a month later, a message asking if you got the previous message. Yes, I got them all. I chose to ignore them because I wasn’t interested in your product at this time. Additionally, I now am distrustful of you as I see you too are a spammer.

Like/Know/Trust

Want to develop your social media the right way? Use the like/know/trust model. First, users like you. They see your posts, enjoy your photos, laugh at your jokes. After a while, users feel that they know you. The’ve seen your stuff, they know what you stand for, and they feel that they understand you and your company. Finally, users trust you. They have seen you in action and know you’re knot a spammer. They recognize that you provide valuable content they want. They know you’re someone they could reach out to if they need your services. That’s the formula for success. You develop community and relationships, and people see you as a valuable asset instead of a spammer.

Do Unto Others

The golden rule applies to social media just as it does anywhere else. When you’re engaging in social media efforts, ask yourself how you would view another business if they used the same tactics. If it’s not favorable, don’t do it.

A Programmer’s Purpose

Today, it’s becoming increasingly popular for programers to be ‘opinionated’. In the software world, to be ‘opinionated’ means to believe your way is the right way. Other ways are wrong, and your way is right. There’s nothing wrong with having a preference, but the truth is that there is little room for opinion in software engineering. Software projects need to meet requirements such as budget, programmers available for maintenance, stability, etc. Championing a new language or framework may be fun, but when you leave, are there other developers available to support the project? Even if your preferred framework is better, it’s of no concern to a client when the language dies for lack of users and they have to pay to have the application rewritten.

A computer science student I know is all about Julia. Honestly, I’ve never met a single Julia developer or even seen a line of code in that language. On the list of popular languages, it’s not even a blip on the radar. However, this student insists that Julia is the way of the future. I’m not sure where he’s hoping to find work, but it won’t be in the local area. I remember the same thing when Scala came out. Every video I saw spent half their time attacking Java development. As above, I know absolutely no projects written Scala nor do I know any local companies either using it or planning to.

How should we select frameworks and languages?

The answer is actually pretty simple. Commercial software development has one purpose – to support some business use case. As such, frameworks must be chosen to support commercial business. What things make a language or framework commercially viable? It should be stable, have tools available to support commercial usage, and be widely used such that new developers can easily be found in the future. Additionally, it should have adequate resources available to help when you get stuck.

Commercial application development is no place for experimenting with new frameworks or basing your decision on an opinion about what is better. Find commercially viable frameworks and save yourself the hassle of supporting your new framework that may be dead in a year.  A programmer’s purpose it to write commercially viable software – period.

Do What You Want*

So many businesses today are doing what they DO NOT want and confusing it as the right thing to do. Maybe they feel like they need employees to follow the 9-5 workday to achieve success. Perhaps they are doing things just to “fit in” with other businesses, and at their own expense. Even still, most businesses that I’ve encountered have some aspect of their work that adds no productivity or value, yet they continue to “go about their business” anyway.

However, I need to be clear… the asterisk in the title is there for a reason. The message conveyed is both good and right in its true nature, not to be confused with or distorted into a message of business driven by greed, hedonism or self-gratification. So long as a business’ goals and core values promote good in an ultimate and absolute sense, it’s hard to go wrong. Simply consider how each decision relates back to the mission and vision of the company.

Personally and vocationally speaking, my efforts are focused on helping other businesses, organizations, and individuals to do exactly what I’ve suggested. If we don’t want to do something, we’re certainly not going to be capable of doing our best work. We can put on a good show and do enough to get by, but the world would be so much better if every business and every person was operating at peak potential for the sake of making the world a better place. Let me know what you’re doing that you shouldn’t be, and I’ll do my best to help you do more of what you want* in any way that I can.

Leverage Networks

Over the last several months, my mission has been to focus on company scalability. As a community minded individual, implementing a business model that would encourage Talixa to grow only when we help others do the same has always been a priority. I would argue that this is the reason we saw so much growth so quickly. In April, Talixa transitioned from a part-time company to a full-time company. By July, we had enough projects to keep us booked full-time through the end of the year.

Initially, those were my goals. My work revolved around doing whatever I could to ensure that the company was an asset to the community. As we’ve brought on more team members, I needed to redefine what specifically I could do to allow Talixa to become an even greater asset to the community. What I’ve realized is that I need to make myself available to the rest of the community so I can see more of our community reaching their potential, through Talixa’s infrastructure.

Tom never needed me to help him grow his company. I firmly believe that. However, in looking at what happened as a result of my decision to be a part of the company’s growth, I realized that the element of collaboration, transparency and accountability could explain the rapid growth. When other people can see what we’re working on, we can get the necessary feedback to make the right decisions to position ourselves for sustained growth.

With all that said, Talixa Software & Service, LLC is offering a brand new service… one that I’m particularly excited to share. As far as social media is concerned, our community overall does a fantastic job of utilizing facebook to spread the word and market the products and services that are locally available. However, I have seen very few people utilizing twitter to its fullest potential. People like Elon Musk (Tesla, Space X, Boring Company) are utilizing twitter to accomplish unbelievable things and reach the masses, despite claiming that it is the most difficult platform to conquer.

I have been in the process of tearing the platform apart, breaking down every bit of information I can understand, in order to come up with a process to leverage our local networks and scale our community, catering to our strengths and capitalizing on them. Our business model has worked incredibly thus far, so I don’t intend to change it at its core. Talixa will only scale by helping our entire community do the same. For this reason, we have created twitter business packages to deliver exceptional value, and the reason we can offer the service at the most competitive price is because we’ve created a win-win scenario… a blue ocean.

If your business is on twitter, send us your twitter handle (e.g. @TalixaSoftware) and we’d be happy to give you some extra exposure through our twitter, even if you aren’t actively tweeting content. If your business isn’t on twitter, make an account right now! Otherwise, you’ll miss out on the huge potential to accomplish immeasurably more than you’d expect. If you’d like to learn more about our service, check out this link: bit.ly/2MuMPoF

If you have any questions or feedback about what we’ve ventured into, please reach out! We’d love for you to be a part of what we’re doing and reap the benefits alongside us.

Contagious Generosity

Social experiments are rather interesting. Looking back at my high school senior project from a number of years ago, I had almost finished preparing a research presentation about how collaboration, gratitude, and generosity are integral to the success of individuals, businesses, and organizations. As I stared at my screen, however, I felt as though something was missing. While the research was both accurate and interesting to me, I had my doubts that anybody else would care. Why would they? After finding out that I would be one of the first presenters, I quickly devised a plan that involved some scheming and a trip to the store.

From the start of my presentation, the other students could see that I brought a few shopping bags full of something, and it caught their attention. When the time came I unveiled the great mystery and passed around several different bags of candy to different groups of students. To go along with the candy were some very specific instructions. I not only gave each group the option to do with their candy as they pleased but also informed them that groups would go one at a time.

The first and last groups were the most interesting to watch, because the first group had the opportunity to set the trend of sharing their candy, while the last group had complete freedom to keep their own candy in addition to what was shared with them. Everyone willingly shared, and they ended up with a better variety of candies than they started with. As others presented in the following weeks, quite a number of them brought in more candy as well. I was pleased that a simple activity caused my presentation to become more memorable and effective.

In applying these principles to helping businesses develop and grow, I can’t help but relate this experience to what I see with Talixa. We hire people who offer something unique in certain areas and constantly fill in our gaps. The company has grown by focusing on serving others to the best of our ability, while delivering maximum value and doing the job the right way the first time. Our team has proven time and time again that our services greatly exceed the minimum requirements. I urge you to start implementing new ways to reach more people with your generosity, and prepare to watch your business grow.

Navigating the Unknown

Difficulties often come alongside making important decisions pertaining to business, profession, and life. While some choices can be made with ease and peace of mind due to their simplistic nature, others demand more time and attention, and rightly so. Every person has twenty four hours to spend each day, which is one of the most fascinating and terrifying aspects of constantly receiving new meaningful opportunities. We can say yes to good opportunities, even great ones… until we can’t.

These more complex decisions commonly occur when people exceed their presumed capacity to put more on their plate, because the resulting consequences inevitably alter day to day life. This is one of the reasons why I place such a high value on flexibility. In our humanity, we cannot fully know, understand, or control everything that will happen over the course of any given day, week, month, or year. As such, we need to readily make room for the unknown, carefully evaluating and reevaluating how we spend our time, energy, and resources.

If you find yourself in this position in life, don’t worry; you’re doing something right! Do everything in your power to hold on to the amazing things you have managed to accomplish, while remaining open to new opportunities that will help you continue to develop and grow.

On the other hand, if you still have plenty of room on your plate, don’t be afraid to pursue new endeavors. There are people out there who NEED your gifts. We can always accomplish more today than yesterday, and we can manage more tomorrow than we managed today… until we can’t.

Competent Investing

Regardless of social or economic status, as human beings we have the ability to invest our time, energy, and resources into a wide range of opportunities. Whether we invest in people, projects, or something else, there exists a responsibility and an importance in exercising reason and assessing our own competence beforehand. Using a bit of common sense, this should go without saying, though emotions can often cause people to overlook sound logic in many circumstances.

While this may seem obvious, people should address and assess competence when investing so that they can be prepared for various outcomes in light of uncertainty. Take cryptocurrency as an example. About a year ago, cryptocurrency news stories were finally flooding the mass media. Everyday people heard stories of investors who gloated a twenty fold (or more) return on their initial investment. Without understanding much of the history of cryptocurrency or its benefits and flaws, people started investing their life savings, mortgaging homes, and other unthinkable decisions based simply on their fear of missing out. Absolute mania.

In all honesty, a case could be made that these same people backed out on their investments when the market took a rough turn. In most instances, our investments fluctuate, growing sometimes and shrinking others. The difference between investing in stocks versus cryptocurrency, however, is that cryptocurrency investing is much more volatile. An increase or decrease of ten percent in a matter of hours is fairly common, whereas with stocks, it generally would take months, even years to see a price change that significant.

The reason I write about this topic today is not to influence anyone to invest or pull their investments from cryptocurrency. Rather, I simply hope to help people sincerely think about why they choose to invest or not invest. What do we value most in life? Do our investments align with these values? If not, it begs the question of whether or not we are acting as good stewards of our influence. On this Thanksgiving Day, we should consider what we’re truly grateful for. After we’ve done that, there’s only one thing left to do. Appreciate it.