Speaking in the context of running a software as a service company, don't pay too much attention to your competition, even though it will be very tempting.Here are five quick reasons why you shouldn't:1. The minute you start analyzing the design of their system, it will cloud your vision of how your own system should be.2. More features doesn't equal better software. Concentrate on building and improving the minimum set of features your customers need to get their work done.3. If you are constantly adding features to match your competition, then you are a follower. Followers aren't industry leaders.4. The mere act of keeping tabs of your competitors' achievements will make you anxious or even add some stress to your day. Don't sweat over things you can't control.5. Don't set your prices to low-ball your competitors unless you truly believe they are overcharging. Don't under-value your software.Building software is technical and an art all at the same time. An occasional glance at the competition is not a bad thing, but keep most of your focus on your service and your customers. We all should strive to become leaders in our industries. The ones who will achieve that success are the companies who look to the future with fresh ideas, not the ones who constantly dwell on what their competitors' next step will be.
Tags: startup tips
About a month ago we posted a private customer survey, asking a variety of questions. The survey was optional and all contributors are left anonymous. In this blog post, I'm going to openly share a summary of the results of what our customers had to say, good and bad. We believe in doing honest business and the main purpose of this survey was to learn what our customers are thinking, so that we can improve what we offer.1. Is there anything the Haulix system doesn't do that you wish it could do to improve your online promotions?We had a variety of answers on this one. Everything from us running coffee runs for them to more detailed reports. One person mentioned having downloadable software that contacts could use to download promos. A few people expressed wanting to be able to embed watermarked videos.2. As a label or PR company, is there another tool you wish was offered online that would improve your day-to-day operations? (doesn't have to be related to promotions either)Answers included more detailed reports, automatic email reminder to contacts that haven't viewed a promo within a certain number of days and a mailorder/shopping cart system for selling music.3. Which option best defines your experience with leaking albums since using Haulix?
4. How do the majority of your contacts feel about digital promos?
5. What is the best way for you to learn about a new Haulix feature?
6. One thing I really like about Haulix is...?"Format is user friendly...""It's easy...""It is very organized, self explanatory, affordable and the best tool for digital marketing campaign...""It's fast and simple...""Easy and quick, plus good customer support...""Haulix is an excellent tool, fast, reliable and easy to use...""Great service, each support inquiry will be answered within a few minutes. You are really fast!""Simplicity and easy of use...""Very fast customer service... when I email about a problem I always get a very fast reply, this is great!""The ease of use and exceptional customer service...""Works very well, very fast service..."7. One thing I really dislike about Haulix is?"Speed...and I fully realize that may be an issue on my end...""It can run a little slow sometimes...""It would be cool if one could customize the promo page a bit more, but it is still great as it is now...""Leakers hate it because of the watermarks...""The audio glitches problem, which appears randomly, should be completely eradicated...""Not all of our invitations reach our contacts...""Too expensive...""Sometimes slow..."
A while back, I wrote about the hidden price model. That had to do with businesses hiding prices, forcing you to call in and speak with a salesman before getting a glimpse at how much the product or service costs.Another pricing strategy I have realized, is the "moving target" pricing model. The way that this strategy works, is that prices are posted somewhere, like a brochure or website. You go in with that brochure and speak with a salesman. He glances at your brochure and starts crossing off the prices, telling you that they have changed. You then get home with the salesman's new prices, you look on their website, and there is a third set of prices for the same thing. You sit there scratching your head wondering which price is "right."I truly believe many companies don't do this on purpose. They just have a piss-poor time organizing their prices and cannot keep them sync'd up across promotional mediums. Other companies I believe do this on purpose. What really bothers me, is they act like it's no big deal. For a customer to have his mind set on a price, make the trek into see the salesman, and then to have him just scratch those prices away and post new ones, is a slap in the face - it feels like a bait and switch routine. It makes the customer wonder; is he just making these new prices up? Is he making the prices up based on an assessment of who I am? Does he think I have more money and therefore want to jack the price up?Hidden prices are my #1 pet peeve. The moving target pricing is close behind at #2 and a huge red-flag to me. Establish your prices and post them correctly everywhere - is it that hard to do?!
Back in mid 2010, I bought an Amazon Kindle. Just having the ability to order a book and have it "beam" into your possession within 60 seconds, blew my socks off. I read with the Kindle for about a week and it was nice. The screen was crystal clear and easy to read. I liked the fact that I could have all of my books stored and accessible from one compact device. I then saw that Barnes & Noble was getting into the eReader market. They came out with a product that appeared to be able to do what the Kindle did, plus there was a snazzy color portion of the screen that displayed your book selection. I'm a sucker for snazzy stuff and I quickly returned the black & white only Kindle.Fast forward to the present...my gamble to wait for the eReader technology to mature paid off. My Christmas wishes came true and I now have a Nook Color in my possession. I've been using it for about two weeks now and I think I can honestly say, this is the perfect eReading machine. I cannot find any flaws with this thing and I'm usually pretty critical.Nook Color is black with a large touch screen. It is a little bit heavier than the Amazon Kindle, but still nowhere heavier than a large book. There are no page-turning buttons; you literally tap the right side of the screen to turn the page and tapping the left side will go backwards. The home screen is the first thing you see when you turn the machine on. From the home screen, you will see a full color list of the current publications you are reading by way of the book/magazine covers. The home screen itself can get customized with any imagery you want - it comes with a couple nice backgrounds to choose from. To read a book, simply tap the book's cover with your finger and it zooms in with an animation and goes to the last page you left off on, automatically. The font type, font size and even the page margins can all be customized to fit your visual needs. The screen is bright and serves a very smooth reading experience.Want to bookmark a page for future reference? Simply tap the upper right corner of the screen and a little bookmark image will show up. Tap it again and it disappears. Turn the Nook Color on its side and you can read in landscape mode. You can highlight words and look-up their meaning or add notes to a page to help you remember key points.Tapping the menu button on the bottom of the screen pops the main menu up. From there, you can shop for new books, play games or manage your bookshelf. Shopping is a breeze. Once your card information is stored, simply find a book, click to purchase it and it downloads within seconds. I like the fact that you can sample a few pages from a book and read other reader reviews. Nook Color even has a feature that allows you to lend a book to another Nook Color user. I haven't tried it yet, but I could see that coming in handy some day. The book shelf is similar to Windows Explorer or the folder system in your computer's operating system. You can create "shelves," similar to folders and then store books on those shelves. It's a great way to organize your readings.Everything I have talked about is just the tip of the iceberg. Nook Color offers much more. You can play chess, browse the internet or even listen to music (there is a 1/8" headphone jack in the upper right corner of the unit). One thing I would suggest, is purchasing a nice protective cover for it. It will prolong the life of the touch screen. In the lower left corner, there is a standard SD card slot. The unit already has enough space to store thousands of books, but if needed, you can expand that storage with an SD card. A full charged battery lasts a little over a week and it can recharge in a matter of a couple hours.Bottom line: Barnes & Noble always seemed to be following in the shadow of the big gorilla in the room and Amazon has always had cheaper prices for books. On the other hand, B&N really did their homework this time around and built a flawless eReader. Amazon, I think it's your turn to take notes.
I just read an article in this month's INC. Magazine that talked about the psychological affects in life after your business.Although many business owners have a clear exit strategy from the get-go, it's hard to know how one will feel when that day finally comes. For many, their business is their main "purpose" in life. Once that purpose is gone, then what? Purpose is a very powerful thing to feel. In an example story in INC., a young business owner who was good looking with a picture-perfect family sold his business (at the young age of 38) and walked away with $100 million. A month later, he hung himself. To outsiders, this guy had it all, yet without a sense of purpose, he couldn't take it anymore.As another example from the magazine, a guy sold his business and was financially secure for life, yet a week later, he realized just how lonely he was. His children were at school. His friends were at work. His wife was involved with something during the day. He was used to having people depend on him. He used to be the center of attention and it was up to him to make huge decisions that impacted the company. Now, even with a boat-load of money, those inner gratifications were gone.So, I've been thinking about my own situation. I didn't start this business for a quick buy-out. I truly am passionate about what we do here and I can't imagine what I would do if I didn't have this. There is so much fulfillment in always having goals to reach. Yeah, there's stress too, but that keeps us in check. Thinking back to the INC. article, I'm in that "I Have Purpose" mode right now and although millions of dollars sounds appetizing, I think I would go insane giving up daily business operations and my "purpose" in exchange for days filled with driving the Porsche back and forth to the golf course.
Interesting article on Julie's Bicycle talking about how switching to digital promos can reduce CO2."The way forward is clear. All companies should switch to digital promos now, as far as is possible."- Alison Wenham, Chairman and Chief Executive of AIM
Tags: digital promos
Don't you hate it when you go and research a service (SaaS) and they don't show pricing on their site? Some companies hide their prices so well, they won't even email you the prices until you've talked with one of their salesman on the phone.Why hide what you charge?Do your prices change that often?Do you even have set prices?What's the catch?It's obvious:These businesses have an army of hungry sharks (sales-people), waiting by the phone, ready to give you an earful of how great they are. These sales-peoples' salaries depend on the commission and you can usually cut their 'aura of impatience for the sale' over the phone with a knife. With the hidden pricing model, are they sniffing you out to see what your intentions are and who you are? Of course they are and you can bet that directly affects the 'custom' price structure you get handed over the phone. If you are a huge organization with a monster budget, do you think you're going to get the bloated version of their so-called pricing scale? Or course! If they sense that you are not too interested, and just gradually researching around, will they give you the same attention they would to someone who is about to signup? Probably not!I don't know about you, but when I visit a site, looking to signup for their services and they don't wear their pricing on their sleeve, I turn around and leave. We're all busy people with a ton of things to do each day. Nobody wants to have to jump through 10 hoops and put up with the phone-pitch just to get pricing.
I read a blog post written by Paul Resnikoff today that had to do with kids feeling stupid paying for music. The blog post is here.Being raised a certain way with certain beliefs is a very strong force. Religion is proof of that. Almost in my mid thirties, I grew up in the cassette days. The way you spread music, was to make a mix tape with a bunch of songs from different artists/albums and then give it to your buddy. Then in the mid 90s, the compact disc phenomenon hit and those were some exciting times! The record store experience was still the default method of buying music and it was fun flipping through those big cardboard sleeves. Then, in the early 2000s Napster came along and drastically changed the music sharing game - the industry was scarred for life. It was a huge turning point.Think about kids that were born in the late 90s early 2000 era. They never had to suffer through fast forwarding a cassette or lugging around a huge Sony Discman. They were born only knowing the internet as a music buffet. Add to that, the fact that everything now a days is so accessible and fast. You can book a reservation at a restaurant from your phone or order a pizza online, within minutes. Texting, tweeting and blogging are all mediums that are instantaneous with expected quick feedback. This is just normal ways of doing things for the younger crowd; they don't know any different!Being born into music sharing and then learning that you have to pay for music must be a shock for these younger people. Why pay, if in the time it takes to drink a can of Coke, you can download an album from the privacy of your bedroom at 1am in the morning, from a sharing network?!My opinion, is what has happened, is that the young crowd doesn't understand the VALUE of music. It's not that they choose not to understand, but that they were born missing the psychological makeup that realizes there is value in music.I can prove this way of thinking that music has value. Do an experiment. If you've got music in your computer or iPod that you received for free, think about that music. What if you lost the tracks? Would you feel sad or disappointed? Probably not, big deal. Now, go to Amazon.com. Search for an album you always wanted, but don't have, in their MP3 download section. Purchase and download the album. When you open up your computer's music player, look at the cover art and all of the song titles while you listen. Take note of how you feel now. There's this subconscious feeling of ownership. In a weird way, you feel proud that you own this chunk of digital music. It's official. It has value. It's yours. If you lost it, you would be disappointed, because subconsciously, you would revert back to the experience of searching the album out, purchasing it and taking ownership. Note the feeling of knowing that an artist is getting paid for their hard work. It's about the experience.It will be harder for the young crowd to realize this sense of ownership. Even though CDs are on their way out, I have realized the sense of proud ownership can still be experienced, maybe scaled down a bit, but it's still there. I think there is still hope for the young crowd. If digital music security can get tightened up and digital music stores can standardize fair pricing, that value can be saved.Do you think there is still hope for the younger crowd that expects everything to be free?
Tags: illegal file sharing
For those that don't know, Tony Hsieh is CEO of mega-shoe store Zappos (they sell more than shoes now). Before reading this book and from videos I saw, Tony came off as a monotone soft-spoken company leader with sharp focus on long-term goals.After reading the book, I learned there is quite the story behind this guy and his entrepreneurial adventures. He's like a typical college party buddy with a nerdy edge. And like Bill Gates once said, "Don't make fun of nerds because you'll probably end up working for one some day." I think this is one guy I wouldn't mind working with or for some day.Rather than being a boring dictionary of cut and dry business concepts, the book relies on experiences and story telling. The first 3/4 of the book has an easy flow and I found myself getting engulfed in relating his adventures to my own experiences with our business. The latter 1/4 has almost too many guest interjections from other employees that expound the "Pro-Culture" position the company lives by, making the last part of the book choppy. All in all though, I respect how Tony wasn't afraid to shine light just as much on his failures as he did on his successes. I also like the fact that he revealed numbers that are normally top-secret for companies, like the cut he was entitled to with the sale of LinkExchange. Those of us who dream of swimming in a pool of money some day can drool over the monetary numbers he throws around like it's just another walk in the park. Yet later down the road, he does a good job of demystifying the delusional correlation between true happiness and boat loads of money. There's a weird mix of arrogance and modesty going on here.The core values that Zappos employees stand by are really common sense if you think about it. Yet, unless you've bounced a beach ball around a conference room or dared a coworker to shave his head and get his body painted blue with your boss's approval, I guarantee you have never worked for a company that comes even close to the extraordinary culture they live by. They definitely work hard and play harder and if you tour their compound, don't expect to see any bubblegum chewing employees in their cubicle twiddling their pen, bored out of their mind staring at the ceiling. Dead-end job isn't in their vocabulary and they pride themselves on incubating personal growth.As a business owner in the trenches of a first year startup, I found Tony's roller coaster ride a valuable read. If your dream is to not only run a successful business, but to reach farther and actually stand for a cause, then you can learn a lot from this book. I definitely see things at a different angle now and probably won't be using the words "money" and "happiness" in the same sentence ever again.
Tags: tony hsieh, zappos, book review
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