Tag Archives: technology

Tools, Behind the Scenes and Entrepreneurship

Tools: Zamzar.com is an online file conversion tool. It will take almost any kind of document, spreadsheet, presentation, text file, compressed file, audio file or video file and convert it to another format.  One of the neat new tricks is to convert a document into an audio file.  It is not a professional reading the file, but it is serviceable.

Behind the Scenes: Another in a series of posts that discuss the creation of something that you take for granted from a behind the scenes viewpoint.  Today’s topic: Magazine Subscriptions.

Entrepreneurship: Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich is a polarizing guy.  Some people love him, others… not so much.  Today, he talks with leading venture capitalists about what they look for in new business pitches.  For all of you entrepreneurs looking for capital out there, this is required reading.

Technology and Economy Cubed

Technology: I have been a big fan of Google Docs for users for a while now.  It makes sense to me to have the documents that you need whereever you are, not to mention the ability to easily share documents and collaborate on editing. Google today announced two changes to Google Docs.  The first is a full find and replace function that replaces a totally anemic one.  The second is the addition of a drawing module.  The drawing module will work in Docs, Spreadsheets and Presentations.

Economy: Speaking of Google, they seem to be the only firm that has a solid PR plan regarding the economy.  Read this article on the salary structure of the Google leadership.

Economy: Ever wonder about the huge contracts that sports stars get and how that works for them?  Sports Illustrated has a great story on the answer — not so well.

Economy: Heard this week from a small business banker at Chase that they are not lending to companies without three years of solid financial statements, up from 2 years.  I am not sure how they are making money if they are not lending it out, but the pendulum is definitely swinging back to the cautious side of things.

Behavior, Entrepreneurship, Economy and Technology

Behavior: Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist from Duke.  He gave a presentation at TED this year on cheating that discussed, among other things, a fake MIT Honor Code, sweatshirts, the Personal Fudge Factor, atheists swearing on Bibles and The Ten Commandments.

Entrepreneurship: Seth Godin wrote today about how to apportion equity in a start-up. His ideas are well thought out and I especially like the idea of appointing an arbitrator right at the start.  This advice is all the more important if your partner is also your spouse, best friend or both.

Economy: I posted recently on some ideas regarding the AIG bonus issue. Adam Davidson, writes on the NPR Blog today to tell us to look at the bigger picture and as mad as I was when I wrote about the bonuses, I think he makes some sense.

Technology: I have been a big online mapping fan from the early days of MapQuest.  Now, I normally choose Google Maps, for the richness of the experience as well as the ease of use.  Today, I found out about www.openstreetmap.org. This is an open source world street mapping program.  It is designed to be crowdsourced, meaning that like Wikipedia, everyone can be an editor.  It looks a lot like Google Maps but includes user generated features like detailed bike paths near my home that were included by a user with a GPS unit.

Fun, Economy and Technology

Fun: If this isn’t a movie soon, I will be surprised.  Joshua Davis tells the inside story of a diamond heist that although a bit long, is totally mesmerizing.

Economy: While still remaining on the topic of heists, Vanity Fair magazine has a long article on how Bernie Madoff was able to perpetuate his scam.

Technology: Ever wondered how Google prices their ads?  Here is the scoop from the Chief Economist of Google.

Technology: I wrote about tools for the entrepreneur last week.  I have found a few more that just might make the cut for you.  Officezilla is a free tool that does much of what Basecamp does for project managment.

Economy: I am not sure that I can believe this, but the Boston Globe is reporting that the FDIC needs to borrow $500 Billion to potentially prop up bad banks.  What is most interesting is that the FDIC did not collect premiums from most of their member banks from 1996 to 2006.  Why didn’t they collect the insurance premiums?  Well, Congress prevented the FDIC from collecting because they felt the FDIC was so solidly capitalized. Whoops!

Fun: What does a trillion dollars really look like? I had no idea, but half of that picture makes up what the FDIC is looking for.  Ouch.

Technology, Marketing, Ethics & Movies

Technology Paul Heinz wrote a thoughtful essay on Lost Arts.  It is a riff on all of those things that we used to be able to do. Now, technology has changed things, mostly for the better, but it is fun to wax nostalgic.

Marketing: Mental Floss has a good article on the marketing of the movie Coraline.  Lots of good tidbits here, but what hit me most was the viral marketing campaign around the alphabet cards.

Ethics: Freakonomics looks at the law of unintended consequences in two articles and how it affects the disabled.

Behind the Scenes: On my list of all time favorite movies is Raiders of the Lost Ark.  A transcript of the story conference between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan (the writer) has been posted to the web.  Lots of interesting examples on how creative people think and then execute in the film.

The Young Entrepreneur – Tools

In my last column on The Young Entrepreneur, I urged those of you with great ideas to adopt some habits that will further your enterprise.  I have gotten some good feedback on that article.  A couple of people asked if only Young Entrepreneurs were targeted in that post.  Certainly not.  I have been advising both young (twenty-somethings) and more traveled (forty and fifty-somethings) for some time now and the habits that I talked about were beneficial for all of us, even, gasp, those folks who are happily ensconced in Corporate America.

Today, I want to talk about tools.  I review a lot of business plans and one thing that entrepreneurs tend to do is overspend on tools.  Specifically computer tools.  There can also be a tendency to not look at IT management things like computer security and backup strategies.  In some cases, legalities are involved.  Let’s take a look at some specific areas.

Understand Your Needs

The first thing that you should do is clarify exactly what your business does.  Of course, you know what that is.  But really what technology is critical to your success?  For example, a printing business probably needs to purchase licenses to Photoshop.  An accounting firm probably needs the most fully laden copy of Quickbooks. For these products, bite the bullet and buy the correct number of licenses.  You don’t need the Business Software Alliance on your case (although my take their methods of enforcement should make another post).  You will get support and know that you will be able to perform your role with your clients.

If these products are critical, look to potentially become a development partner with the software company.  You may be able to get some very nice perks for joining as a partner, although it might stifle some of your creativity.  Your mileage will vary.

If your company needs to utilize software to build your product or service, be sure to get qualified legal advice before choosing a platform to build upon.  There are a lot of open-source products out there and as many different licensing agreements.  If you choose products with the wrong open-source licenses, you may lose out on patent protection or have other intellectual property issues.  This is an area that you need to spend the money to ensure that you are protected.  When you go out for financing, intellectual property rights can be critical to the investment decision.


For all extraneous (non-critical) software, look for free alternatives.  Do you really need to use Microsoft Office?  At $250 a pop, this is a serious question.  Sure, you could buy the Student and Teacher Edition, but remember the BSA…  There are a lot of other alternatives.  If you decide that your documents and spreadsheets should be kept locally, Open Office is a fine substitute.  There is a no charge license, it will read and write Microsoft standard documents and it offers most of the functionality of the name brand.

I would think seriously about alternatives on the web.  In this case, you may lose some functionality (much of which few people utilize), but have the advantage of easily sharing documents and collaboratively editing them.  Two good free examples are Google Docs and Zoho Office. Google docs allows you to create (and import/export Microsoft formatted) documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Multiple people can edit the document concurrently.  The spreadsheet has functionality that allows you to present a form for data entry and distribute it to others to allow them to build a spreadsheet — good for things like party invites or benefits signups. Zoho Office has many modules, including standards such as spreadsheets, documents and databases and stretching to Customer Relationship Managment (CRM) and Human Resources Management.  The CRM solution is free for up to 3 users and rivals SalesForce.com for the functionality for the small business marketplace.

The benefit of web based alternatives go beyond the free price and collaboration.  You will have the confidence that the files are backed up and available securely, anywhere there is a browser.  If needed, you could update that contract from an Internet Cafe in Kauai.  If you need help with this, please call me, I would love to help.

For managing your finances, lots of times people will start out with Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet based product.  I would recommend starting out with the smallest version of QuickBooks that you can.  I have had experience with a number of other products.  They all work fine, but QuickBooks is the standard and your accountant will be sure to be able to take downloads of your files and work on them.  I have tried the QuickBooks online version and was very impressed with it.  If you have less than 20 customers, the service is free.  More fully functional versions are available.  The one including time and expense tracking for services firms is priced at $34.95 per month and can be well worth it for a company with a significant billable work force.

For other tasks, there are open-source or free products that work as well as the boxed software you can get at Fry’s or TigerDirect.

  • Diagramming software: Instead of Visio (MSRP $269) check out Dia or online using LovelyCharts
  • Graphical software: Instead of Photoshop (MSRP $999) check out GIMP
  • Programming Language: Instead of Microsoft Visual Studio (MSRP $799) check out Ruby On Rails or Java
  • Operating systems: Instead of Microsoft Vista (MSRP $270) check out Linux

Do you have others that you use and can recommend?  Let me know in the comments.

Online Identity

For your online identity, you will need to buy a domain.  Look out for deals from GoDaddy and 1&1 and Dreamhost, all of whom also offer low cost hosting.  If your product or service will require lots of access or usage will grow significantly over time, look for the ability to buy additional space or bandwidth, as needed. Potentially, you might want to look into dedicated server and facilities for managing multiple servers.  Day one, try to find a vendor that you can grow with. And check out the service level agreements.  These documents explain what the hosting company will agree to provide to you in terms of uptime and security.  Comparing pricing and service level agreements will lead you to the right value proposition for you.

Google Apps for Business can be a great way to keep everyone in the company on a single platform that will allow for web access to authorized users from anywhere.  This service will encompass email, calendaring, intranet, search, documents and spreadsheets and other Google based services.  You will get to use your domain, such as www.yourbusiness.com, to allow you to utilize your corporate identity. Google updates their products regularly and will take care of backing up and managing your servers.

Another solution for web developers is Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service). Amazon provides as much storage for objects as you need and charges you for just what you utilize.

IT Management

IT Management is a key topic, even (or especially) in small companies.  You need to have a planned backup strategy.  It could be just copying your working files daily to a USB drive and keeping it at an alternative location.  It could be to use a service like Mozy or Carbonite.  Of course, the use of web based software could obviate the need for significant local backup capability.

In any case, make sure that you try out your data recovery.  If you needed to recover a file that was deleted, could you do it easily?  What would happen if your desktop computer broke on a Wednesday afternoon?  How would you recover so that you could still conduct business?  What if the problem was more widespread than just your desktop, say a natural disaster?  Could you still run your business?  All of these are key concerns and deserve a solid plan to support your business.

Security is also a concern.  Be sure to develop your applications and access to your systems with strong security.  If your business has to take broader precautions, for example if it takes credit cards or is obligated to follow the HIPAA laws, you will need to invest in stricter security systems.  Work with a security expert to protect your systems and data.  A lawsuit for a breach of security in any business is bad news.

Be sure to look at the costs of telecom systems.  The costs for VOIP (voice over internet protocol) service have decreased and the features of phone systems to integrate with your office systems have increased.  Get a free conference call number at The Basement Ventures. There is even an open source package for telephone management – Asterisk, where you can set up your own telephone system for your office, just like the big guys.

There are a lot of alternatives out there for reducing the costs and increasing the capabilities of your data tools.  If you have questions or other products that work well for you, please let me know in the comments.

Failure, Warren Buffet, Writing and Wages

Entreprenurship: One of the things that entrepreneurs don’t talk a lot about is failure.  But it happens.  I know.  Failure is the toughest thing in the world to go through, but probably the best learning experience.  I know that I learned more from failures than from success, although success was much sweeter.  Here is a story of failure in entrepreneurship.

Economy: Warren Buffett writes the best shareholder letter in the industry.  He has just released the 2008 version.  Besides his recollection of “We trust in God, all others pay cash”, he recounts the good and bad (unforced errors?) that made 2008 for Berkshire-Hathaway.

Writing: I pointed last week to Paul Graham‘s article on Startups in 13 Sentences.  The folks at EtherPad, a developer of tools for collaborative editing, posted a demo of a future feature of their program that allows one to see the writing process in real time.  The sample article that they used was the Paul Graham article.  I was mesmerized.

Business: Alex Krupp writes in the SixMonthMBA blog about why entrepreneurs should get paid more than engineers. What do you think?

Technology, Green and Entrepreneurship

Technology: Here is a picture of Moore’s Law in action.

Green: Ever wondered why you know that the recommended service interval for changing your oil in your car is 3000 miles and has been “forever”.  The skeptic is  looking into it.

Entrepreneurship: One of my favorite entrepreneurship writers is Joel Spolsky.  Joel started his career at Microsoft and currently he is president of a software development company in New York City. I love the fact that he has a clear voice as to how he wants to run his company.  I subscribe to his blog and try to read his articles in Inc. Magazine.  This month he talks about the reason (!-not plural) companies fail and relates a humorous Thanksgiving dream.

Entrepreneurship, Friday Fun and Video

Technology: One of the fun things that I get to do as an advisor is read through lots of business plans.  OK, not so much fun, but interesting.  While a business plan is a serious document, the best business plans have some life to them.  You want to be able to use color, text formatting and some graphical images to help make the best case and to keep your reader engaged.  Full pages of 10 point Times-Roman will put anyone to sleep.  A new feature in Office 2007, called SmartArt,  can help to give your business document a little life. Don’t overuse this or it will become like clip art, but a judicious use of these types of elements will go a long way to ensuring that your reader is still awake at the end of your document.

Entrepreneurship: New ideas for products and services are out there folks.  I pointed last week to Mark Cuban’s Open Source Funding idea. From the reader of this blog, I got a business summary for a new magazine that could be developed.  And lastly, with  a combination of technology and social action, Joshua Silver created a new product that literally allows people in poor areas of the world, to see.

Friday Fun: So, in these turbulent financial times, maybe you should go back to basics.  How about becoming a semi driver? It may not be as easy as it seems.

Weekend Video: Public television station WGBH in Boston produces Frontline.  If you are at all interested in finding out more about how the financial crisis developed, take an hour this weekend and watch this video.  And if you want Mark Cuban’s humorous look at the crisis, check this video out.

Finance and Google

Only two topics today, although there is a lot of meat on the first one…

Finance: There has been a lot of talk recently about the future of publishing, especially newspapers.  The financial subscription and advertising models that used to work are not working now; actually they haven’t been working for years, but it has finally caught up with the publishers. 

Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time Magazine, wrote a Time cover story that advocated the utilization of micropayments.  In this model, the reader would pay some small amount to access the articles they wish to view.  The income generated in this manner would fund the operations of a complete news organization, advocates believe.

I am not so sure. There are a lot of problems with this idea, including the transaction costs and the nuisance of nickle and diming customers. Michael Kinsley, writing an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, agreed with me.

Jack Shafer believes that we already have a model for paying for discrete units of information.  We just need to think outside of the box, the browser box, that is.

The debate continues. On the Freakonomics blog, they asked 4 experts their thoughts on micropayments. Ian Ayres believes the solution to be creation of national endowments for investigative journalism by all world democracies.

Another interesting discussion is going on at Harvard’s Law School Blog, where Doc Searles and others are debating the micropayments issue.  A compelling side point in the comments talks about users willingly paying papers for coverage of certain topics.  In other words, changing the entire newspaper business model on its head.

Google: Google has made a couple of announcements this week that add some neat features to some of their products:

Google Docs has added the ability to have validation for cells in Spreadsheets.  This will allow you to check for valid email addresses or dates and not allow bad data to be saved to your spreadsheet. (via Blogoscoped)

GMail has added the ability to define custom colors to its screens.  Now, I am not a designer, so I will continue to use the themes that they announced in November, but if you have the color sense, you can now craft GMail into your style.