There are certain technical charts, diagrams and other visual media that probably bring back horrible memories of High School aptitude testing and harsh criticism of performance. Fortunately, the present generation of web designers, graphic artists and creative writers have found a way to turn those passing points of trauma into massive business exposure and renowned Web content.
Skills like SEO and link mastery are useful, but they tend to irritate readers more than peak interest in a service or product. The key to your business site or creative contributions becoming viral is dependent on a very creative media approach.
It is imperative that in order to become a ranking site, and not just one that has clever SEO juice to weasel its way into everyone’s browser, you must successfully integrate useful written content with eye-catching, universally attractive visual content.
Just a few months ago, my solution for eye-popping content consisted of blogs, video and social media. I am a web designer by trade, thus aware they existed but consciously refrained from jumping into the world of online infographics. It was a bit of an self-induced intervention since I was technically an infographics “virgin.” My business, Biz Name Wiz, has greatly benefited since.
Infographics are a visual aid which accompanies your master content, or illustrates any type of trend in business, economics and “virtually” any other subject. The more relevant the infographic is to your content, the more people will be inclined to adopt what it illustrates and share it with their demographic. It can be simple maps and charts, or complex how-to diagrams that are unique on the Web.
Biz Name Wiz is a company that provides business naming help to start-ups and those wanting fresh profiles. The brain center of our team decided infographics are the correct type of evolution with which we could really grow.
After a bit of looking around, I discovered that Infographic creation services average $5000 per project! Having a tiny budget, I was stuck with accomplishing the impossible. I somehow needed to create a professional-looking infographic without breaking the bank. Oh yes, it can be done. Here is my “secret” recipe for success, and how my ingredients only cost me $279.
Infographic Success Recipe
- 1 Highly interesting and creative bit of content with useful subject. The subject must be attractive, or site popularity will not rise.
- 1 Tireless Researcher. This is the major “prep step.” (Cost ~$50)
- 1 Fast Writer (Cost ~$100, save on this expense using your own honed writing skills)
- 1 Experienced Artist with Photoshop mastery (Cost ~$100)
- 1 Month Pro Subscription to Piktochart (Cost ~$29)
Total: ~$279 Now let’s get cooking!
This is the crux of your infographic success recipe. I found an incredibly talented research expert by posting a job at oDesk.com. My ad contained the following:
“Looking for a web research expert who can help us find a “buzz worthy” subject for an infographic. Must be incredibly fluent in written and spoken English. Must proficiently navigate Google Trends, Google Keywords and Google Spreadsheets. You are required to have high English test scores, be proactive to your inquiries via Skype chat and email. Must have logged over 100 hours on oDesk. No rookies.”
I then asked the researcher to come up with 10 ideas using Google Trends to discover subject matter that is hot and trend-related to our business. Also, to use Google Keyword Tool to narrow down the subject to keywords with substantial search traffic.
After doing all of this we decided on the subject of “funny business names.” Admittedly, I always go for low-hanging fruit. This means a low-competition keyword with several thousand global monthly searches. We asked our new researcher to find 100 funny business names. She delivered it in stellar fashion and it only took $50 of her services.
Use your in-house team to dive into the content pool. If your writing resources suck, then take advantage of a brokered copy writing site like Textbroker.com. The downside is you cannot communicate directly with the creative team, the site moderates it incredibly well. Generous compensation for expert writers who provide type of service is about $.067 per word plus a small brokerage fee. (1500 words = $100 )
Piktochart will get mad at me for saying this but “Picktochart an AMAZING online WYSIWYG tool to help quickly create high quality infographics. However, it’s not worth paying the recurring monthly fee for, and the design interface is limiting to the point of frustration for any professional designer!”
That being said, use it for one month to kick start your style in the right direction, and for its large library of style elements. I started our project in Piktograph essentially as a visual prototyping tool. We gave the username and password to the designer hired through eLance.com to recreate the prototype offline in Photoshop. Obviously, the powerhouse Photoshop software allows any designer a higher level of creativity and direct communication. Design Cost: $129 (10 hours @ $10/hr + $29 for Picktochart)
Technical work on the project should only take about two weeks. Our project took about a month because I had to find a way to fit development into my regular work and home-based diaper changing duty. Budgeting time and balancing the cooperation between the team was really the most difficult and rewarding element.
It’s possible to produce high-quality content for a little dough.
It’s a little like producing a great movie, but with a tiny budget. Think about James Cameron’s Avatar. It would have been a monumental achievement even without a huge studio because everyone involved gave it their utmost.
The process of integrating infographics to your site should adhere to this formula. Everyone must give it their best and produce absolutely concrete, inarguably high quality work. It sounds harsh but, spend the time. If then, team members are not up to par, pay them, wish them well and replace them.
So, the final infographic outcome? We’re stoked!
Not only has the introduction of the infographic showcased our creative writing skills to the world it has also increased our website traffic, brand awareness and overall “buzz!”
I think the team at Biz Name Wiz succeeded. Please judge for yourself!
Many people are mystified as to why their projects are lagging. Off the top of my head, the general consensus is like 75% of all projects are more than 50% late. There’s a ton of reasons why this occurs. After all, if there was a magic bullet to make all projects come in on time, we’d certainly have that nailed by now. I’d like to pose one reason why so many projects drag on.
We are all familiar with the concept of scope creep, in which additional features cause a project to go all haywire on schedule. Many times, it’s just that one or two features aren’t fully hashed out in the initial discovery phase of a project and stakeholders end up innocently increasing scope by expanding scope unknowingly. Or developers get under the hood and find that some random feature requires a massive amount of extra work that nobody could have predicted with an inordinate of pre-project research. That is a well understood (and maybe even … gulp … well accepted) trait of project progression.
What isn’t as well accepted is the concept of what I’ll call “StupidScope”. This is where a feature isn’t really part of original requirements, but ends up being deemed <tounge-in-cheek> absolutely, unequivocally necessary “otherwise, we’ll lose millions”. StupidScope features are often very inexactly defined and are often faddish in nature. They invariably come after specification and are a response to the latest marketing trends that are floating around the trade blogs. Because of the poor definition, they end up being refined as development is occuring, often going through multiple revisions before alpha release.
And I know you’re sitting there saying, “not me, man, I’ve got my priorities together. My project would NEVER suffer from that. I’ve got a mind map [or a gantt chart or Scrum backlog .... blah blah].” In moments of honesty (i.e. 3 beers in), even the most sensible stakeholder will admit that they are given to flights of fancy regarding nebulous concepts that they KNEW would be awful time sucks.
So you need to keep an eye on the following features. And be aware that these are just a few problem areas that I’ve run into. Your list should be much longer.
- social engagement with your audience
- social engagement betwixt audience members
- anything with “social” in the title …
- semantic stack order for your content (after you’ve already built it out and you are mid-project)
- responsive design after design has already been signed off
- flexible product taxonomies
- mobile: adding new devices/platforms and new resolutions as they are being released
- adding additional 3rd party APIs
- switching development platforms (yes, this is more common than you may think)
When these and many other trendy features sneak into your project, whatever your role is, if it can’t be defined in exact terms, squash it. No matter what the programmers tell you, ask yourself, “is this feature worth pushing my project for an unknown amount of time … like 60 days?” You may decide that the value is there. If so, proceed. But most often, when you cage it in those terms, the value just isn’t there.
Keep intelligently trimming your projects and just say no to StupidScope. That’ll help you meet those insane deadlines.
We know Apple is poised to release a TV integrated with some mutation of iOS mid-way thru next year. Judging by the existing “Apple TV” product (which is sort of a stripped down iMac that you connect to your existing TV), they have a solid technical base to work from. Since people are hungry for convergence devices these days, Apple is really positioned nicely to provide the ultimate all-in-one device that assembles all media content in one place. If they can integrate casual gaming into such a device (iOS already handles this), then we can throw out all the other technology sitting in the living room and consume content and entertainment through this device.
Apple, more than any other company, can produce hardware than can live up to this dream. The existing Apple TV, though reliant on the painful & awful iTunes software to get content, is a fairly pleasant product to use. I hate iTunes, so it has no place in my home system, but I appreciate a good user experience when I get slapped with one.
However, it is an appliance sort of device. Any of these media devices must turn on in and be usable within 10 seconds to be usable on a daily basis. Nobody wants to “boot up” the TV and wait two or three minutes. If Apple integrates that experience into the television, it ought to be outstanding. Google has no answer for this. They have a TV type of product based on Android, but it is absolutely awful to use. Getting media over to it requires a degree in technology. Apple is really good about making very technical tasks both simple and pleasant.
But the TV is sacred ground for us Americans. We don’t mind attaching some clunky little device to it, but are we willing to pay an Apple premium for an incredible media experience in the living room? I think Apple has enough money and know-how to throw at this first-world problem that we should see an incredible solution next year.
We all wish we would have recognized the iPhone’s dominance before it hit the market, here’s a second chance.
Overblown & obnoxious opinion mode: ON. Continue at your own risk and realize it is likely that you will be offended no matter who you are.
I read frequently about one-trick companies like Nokia, HP, Rim, Yahoo, and BofA that are on a hopelessly slow and irreversible downward spiral. The CEOs of those companies publicly lament their bad fortune or how cruel the market is to their wonderful company. Really, they need to just man up and admit that they were too slow to respond to take serious action when their company experienced a major downturn. Their lameness rendered their company powerless to respond to major market shifts. Begin the intellectual property & patent firesale! Break the desks into kindling and put an ad on craigs list for firewood at $1/pound!
Companies like Sony and Samsung and IBM can have massive business failures and do just fine because they have mutliple lines of revenue (Sony – studio, consumer electronics, gaming network, software; Samsung – consumer electronics, commercial electronics; IBM – hardware [formerly], consulting, software, data center).
Take Sony as an example of good, responsive management. As the whole video game market begins to move overwhelmingly towards casual gaming, Sony has jsut barely started to suck it on the gaming side of their business. So they dropped the price of their TVs and electronics and everything balanced out over the last few months for them.
If a company does one thing (Nokia, RIM – phones; HP – computers; Yahoo – web properties; BofA – toxic loans), then the CEO’s job is to be extra responsive when they find their single-market company taking a dive. They have no fall back. Look at your myriad of reports and respond decisively.
Nokia’s phones are nearly irrelevant now. Perhaps the new Lumia 900 with Windows Mobile 7 will save them, but likely not. Windows Mobile 7 is a risky semi-player in the smartphone OS world. It is a distant third behind iOS and Android. Is Nokia really so well-positioned to make that surefire turd their last-ditch? Nokia began becoming irrelevant about 4 years ago. As platform-based smartphones became the de facto standard in handset purchases, Nokia continued to make lame RAZR wannabes and unsexy wedge-shaped, plastic-y semi-smart phones. They raked in the cash and refused to evolve while RIM scooped up the corporate market and the power users with mature smartphones. It was clear where the market was headed. Nokia refused to create a platform or commit to a single platform. Their strategy? Develop for EVERY platform, but do none of it well. Gargantuan budgets were pissed away making phones for Symbian 7 thru Symbian 10, webOS, Palm OS, Java ME, BREW, WebKit, mobile FX as well as developing numerous half-baked homegrown mobile platforms. Most projects — mercifully for the public — never got released. Sometime late last year, they dumped it all to go Windows Mobile 7. This came from the top. Their CEO sent out a company-wide email that declared “the sky is falling” and they needed to remove huge layers of management and internal bureaucratic processes. Possibly. It seems to me that trying to license iOS (tough) or developing a killer handset that runs the latest Android version (ice cream sandwich) would be a better bet. They have the programming talent, no doubt. It would have been an easy call for the CEO. But directly due to his bad call, they are downsizing rapidly. Sucks for Finland.
It’s the same situation at RIM. The BlackBerry is accelerating rapidly towards the grave. RIM’s terribly named PlayBook tablet was stillborn before it even got to market. It didn’t help that it was released without a mail client, calendaring app, or Skype. A complete lack of 3rd party apps was a big problem (see also HP’s TouchPad). Ok, very few tablets can compete with the iPad. So if your company is struggling badly, why jump into that uncompetitive market at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars? Kill the project, take the codebase and put it toward a killer Android phone or television or who knows what. Now the CEO of that company is taking about selling off patents. That’s not a very odd and unsustainable form of revenue. That, as I’ve heard it, is the ONLY plan. Now that is a real dipstick of a CEO.
These CEOs have very good data and personnel at their disposal. It seems to me that egos are preventing good job-saving decisions from being. Shall we just chalk it up to a wave of capitalistic Darwinism?
Check out this infographic. Page load speed is critical to conversions. Click to get the large version
If your site / app / software does not have an “effortless” user experience, consider it a failure. If it hasn’t failed yet, it will soon. Now “effortless” is a subjective term and it’s got a lot of aliases out there. Facebook likes to call it “frictionless” and Tony Hseih calls it “delivering happiness”, but it all refers back to the concept of converting a casual user into a power user by drawing them deep into a site or community [and this is the important part] without them even knowing it.
If you’ve launched it already and you’re making money, then you are lucky. Pat yourself on the back. Then quickly go into code red mode and keep reading, because you have a big target on your back. The competition is gunning for you and they are actively building your app but with an effortless experience. At the other end of the project spectrum … if you are pre-launch (beta, alpha, dev, or wireframe) and you’ve already got usability issues, you’re just plain dead in the water. I’m involved in a couple of projects and competition analyses right now where these issues will undoubtedly kill the project before it ever goes live. Or, if we are analyzing the competition, we know exactly how to hone UX to launch with a superior product. Here are some flags that UX is “effort-full”:
- Unclear sign up (yes, some startups know “better” and still want to make it tough for users to pay them — entrepreneurial darwinism)
- Non-graphic workflow / too much text
- Inconsistent workflows as users hop from to different traffic paths (ex: reviewing final product before checkout has a diff interface than pulling old orders)
- Poor mobile strategy; today, users are web/app connoisseurs … you “afterthought” mobile strategy looks crayola; mobile should enhance the core app, not replace it
- If an app, no in-app purchases
- Inconsistent and random help (spotty help is worse than no help)
- Too many user types (adds $$$ to your project, too)
- Multi-screen checkout with a million options (like a two-year-old, you need to guide users down a path — give them options, they wander off)
- Irrelevant social components … if you don’t complement Facebook or Google+, you are missing the point
- Alerts — too many / not enough / inconsistent — it’s easy to annoy with these
Step back and look at your project with they eye of a skeptic. Oh wait, you can’t do that — you are too emotionally / financially invested in your project (financial investment = emotional investment, right?). Then hire a focus group. If you can’t afford that, then ask all the techie jerks that you know (not your friends — they’ll only tell you what you want to hear) to use the product and don’t listen to what they say, just watch them use it. When do they pause to talk to you? That’s the critical mass point when users are losing focus! Remove those sticking points. If the user completes an entire workflow without looking up, then you’re got a winner. They can be talking the whole time, that means nothing. It’s when a user looks away that they consider the current step “done” or annoying enough to pause. It’s a mental comma. By the way, when running your official or unofficial focus group, videotape them and replay later, over and over.
Usually, you need to launch with a simple Phase 1 to figure out what the Crowd needs for a real Phase 2. Phase 2 is where the real work begins, eliminating the obstacles that get in the way of effortless user experience.
If you need to print out an entire website, here is a little trick. You’ll need the full version of Acrobat though. I did this using Acrobat X Pro, but I believe this works all the way back to Acrobat 8.x.
Go to File | Create | “PDF from Web Page…”. In the window that pops up, type in the url of the site you wish to traverse. The trick here is to click the odd little button on the left, “Capture Multiple Level”. The window will expand to expose a few more options. Select the “Get entire site” option and click the Create button. There is a warning that you will create gargantuan files that will grind your computer to a halt, but ignore it. I converted an entire 20-page site and the resulting PDF was under 900k.
Now you can open the PDF, email it, or print like any other document.
Steve Jobs was a really cool and important icon of our ultra-tech times. The press treated him quite favorably and not just because they all own Apple equipment, but because he made their easy job even easier. Tech reporters have super easy jobs already (spend an hour using some new tech toy and then write 1500 incisive words with lots of strong verbs), but the super lazy ones, like Walt Mossberg of the WSJ or MG Seigler of Techcrunch, simply parroted Jobs’ pronouncements. I swear those guys would get an inside crumb of data on some new Apple release and then stretch it into a full article. Jobs probably knew that the rabid fanboys were the plankton of the tech ecosystem and intentionally leaked this stuff. Working your way up the chain, whenever a new Apple product was released, entire pages of Engadget and issues of Wired (before they got smart) were devoted slavishly to this stuff. Anyway, fearing they might have to do real research for a living, tech writers have informally nominated Bezos to the role of Tech Don. I have never seen so many articles declaring the Kindle Fire a complete win and even an iPad killer. Seriously? I keep seeing gushing reviews of Amazon Prime when, a few months ago, it was a rare mention.
Bezos is a good guy, no doubt about it. Boil it down though, and he’s a really good businessman that can innovate. Jobs was an innovator that happened to be able to run a world-class company. Bezos isn’t all that unique (see alternate versions: Tony Hsieh, Eric Schmidt, Reed Hastings, and Arianna Huffington). Jobs was one-of-a-kind and I don’t see any real successor stepping up. Bezos being named Jobs 2.0 smacks of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize — kinda cheesy, most senseless, and, though possible, wayyyy wayyy premature. Let’s wait awhile and see what Bezos can deliver over the next 3 years before we crown him king.
In an interview that was widely covered on TechCrunch (and where I pulled these quotes from), Mark Zuckerberg offered some great insight into his early years in the Valley. Say what you will about the man (I’ve never seen the movie and don’t intend to), I’ve always found him to be a direct talker. People expect him to be Carol Bartz or Meg Whitman or even Jobs, but he’s a tremendous geek and not very smooth. He’s more like Bill Gates than anybody else. However, he applies the same level of transparency to his life that he expects of his userbase and for that, I do respect him. What did Zuck do yesterday? Look on his wall. What did Tom from MySpace or any other corporate celebrity do yesterday? Look at the ValleyWag rumor mill.
He had some good advice how to guide on how to handle acquisition offers, and gave interesting insight on how he kept his focus on building a lasting corporation despite a culture of “flipping companies”.
We really had one phase of this and the only reason why its’ this big story that everyone knows about us turning down a lot of money is because I messed up the process. It’s one of the biggest management mistakes I made through Facebook’s whole history. I learned a lot about the team at that time, and ended turning over a lot of that same team. I wasn’t in it for the acquisitions, and I wanted people around me who were in it for the long-term.
He also had this:
Once you have a product that you are happy with, you need to centralize things to continue growth.
So the fastest-rising (and most enduring) star of Silicon Valley tells us to focus on the long-term and build a culture of stability within your startup. Very, very wise words.
If you don’t know what an “.htaccess” file is, then count yourself lucky. However, if you ever have the unenjoyable task of creating one (due to 301 redirects or a domain change), I’ve found a tool that ought to save you about 2 hours of awful work.
The “.htaccess generator” at this location allows you to type in variables and different conditions like error pages and password protection and get an htaccess file that you can upload to your server. Super easy.
Or you could stay up to 2 am and write your own.
This week, I have repeated two statements I thought I would never utter. No, I didn’t say “hey, that’s one badass Camry you have there” — but it’s damn close.
Statement 1: HP is perceptive & brilliant. Realizing they had made a fatal decision with their tech platform (webOS tablet), they did not opt for the dumb decision that so many US companies go for. Usually, a company rides a bad tech decision down, like a very slowly sinking ship. Submitted for your approval: Motorola’s RAZR which turned into the ROKR which turned into a failed division which turned into complete patent liquidation. Yikes, failure on an epic scale and it can all be traced back to an awful tech decision. And this is all over the place:
- Apple’s attempt at allowing 3rd parties to build Macs (upside: allowed Jobs to buy back into Apple for dirt cheap)
- Border’s stupid, junky, and expensive Kobo e-reader and now, bankruptcy
- Sirius & XM had great ideas and just couldn’t quite make the tech small or easy enough for anyone (if I can’t use it … then you’ve got a prob)
- Could Palm make a cool phone? ever? technological darwinism. Too bad, because their Exchange & Outlook integration is still unparalleled
- Lotus Notes, 1-2-3, and everything else they made. Lotus dominated in the DOS era and then just sort of sat on their butts once Windows came along. Phhht!
Anyway, HP decided not to follow that path and dumped their tablets for $100 and scored a massive win. WebOS is kinda ok and also kinda not (big reason is the lack of apps), but it’s just one of many low-resource OS’s out there now … iOS, Chrome OS, Android, Moblin (now MeeGo). App developers can probably only build for 1 or 2. So webOS is probably not one of them. Dying platform webOS was formerly a punchline, but within a week, it’s relevant because of suddenly huge market saturation. A major manufacturer has a $100 tablet? Hell yeah, I’ll buy one, I don’t care what’s on it. It’s cheaper than a baby camera or a GPS.
So HP put on a clinic on how to bail out a slowly sinking ship. The same CEOs that I previously mocked are now acting in an impressive manner … yikes!
Statement 2: Netflix is a dying dinosaur. My favorite company ever made a disastrous choice when they decided to increase & complicate their fees by creating one fee for streaming video and one for physical DVD rentals. Archaic and complex billing is the domain of the most reviled of all industries — phone carriers (AT&T, Sprint, and all those vomitous pigs). Can you decipher your phone bill? Why do you sign up for a contract at $70/month and end up paying $90/month? I hate them, like we all do, and yet I pay them, like we all do. Deep loathing is the natural universal response to complex billing (loans, telephone, cable, etc.).
Netflix has proven that the honeymoon is over by unnecessarily eliminating the simplified billing. Their service may even be worth what they are saying it is … but you can’t pull that shit and not expect an immense and immediate backlash from your client base. If they just would have let existing customers get grandfathered in on the old billing and then apply NEW billing to NEW users, all would have been dandy.
The downward slide began there and now Starz (who provides Netflix with rights to stream new movies from Disney and Sony) is bailing out on Netflix. I bet 30% of streaming video is kid’s stuff and 99% of THAT is Disney. When you are in line at Costco and your 3-year-old begins getting that shifty frown that means “tantrum ahead”, you’re five finger taps away from getting her Cinderella fix from Netflix. You might even deal with that crappy billing system to have a surefire meltdown-stopper at your fingertips. Oh, but not anymore.
Why did Starz do it? It cannot be coincidence that Netflix made a hugely backhanded and crappy maneuver with its userbase. Perhaps, Starz is savvy enough to realize that the unsinkable behemoth has momentarily exposed a weak side. Now is the time to strike or, with all of the recent expensive infrastructure and asset acquisition, Netflix is over-extended. I would never characterize Netflix as a particularly vulnerable company, but due to a series of poor decisions, they might have just given themselves the ultimate smackdown. They can’t afford to battle a large competitor … SOOOOO Starz may be angling to launch their own streaming service, after realizing just what a monster pile of internet gold they are sitting on. Might they be prepping to feast cheaply on the corpse of Netflix’s streaming infrastructure.
As Radiohead sang in “Just”, “You do it to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts.”
Directly on the coattails of my previous post, I am ready to call out another common failure point for entrepreneurs. Major mistake #2 is approaching your web developer / partners / bank / focus group with baseless (or undetermined) pricing.
As a web developer with loads of startup experience, it is my job to give entrepreneurs direction with their web presence, but I am still amazed at how many people ask me “how much should I charge? or should it be free?” at the beginning of the project. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy the process of helping people derive a dollar value for their service based on their expenses. It’s actually quite fun and gives me unparalleled insight into how their biz will operate both logically and financially. I rarely build two web apps that operate in a similar manner or industry and, so, I hardly ever have “all the answers” at the point when I initially engage with a client. Therefore, that process is necessary.
But the part of this process that is silly is why am I the one that is instigating it? When entrepreneurs are deciding whether their idea is financially viable, the core part of the exercise should be computing operating expenses (especially marketing — which everyone neglects — e.g. “I’ll send out emails to all my friends” … ugh). Weigh cost of operations against startup capital to see how long you can last in the negative. Now you know if you need a primary revenue stream (advertising, for example) and whether you can afford to offer a free service. Generally, after about 15 minutes of work, entrepreneurs see that they cannot support a free model. And even better, it’s pretty clear how much needs to be pulled in each month. Divide that by the number of users you are going to have. Now divide that by 10 because that is the REAL number of users you are going to have.
I don’t expect enterpreneurs to come to me saying, “We need to bill $3.14 every three weeks”. I expect lots of gray area. However, sharp entrepreneurs should really be asking me the questions that allow them to refine their costs. Like, how much is hosting? How many servers do I need and what will they cost and can that be amortized over X months? These questions indicate to me that the entrepreneur has determined that his model is at least somewhat financially viable.
Worse than this, however, is the client who tells me that pricing should be $9.99 per month “because it sounds good”. I’ve heard it way more than two or three times. To this day, I still can’t prevent my jaw from dropping when a prospect says this. Next time, I should probably tell them that their project will cost a flat $69,500 … and when they ask why … wait for it … oh, hell, you complete the joke yourself.
Anyway, fon’t be a tool; run through this process and be hugely conservative when it comes to the number of advertisers, users, and revenue streams you’ll have.
I’m starting a new series of blog posts cataloging enormous or classic blunders that I’ve witnessed firsthand. These are the mistakes that entrepreneurs made in their ventures that unequivocally caused a project to fail. But this isn’t me just sitting on the sidelines calling fouls. These really happened.
Now I know I am going to catch flack for the in-your-face title, so I’ll give a brief explanation. If you are an entrepreneur and you can’t check your ego and absolutely inhale all of the data that is out there (mostly bad, some good), then you don’t belong in this game. That MBA from Wharton isn’t going to get your site launched, real life lessons will. Every biz-related datapoint that you run across needs to be weighed and you need to make a case as to why it doesn’t apply to you. Don’t put up a wall and claim that you are immune from idiocy and failure. Wholeheartedly accept that failure is your project’s most likely end point and move forward keeping that very real prospect on your short-list of outcomes.
That said, if you can’t make the case against a datapoint, then you indeed have that problem. Don’t fight it. However, that isn’t what makes you so foolish, sir. It’s your inability to accept and adapt your strategy. Once again, check the ego.
Many years ago, a friend pointed out that I had no backup for my lead programmer in my development workflow. I railed against that concept of single point of failure, claiming it was not a valid concern so why should I invest time in training senior coders to be architects. Care to guess what happened? I lost my lead, nobody could take her place, the client lost faith and walked a short time later. Single points of failure nearly caused the doors to close back in 2005. The lesson: I was a fool with an ego.
Alright, so now that we have a level playing field, mistake #1 is trying to launch a project without a recurring revenue stream. Google will not buy you. Google buys about 10 to 15 companies in a really big year. I launch about 30 sites a year and I am one small developer. Seriously, you have no chance if this is your strategy. You have to have some incredible, patented tech to even catch their eye at all, much less get purchased. Profitable operations is one sign that a technology is solid (when the crowd opens their wallets, that heralds mainstream acceptance). That last sentence there, THAT is your datapoint.
Apple pulled their automated online storage solution, iCloud, out of beta today. It allows users to effortlessly gain safe storage for all their files. Like Dropbox, iCloud seamlessly backs up and restores your important pictures, video, documents, email, and music. It apparently is being reported as some sort of replacement for iTunes. Let’s chalk that flawed idea up to the godawful media hype around anything Apple. More likely, iCloud will be the behind the scenes method by which users store all iTunes content (similar to Amazon’s Cloud Drive), but it won’t outright replace iTunes. Hell, at this point, iTunes is a really horrible yet popular gold standard for media management. People have convinced themselves to enjoy the torturous exercise in bloatware that iTunes has become. Like Acrobat, really.
Anyway, there is one seemingly innocuous feature that blew me away. If you have existing mp3 files, you can upload those to iCloud under the auspice of backing up your files. In order to prevent users from driving iCloud’s server and bandwidth resources into the ground, iCloud performs some sort of comparison — perhaps bit matching or ID3 tag parsing — to see if that song already exists in iCloud’s database of music files (which is really just the iTunes catalog). If it matches something in there, the file is not uploaded. Instead, a DRM-free 256 kbps AAC original is copied from iCloud’s servers and added to your iCloud folder.
The end result is that if you have 20 gigs of low bitrate dodgy, crackle-prone pirated music, iCloud is going to replace that with high quality retail files. And it is all going to be automated and free. Yikes! Apple better rethink this, otherwise the RIAA is going to be circling it’s greed-based wagon train around Steve Jobs’ skinny butt and extracting a pound of flesh that the Turtlenecked Scarecrow can’t spare.
Yesterday at the Google I/O Conference, the big boys announced that they were giving the finger to the RIAA and building a music download service in the cloud. This is pretty enormous because nobody other than a giant like all-seeing giant like Google has the legal muscle (and tech acumen) to go against the record labels. Google also gets the big picture on these things. They are looking at the music industry in 20 years when published music is extremely cheap or free, instantly available, and tailored to your preferences. Some of this works now, but it is not effortless. Say what you want about iTunes and Genius, but it is neither an effortless nor a pleasant process (for a non-techie, especially) to get the music you like on all your devices. The difference with Google is that they aren’t going to charge for the music … they are starting with user uploads. However, they are capping your uploads at 20,000 songs. This is like 60 gigs. Free.
The beauty of this is that Google doesn’t charge for any aspect of it. They are going to pull the bottom out of the RIAA’s argument that music download services contribute to piracy (and they do, but only because a CD is $14 … if CDs were under $5, and downloaded tracks were 20 cents, nobody would bother with piracy … duh). The RIAA can’t sue Google for much if Google gives it all away and therefore doesn’t generate revenue. I’m sure the RIAA will desperately cling to some argument along the lines of “this service promotes illegal activity”, but seriously, who will buy this? The RIAA is a dinosaur and Google is the meteor in that shall cause the dinosaur’s extinction (bad metaphor, I know, but this is stream of consciousness stuff).
An unintended casualty of this battle will probably be Amazon’s fledgling mp3 service. It’s really solid, but it limits you to 5 Gigs of music. This seemed completely adequate a few weeks ago when that service launched (with RIAA approval), but now it seems a paltry size. Amazon has loads of storage — hard drives are cheap, after all — with their cloud-based S3 storage system. So expect them to up that size, but I still feel that they’ve picked the path of pandering to the RIAA. Perhaps they lack the funds to fight such a massive war. Even Apple is toeing the party line, but iTunes is a little dystopic microcosm of Apple hysteria anyway. Don’t look for innovation from the Cupertino crowd. Their slavelike fanbase doesn’t care. They’ll buy the next little shiny product from them no matter what. Apple makes their money and stays in their sheltered closed-source phony world. Amazon may just walk away rather than take on the entertainment giants. After all, in the lawsuit against Google, the RIAA need only add a line that says something like “and Amazon was a jerk, too” and they’re on the line for billions.
If you are the early adopter type, then check out Google’s new adventure by requesting an invite here. If you have an Android, go download Google Music Beta from the market now . Currently, you only get the ability to play music but I bet in a few weeks, you’ll be able to upload your music collection.