Wed 23 Mar 2005
Brendan at Five
Category : Commentary/brendanAtFive.txt
Our kid's five today. He figures in these pages because he's the reason why I'm doing the things I'm doing these days. We used to work six or seven-day weeks, my wife and I, but we've had to change the way we lived ever since he arrived.
I've mentioned Michael Gerber's "The E-Myth Revisited" a few times in these pages. I've lived through the horrors that many entrepreneurs go through and on Brendan's second birthday, I decided that there must be a better way. Otherwise, I wouldn't be around to watch him grow.
I talked to a friend the other day, who's running his own company, and he often sleeps over at his office. And so nothing has changed. If you don't make your business work like a machine, you're going to run yourself into the ground.
So these pages are a chronicle of my journey to build a business machine of my own. It could be a business that helps other people build business machines of their own, through the systems that I can design, the software that I can write, or the ideas that I can share. Or it could be that we finally found a business that we can run, using the systems that we've built ourselves.
Whatever it is, I'm still finding my way there.
You know those Rich Dad, Poor Dad books? Don't laugh at them. There's power in some of those ideas. If I had known at 20 the things that I understand now, I would be where I want to be a lot sooner than I have - and that is to live a life of some leisure so that I can work like a demon on the things that interest me.
Rich Dad? Poor Dad? I guess I should just aim to be a good dad, after all.
Tue 04 May 2004
Building Better Mousetraps
Category : Technology/betterMouseTraps.txt
"Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Postfix and Sendmail Enablers are not, most definitely, commercial successes. Not by a long way. But I'm happy that they've been useful. It would have been nice to see more PayPal notifications. But it's nice enough, for the moment, to see the variety of places where they've been used. For example, these are some of the places they've been referred to :
Moodle - http://moodle.org/doc/
Sol4.Net - Sending Email from Perl - http://sol4.net/projects/project1.shtml
The Postfix Site : http://www.postfix.org/addon.html
We're learning something everyday from doing this. I'm learning how to handle the tech support requests better. And we're learning, as we experiment, about building things that people would want to use. People whom we've never met before, and who don't know us from Adam. But will they still use the stuff if they have to pay for it?
For ten years, we had gotten by well enough building custom software and providing custom site support. And getting paid by PC users while hanging on to our Macs was a trick that worked for us. But I don't how the other guys in the business could keep on doing this because the energy, the intensity of focus you have to supply to keep the business going, is simply not sustainable. I think Michael Gerber described it best in "The E-Myth Revisited".
Part of the reasons for all this rambling is that I'm far from clear how to find the way out. And this weblog is my way of letting out the noise when the thinking gets too loud.
For example, I was writing the documentation for Luca, an accounting system that we built, and I was saying something like how Luca allows a company to manage a really sizeable business with, at most, one accounts manager and maybe just one clerk. Like how a company using Luca could handle the same amount of transactions, both in terms of dollar volume and the number of vouchers processed, as another company which had almost five times the amount of staff. And this actually did happen.
But imagine the accounts manager (whose company is using Luca) attending a (wedding) dinner, say, where she happens to find her friend who is the financial controller for that other larger company (at least in terms of staff strength but, remember, the two companies do almost the same amount of business, but who at the dinner table would know that?).
Imagine how she feels when she says she has just one person reporting to her and the other could mention five or six. That's why her friend has a better title - she has more people reporting to her.
So the idealism that went into the design (to get the work done in the most efficient way possible) gets undermined in social situations like these.
This is similar to the challenges Apple faces with the IT departments. (In passing, read Rob Enderle's latest column and you can see why Apple may never be able to get past the biases and entrenched interests - "... the market likes standards and Apple isn't one").
If you're starting a company, it pays to watch Apple and learn from its trials and tribulations. You're never going to be able to take a Microsoft-like posture because it's going to be pain, contempt, despair, and yet more pain. Watch Apple and see if there's method in its madness and whether some of it could work for you.
Wed 20 Aug 2003
The Ultimate Business Machine Redux
Category : Commentary/TUBRedux.txt
The idea of the The Ultimate Business Machine works on three levels. On one level, it refers to the Mac, which I believe to be the ultimate business machine. You can use just this one machine to support the widest range of activities you are likely to find in the course of running a business. Don't think so? Think about Photoshop, the Office Suite, FreeHand, Keynote, Sound Studio, Maya, MySQL, Java, Apache, and of course sendmail.
I think the tide is turning for Apple and the Mac, and I believe they deserve all the recognition that they're starting to get from places like ComputerWorld (Mac Myths and IT), InfoWorld (see The Mac Observer's summary of the InfoWorld coverage), and even Robert X Cringely (from the Pulpit).
On another level, The Ultimate Business Machine refers to the way a business (or any business) ought to be run. Like a MacDonald's. Smoothly, efficiently, scaleable and cloneable. So that the owners don't have to be there all the time to make the business run.
To achieve that, you need to have good systems. And, since computer systems form a large part of those, you need to watch what you're doing here. As Cringely puts it, "Ideally, the IT department ought to recommend the best computer for the job, but more often than not, they recommend the best computer for the IT department's job." You need good computing tools to build the best businesses. If you're competing head-on with another company, it's possible you can come out ahead, using the Mac. Don't think so? Let's say, I'm helping a company set up a mail server, web server, e-commerce server, accounting system, etc, and I'm equipped with tools like the one-click Sendmail Enabler, DNS Enabler, etc. And the other guys are using the type-a-lot Linux and Windows systems. Guess who gets done first and so gets to spend more time looking into the business workflows and issues?
Finally, on the third level, the Ultimate Business Machine refers to the business I want to build. So it'll work even when I'm not there. And I would be in no position to give other people advice on how to run healthy, profitable businesses, if I run my own as a loss-making concern.
The enduring image I have in my mind is the one depicted by Michael E. Gerber in the E-Myth Revisited (why most small businesses don't work) - when he described the harried owner of a bakery shop, chained to her business, getting close to breakdown. I've lived through that horror. I'm reminded of that feeling again, these last couple of weeks. So, we've got to get back to building a machine of our own.
Sun 18 May 2003
Thinking for a Living
Category : Commentary/thinkingliving.txt
I thought about calling this weblog "Thinking for a Living" because that's what I do - I get paid for having ideas and figuring out how to get them implemented - initially for an assortment of government agencies, and then, for the company that I helped to start.
After seven years of plenty (even though somebody once told me you can't make money as Mac developers), we're now, the three of us, living off the fat (somewhat) and that's why I've got time to waste writing this weblog.
One thing I've learnt, and I don't know if anyone wants to hear, but here goes (if you've come back, you must have found something interesting) :
One. Michael Gerber (The E-Myth) is right. Most small businesses don't work. In The E-Myth Revisited, Gerber describes, through the experience of a bakery shop owner, how you can start with a bright idea and fall towards despair, chained to the treadmill, doing everything yourself, struggling just to keep from slipping behind.
It was, for me, a powerfully visceral image. Life as an entreprenuer was often like that. Despair was always just around the corner.
I've learnt that you've got to make your business work like a machine, able to make money even when you're not there. The irony was that we did manage to help other people run their business like a machine, through the systems we designed and built for them. While these businesses ran like clockwork, we ran ourselves to the ground.
So, it's time to go back to the drawing board. But how do we build the ultimate business machine of our own? Can we succeed? Stay tuned, to find out.
Sat 22 Mar 2003
The Search for the Ultimate Business Machine
Category : Commentary/TUBM.txt
I'm not thinking about Macs for a change, at least not directly.
The Ultimate Business Machine is a business that will generate income, lots of income, even when the owners are not physically there to do the work.
The archetypical example of a business machine is McDonald's (look Behind the Arches). You start off like Ray Kroc (McDonald's founder) with an idea for the value you are uniquely able to deliver. And for which people are willing to pay, such that you can make a good profit.
But that's not enough. You've got to think about how you're going to deliver that value day in and day out. Because, if you can't find a way to organise everything into a system, so that various tasks can be performed by mere mortals, you're going to wear yourself out sooner rather than later (as described most soberly by Michael E. Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited, "Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It".)
The problem is - 90% of the work of building a business is often pure drudgery. That's why Bill Gates said in one interview that you shouldn't wake up in the morning and decide you want to be an entrepreneur. "So let's see, should I be a baker and make cookies or something?"
I was triggered to think about this when I rode past The Heeren this morning. This is a very fashionable place. It's hit a sweet spot by converting its upper two levels into a street smart bazaar for the teenies. With HMV below and a lot of cool looking (I'm so out of date I don't even know the right words to describe it) shops in the middle, this place is overrun by pubescent schoolkids in the afternoons. And we all know that they are the only ones still spending money with abandon.
Anyway, it's early this morning and a bunch of kids were converting the open space at the side walk into a catwalk - leggy models and a DJ's booth perched dramaticaly out of a hole in the backdrop and all. As far as I can see, everybody's young and fresh and keen.
I think a lot of our kids are going to do businesses of their own. First as a hobby. And then they'll find nothing beats the fun of trying to make your own ideas work (did I mention drudgery before?).
And they'll be comfortable with technology. I can imagine photos and biops of the models in iPhoto (or its equivalent), a calendar on the web for bookings, a web site for the jobs they've done and the rates they charge, and e-mail and SMS to tie all these loose network of models, choreographers, set designers, DJs and marketing guys together, and of course, some sort of finance system to keep the score and dole out the proceeds.
So you see. There's always a system, no matter what you do. And technology is at the heart of the system.
Next time you eat at McDonald's, think about how Ray Kroc could have imagined a system that could be operated, anywhere in the world, by kids and by aunties and uncles who are barely literate. The magic is in the system. And in the care that goes into choosing the machinery that will drive the system. Can you hear your cash register ringing from as far away as your vacation home in Perth?