Tribute to a great man

Lars Hinrichs is a great entrepreneur and my friend. He’s also the founder of OpenBC the preeminent social networking platform in Europe, and the best of breed in the world (more on that in another post).

OpenBC now has a blog OpenBlog and I was saddened to read of the passing of Lars’ grandfather. While I never met the man, Bill Liao’s tribute to a great man touched me as did the WH Auden poem.

Many of us celebrate success carved from adversity by the mythical lone wolf entrepreneur. But a greater legacy is to succeed and then mentor and guide another generation.

Heinz Richard Böse was by all accounts such a man.

Vale.

Focus on the Product

In light of the $20mm to $35mm sale (depending on who you’re reading) of Weblogs Inc to AOL many pithy words of wisdom are emerging about Jason Calacanis.

So why shouldn’t I add one.

In his what now? post, Jason tells the following Mark Cuban story:

Mark Cuban (who’s the best investor you could ever have BTW) always said “let’s not drown in opportunity” when he, my partner Brian and I would talk about the business. That’s why we didn’t launch an RSS reader or blog search engine, and that’s why we told everyone who wanted to do “business development” that there were only three ways to work with us: 1. read our blogs, 2. write our blogs, or 3. support our blogs with advertising.
[…]
I have to say my one piece of advice to startups is to focus on building your product and revenue and don’t waste time on partnerships. Maybe when you’re a huge company these things can work out, but the most important things in any startup are: 1. the product and 2. the bottom line.

So as I work on some IT consulting at the moment I feel the opportunities bobbing around. But if I pursued each one I’d be spread so thin I couldn’t execute well on any of them.

So I’m now working on two questions: what is my product? and how will it feed my bottom line?

Donations from your customers

The Big Moo : Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable is the new book by Seth Gordin and The Group of 33 Authors.

While I’m waiting for my copy to arrive, a review mentioned How would you run your business if you relied on donations from your customers in order to survive?”

This concept is is like the story of how Charles Schwab at Bethlehem Steel learned to manage his time. Ivy Lee, a management consultant, offered to make Schwab’s executives more productive, in return Schwab would pay what it was worth to him after a month. After teaching the executives to make a list every evening, prioritise it and work on it in order the next day (the earliest successful todo list strategy), Charles Schwab wrote a cheque for $25,000 in the days when the average worker owned $2 per day.

There are counter examples.

I once negotiated a book contract for a friend. Originally he was going to self-publish, but I convinced him to talk to the major Australian trade publishers.

At the end of the deal we’d increased his advance, got him author discounts equal to the lowest wholesale price, plus bookclub rates out of the first print run to sell at seminars. Not a bad outcome – it changed the project from a costly gamble to a guaranteed five-figure payday.

“Pay me what it was worth to you,” I said. He figured out how many hours he thought I’d worked on it and paid me at an hourly rate that was substantially below what he’d have paid an agent.

Sometimes customers are cheap. But treat them like they’d pay what it was worth.

Low doc loan fine print

When things are going smoothly a low-doc loan is a great way to get an investment mortgage without the hassles of paperwork and producing tax returns. Beware the fine print.

I took out a low doc loan from Liberty Financial in August 2004. These are also called non-comforming loans and generally come at a higher interest rate in exchange for the easier qualifying criteria. Given I was using the funds in a business deal I didn’t mind.

I thought my loan was scheduled for an automatic rate review and reduction after 12 months of good payment history. In June, I faxed Liberty to check out the status of the rate. I also advised them I would be closing the bank account they had on file for repayments and gave them the new account details.

Unfortunately 2005 has not been a great year for me. The aftermath of the litigation I went through plus physical and emotional exhaustion have taken their toll. As a result I haven’t been as vigilant in checking loan payments and deadlines as I normally could be. So I didn’t check to see that they had actually acted on my fax. They claim to have not received the fax and I should have checked that the payments were still going through. Of course Liberty didn’t even have my phone number recorded correctly.

You can see were this is going, yes?

It turns out a rate reduction must be applied for. If you have a low doc or non-conforming loan, your broker will say “and the rate will reduce in 12 months”. This never happens automatically, and many brokers will not follow up on the anniversary of your loan to make sure you apply for it. Stupid move on my broker’s part as he’s lost me as a customer for the sake of a post card.

So I’ve been paying unnecessary extra interest since May 2005. And because I didn’t follow up with the payment change I am two payments in arrears. I’ve made those payments today, as soon as I found out about it. But my 14 months of perfect payment history doesn’t count anymore. I have been invited to reapply in 12 months for a reduction or my account manager, Peter, said I could contact my broker to refinance the loan elsewhere. Not a good customer experience.

Given that attitude I must conclude that Liberty Funding expects their customers to make mistakes. Oversights in applying for rate reductions and stuff ups with closing accounts. I’m guessing there must be many other ways to screw up your loan with Liberty.

This is not a tirade against Liberty. It’s a cautionery tale. I went into this deal with my eyes wide open and knew these people were not my friends. Yet changed circumstances has affected me and cost me a lot of money.

Live and learn.

Update alert email vs rss

My email notification service is not very popular. I’m glad of that as many of you follow this blog using RSS (thanks for watching). I don’t think email is a good medium for blog updates.

I want to quote skippy

Email notification is not the best use of resources for most blogs. I wrote my plugin because one site that I manage (but to which I do not contribute) is read primarily by people unfamiliar with content aggregation (RSS and ATOM). Content aggregation is a far better mechanism for update notification. It uses less resources on both the client and the server; it benefits from working in aggregate (sites likes bloglines fetch the latest update and then all bloglines subscribes for that site can read the update, representing massive savings in bandwidth); and subscribing to content is strictly a client-side operation: you don’t need to fork over your email to a potentially unscrupulous site looking to sell a subscriber list.

If my plugin works for some folks, I think that’s great. I think it’d be even better if everyone using my plugin would make modest efforts toward educating their subscribers about the wonder (and power) of content syndication.

There you have it.

Silktide SiteScore and others

I’ve been trying to evaluate this website to clarify my view of what it actually provides.

There were some interesting tools to help the technical side.

Silktide SiteScore for this website
Anybody know of others are out there?

Update 6 October 2005
I am proud of the high sitescore I get on that site. It’s currently 8.4 out of 10 and the only real negative is a low popularity score. I’m not sure how they measure that, but I don’t do this to be popular, except maybe I’d post more often.

Oh they also hate the number of links I have but I disagree with them there.

Growing a business

Mentors are wonderful things. Either casually of formally organised, getting another perspective from someone who has been there and done that is valuable.

There is something to say for a mentor’s “larger business” perspective. Plus if your mentor has entrepreneurial experience it’s the best of both worlds. A mentor does not have to be an expert in everything you are. If you are operationally weak it may help to have a mentor who is an expert at operations – providing you respect their expertise and experience. One of my mentors is an entrepreneurial former accountant. He keeps me looking at the numbers.

Plus most startup entrepreneurs don’t have the skill set to take a company from startup to $50M turnover.

But if you can take a startup to $5M profitable turnover, and repeat that quickly, there is a niche to make you rich.

Others can take a company from $5M to $15M. It’s their sweet spot.

Find your expertise and exploit it.

It depends on what you want out of your life and business. Single-eyed focus is the common trait for all such creatures.

Interestingly I have some friend who are discovering their business can support a nice lifestyle if they take the foot off the accelerator. They are discovering new priorities in their lives now that they have kids and grey hair.

One friend travels three months of the year and her business runs itself in her absence. I know entrepreneurs driving their companies to IPO who pause to consider their options when they hear that.

Live 8 the African Reality

Lest this become a love in…

I do have reservations about the ability of a rock concert to affect meaningful change in either the G8 or Africa. The G8 ministers have a fundamental belief in the superiority of western economic organisation. Anti-globalisation protesters don’t faze these guys. A billion rock concert eyeballs will get a reaction along the lines of “that’s nice, now let the grown-ups talk”

I’m not seeing too many African artists on the bill so far either.

However if Live 8 begins a discussion amongst people who have never considered these issues, it is a good thing. Even an elementary and simplistic dialog will lead to some kid growing up to provide useful and intelligent solutions. Every primary school child learns that the enviroment is important. Most of these kids grow up not making a bit of difference to the environment – but some do.

While looking for a view to counter Live 8 I found Ethan Zuckerman’s “Bono and Brad Pitt Need Your Help!”. Take a few minutes to read his considered thoughts on debt relief, aid and changing global trading rules. Then there are comments on the absense of African performers and Peter Gabriel’s criticisms of Live 8.

But let me quote the best part of his post

But it would be a damn sight more useful and transformative if bloggers would go a step further and start reading some African bloggers… perhaps starting with some of the folks who are justifiably skeptical about the value of yet another rock concert. Allow me to recommend Thinker’s Room’s Live Aid? Please!, Sokari Ekine’s Live 8419 or Gerald Caplan’s brilliant piece in Pambazuka.

It is too easy to reduce this discussion to the simplest terms – the G8 should magically fix it all. Hopefully something more intelligent will grow as more people join in.

Live 8 Live Internet Radio

Of course I am getting extreme geeky right now.

I’ve got the BBC’s feed of the London concert via WinAmp digital radio. So Annie Lennox is on BBC, Bryan Adam is on Fox 8 and Zucchero is on Fox+2

I’m getting tired. Given I’m on UTC+10h at the moment I’m hoping the Tokyo coverage will get the some interesting coverage later.

Looks like none of the Free to Air stations are doing anything beyond a highlight package tomorrow. Channel nine seems to be doing a 60 minutes special. Sheesh.

Hmmm I’m now doubting that the Live8Live coverage is actually totally live. Bob Gendolf is on stage singing Don’t Like Mondays, but an hour ago I read he was on stage performing that song. Hmmm BBC hasn’t got Bob on live at the moment.

I suspect the TV coverage is doing what they do during the Olympics. We’re getting slightly massaged live coverage of what the programmers think is the most interesting act at all the locations.