Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Job hunting, Work Reports, Demos, etc.

The Co-Op people at my school keep on pushing the job postings earlier and earlier. As such, I'm starting to try and get my resume up to date. If I manage to find the time in between all of my business, school, and actual work, I'm going to try and get a few cover letters ready for the jobs that seem to always come up that I'm interested in.

I've managed to get time to do my work report, provided its on the windows testing libraries I've written this semester. My last work report went over fairly well with my employer, but the LaTeX class I used for the formatting was a bit out of date, so it didn't go over so well with the school. Through a completely separate mechanism at work, I might be able to get time to do that as well.

My self and Lukas are trying to prepare an internal demo for one of the projects we've worked on. I'm not really sure if we'll be able to get anyone to go to it (although perhaps offering free beer or something of that nature might help :-) ).

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Product Launch, Selling to people

I recently had a very interesting chat with a sales person at my present work. His whole thing is, people buy things for two reasons, they need something or they want something.

So the easiest way to sell to someone is to show them why they need it. Don't try and show them all of the features of the product, but instead be like you need this because otherwise you will loose your data and your business will go bankrupt. Once you've convinced them of that, you can tell them about how your system is better than other systems because of feature XYZ.

For the next three products we are launching the various "needs" they address is:
1)Selling [more] tickets online
2)Reducing support costs
3)Making sure your customers & potential customers can find you

If people don't need your product, you should probably ask your self, why am I making this product?

Its looking like its going to be really difficult to meet this Sundays three product launch plan. Not that I won't be trying :-)
Part of the problem is the necessary knowledge transfer that is going to have to be done at the end before we can actually release the products completely.
One thing, which I completely neglected to notice with the e-ticket software is that most of our potential customers are locked into 1 year or greater contracts. This is going to make it a bit more difficult to sell to them.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Amazon's Web Services & Search Source Code

For those of you that know me, you may remember my crazy plan involving searching source code. It never got particularly far because of the sheer headache of trying to get enough data to work with.
However, amazon now has a WebSearch Platform, which (in theory) allows one to try and build a search system on top of there huge DB, using their computing power.
After I get the three projects I'm working on now into the launch phase, I'm going to play around with it a bit and see if I can get something interesting working.

Friday, March 17, 2006

St. Patrick's day

Turns out to be an excellent day to try and negotiate with banks.
I just got an e-mail from one of the gateways saying that they would be willing to waive some fees for our customers, which pretty much means our initial costs of bringing a customer on board went down from around $200 + our time to around $10 + our time. The even better part is, I got this e-mail from the gateway that I wanted to use, primarily for technological reasons rather than pricing.

Now, not only can I celebrate something involving something in Ireland by getting completely hammered, I can also celebrate a substantial reduction in costs :-)

I went to bed with a horrible headache and feeling kind of off, and woke up feeling awesome :-)

Today & tommorow will probably be the other way around :-)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Setting Crazy Deadlines to motivate yourself

So, there are three different projects I'm actively involved in trying to get released/launched (plus one if you count my day job). In the interest of working crazy long hours, the target launch date is the end of next week for all three products.

For me, having crazy deadlines motivates me to work extremely hard. At the point in time, don't set deadlines so ridiculously you know you can't meet them. Then there will no motivation to work, because you will be expecting yourself to fail.

On less than entirely a random note, one of the projects just got approval from a key source letting us use some of their material, which is awesome :-) Also, now that one of the main players in the market has agreed to this, it should be much easier to convince the other, slightly smaller, players to go along with our requests.

Edit: I need to learn how to spell :-)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Makeing money with other peoples code

For the uninitiated, hosted applications are for the most part web based applications that run on your servers through which your customers access them.

The industry poster boy is , which offers a hosted CRM product. They recently launched a new service called appeasing which is designed to make it easier for small companies to sell hosted applications.

Hosted applications appeal to customers because there is no expensive infrastructure to buy, often can be accessed on the road, and the headache of IT support is often handled by the supplier. Hosted applications are wonderful from a development point of view since you know what hardware your
software is running on and you can take advantage of that.

Now, you could go out there and develop a hosted application from the ground up, which would take a lot of development and testing time. Or, you could take a pre-existing web-based open source project and turn it into a hosted application. This reduces the total development time required to create the initial version of your software substantially. You can add as many or as few features as you think are necessary to differentiate your product.

Even if you only add a few features and clean up the interface a bit you will be able to appeal to customers that are afraid of open-source, or want support, or don't have the IT team to implement the solution them selves, etc. As RedHat and similar places have shown, there are quite a few customers like that.

As time goes on you can add more features that your users require. Now since you aren't actually distributing the software you can avoid a lot of the open source licensing requirements, so you can keep these new features available only to your customers. At the same point in time, to build good will I would strongly encourage giving something back to the community (for example any security patches). You aren't required to, but it may help the community feel better about you making money off their hard work :-)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

PI Day

Today is Pi Day. In celebration I brought some pie into the office for everyone to enjoy.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Pricing your Product

Pricing your product is always a tricky thing to do, even more so in software.

A lot of business use cost + pricing, but for something like software that can be very tricky. Unless you are making custom software, your major expense (development), is not not tied to the number of units you sell. Your distribution costs are often negligible, meaning if you chose marginal cost + plus, you'd have very little hope of re-couping your development costs, or furthering them any more.

Pricing as a signal. If you can sell your product for $5, but your competitors are all charging $100, you might actually be better of selling your product for $95, since at $5 your customers may assume that there is some sort of catch.

Even more complicated is if you are entering a new market, where there are now pre-existing competitors.

If you are writing automation software, you can try basing your price of how much it will save the company. So, if your software should save people N hours of work, take N, multiply by the approriate per hour wage and multiply by a fixed constant less than 1.

If your software doesn't save people time, or make them money, then you are probably going to have a difficult time pricing your product, and probably an even more difficult time when you try to sell it.

Need motivation / inspiration ? Listen to this....

I was reminded today of Larry Smith's most recent talk (which I was unfortunately unable to attend). The video apparently is waiting for someone to set up the firewire card properly, if it is still waiting when I get back to waterloo I may have to do that my self.
In the mean time, if you haven't listened to Larry Smith's previous talk and are in computer science you really need to here. He talks about a lot about automation, more from a business stand point than a computer science stand point.

Internal Wikis = Awesome

One big problem faced by companies over one person, is internal communication.

For keeping track of general design decisions, documentation, and just how things work a wiki is amazing. Anyone inside your company can update it to include "gotchas" that they found out about.

Now, for sales leads and other customer specific information you will probably want to use a CRM. What CRM is another matter entirely, and will probably be another post in a few days as BitTicket gets ready to launch.

Finding Bugs on the cheap

So, I showed some people some of the BitTicket software, and in about five minutes I had enough bugs to keep my self busy for the next day. The odd part was, at that point I was expecting mostly cosmetic errors, having done some testing myself.

Now, I don't think I'm a horrible tester, hell that's a good chunk of my day job as an Evil Death Ray, but it really is important to get people who don't know anything about your product to test it. If such people are not available, you should get people who know as much (or less) than your customers about your product.

You don't need to go out and hire an expensive QA outsourcing group, just go to a local university or college, and offer something like $10 to get someone to play around with your software for an hour. If you really want to do it on the cheap, you can probably get about 15 minutes out of someone in exchange for a chocolate bar (remember, university students tend to be hungry and broke).

Now, obviously, this won't work for all software products, but if you are making a relatively simple application with a low learning curve, getting random people you don't know to test your software is almost definitetly a good idea.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Timing your Fiscal year

If you've taken my previous advice and incorporated in Canada, you now have to decide when you want to file your taxes. In general, you can chose when you want to file your taxes as a corporation for the first time (from that point on it must be yearly) and you can't make your first filing date any later than a year from your incorporation. Many entrepreneurs simply let it slide to the last possible moment, which may not be the best time. Another large number of companies simply chose calendar year end. However if your industry has any slow seasons, then it can make sense to set your filing date to be during one of the slow periods.

Important Notice: I am not an accountant, and you probably should talk to one before taking any of my advice.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Basic Business Banking in Canada, your options

Untill recently, I've used TD Canada Trust for almost all of my banking (personal or business). However, BitTicket is (hopefully) going to be handling a large number of transactions soon, so I've decided to take a look around at the various options.

There are quite a few different Canadian banks (along with some new arrivals)

I'm going to try and get a comparision of there services done by the end of next month. If you have any experiences you would like to share about any of the banks (or any other Canadian Business banks) please e-mail me: .

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

No-cost Employees

During the initial start up phase of your company, you may find yourself wishing you had more people, but simply don't have the money for it.

While you're first instinct may be to use slaves, there are other more legal alternatives :-)

I'd encourage you to look around at local (and not so local) Co-Op programs. Co-Op can provide you with free (or virtually free) employees. Most high schools have a Co-Op program, and while the quality isn't always great you have to remember that its free. Additionally, a large number of universities and colleges run Co-Op programs. While most of these positions are paid, there are the occasional person who doesn't manage to get a paid job who will instead take a volunteer position just for the work experience. What's even better is some program will pay the employees insurance if they are working in a volunteer position.

Keep in mind, that many of these programs operate on a semester basis, so if you think you could use some free employees in the next four months it might be good to go looking now.

A word of caution, keep in mind while these employees are "free" in terms of they don't directly cost you anything they will almost certainly take time away from other tasks while you (or one of your staff) trains them and brings them up to speed.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Why you might want a .ca domain name

First, a little bit of background. Since you are on the internet you have no doubt herd of .com and probably also .net and maybe .org,.biz , and so on. These tlds are called gTLDs since they are not limited to just one specific country. However .ca,.us,.ro, and so on are ccTLDs are intended for use inside a specific country.

If you sell products to Canadian consumers, having a .ca can be of great benefit. According to survey conducted on behalf of CIRA 71% of Canadians prefer to use .ca web services instead of .com webservices.

Registering a .ca domain name is relatively inexpensive , (can range from $20 to $70 per year depending on the registrar you chose) . Compared to other investments your company can make into branding, registering a .ca is relatively inexpensive.

As to where to register your .ca domain name, a quick google search can provide you with a good list of registrars.

Monday, March 06, 2006

What a D&B Number is and why you should apply for one now.

A D&B number is a Dunn and Braddstreet number, and man can they come in handy. A lot of business demand that you have a D&B number for them to extend any sort of trade credit to you, or sometimes even just to do business with you. Even if they don't require it a lot of places have it as an optional field on most trade credit applications.

Dunn and Braddstreet are kind of like a credit reporting agency, except for business.

Even if you don't think you are going to need a D&B number, you should get one now rather than later as their express service costs money, however there regular service (takes about one month) is free of charge. Also, you can use the time to establish good trade credit record, to help you negotiate favorable credit terms with new suppliers.

If you are in Canada you can register for your D&B number here. For Americans, you should be able to register here. For everyone else, they should be able to re-direct to the appropriate site/group.

Starting a business while working a day job? Take a look at your employment contract

There are quite a few reasons why you might want to do this. The stable money from your day job can help you still be able to eat, pay rent, and all of those other wonderful things while developing your business on the side.

There is the obvious downside of not having as much time to concentrate on your business, but there are some other gotchas that you might not be aware of/have forgotten about.

  • Employment Contract
  • Non-Compete Agreement

Most employment contracts are very clear, any work you do at work is the property of your work. You have to be very diligent about separating your business from your day job. Another gotcha you should be careful with is using company equipment, say if you have a company laptop you probably should restrict using that strictly for company use.

A lot of tech firms have a non-compete agreement. Now the enforceability of the non-compete agreement is a completely different subject, and you may wish to talk to a lawyer about that. For the most part, most non-compete agreements at the very least prevent you from entering the same line of business as your present firm for a fixed period of time. So if the firm you are at right now, makes file transfer software, and you have a genius idea about how to make better file transfer software, your probably out of luck.

My other reason for writing this blog

The company where I am working at the for next 2 months has a blog aggregator. Rather than have them grab my personal blog, I can now utilize the fact I work at a company with people who are much clearer than I am, to help me increase my communication skills.
Or at least, that is the plan...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Outsourcing, continued

My last post got me thinking. Awhile back I wrote an brief overview of different online free-lancing sites. While this article is written more for programmers/designers it could also serve as a good starting point for anyone looking to contract out work.

There are a large number of different online freelancing locations. As a freelancer it is important to know where to go and find work.

Scriptlance is one of the more popular freelance job boards. You may also find Scriptlance projects listed on other freelance sites since they offer content syndication to people using the freelancers script writen by
smarterscripts . Scriptlance has no initial fee which has made it very attractive. However, it charges the programmer $5 or 5% (which ever is larger) to accept a project. One of the nicer features of Scriptlance is their escrow service which allows both buyer and programmer to rest assured that the transaction will be completed smoothly. Scriptlance has very strict rules about what information can and cannot be communicated before the project is closed, so be sure to read the contracts. Scriptlance has an abundance of projects to choose from.

Rent A Coder (RAC) also has no upfront fee. Rent A Coder charges 15% (a minimum of $3) to accept the project. Rent A Coder also utilizes a escrow system, the primary difference being that it is mandatory. Rent A Coder also has strict rules regarding what may or may not be said, but allows you to post a resume and offers (for an additional fee) a certification program for your credentials. Rent A Coder has a fairly wide selection of projects.

Elance charges an initial setup fee of $120 per quarter plus 8.75% per project. In my personal opinion it is not worth it so we wont really dwell on elance.

Programming Bids has a very nice system by which the buyers can pre-pay their budget and be assured (if win the project is won) of getting paid. This system is similar to the escrow systems at other sites. Their fee is $49 per year for membership along with a 7% commission (a minimum of $10).

Select A Designer
charges $5/month to be able to bid on their projects. They do seem to have quite a few projects but I personally have not used their system (since they have no charge to post a project I am not sure what percentage of the projects actually go through to completion). If you use this place (successfully or unsuccessfully) let me know.

Freelance Web Programming charges $1 for each project which is accepted by the freelancer. Doesn't have many projects, but has a very reasonable commission structure.

Freelanceauctions charges the higher of 10% or $10 for each project which is accepted by the freelancer. Doesn't have many open projects, probably not worth your time.

CGILance is very similar to scriptlance, with a nicer interface, less projects, and slightly lower fees. They charge a 5% commission (minimum of $3) for programmers to accept the projects.

ProjectSpring has a good collection of projects but charges $5/month to be able to bid .

Freelancersdirect doesn't have much in the way of project selection , however it is free to bid on basic but they require $8 per month to bid on premium projects. Probably not worth spending a lot of time on, but things may change as they have taken an aggressive advertising stance recently.

You may also want to check out news groups (you can search using for local jobs. In Ottawa I have seen posts on and so far have been paid fairly well by the people I did work for there. Also a large number of freelancer oriented forums (or sub forums) have popupped up in the last while including

Outsourcing, for small business

Outsourcing has gotten a poor reputation as of late. Outsourcing can be wonderful if done properly.

For a small business, outsourcing gives you the ability to concentrate your efforts on what you are good, freeing you from a lot of tedious things which you might not be very good at.

For example I have absolutely no graphic design skills, I would be crazy to try and make a logo my self. Additionally, we are looking at outsourcing the windows client application for one of our products, since most of the people in our group have stronger Unix backgrounds rather than windows.

At the same point in time, during your initial stages I would recommend against outsourcing support. While it may seem tempting, customer feedback is vital to understanding where you are going wrong with your software.

There are lots of different ways to handle your outsourcing. If your a small business, just starting, I'd recommend using something like scriptlance where by you post what the job is and get competitive bids. However, if you are looking at outsourcing some longer term development you might find it better to higher and individual on a contractual basis. For that you could either go directly, or use any number of different agencies. Personally, I would recommend giving them a small sample project first to see how they perform before committing to anything longer term.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Incorporating in Canada, now even easier

Previously, if you wanted to incorporate online in Canada you had to go through an agent who had access to the government of Canada system. However, it is much easier to incorporate on-line.
Strategis has all of the information on how to incorporate online. The system even has a drop down for a generic legal boiler plate if your company has less than 50 share holders so you can avoid a lot of legal paper work and filling requirements. Another benefit is incorporating online only costs $200 rather than the usual $250.
In addition, if you are in the province of Ontario they even take care of filling the necessary forms with the provincial government letting them know you are doing business there.

Yet Another Web log

I have another web log where I talk more about the boring personal parts of my life, which are probably of no interest to you unless you really want to know where I went for coffee the night before.
The purpose of this web log is to cover my experiences trying to start a business, looking for work,
and programming, and so on.

To a large extent, this is just going to contain slightly more serious stuff than my other personal weblog.

Another component is I'm going to try and work on my written communication skills, so I intend for this blog to have less glaring spelling mistakes, typographical errors and the like. I would like to encourage feedback on my writing, I know its really bad presently but I'm trying to improve that.

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