What Are Bitcoins, Really?

Bitcoins keep coming up in the media these days because they’re a very interesting phenomenon. I was doing a little research trying to get everything a little more clear in my head, when I found a video put together by Duncan Elms on Vimeo. It gives a good overview of what Bitcoins are, how they work, etc. If you don’t know much about Bitcoins, give it a watch. Bitcoins are interesting because they are the first serious attempt at Currency 2.0 and probably the strongest attempt to disintermediate the global currencies that people have been losing faith in around the world. While Bitcoins might not be what replaces those global currencies, I think it does point in the direction of what might.

Bitcoin Explained from Duncan Elms on Vimeo.

Communicating While Delegating

Women talking over conference tableOne thing has been made clear to me over the years. Communication is not as simple as telling someone something. It isn’t about what you say, it’s about what they hear or how they interpret what you say. Jessica Stillman wrote an article about this phenomenon for Inc.com and her take was that when you are delegating work, “No matter how clear you think you are in the delegation, you’re not clear.” I don’t agree with her statement because sometimes the problem isn’t what you say, it’s what they think you mean when they stop listening. Some people, believe it or not, actually stop listening partway through whatever you are saying in order to craft what they are going to say or to plan what they need to do.

Stillman’s solution though works no matter which one of us is right. Her solution is prototyping. She proposes that you have your employee start the work and show you the deliverable early in the process. That allows you to give feedback before they get too far along. If they’re off track, you can point them in the right direction before they invest too much time. That’s a great idea if the job lends itself to that approach. For work that doesn’t though, I recommend having the person paraphrase what they understood you to have said, so that you can add any corrections or additions. The important thing to remember is that it isn’t enough just to ask someone to do something. The communication isn’t over at that point. You have to ensure that they understand what you say in the way you want them to understand it.

Don’t Waste An Opportunity

Lady waiting in waiting roomWe’ve all had times where we unexpectedly had to wait for something. Say a business meeting was pushed back a half hour or you’re waiting for your doctor who is 45 minutes behind schedule. It can be very stressful and frustrating. It often seems like people don’t value our time, so they end up wasting it. While it is often hard to avoid these situations, there is something you can do to minimize their effect on you. In fact, you might be able to turn these situations to your advantage in some cases.

A little trick that I have been trying to employ recently is to put quick tasks that I can accomplish on a reminder list on my phone. That way, when I get caught with an extra 10-15 minutes where I’m waiting for someone, I can open up my reminder list and hopefully knock out a few of my todo items. That way, I accomplish something and feel good about how I spent my time, rather than being upset that my time was wasted and end up having to spend the rest of my day trying to regain my lost time. Also, since I often have no other distractions while I’m waiting, I’m able to completely focus on the task at hand.

Of course, the benefit of this trick is lost if you over engineer it. Don’t spend excessive amounts of time creating your list. If you spend an hour a day adding items that you can fit into short amounts of time, you would have been better off just accomplishing a few of them instead. As tasks occur to me while I am working on something else, I quickly capture them, so that I don’t forget them. Often, I use Siri to dictate a task or two while I am driving somewhere. So far, it’s working for me. It’s not a life changing trick, but it helps me get a little bit more done and reduces my stress or annoyance when I’m kept waiting.

What’s Your Point?

Skeptical Business Woman Looking At Man's LAptop ScreenI was reading a short piece from Geoffrey James on Inc.com today entitled “Rule No. 1: Get to the Point.” His main assertion was that people are busy, so you shouldn’t waste their time beating around the bush and using excessive business cliches and jargon. I agree with that statement, but I think there is something more important to consider when you look over whatever you are writing.

Not only are people busy, they are also savvy enough to see through any BS you try to hide in flowery language and officious sounding jargon. If you pack your writing with that junk, people will see through it, disregard everything you are saying and stop reading. Plus, you might lose yourself in that garbage and not realize that you aren’t actually telling a story worth telling.

So, when you finish your next piece of impressive business prose, put it aside for awhile. Maybe wait until the next day. Then pick it up and pretend someone else tossed it on your desk and that it’s trying to sell you on someone else’s product. Does it sound like BS? If so, simplify the whole thing to its essence and see what you’re actually trying to say. Build a clear, easy to follow piece around that. Don’t put in anything that people don’t care about. Then take the two pieces and look at them side by side and see which resonates more with you and maybe run them by someone else. Practice that for awhile and you’ll write better more impactful pieces over time.

Well, Developers, iOS or Android?

Android logo

Android logo provided by Google

It’s a no brainer these days, isn’t it? I hear over and over. The iPhone and iOS are dead and soon the iPad will be too. The onslaught of Android and Samsung has obliterated them and their closed ecosystem. Ditch iOS and develop for Android!  Well, according to research from Canalys, that might still be the wrong assumption.

Regardless of the fact that Android seems to have higher market penetration, 74% of app revenue is still being earned on the iOS platform. I guess that serves as a good reminder that while it’s important to pay close attention to the numbers, it’s also important that you pay attention to the right numbers.

That being said, developers still need to pay close attention to Android. It is still growing and it will be especially important in emerging markets. Plus, 26% of the revenues are still outside of iOS. While’s that’s only a third of what iOS enjoys, that’s still $572 million for Q1 of 2013. There were developers that survived for years providing apps for the Mac when it had less than a 5% share of the market. So, over a quarter of the revenues and (probably) growing isn’t a bad place to be either. Just don’t go believing every bit of research you see proclaiming iOS as dead. That’s a bit premature.

Motivation: Helping Others

Helping HandI came across an article on NYTimes.com that reminded me of something that I always knew, but rarely think about during business planning. The article was about how giving is the secret to getting ahead. The article talks about Adam Grant and his book: Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

The premise of the article and the book is that people who are givers are more motivated and as a result more successful. This is an important thing to remember. As an entrepreneur, this information reminds me to:

  1. Focus on providing a product or service that helps people
  2. Hire people that are inspired by helping others
  3. Create a work environment that fosters a sense of service to the customers, coworkers and the community in general

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The Need For Speed!

Business Men Running 100 MeterLast week we noticed something alarming about our websites. They had become incredibly slow. I don’t mean taking a few seconds to load. I mean 15-20 seconds and sometimes more than that. This is the kind of slow where even I don’t want to go to my site. I learned two things from this. I learned:

  1. People will still go to the site (miraculously!)
  2. You definitely take a hit on your traffic

During the time that the site had been slowed to a crawl, we received a 12.5% hit to our web traffic. A large part of that was due to people bailing out while the site was loading. That is a tremendous hit for a site.

The big question I had while we were struggling with our sites’ speed problems was: Would the hit we were taking in traffic due to the site slow down cause long term effects for a site? For ours, the answer seems to be no. We’ve bounced back (after 3-4 days of work with our web host) and we’re back to our previous numbers. I can think of some sites that might take a more long term hit though. For instance, if the site’s potential visitors gave up and went to a competitor’s site and signed up for their service or bought their product instead. That’s not something you want to happen. So, you need to monitor your site frequently to make sure it’s up and running speedily. If your site is crucial to your business, you might even want to look into a monitoring service.

Right now, I’m looking into a couple of services. The first would be an inexpensive way to monitor the uptime of the sites that would notify me of any issues. The second is a global CDN to ensure better speeds globally. Ideally, a service that handled both for free (for small sites) or inexpensively for larger ones would be the holy grail. When I find something that works well for us, I’ll report back here.

Overcome the Flood of Shallow Business Pitches

Chalkboard: Theory Into PracticeHoward A. Tullman wrote a piece for Inc that I thought was very interesting called ‘Why “Simple” is Getting Harder.’ The premise of the article is that it has become so easy to create a front end for an application or website and fake up some data for the backend. That has resulted in angels and investors being flooded with entrepreneurs with beautiful prototypes, but very shallow value propositions. This flood of entrepreneurs then buries investors and obscures the entrepreneurs that might have more deep business propositions, but equally beautiful or sometimes less beautiful front ends.

The increase in attractive looking prototypes does create more work for investors when it comes to uncovering the gold. Any good investor though does some real digging before buying into an idea. An entrepreneur that has a good idea and a truly functioning product with actual clients will beat out those more shallow products almost every time.

This leaves entrepreneurs with two important points to remember. If you want to stand out, you need a real product with real users. Put that theory behind your business idea into practice and prove out your idea and business model somewhat. To even get a meeting though, you better not ignore the design. If you don’t have the design, investors might believe that you aren’t invested enough in your idea to make things look good. If you can get them to listen, you might get in with a poor design, but why miss an opportunity by turning them off at their first look at the product. At least create a decent front end for your product. If you believe in your product, you’ll have to build that front end eventually anyway. The key is you want to deliver a great product to investors that outshines the rest. These days that means a real product with a real business model.

Who Owns Digital Goods? (Hint: Probably Not the Customer)

eBookAccording to a legal ruling filed on Saturday, March 30, 2012, consumers don’t have the right to resell digital media that they have purchased from the copyright owner. Peter Kafka, from All Things D, reported that U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan sided with Capitol Records against ReDigi, a site that allows users to resell the music in their music library.

This finding is in direct opposition to the first sale doctrine that exists with physical media. I understand the reasoning behind this. Digital media is infinitely copyable and therefore someone could keep a copy of the media and then resell a copy online. That is pretty hard to manage if a third party is handling the sales. The flip side of that is that the price of a lot of digital media, especially ebooks, is no cheaper and sometimes more expensive than the physical copies. With no cost in raw materials and less cost in download vs transportation of the physical goods, that shouldn’t logically be the case.

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Social Media Astroturfing

Collective Bias LogoI know that companies pay for advertising. That’s a well known fact. So, I know that everything that is put out there by a brand isn’t necessarily honest or authentic. I also know that companies pay to get favorable write ups placed on blogs or social media. I know that firsthand because I’ve received requests from marketing companies hoping to get what are essentially fake reviews or press releases published as if they were mine. (I always turn those down.)

It looks like the whole process is getting just a little bit easier. According to TNW, a company by the name of Collective Bias, just got funding to bring astroturfing to everyone. Supposedly, Collective Bias will be using it’s 1,400 bloggers to target their collective reach of 50,000,000 people. I only bring this up to warn people that this is happening. In no way should anyone employ this for their business. If you get caught, I have two words for you: PR Nightmare. You could be smeared all across those blogs and social networks you were hoping to get positive PR on.

This also affects us all because when we do research on businesses we want to work with, we have to be even more cautious than we are already when vetting sources. If you don’t know the person giving glowing praise of a potential partner or service, you better verify that review against as many sources as possible to ensure you aren’t getting tricked by a service like Collective Bias into using or partnering with a substandard product or company.