Tag Archives: business

35 great questions, part 1

Part 1 of 5 in my condensed reprint of Inc’s article, “35 Great Questions” from the April 2014 issue.

  1. How can we become the company that would put us out of business? –Danny Meyer
  2. Are we relevant? Will we be relevant five years from now? Ten? –Debra Kaye
  3. If energy were free, what would we do differently? –Tony Hsieh
  4. What is it like to work for me? –Robert Sutton
  5. If we weren’t already in business, would we enter it today? And if not, what are we going to do about it? –Peter Drucker
  6. What trophy do we want on our mantle? –Marcy Massura
  7. Do we have bad profits? –Jonathan L Byrnes

what viability would a subscription-based social networking service have?

You see stories like this one, and you wonder how Facebook is continuing to make it. So many people I know are either leaving, or reducing their involvement (including myself), that is seems it is destined to be the next MySpace.

Over the past couple years, I have seen companies advertise themselves by giving links like facebook.com/MyCompany. When it’s in addition to you “real” website (MyCompany.com), that’s not a bad thing.

But when it’s the only outlet you give people to interact with you? You’re outsourcing your business to someone else, and hoping they don’t screw you over.

That doesn’t seem to smart to me.

I understand Facebook needs to make money – they are a business, and not a charity (and even if they were the latter, they still need to pay for electricity, engineers, and equipment). But I think that the pure advertising model is not as lucrative as it once was.

Which makes me wonder how successful a subscription-based social network could be: call it something nominal – maybe $10-20 a year, but give users much fuller control over their “experience”: a mashup of MySpace’s crazy customizability, Facebook’s interface, and LinkedIn’s professionalism.

It’s a thought. Anyone want to build one with me?

the “best” industries for starting a business?

I generally really like Inc magazine.

But this article is kinda ridiculous: “The Eight Best Industries for Starting a Business.”

By the time an industry has landed on a list like this, the odds that you’re really going to be able to capitalize on it are super slim. There’s nothing “wrong” with starting a business in any of those industries – but you shouldn’t pick an industry because it’s “hot”; you should start your business in the industry you know and are ready to compete in.

If you’re already running a business, perhaps expanding your market reach into some of these “hot” industries is a good idea – and perhaps not. Make sure you are solving problems and delivering solutions.

The rest is gravy.

Sidebar – if you’re relying on mass-market publications like Inc to do your business research, you’re doing it wrong.

passive income is not a business plan

Shortcuts.

Shortcuts are great.

But only when you know the long way.

Without hard work, the short cut will seem hard.

Passive income seems to fall into this category.

Some people think panhandling is a form of passive income. It’s not. The panhandler works for his money – he talks to people, shakes a cup, whatever: he gets your attention, and tries to make you give him what he wants.

I have a Google AdSense account. I am also an affiliate with a few other places. I put Amazon links into some posts. From those links, if any purchase is made, I get a small percentage back.

But they are NOT a business.

They’re a shortcut. They’re fantastic – but in the last several years of having an AdSense account, I have yet to see a check from Google. In the past several years of having an Amazon affiliate account, I’ve paid for about three books.

You hear of high-volume sites that make all their money off advertising revenue – advertising may or may not be “passive”. But to maintain a high-volume site takes work. Hard work. Lots of it.

You [generally] don’t magically get traffic just because you are the smartest person in the world (I should know, I get on the order of only a few dozen hits per week! :))

You get – and keep – traffic because you have content or a service that people want to use. That they rely on. That they interact with in some meaningful way.

My friend Jay maintain[ed|s] AIMFix. For quite a while, it was THE best (and only) tool which would remove viruses which spread via malicious links across IM networks – dominantly AIM. I wrote a small library he used (at least for a while) in that program.

He put a metric butt load of effort into that tool, and made a little money from the “passive” advertising he had on his site.

Then traffic tailed-off, and so did his AdSense revenue.

So many businesses are started online with the premise that they’ll “make money from ads”… with nothing more of a business plan than that. They fail almost universally.

Businesses succeed when they follow the tried-and-true path of “work-deliver-earn”. And, “spend less than you earn” [ref].

If your only plan for earning money is to park a bunch of ads on a domain, you may make a little money for a little while. Especially if you’ve managed to register a reasonable typo domain (eg “antipuacity.com or “antipauctiy.com”).

But you need to have a reason for people to want to come back. To engage. To use what you offer.

Make something I want. Give me a service I need. Provide me with content I’ll return to.

Or maybe, just maybe, build something I can buy and hold.

finding your niche

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

You’ve probably been asked that questions hundreds of times in your life – parents, friends, teachers, yourself, movies. It’s a common theme.

For most of us, the decision gets made sometime in our late teens or during college: doctor, mom, lawyer, electrician, plumber, teacher, policeman, musician, actor, soldier, nurse, preacher, engineer, contractor, etc.

But I’d venture to guess that *most* people don’t truly know what they want to do until they’ve been doing something else for a while: I still don’t entirely know what I want to do for a career for the long term – if you’d asked me 5 years ago (as I was in interviews at the end of 2007 – beginning of 2008), I would have said that I wanted to be running a support organization, working towards a professional services operations role. 3 years prior to that, I would have said platform/application architect for flexible large systems. My best guess for what I want to be doing in 2 years now is being an IT/Enterprise data, virtualization, and automation architect for large environments (which happens to line-out with my current title and ‘career path’ with my current employer) – or a US Representative / Senator for my Congressional District / State.

However, the most successful and fulfilled people I’ve met (not necessarily by total ‘wealth’ or accumulated money) have all followed a Blue Ocean Strategy – they’ve invented their own job, or even their own business. That business might not be unique (eg MMM‘s contracting work), but it’s something they’ve decided to do for themselves.

If you’ve not heard of The Personal MBA, you need to learn more about it – start with their list of top business books, and read what you find interesting (and a couple you don’t think would be).

Expand your horizons – browse a good bookstore’s magazine racks, and buy one or two per month that are on topics you know nothing about, don’t like, don’t think you’re interested in, etc.

Visit your local library or bookstore and grab the first book in the history section that starts with an “A” in the title – then go for “B”, “C”, etc. Then do it from some other section of the shelves – maybe relationships, scifi, teen, romance, home improvement, etc, etc.

I am convinced college is not the best path for everyone: there are trade schools, military training, family businesses, farming, etc. I am convinced that going to college straight out of highschool is almost always a Bad Idea™ – at the very least, get a summer job: maybe get a “real” job for a couple years while you figure out what even interests you. Take the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). Take the ACT (it’s a better predictor of collegiate and work success than the SAT in my opinion). If you’re in college, take the GRE either just after your freshman year, or just before your junior year – the content will be most fresh then (if you’re taking enough general education classes and are not over-focused on your major).

As you start to find out what you’re good at, and what you enjoy to do, do everything you can to improve your communication skills. If you do nothing else at a college, take writing classes – take every class you can that will make you write. Communication is the single most important skill you can have: someone who can write and speak well will go far further than one who can’t. Take public speaking classes. Take classes you need to make presentations for, and follow the 10-20-30 rule. Brevity is highly key, and concision will get you much further than verbosity.

Blog. Blog about what you’re doing, what you’re interested in, what you’d like to do, where you’ve been, etc etc. The more you write, especially if you intend for what you write to be read, the better you will get at it. Aim to write frequently if you’re going to write at all – maybe it’s every first of the month, maybe it’s every Monday, maybe it’s every day, or maybe it’s every 4th of July: but give yourself a schedule and stick to it. Write for personal reasons, write for fun, and write for work.

Teach. When you learn something new, teach it to someone else. Whether you teach by writing, speaking, or showing – teach what you have learned. After communication, the ability to teach someone else to do what you are doing the most important thing you can learn how to do. You never want to become irreplaceable. To be irreplaceable is to be unpromotable. Teach at least one person how to do one aspect of your job as often as possible – spread your responsible skills across your team, and two things happen: first, you can take a vacation; second, you can move up (or out) more easily. The more you teach, like intentionally writing, the better you should get at it – especially if you intend for those you have taught to be able to teach others.

Learn. Strive to learn something new frequently. If you can do it every day, that’s awesome – but just once a month will help keep your mind sharp, and help you become even more valuable to wherever you choose to work (whether it is for someone else, or on your own). Any time your employer wants to pay for training for you, take it – you never know when it may come in handy. I am a proponent of the “Lifelong Learner” – and work to make sure I am learning something new all the time.

Review. Don’t ‘merely’ learn – review what you have learned before. You can do this via blogging and teaching, but take time to reread texts and materials you’re intimately familiar with: this is what David was doing when he wrote, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.”

No one can ever tell you what your niche is – not really. Maybe you want to be a lawyer – or not. Spend some time to figure out what you’re good at, and what you’d really like to do: shadow people in various careers; interview friends, family, coworkers, classmates, etc.

Life is too short to not try to spend it doing what you want.

establishing a data haven cloud

In Neal Stephenson’s seminal book, Cryptonomicon, he describes the creation of a “data haven” in the fictional Sultanate of Kinakuta.

Why has no-one started building such a service (or, at least not in a public way) on existing cloud services (eg AWS or Rackspace) and/or create their own global network?

Data backup and replication is not “difficult” – and neither is the concept of distributed (and replicated) storage (LeftHand Networks was doing RAID-over-LAN a while before HP bought them).

So – why is this not available as a service to which you can subscribe (or use anonymously)? Incorporating in a ‘friendly’ country, offering anonymized connections (fully encrypted, etc), and giving a client that works a la Dropbox or Box.com.

There should be lots of companies who would love to offer a service like this – it should be fairly lucrative, and pretty easy to setup.