Ah, feedback. Life is unbearable if you cannot speak your mind, but in our everyone’s-a-winner culture anything short of ebullient praise is viewed as an affront. And so, to show that you’re not a glass-half-empty sort—you see the positive stuff, too!—you start with a few compliments before slipping in the unpleasant news. But you don’t want to end on a bad note so you close with something upbeat—another compliment or some hearty encouragement. Congratulations. You just served a “shit sandwich.” In more refined circles it’s called a “praise sandwich.” Either way, it’s a classic rookie mistake. Your protégé will take one look at this questionable offering and either see only the praise or only the criticism. You end up with the status quo or a new enemy.
(And in these wild and wooly times you don’t want an enemy. Best case: low-level passive aggressive retribution. Worst case: a digital smear campaign against you—that inexplicably goes viral. But I digress…) Negative feedback is not more palatable when it is preceded by a warm fuzzy: “You did a great job, really. But you don’t seem to understand the concept of a budget.” Even worse is verbally teeing up with a qualifier calculated to (a) distance yourself from the turd (“I hate to tell you, but…”), which often sounds disingenuous or (b) manage the response (“Don’t freak out, but…”), which usually has the opposite effect. Rather than feel gently enlightened, the recipient of your mixed message will either be confused or think you’re an asshole.
I hate cash. I think most people do. Life is much simpler in a paperless world. But I don’t love plastic, either—I am looking forward to Bitcoin taking over the world. Until Bitcoin is a household name, however, credit and debit cards are the next best thing. With a few caveats: some merchants only accept credit cards for values greater than a certain amount. And some merchants charge you a fee for using your credit card (it might not hurt, but it does sting). What many of these merchants do not know is that they are in violation of the law and credit card network rules.
Minimum Purchase Maximum
Thanks to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which went into effect in 2010, merchants that accept credit cards can legally impose a $10 minimum on credit card charges. However, they must impose it on all cards (not just American Express, for example). For more information check out the article Merchants May Require Up to $10 Minimum Credit Card Purchase. And the next time you encounter a minimum of more than $10 raise a stink with the merchant. I do.
Checkout Fee Limits
In 2013 the credit card networks set a limit to the checkout fee a merchant can charge. Has a merchant ever charged you 50 cents for using your credit card to buy a soda? Unless you were buying a $12 soda, that charge was against the rules. The limit to how much a merchant can charge is typically around 4% (0% in at least 10 states). For more information read this great article: Checkout Fee: Charging Credit Card Fees to Customers. Don’t let merchants overcharge you for using your credit card.
You will get more out of life by saying yes. Not saying yes (i.e., saying no) is often rooted in fear. Perhaps you are afraid of failure. Or financial ruin, burnout, injury, insanity... It’s a clusterfuck out there, and saying yes could be asking for a big bowl of trouble. But have you ever admired someone who seems truly unbounded? Someone who eagerly accepts offers you wouldn’t even consider? Someone who confidently launches farfetched schemes? Free from the burden of doubt and worry, these people seem to be able to improvise their way through any situation. Who are these yea-sayers and have they really transcended their limits and stepped into the flow of abundance? Or have they just stepped in it?
Because as any naysayer knows, if you say yes all the time you will get too much out of life. Saying yes is like asking to be spammed. You will end up doing things you don’t want to do. If not actual disaster, you at least run the risk of disappointment, boredom, and annoyance. It’s ok to say no. Life will go on. Sure, there’s a lot of pressure—both external and internal—to say yes. People like it when you like the things they like and do the things they do. And there’s your own fear of missing out, fueled by the constant view of the other side of the fence afforded by carefully edited Facebook and Instagram posts. But it’s ok to say no if you’re not truly motivated by the opportunity. It’s ok to say no if saying yes would cause you great inconvenience. It’s ok to say no without a detailed excuse.
Over the course of my career I have had the good fortune of working with many innovative business partners. Regrettably, some partnerships ended poorly because my temper got the best of me. For years I was convinced that I did not get along well with others. But recently, upon deeper reflection, I concluded that something else was to blame because I have many great business relationships that have endured the test of time. So what sets me off? What makes a partnership toxic for me? In a nutshell: risk takers. I do not like taking risks. It’s not my style, and I can’t relate to it.
A scan of the entrepreneurial landscape suggests two fundamental types: risk takers and small bettors. Apple (under Steve Jobs), for example, took large risks—betting the company many times over. In contrast, Twitter has few big bets in its history (heck, it started as a side project), growing instead through iteration—one small bet at a time. Because both forms of entrepreneurship can lead to success, the question of which is better is settled by your tolerance for risk. I prefer to make a small bet, analyze the results, and build on that effort because it is the more risk-averse approach to growing a company.
When forming a business partnership make sure your entrepreneurial styles align. Compatibility with respect to risk can help you avoid painful and costly conflict down the road. Maybe take a trip to Vegas together: if your partner is sitting at the blackjack table the entire time while you sip fancy drinks by the pool, maybe you're not a good match.
Not so fast. Checklists save lives. And limbs—literally. The next time you are laying on an operating table, you should hope your doctor doesn’t have the same bad attitude toward checklists you had before reading this post because studies show that when surgical teams use checklists, deaths decrease by 40% and complications decrease by more than 30%. Those impressive numbers are the reason you should learn to love checklists regardless of your vocation.
I know, checklists are boring. They may be the nerdiest way to increase your efficiency and reduce costly and time-consuming errors. A sexy robot would so much cooler, but a checklist is way easier to produce. Trust me. But before the how, let’s take a look at the why, which is dead simple: No matter how good you are at what you do, a checklist will improve your outcomes. Checklists serve to document essential processes. They ensure consistency and promote accountability. Even the act of creating checklists can be beneficial, leading to the improvement of policies and procedures and encouraging collaborative dialogue among team members.
I’ve been a hard-core list maker for a long time, but I’m a recent checklist maker. A while back I was browbeaten into creating a checklist for a complex business process. I thought a checklist was unnecessary. More to the point, I was pretty sure nobody in their right mind would want to use the 11-page end result. I had better uses for my time than creating a tool that could only expect to suffer the humiliation of being ignored, like the spork. But the checklist was effective. People appreciated having a roadmap to their final destination, and they actually liked using it. So I became a convert.
There is a trap I have fallen into more times in my career than I would like to admit. I tend to stay too focused on the technology because that is what I know and am passionate about. The thing is, there’s more to a successful digital startup than the technology. For illustration purposes, let’s say I come up with a great idea for a service that will really help me and possibly others: a social network for dogs called DogBook. As a technologist I can pretty easily map out the digital design and development processes that need to happen to launch the service. But in the case of a social network for dogs technology is not the real challenge—marketing is.
That’s right. Getting the attention of possible users in a cost-effective way is the real nut to crack. I hate to break it to you, but if you build it they still might not come. All good startups set out to solve a problem. But when deciding whether to chase an idea it’s important to determine if the core challenge is technology or marketing. For example, in the case of Google the biggest hurdle was technology: building a badass search engine. In the case of DogBook, the difference between success and failure is marketing: customers need to be aware that DogBook exists and is awesome.
Question: What do the majority of business owners hate doing the most? Answer: Bookkeeping. Easiest quiz ever. That time-consuming data entry you have to stay on top of to truly understand how your business is doing—or at the very least, to satisfy Uncle Sam—is a pain. Well, buckle up because we at Cloudmanic Labs are pumped to announce a sweet new Skyclerk feature that will drastically cut the hours you spend bookkeeping: Snap!Clerk.
It’s easy: using your mobile phone simply snap photos of your receipts on the go—and Snap!Clerk does the rest. Your receipts will be instantly uploaded to the Skyclerk servers, analyzed, and accurately entered into your ledger. Pay. Snap!Clerk. Done. How painless is that?
If you are the control freak type (many of us are) don’t worry—you can choose a certain label or two, add a note, or select a particular contact, and Snap!Clerk will fill in the rest. Snap!Clerk is accessible via mobile and web interfaces, and you can even upload receipts by email.
I have been working since age 12. An almost daily occurrence since my first day of work is that I screw up. I am human, just like most of you, and all humans make mistakes. What distinguishes good entrepreneurs, good employees, and good people is how we handle our screw-ups. Clearly, all screw-ups are not created equal. They can be as minor as showing up a few minutes late for a meeting or taking longer than necessary to respond to a customer—or as major as blowing a deadline or delivering the wrong product. But because screw-ups are about as inevitable as death and taxes, in business the most important thing is not what happened but what happens next. That is, owning up to the mistake and making it right.
All my professional life I have offered, as a matter of course, some kind of restitution when I screw up. As a consultant, if there is an issue with a deliverable I often lower my price or don’t bill at all. As a service provider, if I am not timely answering a support request I often credit the customer’s account with a few months of free service. It simply never occurred to me not to compensate a customer negatively impacted by a mistake I made. Only recently did it truly soak in that other professionals do not necessarily live by the same code. Over the past few months the employees of some companies I have been doing business with let me down by screwing up repeatedly. Oftentimes, when confronted, they owned up but offered nothing in return to make up for my losses. Not compensating for a significant mistake borders on dishonest.
For humans, a list is an exceedingly common way of organizing data. Typically a list is a collection of related items arranged vertically or horizontally, one item after another. Most databases store data in this very same manner.
A common first step when building a data-driven software application is to prototype data models in Microsoft Excel, a powerful tool for building and manipulating lists and managing raw data. The next step—product design—is the one that ultimately determines whether the software will live or die. And it’s here that Excel is causing great damage by modeling terrible design.
Many developers build data-driven applications that look and feel a lot like Excel. Although mimicking the table-based structure of Excel often seems like the most logical way to display data onscreen, this assumption is flawed because it discounts a very important factor in great software design: the emotional connection between users and the software.
Great software, regardless of how mundane the content is, should evoke an emotional response. Users should have an unexplainable, powerful attachment to the application. Take a look, for example, at the screenshots below. Which one do you feel more compelled to engage with?
I assert that the design of Option 2 is far more engaging. Each item is part of a conversation between people. The effect is personal and meaningful. In contrast, the underachieving design of Option 1 delivers a list and little more. The information slackly dissolves into mere bits on a screen, requiring the viewer to concentrate to make sense of it—sort of like one does with those Magic Eye stereogram images.
Just a month into 2014, we are in the age of instant. Communication is instant. Amazon is getting close to delivering products to our homes via drones. And in the not-too-distant future, homes will have 3D printers to instantly produce products. The waiting times for just about everything are decreasing daily with one big exception: money transfers. It drives me completely nuts that the fastest way to transfer money from an account at one bank to an account at another is to withdraw cash and physically carry it to the receiving bank. As a business person I have to do this almost weekly. Yes, transfers by wire and Automated Clearning House (ACH) are options, but wire transfers are expensive and time consuming to set up and ACH takes days, not hours. And the United States has been frustratingly slow to address the situation—other countries have had instant transfers for more than a decade.
Frankly, I have given up waiting. I need a banking system that is in real time. I need a way send and receive money instantly and globally. Bitcoin has been hyped as a speculative investment opportunity and a means of online money laundering, but the bigger story is the possible shift away from centralized, government-backed currencies to a global digital currency that allows for cheaper, faster, and easier movement of money around the world. To oversimplify, a bitcoin is nothing more than a unique serial number that is protected by the power of cryptography. When I make a purchase using bitcoin, I am transferring this unique serial number to the seller in exchange for a good or service—just like when I hand a dollar bill to someone, who accepts it as value. Bitcoin is essentially the dollar going paperless, but offering the same relative anonymity and freedom as cash.