At Cloudmanic we have built 3 products that enhanced another company’s platform. Two of them are in the bitbucket and the third, Photomanic, is lightly maintained and we have no plans to expand the offering. The secret to so little success is to build with third party applications is that when you build on someone else’s platform you are not in charge—the platform provider is.
The Rise and Fall of Third Party APIs
I have been around the block a few times so I have seen the pattern I am about to describe again and again. A young, perky company tries to get noticed, bending over backwards to make developing on its platform easy and enticing to outside developers. Until one day the company grows up to the point that it can justify making changes ostensibly for the greater good. Said changes often include discontinuing parts of the company’s API, changing the terms of service, and new-found zeal for micromanaging the applications built on the company’s platform. As a developer you suddenly go from feeling like a partner contributing to a community to a flunky of the platform provider.
How My Love Affair With Evernote Came to an End
All 3 of the products Cloudmanic built on a third party platform were based on Evernote. Because good software applications take a lot of time to build, when we started developing the first product, Evermanic, we discussed our intentions with the Evernote team. We were assured that Evernote would help market the finished app and that we were building within the company’s terms of service. In other words, we were partners. And after months of work and tens of thousands of dollars in expenses, we were ready to take our partnership to the next level, to be part of the company’s app marketplace.
Are you marketing yourself and your business to the fullest? You probably have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and an Instagram feed. You’re LinkedIn and no stranger to Reddit, Flickr, Tumblr, and other spelling-challenged social networking services. You probably even have your own website. You've got it covered right? Not so fast: if you’re not podcasting, you might be missing out. Podcasting is more than the latest and greatest craze—the benefits are many and podcasts are easy and inexpensive to create.
Podcasting strengthens your connection with your audience over time by establishing your voice—both literally and metaphorically—as a familiar and anticipated beacon amidst all the noise. As you share your enthusiasm and expertise on your podcast topic, you can market your products and services to the very audience that might actually care—and successful podcasters attract advertising that generates income. Additionally, podcasting furthers your skills as a speaker and moderator, and interviewing others is a great way to network and produce content ideas.
Predicting the future in writing has never been my thing—that’s what talking heads in the media get paid to do. But today I am allowing myself to make a prediction about how Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus will be used in 2020. It will be fun—and 6 years from now we can look back and see if I was even close to right. I am prompted to make this prediction as I try to figure out when, where, and how I should use these services because today there seems to be a lot of overlap. Here goes...
Facebook—The same, more or less. Facebook will continue to be the place to connect with our friends. It will be the digital coffee shop where we gather, communicate, and share with people we know from the real (nondigital) world.
Twitter—The cocktail party for the masses. Twitter will be the place where people who might not know each other exchange ideas. A place for both celebrities and regular Joes. There will be less “look at what I ate today” and more real-time, meaningful dialog between strangers. Also, Twitter will be the place where news breaks (which will then be chronicled in depth on Google Plus).
I can think of at least 10 friends who have spent years counting the days (and hours, minutes, seconds) until retirement. Most of them are fixated on retirement because they hate their job and see no other way out. They are trapped in mediocrity. That way of life is not for me—time is the ultimate nonrenewable resource, and I believe that every moment spent in mediocrity is a waste.
For this reason I would be happy if my tombstone says He Did What He Wanted, When He Wanted, How He Wanted. Not because I am a selfish dick—I live my life this way to avoid falling into the trap of mediocrity. If anything—be it a job, a task, a friend, a surrounding—is unpleasant for very long I make a change. I have trained myself not to fear change because change is often the solution to (rather than the cause of) life’s problems. For example:
I stopped doing yardwork. I hated the endless cycle of cutting the grass only to have it grow back—yet I enjoy having a nice yard. So I decided to have my cake and eat it too by hiring someone else to do the yardwork. The operative word being “hire” meant that I had to free up funds by reviewing the family budget and making some cuts. It turns out I do not need collision insurance on my 1994 Jeep, and I discovered that we were overpaying $50 a month for cell phone usage. Bam! Problem solved.
I put an end to disruptive phone calls. Apparently Phil Libin was reading my mind when he said, “I don’t like it when people call me without a prearrangement via text or email. It’s extremely unlikely that I’ll be able to talk at exactly the time someone arbitrarily decides to call me, so it’s more efficient and more polite to send a text or email first." Hear, hear. About a year ago I changed my voicemail greeting, instructing would-be callers to email me. People have learned to respect this request and communicate on my terms.
The word entrepreneur has been bothering me lately (yes, I know, #firstworldproblems). I have spent almost half of my working life in the tech startup world and the other half in the main street small business world. The tech startup world defines entrepreneurs as individuals with a bright idea who raise money from investors and try to make it big. This type of entrepreneur typically gives up a job at a company like Google to run their own show. But are they really running their own show? I say they are merely trading their managers at Google for managers in the guise of investors and board members. The truth is, a tech startup entrepreneur is not his (or her) own boss. Though the potential payoff for succeeding is enormous, the risks are also great and the tech startup entrepreneur gives up many of the freedoms a main street small business entrepreneur enjoys.
When I was growing up my dad was a main street entrepreneur. He ran his own insurance company in addition to some side businesses. He was his own boss. He attended every one of my soccer games, never missed a parent-teacher conference, and was always there to say goodbye to me as I trucked off to school. And he took our family on several weeks’ worth of vacations every year. He was present, happy, and in control of his own life.
I am not at all suggesting that a main street entrepreneur does not work hard. My dad sure did—but he was in charge of when, how, and what he worked on. It’s not news that we all have days when we do not want to be at work. You might be tired from the night before or distracted by something else, but if you are not your own boss you probably have to just sit there and chug through the day. The main street entrepreneur does not. He can focus on that something else and take care of work when the time is right. He is not lazy—he simply has more options.
Almost daily I talk to someone who claims to be slammed. Swamped. Super busy. I hope these people are just exaggerating and not actually missing out on life. Because time is the one resource we can’t get more of, in recent years I have focused on making sure life does not pass me by because I am busy. And if I am busy, it better be worth it. Below are some strategies I use to avoid common time drains.
Mail in forms are a time drain. For me every paper bill represents 10 to 20 minutes of time. I need to get it from the mailbox, open it, review it, scan it, pay it, record the payment, and then dispose of it. For a business owner like me paper bills can add up to days of lost productivity each month.
Like most people I opt for paperless billing and automatic payments whenever possible. And that’s the catch: many companies do not yet offer those options. If digital billing and payment options are not available I often try to pay a year in advance to minimize bill paying to a yearly event.
You might laugh, but receiving a paper check in the mail causes me a great deal of anguish. As a business owner I receive paper checks several times a week. Presuming that each check takes about 30 minutes to process and deposit, which involves a trip to the bank, I lose a great deal of time and money per check.
I avoid receiving paper checks at all costs. I push for payment via direct deposit, which is more secure and faster for everyone involved. Even payment by credit card, which takes a 3% bite, is preferable to paper checks that can cost even more to cash. Going forward I am considering charging a fee for processing paper checks. I am also considering requiring payment in Bitcoin.
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.
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.
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.