Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Oh, I'm Out There Jerry ... and I'm Lovin' It!

Do you remember that commercial a few years ago (I think it was a Superbowl spot) where a group was huddled around a computer screen watching the hit counts go up as their website was launched? The hit counter went 1 ... 10 ... 500 ... 10,000 and they went from elation (we have customers!) to panic (can we handle the bandwidth?!?!) in a matter of seconds. We'll that's what I've been doing this morning—watchin' the numbers tick up (with no concern that I'll reach a panic state).

I published Debt Quencher 1.0 yesterday and posted it to Apple's download site first. That was a non-event, because it's not up there yet, but their e-mail did say I could repost it in 90 days if it doesn't show up (90 DAYS?!?! Wassup with dat? They do know the internet is designed for immediate information exchange, right?). I proceeded to post it next to MacUpdate and VersionTracker which both went live this morning.

At first I was shocked to see even a couple downloads on MacUpdate, then I nearly wet myself as I refreshed my VersionTracker page and saw the 7 switch to a 13 (I didn't even see the 7 downloads happen). I e-mailed my wife at work and she started watching the numbers climb as well. Oooo look, 15! Hey, it's up over 20 on that one! Wow, almost 60 downloads in three hours!

Now, none of this equates to money at this point, so it's the equivalent of watching your horse pulling up along the outside in a race that you have no bet—exciting even without the hope of a payoff. I'll probably be twice as giddy when the first purchase hits my account, even though it's gonna take an awful lot of $14.99 customers to pay the bills around here.

For now, I'm just enjoying being out there. Thanks to everyone who downloaded a copy and made my morning!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Be Careful What You Pray For

I'm a firm believer that God answers all prayers—many times the answer is just plain "no." There are times though when he says "yes" and your world changes in an instant. That's what just happened to me.

What better way to tell your boss that you'd like to leave your job than to start a public blog and sign your real name. Just make sure you're subtle about how you feel (Don't Hate Me Because I'm Your Job!) and only hint that you may want to do something new (The Smoking Gun). Naturally, I'm neither subtle nor smart about these kinds of things so when the owner of the company came in with a printout of my blog, why was I surprised?

So fast forward three weeks and here I am on my own and ready to change the world. Okay, maybe I need to scale that back a bit. Here I am on my own and ready to find a way to keep paying my bills! Yeah, that's reality. I'm banking on No Thirst Software to pay the bills. It's not a horrible bet, even thought the past month has been nothing but distractions, I have Debt Quencher nearly ready to ship and I'm working on a much larger application with about three months to pull it all together.

I'm just wondering if this is going to be a three months of "I'm waiting for OS X Leopard to ship" or "I have three months to live." Obviously the former will drag and seem like an eternity and the latter shoots by like a bullet train. What I need is the patent-pending Ronco Time Squeezer:
Are you still getting the most of your days the old-fashioned method: squeezing out extra minutes by hand? Why not try the new Ronco Time Squeezer? With the Ronco Time Squeezer, you can turn minutes into hours and hours into days! Hate that last minute rush trying to get that report done on time? No problem! Just a few twists of the Ronco Time Squeezer and you'll have plenty of time to finish and spend a relaxing afternoon in the hot tub! No more stressing over deadlines or lost productivity. The Ronco Time Squeezer can give you back control over your life.

Now how much would you pay for this peace of mind? $1,000? $1,000,000? How about just three easy payments of just $19.95 plus shipping and handling? But wait! There's more! Call in the next five minutes and get the equally amazing Ronco Time Compressor for just one additional payment of $19.95. Why agonize waiting weeks or months for the Apple iPhone announcement—a few cranks of the Ronco Time Compressor and POOF! you've got the worlds coolest phone! Can't wait for Vista to ship so Microsoft can stop pretending it's going to be an amazing success? Put Billy G. out of his misery and crank away a few months so we can all watch the Windows hit the fan.

Act today before this offer goes away!

Yeah, I don't have any handy Ronco products right now. I guess I'll have to just work my butt off and not waste time. How lame is that?

The upside is that I am where I wanted to be. Once again, I have the opportunity to create great software that is only limited by my imagination (oh crap) and my skills as a developer (double crap). I've been generously given a chance to take over the driver's seat and steer my own path to financial success. I know I'm going to win out of this deal. I'll either gain a ton of knowledge because of my efforts or find my way to abundance highway—who knows, I may even get both!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Big Dog Protection

I can't stand wasting development cycles on copy protection. For me it's like spending money on heavy duty locks and security systems for your house when you know that the professional criminals will simply knockout a pane of glass and be in and out before anyone responds to the alarm. Those TV commercial criminals that scram the instant The Clapper turns on the house lights are jokes—real crooks get the job done first.

My solution for home protection is a big dog called Magic. If she doesn't know you, you're not getting in the house. If she does know you, the worst you'll suffer is a case of severe slobber contamination (unless you properly pet her belly).

I wish I had the software equivalent of Magic. Not that I want my users to end up with drool on their hands, but I'd love to have simple, friendly protection in Debt Quencher. I know that any casual effort I put into protecting it will get broken by serious hackers and too much lock down will frustrate the honest buyers.

At my current job, I've fought against some of the extreme protection schemes that require users to have hardware dongles or to allow periodic "phone home" cycles. I keep losing the battle to refocus development time on cooler features instead of stronger window bars. For my own products, I'm determined to spend less time worrying about who is ripping me off. If someone can steal stuff and still sleep well at night, I'm not going to lose sleep thinking about them.

I'm also not stupid enough to think casual theft doesn't happen. I subscribe to the old proverb: "Trust God, but tie up your camels." Many of us would "forget" to pay for software unless encouraged to do so. I'm planning to limit features until the software is purchased as my encouragement. The protection will be non-invasive and nearly as friendly as Magic. Unlike my dog, I'll make sure the software doesn't leave warm gifts in the back yard or bark at rabbits in the front.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Smoking Gun

It's official. I've pulled the trigger on the Debt Quencher beta. Hear the crickets?

Of course it's a non-release at this point. I haven't announced it yet to anyone except my friends and family—and only the techies in that group understand what I'm talking about. The others just give me a passing, "Way to go Kev!" as if I scored a turkey in bowling. (Did that bowling comment just ruin my street cred?!?!) Uh, I really don't bowl much. Okay, I own my own ball and shoes, but it's not like I hang out at the lanes or anything.

But I digress; this post is about the beta.

I'm working on the press release (my first five versions sucked in various ways, shapes and forms) and hope to have that out by tomorrow so there is at least some chance for traffic to my site. The No Thirst Software site is getting better as I have time to primp it. I have some articles to post that will work with Debt Quencher and help people move towards a cash positive future. I want this to be a full-service company. I envision the No Thirst site being useful even if you don't purchase anything (but please purchase something!). I have high hopes that I will make a positive dent in the universe with this enterprise (and a positive dent in my cash flow as well so buy my stuff!).

During this beta period, Debt Quencher is free. I'll set the final price next month when I release it. Feel free to chat with me on the newly established beta test e-mail list. You can sign up for it on the Debt Quencher beta page.

And if you wouldn't mind... keep it quiet about the bowling equipment. Thanks.

Monday, July 24, 2006

"Did you release the software yet?"

You know how kids can be: You're on a trip and—just after you leave your neighborhood—the question, "Are we there yet?" rings out from the back seat. I've pretty much trained my family to not do that when we are on the road. I think the threat was, "Ask that one more time and you can walk the rest of the way to find out just how far we are from done!"

Well the new question from my urchins is, "Did you release the software yet?" Now I can't really complain about this one. I was supposed to start beta testing it three weeks ago, but life keeps getting in the way. Besides the full-time job and the three teens to manage, I have commitments at my church and random chaos issues. One of those issues had to do with my web development.

I was using a nice, simple tool to put up a nice, simple website. Unfortunately, I'm a bit of a control freak and the nice, simple tool was not letting me change certain things in either a nice or simple way. This caused me to research more annoying and complex ways to enhance the nice, simple tool so I could finish my nice, simple website. Long story short: the nice, simple tool is out and I'm back to using a big iron web publishing tool that lets me have full control.

Anyway, I have the site up and I'm nearly ready to pull the trigger on the beta. Introducing No Thirst Software.

The site is tiny and the content MIA, but I'll get back to that soon and start publishing articles I have wrote along with more details about Debt Quencher once the beta is in full swing. My goal is to have shipped the 1.0 product by mid-September. This should be very doable as long as I stay focused and on course.

So keep your seat belts on, quiet down and for heavens sake stop teasing your sister!!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Higher Purpose

My wife's a pretty smart lady: she certainly knows how to get me back on track with a few choice words.

All too often I exhaust myself with concerns about minutiae that don't matter. I can take a perfectly nice day and spin tiny incidents into major harbingers of pending disaster. I trip over a wrinkle in the carpeting and decide that the flawed flooring is a sign that buying this expensive house—that can't be sold for the mortgage owed—was a huge mistake and replacing the carpet is now impossible because I have zero excess cash flow and that is not going to change anytime soon, which means, I've failed to live a simple, virtuous life and now I'm a slave to material things that are ruining my quality of life instead of improving it, but I don't have any answers to get myself out of this so I'm doomed to eternal entrapment and suffering no matter how I try to wriggle free.

Yes, I am as nutty as a pecan tree in September. No, this really did not happen; but something pretty close to it did, and continues to happen on an all too often basis.

So how does Judy shift me back on the right course? Two simple words: higher purpose. It's not about what I've done wrong or my missed opportunities; and it's especially not about what I've done right. Regardless of my definition of "worthy," it's about continuing to move forward because what I do is meant for a higher purpose than I can know or understand. If that's true, then everything I do is designed to affect someone else. It's not about me (oh, poor me and my financial foul-ups) and it's not about how successful I am at delivering the next great software product. The software may not sell, the business may bust and I might fail financially, but someone may be saved from suffering because of my experiences. I just may never know if or when this happens. I have to keep getting back up and moving forward assuming that the higher purpose is being fulfilled.

So how's the company launch coming along? Actually, everything is pulling together rather nicely. I'm in the final stages of debugging my software, the feature set is complete, the company logo is done and so is most of the polish on the product. I just have to finish the web site and implement a purchase system for the software to complete the launch. You'd never know it by the way I'm behaving, but an objective observer would probably give me high marks for staying on schedule and focused. Captain Nuttree would tell you that everything is tearing apart at the seams, but why would anyone listen to a loon like him. Instead, just ask my wife, keeper of the Hoctor household sanity: She'll tell you that the higher purpose is being satisfied.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Know Anyone with a RALF?

I'm constantly amazed by people that have can have a conversation with me but hear something totally different from what I am saying. I can spot them pretty quickly now. All I have to do is start talking about a topic that concerns someone other than the person I'm talking to and SNAP! Immediately their face or voice changes.

After careful research, I've discovered how they do it. They each own a RALF (Reflective Audio Listening Filter). It's a device they have installed into their ears that reflects their own words and thoughts back them the instant it senses audio that doesn't match the content of the wearer's brain. It's an amazing technology that is packaged so small, you can't even see if someone is wearing one. Oh, but I can give you the indicators of a RALF user:
  • If a person asks you a question, but doesn't let you finish your answer; he's got a RALF
  • If a person goes glassy-eyed during your conversation until you mention her; she's got a RALF
  • If a person can always connect a tragic world event mentioned in a conversation to a not-so-tragic event in his life; he's got a RALF
  • If a person can't get through a conversation without talking about herself; she's got a RALF
RALFs can't be too expensive, I've run into dozens of people that own one. RALFs must be really easy to use too, because I know at least two people that can't work a TV remote, but have fully functional RALFs.

Sorry, you may not be able to have a RALF installed. It causes a severe allergic reaction in people that actually care more about others than themselves.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Your Job!

HATE. I don't like the word or the emotion. It dredges up ugly images and even uglier feelings in me. Because of this, I work hard not to hate anything or anyone.

I HATE my job.

Plain and simple. I am physically sick of doing what I do. It used to be fun when I first helped start this company. The view darkened when we grew to a point where my partners and I saw different paths for the future of our software shop. Then it was a little brighter when I spun off a to put some space between me and my partners, but that ended very badly with them firing me. I sold my stock back to them and washed my hands of the place.

Two years later, I came back because the business was in tough financial shape (and my stock payments in jeopardy). Apologies were shared and I was given the role of being in control of all the product development to help get the company on track again. It was weird working as an employee at a company I formerly owned, but I got over it. Now four years later, things have gone way downhill. I'm talking about swimming-in-raw-sewage-while-management-juggles-hand-grenades type downhill. It ain't pretty. I've tried to keep my rants down to a minimum, but that's like throwing up in your mouth and swallowing.

On the positive side, all this aggravation is keeping me focused on quickly being successful at my new start-up. It can't happen too soon. Every day I want to run down the hall into my former partner's office and do some Ballmer-esque chair throwing to get his attention while I shout, "This is no way to run a freakin' software company!!!" I'd probably add comments about removing heads from dark places and other hateful rants. It turns my stomach and I'm annoyed that I let it go this far. I shouldn't hate what I do, instead I should have made a move like this a year ago. Unfortunately that goes in the shoulda-woulda-coulda bucket and I don't have the history-changing ability of Marty McFly. I also can't quit just yet so I'll just have to avoid going postal until my alternate cash flow is somewhat robust.

The irony is that I'm the one always preaching to others that they need to be passionate about what they do. Don't settle for a paycheck. Don't work at a place that makes you want to rush home and down a bottle of vodka to balance out the day. Yet, here I am doing exactly what I've told my kids not to do.

Luckily I haven't gone off the deep end (totally). I still have a soft spot for this company. I want to see it do well and I even want my former partners to succeed. They would need to see exactly where they've gone wrong and have a clear vision of where this company needs to go. I don't hold much hope for that happening though. It's hard to visualize the future when your primary view is the inside of your colon.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Brick Walls Cause Serious Swelling

I have two nasty welts right now. Okay, so they're not physical manifestations, but I am in real pain.

Weekends are my productive periods. I don't always have contiguous hours during the week to invest in my new venture because I still have a real job. It's incredibly painful when I hit a wall that stops me from doing what I want to do. I had plans for this weekend. I was going to quickly finish implementing an enhanced save routine for my application (by end of evening on Friday), take my newly designed company logo and get a first version of my web site running (half a day on Saturday) and round out the weekend by adding at least one of the two remaining features in my program. By Monday morning I was going to have a nearly feature complete program and a website.

CRASH! My first wall was a bug in my code. I blew most of the weekend on it until I figured out what to ask of the gurus that hang out on Apple's cocoa-dev mailing list. Luckily these people are well-versed in helping Cocoa newbies like me and I had a solution posted for me within minutes.

SLAM!!! The second hit had to do with my company logo. I've outsourced the creation of this logo and spent a huge budget of $150 (huge is obviously a relative term) on it. The group I have doing it may end up giving me a wonderful logo, but my first two rounds with the process have not been as on target as I wanted. I get four revisions for my big bucks, so I'll reserve final judgment until I get to the end of the process. I'll give out the name of the website if they do a good job.

I know the logo is not critical for the success of the company, so I am trying to keep it in perspective. I'd just like to fit the look of my website around the look of the logo, which means, I didn't do anything on the website this weekend.

The good news is that I'm back to making progress on the program. I'm also a bit more confident about my understanding of the Cocoa Frameworks after (correctly) responding to a poster on the Apple list. It's good to give as well as take knowledge.

So after stepping back a few paces, I can see the walls are more like tall curbs and I've merely stubbed my ego a couple of times. I'll survive to continue to fight the good fight.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

False Evidence Appearing Real

FEAR. Nasty stuff happens when I let it into my head. I start going down a negative road littered with potholes the size of Hummers. As the calendar flips closer and closer to my planned launch date for my first software product, I get increasingly nervous that my release will be as successful as setting sail in a ship made of bowling balls.

There's no logic behind this thought process and certainly no evidence to support my fear, but I'm drowning in it anyway. I get buoyed up when I read about software success stories like Delicious Library but then immediately sink thinking my product is just not as sexy. That sends me to that bad place where passionate people get tangled in murky waters of seaweed and are never heard from again. It's not happening all the time, just during occasional moments of panic.

I'll try to explain the feeling. It's like that growing anxiety you feel when you're driving down the highway looking for a rest stop and you finally spot one. As you drive down the exit, the pain in your bladder jumps up a notch. Then as you are walking towards the bathroom you're thinking, "Boy I'm here just in time" only to be frozen in your tracks by the RESTROOM CLOSED FOR CLEANING sign. Now you're left frantically searching for a thicket of trees wishing you hadn't seen this rest area because the problem wasn't this urgent yet on the highway. It's the anticipation of the release that makes your body tense up.

The trick, for me, is to not think about the potential problems and instead keep focused on what is real. I can imagine all sorts of disastrous results, freak out and drop what I'm doing right now because I think I'm the Amazing Kreskin and know the future. Frankly, I don't know what will happen when I open my virtual doors for business. I do know that if I quit now, I will have failed. There's a famous quote from Wayne Gretsky where he says, "I make about 30 percent of the shots I take on goal, but I miss 100 percent of the shots I don't take."

Yes, I am trying to talk myself out of wetting my pants!

As I said, there's no good reason for my fear of failing. This can only be better than my current job (a middle management paper pusher). The worst thing that can happen is that not enough people buy my first product and I have to stay doing what I'm doing for a while longer until I build more marketable software. It's not that bad. It's only been the last couple of years that the pressure to get off this road has intensifying. It's not painful enough that I can't go a few more exits.

Except--I have spotted a rest stop and it looks pretty good to me. I'm all ready to go; and if denied, my fear is that I won't make it back on the highway.

The reality today is that I have created software in the past that people have loved. There's no reason why this story won't have a happy ending. Any worries or fears are based on an imaginary sign denying my success. I need to enjoy the ride and deal with what's real.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Location, Location, Location...

What's that old adage: The three most important factors for the success of your business are location, location, location. Since my business is computer software, my location is a platform or operating system. Picking a location is an important decision. I've picked Mac OS X as mine.

Yeah, I hear you shouting, "But Windows has the majority of the market share!" And that is true. I started writing software before personal computers were popular but just missed having to deal with punch cards. I learned to code on mainframes and minicomputers—some even using a popular OS for the day called UNIX. I got my feet wet with PCs when I was asked to write software on the TRS-80 Model I (affectionately known as the Trash 80) and the Apple ][. My favorite was a hot new platform called CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers). Then came PC-DOS and MS-DOS. I wrote software on whatever people owned.

My computing world changed when I first saw a Macintosh in January, 1984. The crisp square pixels on the screen and interactive graphics were different than anything else out there. It even made its precursor, the Lisa, look clunky. I bought one of the first ones out and have owned Macs ever since. Around the mid 80's I did some development on the Mac platform and even released a fairly popular—meaning dozens of copies delivered via bulletin board systems (BBS)—shareware application called Evolution (transformed plain text into columnar data—high tech for the time). Unfortunately, my work was mostly on DOS computers so to bring home the bacon I downgraded my development.

I've been writing Windows software for around 14 years and in that time I've become less and less a fan of Microsoft. Windows is a programming nightmare. It's a hodgepodge of technologies and no fun any more. I spend more time fighting quirks in Windows than I do creating features for my products. So, 25 years later I'm back to where I started: writing code for UNIX. This time though it has a clean, graphical interface and runs on a Macintosh.

The bottom line is: You have to love what you do. I love helping people by giving them tools to make their lives better and I love making those products on the Mac. Now if enough people love my products, I'll be able to get this business off the ground.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Enough Mistakes?

Have I made enough mistakes to put this company over the top? In other words: have I learned enough from my previous flops and semi-flops to do this one right? It's hard for me to live with my mistakes—I'm a recovered perfectionist. I replay my past gaffes in my head all the time. I know I should just learn from them and let them go, but this quiet little voice chants, "If only you hadn't done that." To appease that head whisper, I'm trying to avoid my most recent screw-ups: partners and priorities.

Partners—in general—aren't bad, because they can balance you out. By nature, entrepreneurs are optimists. We think we can alter the moon's orbit if that will help us launch a product. I've read that every entrepreneur should partner with a pessimist: preferably processing payroll and payables (do I get alliteration bonus points?). Too bad partners can also get on each other's last nerve and see totally different futures for the company. It can get (and has gotten) really nasty at times. The last four times, I've struggled with partner-related mistakes. So to paraphrase Mel Brooks (who spoofed a classic): Partners? I don't need no stinkin' partners!

My second biggest mistake in my last venture was my priorities: I built more infrastructure than I needed for the product I had created. I could have sworn I needed a dozen offices and a 200 SF data center to get my off the ground. Of course I had funding "just around the corner" so my priorities were perfectly in line, right? Stupid optimist! This time my overhead is low and my product is priority. I know I'll still make mistakes, but after doing this for 25 years, I'm motivated enough to recover from them quickly—and that's not just the optimist talking.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Entrepreneurial Seduction

I'm not a virgin: I'm engaged in my fifth seduction. I've been wined and dined by the alluring world of start-ups many times. At the tender (and relatively ignorant) age of 19, I fell for that old line, "Want to start a business together?" That ruined me. I couldn't remain faithful to any other business after that.

Sure there were years when I toyed with the idea of shacking up with Corporate America, but something was always lacking. It's like being chauffeured around in a Lincoln Town Car--yeah the ride is nice, but what's the point? You're tucked away in the back seat. Where's the exhilaration of flooring it on the freeway on-ramp to try to squeeze into that tiny opening in the fast lane? There's no ability to decide to detour around traffic, no visuals to veer from construction and no inspiration to take the road less traveled. It's a passive relationship that gets you from point A to point B. I need to experience the road first hand.

So here I am blogging (I am a blog virgin so be gentle with me) about my latest start-up experience. I’m building (another) software company, but this time it's sans partners. The process is very exciting, I hope reading about it will be somewhat so.