First 30 Day Challenge Results

In the interest of accountability I’m going share my 30 Day challenge results. I must admit, it feels a little silly that doing something consistently for a mere 30 days should be a substantial accomplishment. Yet here I am at the end of it and the fact is that I only mostly succeeded.

I’d love to blame missing the target on all sorts of external factors but in the end I chose everything I did each day and if those choices didn’t include building in the time to do what I set out to do then do I really have anything outside of me to point to as the problem?

Final results then:

  • Achieved 87% of the target number of days
  • Achieved 150% of the total time-exercising goal

I should point out that if I did some other vigorous exercise, namely skiing, I accepted that as time. For alpine skiing I took a discount on the time and for cross country I took the full time.

So the big win is that I really wasn’t doing any regular exercise for the last few months. Setting the goal got me to exercise for more than 900 minutes,  about 15 hours, over the 30 days (its actually 150% of the time goal but I’m discounting a bit here and there).

Obviously I’m not breaking any records with this… but that’s not really the point.

The point is rebuilding good habits. So, to that end, I realize there are a few things I did not do well that I’m going to improve upon for the next challenge.

The #1 thing I think I could have done to have more success would be to do the exercise every single day at the exact same time in the exact same way, in the morning, before I did anything else. If I let the morning get too far away from me then the next thing I found was that life sought to sabotage my plans – kids, meals, appointments…

So, in the interest  of better results the next 30 day challenge, the substance of which is yet to be determined, needs to have specific patterns and a schedule associated with it. I’m pretty sure that’s what habits are…

And yet as I sit here dog tired on a Saturday, after having been woken by at least two children, 1 sick, no less than 3 times for the last 4 or 5 nights, I consider how this could justify that maybe I should just skip the workout I  have planned for today… Had I woken up and done it immediately of course there would be no debate.

30 Day Challenge: Ride Every Day

I don’t know about you but I practically go into hibernation in the winter. It seems like right around Thanksgiving I start drinking more beer, eating more cookies and generally doing a lot less for my body and health.

This year was particularly rough (in terms of ‘me’ focus) as we welcomed my newest son to the world in the beginning of December, shortly thereafter nursed our other kids through stomach bugs, had Christmas followed by unplanned house renovations, followed by the flu…

The point of this post is not however to gripe about my life, not in the least, the point of this post is that there are a lot of things that happen in life that will pull and push you in different directions and if you’re not looking at where you’re going then before too long it’s easy enough to find yourself somewhere else.

Discipline isn’t something that comes easy for me. From the outside you might look and say “well, but, you built a whole new business while running another one how is there not discipline there?”. The truth is that doing that didn’t requir

e much discipline at all. I was (and am) passionate about building something and I only on rare occasion thought of any of it as work.

Self-discipline is doing the things you don’t want to do because you know you should.

It’s the things that I don’t necessarily want to do or I’m not overly enthused about or the things where the pay-off isn’t immediate. Those are the things that are hard to do and do consistently.

I need exercise. I love riding my mountain bike. I don’t, however, love riding in the New England winters and a stationary bike isn’t exactly the same as single track with drops and features add to these de-motivators the inner seasonal clock though that tells me it’s time to drink beer until mid-March and it makes for a slow me in need of a change.

The 30 Day Challenge

If you’ve ever heard of Matt Cutts you’ve probably heard of his 30 Day Challenges. Each day for 30 days Matt tries to do something new.

Now I’m going to be the first to admit that riding indoors for me is not something new. It is however a suitable alternative to riding trails, in terms of building or maintaing fitness but it’s boring and that’s why it requires self-discipline.

So, in order to stay on track I’m using a few queues and rewards.

If you’ve read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg then you know that he talks about queues and rewards and how these are the building blocks of good and bad habits.

In the winter my queue is about 4 – 4:30 it’s almost dark, the dog wants to walk, I want to stop working, maybe I have a couple of Highlife’s in the fridge – take said dog and 2 beers and go for a walk, turn on Mixergy, or Startups for the Rest of Us, or the Lifestyle Business Podcast or whatever and walk for about 40 minutes.


How I’m Going to Make it Successful
What I’ve realized is that a big part of the reward that happens after that queue is the podcast listening. That might sound ridiculous but the fact is as a solopreneur with VAs and contractors and not a lot of humans to look at on a daily basis other than my lovely wife and children, it can be pretty isolating. So I’ve come to recognize that the podcast connection is really a huge part of my unhealthy routine. I crave hearing about other people’s efforts, success, and failures in business because it allows me to reflect more deeply on my own.

So the first thing I’m doing to ensure success is that I’ve setup a place where I can watch podcast or training or other interesting business/marketing/tech videos on my iPad.

Second, I use a super-sized post-it note to manage my weekly goals in business I’m doing the same thing with the riding. I’ve posted it big and clear as you can see in the attached image so that there’s no mistaking whether or not daddy is going what he said he was going to.  I blocked off 30 days starting on january 31st because February is a short month and each day I’ll write the amount of time I spent on the bike.

This is important and it really calls on a couple of forces.

  1. I’ve made my goal public, anyone who walks in my house can see it
  2. I’m using the Jerry Seinfeld “Don’t break the chain” productivity technique
  3. I’ve setup the “workout area” so that I have to pass by it to get to my office, there’s no ignoring it

Third, I’ve posted it right here so now the whole Interwebs knows.

Fourth, I’m keeping the necessary components (cycling shoes, socks, etc) right there where I don’t have to look for them

Sixth, I’m using a timer to ensure that I’m honest

Finally, before I go to bed I’m laying out my riding shorts

My aim is to post one of these per month and to report progress from the prior month. This year the challenges I’m considering include the guitar, writing daily, coding daily and we shall see what else.

If there’s something that you’ve been thinking you need to add to your life or that you’ve always wanted to do or that you simply know you have to do for your physical or mental health, try this.

How to Track Your Infusionsoft Leads On Your Site (Simply)

I’ve been using Infusionsoft for a while on one of my sites. I’ve been annoyed by a few quirks including duplicate contacts and the fact that it doesn’t seem to do a very good job of knowing who’s on your site.

If you are doing very much in email marketing (and I hope that you are) then chances are you’re driving subscribers back to your site for more engagement and, eventually, to buy. Right now unless you invest the time and money into iMember360 there aren’t any really good ways to provide a more frictionless experience for your visitors.

This little snippet of code will help.

When a returning visitor comes to my site I don’t want them to have to enter their info again and again. Infusionsoft will help you out with this if you append the contacts details to the end of the URL when you’re linking to your site.

The complication occurs when you have more than a single step in your process.

Let’s say for example that you want to drive users to a landing page that doesn’t have a form but instead has a button. When the contact land on your page with the button they’ll have the identifying parameters at the end of the URL but when they take action by clicking the button the contact details are left behind on the previous page.

You can use the following code to make sure that the details stay with the visitor which means that they have less to type and less overall ‘friction’ in the signup or purchase process.

Place this code in your footer above the closing body tag so that it’s on every page  (how you do this will depend on your theme or plugins):

<script type="text/javascript">
		jQuery(document).ready(function(){
		var query = window.location.search;
		if (query.slice(0,3) == "?Id"){      //Infusionsoft passes 'Id' first so we check
		jQuery('a.track[href*="?"]').each(function() {
			  this.href += '&' + query.substring(1);
			});
		jQuery('a.track:not(a.track[href*="?"])').each(function() {
			  this.href += query;
			});
		}
		});
</script>

The first part looks at whether or not the URL you’re linking to has parameters appended to it already. If it does then we trim the ‘?’ from the window.location and we append an ‘&’ to form the URL correctly. If the href does not have parameters then the window.location is appended in its entirety.

Now when you have a link that you want to track just add the ‘tack’ class to the URL like so:

<a class="track" href="yoursite.com/buy-now/">Buy Now»</a>

The visitor will carry their details with them through to the cart or form you want them to fill out.

In order for this to work you have to have enabled ‘Place the person’s details at the end of the URL’ when you set your link. Like so

Note that you can’t use the jQuery shortcut ‘$’ due to the fact that the WordPress has uses compatibility mode to reduce conflicts.

How to Make Your Customer’s Problem a Crisis For All | MediaTemple Review

MediaTemple Review
My MediaTemple Review

This week I had the most trying experience of my online career. I’d like to take some personal responsibility for it, and I will in a moment, but let me first say that MediaTemple is the worst host you could have the misfortune of dealing with and you should avoid them at all costs lest ye desire to suffer the same as me.

So, first, the story.

On Monday morning I got a notice from RSA on behalf of one of their european bank clients that I had some malicious script on my dedicated virtual server with Mediatemple. Shortly after that I got an email from Mediatemple saying the same.

I quickly opened up the plesk file manager and started looking for the offending files (the support request indicated particular directories). I found the files, deleted them, and then started checking file permissions for obvious problems.

Part of the way though the check my website suddenly said ‘Error establishing a connection to a database’… Ok, bad sign. I was also in the command line via ssh and I was kicked out of there as well.

I started a support ticket with Mediatemple and started an online chat to find out what was going on. I was concerned that command line change I made to the permissions of a folder might have caused this.

I’d like to point out that at this time Sandy was beginning to bear down on the East Coast.

I was informed by Rodel on Mediatemple’s instant chat that they were shutting down my server and I would not be allowed to access it again.

WTF!?

I asked why he couldn’t give me an answer really but informed, sadly, yes I would just have to fuck off. Bye.

Now here’s the part where I have some responsibility. I guess I should have had redundant backups outside of the dedicated virtual server I had with them. I guess Instead of using the snapshot backup that they provide for the whole server that I had just refreshed, I guess I should have had local files.  In fact there are a whole slew of things that I could have had in place  as contingencies but how could I ever know that they would simply shut my server off and tell me to beat it.

Back to Rodel and now enter Mike the ‘Abuse Engineer’ and their sorry jobs at this shitty company.

I called immediately waited a bit and then was able to speak with someone who informed me that I had violated their terms of service. I had uploaded malicious scripts to my server and I should go away. I spent the next 20 minutes pleading for the opportunity to simply get my files off their server. At first they told me ‘no’, I should have had backups that weren’t on this server. After another escalation and a lot of waiting and periodic power outages I was informed that they would allow me 24 hours access to the files that they would basically sequester in a separate directory.

This meant that I would not have the ability to do, for example a SQL dump or to access the databases in any normal way. I’m not going to get into resolution in this post, this post is about the abhorrent customer service of Mediatemple, the next post is about what to do when everything implodes and your hosting company is full of assholes.

As it turns out Mediatemple had actually sent me an email telling me that they believed I was guilty of abuse earlier that day so I could have had an opportunity to address this BUT the email was deep in my gmail SPAM and I never saw it.

So after 3 years with their overpriced inferior dedicated virtual server service, having never been late in payment, without any history of abuse in any way, despite the fact that I’m paying $135/month or whatever the hell it is. Despite the fact that the server was in my own name that they had my contact information and that I’m public and you can find me and I’m not some lurky Internet bad guy, they decide the best approach to the this relationship is to simply shut off my service.

Never mind the hundreds of paying customers I have. No don’t look at the site or the activity. Just shut me the fuck down.

Now that I’m at the tail end of the week I’ve had an opportunity to figure out how those scripts got onto my server.

I did it.

There are two possibilites. One is that I have something on my Macbook Air that is intercepting my uploads… meh? I doubt it. I deleted Filezilla just in case. The second is that I uploaded the script as part of the development process.

I’ve been experimenting with Jquery and helpers and libraries and I had uploaded a directory to a separate domain and IP form my primary site in order to test this particular plugin that had to be on a server because you can’t test cookies on your local machine.

So for the highly egregious act of uploading a jQuery plugin that I downloaded from a reputable site the bastards at Mediatemple thought the proper response would be to blow up my entire online existence without any real communication about it.

After 3 years did I get the benefit of the doubt? No.

Did they bother to look me up and see if I was legit and someone they could work with? No.

Did they offer to help me identify or lockdown whatever may have caused the problem? No.

No, instead what Mediatemple decided to do was to make what was a minor security threat into a massive business catastrophe for me and major inconvenience for hundreds of my customers and who knows how many visitors.

Not only is their service inferior to RackSpace and Amazon AWS and the like their customer relationship policies are horrendous.

In my next post (or two). I’m going to tell you about how we came back from the dead.

So where are the learning moments in this rant?

From a technical and procedural perspective I have a lot that I’ll share in the future.

From a customer service standpoint having now been victim to the worst customer service or support ever, I’ll say this. I know that in the future when I get alerts that customers are violating license terms or if something looks fishy I’m going to seek to communicate with the customer like a real person before I make any judgements that are going to impact their lives or service.

Second, I started feeling like MediaTemple sucked almost a year ago. I should have moved then. I should have listened to my intuition. Yes moving servers is a pain in the ass but its much less a pain in the ass when both servers are running, there’s no hurricane or power outage and there’s not some inadequately endowed ‘Abuse Engineer’ flexing his tiny little muscle against you.

So there are the lessons.

1) Treat your customers like real people, they fucking are.

2) If you’ve got a bad feeling about a company, you’re probably right.

Brecht @ SXSW 2012

Today I leave for my first ever SXSW and needless to say I am psyched. The schedule is unbelievable and despite my best efforts I find myself still quadruple booked for every half-hour of the day, obviously I’ll have to trim it. Here’s a link to my public SXSW schedule. More to come.

Mobile, Local, Digital Marketing for Small Businesses

screen shot moblr.meMoblr is a marketing platform for localized businesses. Restaurants, retail stores, and other small businesses that rely on local customers use Moblr to build and communicate with a list of loyal local customers.

Moblr is currently in private BETA. I created Moblr to take aim at the daily deal space. Independent business owners are getting creamed by the daily deal sites. Many of them fail to consider the full ramifications of the deals they’re offering to the public from these sites. The results from a daily deal (Groupon) campaign are often disappointing and more than occasionally disastrous.

The hypothesis for Moblr is this: Daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social can be horrible for businesses. The ‘value’ these sites bring are almost exclusively the email lists that they’ve built (and some good copywriting) and they only exist because the local proprietors have failed to build their own lists.

Local businesses fail to build their own lists because:

  1. The tools available on the market are too much, there are too many features, they’re too confusing for many small business owners who are not technical.
  2. It’s one thing to capture customer information online it’s another to capture company information in real life.
  3. The busy daily operations of most businesses don’t allow a manager or business owner to sit down and wade through complex marketing campaigns and strategies.
Moblr takes aim at these problems by offering a simple interface paired with solid in-store, print, outdoor and online lead/customer information capture tools. The system can be used from any device which means that business owners have the power to reach their audience at any time from anywhere.
Examples:
  • A school snow day is announced, at 11:00 AM as a pizza shop owner you send a message to your high school list and announce a special ‘snowed in’ pizza deal. Subscribers receive the message via text message or via mobile optimized email. Right target, right time, right offer.
  • You have a popular pub that suffers, like most, in the beginning of the week. You build a Monday night football list with in-store marketing during your busy nights. Monday at 4:30PM your customers are looking forward to the end of the day. You offer them a special reason to come in and your Monday night football marketing is a huge hit.
There are endless possibilites. The point is, if you haven’t guessed, to b very specific with your marketing. Sending a ‘snowed in special’ to adults working 9-5 isn’t going to do you any good and worse it’s going to make a lot of people angry when they’re receiving such useless messages, they’ll unsubscribe. The point is to have permission. Permission based marketing opens a whole new realm of marketing possibilites.
Moblr makes permission based marketing dead simple and lets localized business reach customers who want to be reached when they want to be reached.

About Building Moblr

Getting the Moblr BETA out the door quickly, with limited expense but built in such a way that the application could grow through customer discovery were the goals. We achieved these by leveraging some existing assets and not building everything from scratch.

The backend of Moblr, the desktop admin and mobile admin, are both built on ‘off the shelf’ templates.

Responsive Web Design

The front end of Moblr was built by me on a responsive css framework. That means that website recognizes what size browser you’re using and adjusts the view accordingly. Using a responsive web design allowed me to avoid using a subdomain and redirects to show a mobile formatted site. We do still redirect the admin logins to another directory but the front end of the website is fully responsive.

Technologies Used

Moblr Screen Shots

Distressedpro.com Bank Data and Contacts SAAS

distressedpro.com online software for bank data and contactsDistressedpro.com was my first foray into the software space. Prior to this project I worked almost exclusively on websites that were more, just, well… websites. Distressedpro.com was born from my own needs that arose from my work as a real estate auctioneer.

In 2006 I was in the real estate business and just starting to work with banks selling bank owned real estate or foreclosures as an auctioneer. In 2008 I got the idea to automate a lot of the very tedious research that was required to find the right banks and the right contacts with the right assets to sell.

At first I tested the business concept of selling this data with a  very simple PDF for sale and a single email. I broadcasted an email to a list of people in the business that I was affiliated with professionally and I listed the PDF bank list for sale for almost $200. To my amazement several people bought.

Over the coming months (2009) I developed the idea further and determined that I’d move towards a legitimate software product. The first version was not good… it required a quarterly manual upload of the bank data and had the simplest of Linkedin plugins as a source of contacts. Still, I sold it for $97 per month and I started having sales my first month.

Today BankProspector from distressedpro.com continues to thrive and grow every month. It’s currently in Version 2.1. BankProspector pulls quarterly bank data updates from the federal repository known as the FFIEC every night guaranteeing the freshest bank data available. The application also plugins into 2 powerful contact databases including Jigsaw.com and Linkedin. Members pay monthly or annual subscription rates. The site’s success is built entirely upon organic search and social sharing primarily on Linkedin.

After the most recent rebuild, and adding a money back guarantee, the site became reliably profitable and sustained by an automated sales and follow up process.

Technologies used for this project are:

No Technical Co-Founder Required

Technical Cofounder
Do you really need a technical co-founder?

Lately I’ve been attending more entrepreneurial or startup events in the Boston and Cambridge scene. It’s striking to me how many people are walking around with what they believe to be a good idea and they aren’t acting on it because they want a “technical cofounder”. It seems like it’s a topic that gets an inordinate amount of attention… every time.

I guess I don’t blame people for getting so stuck on it. They’re usually on the ‘business side’ of things and they desperately want to get something going, they think they have a great idea, AND they have no technical skills… and that’s fine. I also hear people say things like “well y-combinator won’t even take you if you’re solo”…. yawwwwnnnn… I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I got rich when I IPO’d and that the way I’m doing it is right, but I’ll tell you this you’re probably not getting into Y-combinator, and SO WHAT. Is that really your goal? Do you want a good story a bunch of VC and no control. What I want to know is –  Why do you want to build your idea, this piece of software (or ‘app’ or ‘site’)? What is the driving force? What is the reason that you feel you need to do this? Is it to ‘get funded’? Is it to IPO? Ugh, then you probably want to stop reading right here.

I built my first software product because I wanted a reliable, recurring income that paid at least my health insurance and ideally my base expenses (mortgage, cars, etc). Not a very sexy goal but it seemed totally attainable to me and I wanted it desperately. I wanted a business that was scalable, that had good margins, little overhead, and that was a product and NOT a service.

In real estate the money can be huge and then… nada. It’s a constant cycle of boom and bust and I was at the front end of a spectacular real estate implosion where no matter how hard I worked or how many deals I put up on the board nothing, nothing, nothing was closing… and I had a 3 month old and a 2 year old and a wife at home. Talk about uncomfortable. We’d have years when I made a lot more than most followed by a year where my gross was as much as I had paid in taxes the year prior. Holy shit that sucks. So I wanted needed a new business model. I landed on software, a subscription web application specifically.

I probably started thinking about what I wanted to offer (and not just that I wanted to make something) shortly before my son was born in the spring of 2009. I had kicked around with some WordPress websites or whatever for a couple of years before that but I wasn’t serious. In July of 2009 I got really really serious. Like do or die serious. I just had some major deal implosion which left me with nothing on the horizon in terms of income (did I mention the baby, the toddler, the wife and the mortgage?). I was on my way to a 3-day conference (not at all tech related) and I had just read the 4 Hour Work Week over vacation (I know it’s kind of cliche I guess but it’s the truth). I decided that I’d load the iPod with business podcasts for the long drive and just let the subconscious run and before I came home I would settle on an idea. That was the end of July 2009. I released my first software product (soft launch) in October of the same year. I made money  starting the first month and every month since. By the way I had almost zero technical skills when I launched and I had no technical cofounder.

I’m not going to tell you the first round was pretty, it was decidedly not pretty, but I still had people signing up at $97 per month and I was getting good feedback (by the way I’ve spent probably a grand total of maybe $500 on advertising in what’s now almost 2 years and income continues to grow).

Since releasing my first ‘alpha version’ (the nicest way I can think to refer to it) I released a rebuilt “Version 2.0” that is vastly superior to the first . In addition to these I have a new product in a totally unrelated space that I’m releasing very soon.

I’ve had friends ask me over the last year or so about how they’d go about developing their own products and now, as I’m moving around the startup scene, I’m seeing that there’s a real need for some basic info or at least a path. For now on this blog I’m going to focus on laying out everything I’ve learned as I’ve built these products and grown my business and that I’ve learned from the bumps and bruises of ‘solopreneurship’. My plan is to layout a working model of best practices for a non-technical person to get started with producing his or her own software, app, website, or pick-you-nomenclature. I’m going to focus on how to make a real product, not an affiliate website or an eBook or an Adsense site or whatever else, I know little to nothing about those topics except insofar as they relate to promoting a web app. I want to help you with getting your idea out the door and then maybe I’l talk about getting it found. If you want to learn about whether or not you should even pursue your idea, well that’s a whole topic and one that some other people know a whole lot more about than I.

How to Claim Your Content with Google+ Rel=Author

AuthorshipI was listening to a podcast today while I was touring New England checking out some upcoming auction properties and I heard about the the way Google is proposing we use authorship markup.

My understanding of what authorship markup is supposed to do today is give you credit for your web content and show your connections your profile photo in their search results next to your content.

If there aren’t already 100 other authorship algorithms at Google around the use of the authorship markup let’s go ahead and bet that there will be. It would seem like an obvious conclusion to say that it will:

  • Give focused content from prolific/credible authors more ‘authority
  • Promote results in search from people you’re connected with
  • What else? Tell me in the comments.

If you’re marketing anything at all (aren’t we all to one degree or another? Shouldn’t we be?) you should be producing good original content on the web. If you are producing good quality content it’s a no-brainer that you would do what the Big G tells you to do to get it found, right? So here’s the markup and how to use it. It’s pretty basic.

How to Claim Content Authorship ‘rel=author’ and Google

  1. Add the rel=”author” tag to a link that goes to your google profile
  2. If you don’t have control over the CMS and rel’s get scrubbed or whatever then you can append ?rel=author
  3. If you have a multi-author blog have each author’s bio link to their own google profile page with a rel=’me’
  4. Link from your Google Profile page to the site(s) where you publish

If you can automate the process by adding a link from an author bio template do that. If you have a single author site (as I do) you can add your link to the footer or somewhere else that makes sense, maybe put it by your social media icons. I added my rel=’author’ to my Author Box (you can see below). But wordpress scrubs rels in the profile (I found) so I appended the ?re=author to the end of the URL.

My next step is to figure out how to add a rel=author link to my photo. In the theme I’m using presently it’s a bit unwieldy. The idea is that eventually your photo will show up next to your content in the search results and that could mean more click-throughs.