Monday, October 6, 2014

✔ It's all about passion! - Passion 2: Solution [part 2]

Note: This is the 9th excerpt from my book "It's all about passion" which I wrote and shared as a gift to my readers and my Nozbe customers on my 35th birthday. You can get the entire digital ebook (PDF, Mobi or ePub) for free or buy from Amazon (all proceeds go to charity).

I will be publishing the entire book as a series of blog posts over the next weeks here every Friday, so you can read it bit by bit (I know you might be too busy to read an entire book at once). I'm also doing it to be able to "talk to you" about each chapter in the comments section below, so make sure to post your feedback, questions and your passion-related stories in the comments. Thank you for your passion!

"It's all about passion!" - The 7 types of passion I discovered over 7 years of running my productivity startup

It's all about passion - 9

Passion for a Solution

You don't have to bet everything

Many startup experts tell you to just quit your job and bet it all on your grand idea and you'll succeed. Most guys who tell you this have actually never made the leap. I'd tell you to do the contrary. Keep your day job and work on your idea on the side and see how it goes.

You'll have plenty of time to make the leap and take it full time. I started my Nozbe journey when I was married and we were already thinking about having our first child with my wife. And we already had a mortgage. I couldn't make the big leap as I had to pay the bills.

I'm not the only one here. 37signals, the now-famous web-app company was still doing the client work the first year they launched Basecamp - their flagship project management solution. Only after one full year they decided to "ditch the clients" and focus on their web-app. Bob Parsons, now CEO of GoDaddy - the world's most successful domain registrar, started his business of accounting software in the evenings and he failed to get traction his first three years. He persisted and after a few years sold his company to Intuit for millions of dollars.

Only after a year of running Nozbe I decided to take the leap and to work on Nozbe full-time. I hired my first programmer mid-2008 and now after all these years he's still with me and he's my CTO (Chief Technical Officer) and we are working together perfectly. I also hired my first customer-support person and now she runs my entire customer support department. We are like three musketeers.

Friday, September 26, 2014

✔ It's all about passion! - Passion 2: Solution [part 1]

Note: This is the 8th excerpt from my book "It's all about passion" which I wrote and shared as a gift to my readers and my Nozbe customers on my 35th birthday. You can get the entire digital ebook (PDF, Mobi or ePub) for free or buy from Amazon (all proceeds go to charity).

I will be publishing the entire book as a series of blog posts over the next weeks here every Friday, so you can read it bit by bit (I know you might be too busy to read an entire book at once). I'm also doing it to be able to "talk to you" about each chapter in the comments section below, so make sure to post your feedback, questions and your passion-related stories in the comments. Thank you for your passion!

"It's all about passion!" - The 7 types of passion I discovered over 7 years of running my productivity startup

It's all about passion - 8

Passion for a Solution

"Visionary people face the same problems everyone else faces; but rather than get paralyzed by their problems, visionaries immediately commit themselves to finding a solution." - Bill Hybels

Just do it. Solve it.

This is the key component to the success of a startup. After all, the startup in theory should be solving some real-life problems and making people's lives all around the world easier.

That's why it's so important to understand your startup's mission as way to solve a particular problem the best way possible. To make sure you're really doing it right, you need to be truly passionate about solving this problem.

Scratch your own itch

The best way to find a problem to solve is to actually look at the stuff that's bothering you and see if you can make it better. Just see if you can scratch what's itching you the most. Usually that's the best start. If you're genuinely interested in solving the particular problem, chances are you'll have more passion and drive to pursue a solution and maybe even build a startup business around it.

Just see what's really bothering you and do some research for available solutions out there. See what works and what doesn't and what is really popular. Chances are you will be thinking: "I know I can do better than that!". If that's the case, go for it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

✔ It's all about passion! - Introduction [part 2]

Note: This is another excerpt from my book "It's all about passion" which I wrote and shared as a gift to my readers and my Nozbe customers on my 35th birthday. You can get the entire digital ebook (PDF, Mobi or ePub) for free or buy from Amazon (all proceeds go to charity).

I will be publishing the entire book as a series of blog posts over the next weeks here every Friday, so you can read it bit by bit (I know you might be too busy to read an entire book at once). I'm also doing it to be able to "talk to you" about each chapter in the comments section below, so make sure to post your feedback, questions and your passion-related stories in the comments. Thank you for your passion!

"It's all about passion!" - The 7 types of passion I discovered over 7 years of running my productivity startup

Introduction - continued...

"Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you." - Oprah Winfrey

It's all about passion - intro 2

My first .COM

I got us the cheapest web hosting account I could find, my very own .COM domain and started coding away. We used old-school FTP to transfer files, chatted over ICQ, sent emails back and forth — the online collaboration was at full speed and we were making our new project a reality. When I wasn’t in my dorm room, we’d send text messages on our mobile phones. Just think about it, it was the first time I got myself my very own mobile phone! Yes, I was amazed how much Victor and I could get done although we weren’t physically in the same place or working at the same time.

We also chatted with our friend, Simon, who was already a successful Internet entrepreneur at that time. We got lots of inspiration from him and were blown away by his small Poland-based company making it big in the USA. We wanted to be like him. He is still my mentor to this day.

It was on the eve of dot-com boom when we launched our product — a small, social email reminder service. We started to charge $5 a month for it. Got a few first customers… and then we discovered such reminder services are offered free from most of the major Internet portals. We didn’t manage to get many more customers. Our product was great but not many people wanted to pay for it. Bummer.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Real praise, long haul and delivering customer happiness

Last Friday was a "Black Friday" and I wasn't sure whether to prepare a special Black Friday offer for my Nozbe customers or not... but finally gave in and sent out a Newsletter with a special. The response literally blew me away. I couldn't sleep...

Image

We are in a transition period

Transition periods are very tricky. We are in one with Nozbe where we are on the verge of launching our very own, new iPhone, iPad and Android apps... as well as a new Web app and these are all significant milestones. On most of these we've been working over a year now... we've poured our hearts and souls into these.

However, I totally understand if customers do not feel the way we do. They can go different directions... some will go away, tired of waiting for what we are going to offer next. Others will not upgrade, waiting for our next move, and others will support us all the way as they still get lots of value of our product even though some parts of it are "in transition".

The latter is what I wanted to know and by sending the special offer I got to feel very "special" this past weekend. And it's the best feeling ever.

Praise and awards are nothing in comparison to your customers rewarding your work with their hard-earned cash

Many Internet companies are focused on "startup competitions" and other forms of competing for awards and praise by "industry experts and investors". In our case, our investors are our customers and we trust their judgement.

Recently, because of the transition period and many issues that surfaced due to us preparing major product overhaul, we were receiving less orders than we used to and not as many positive emails as we used to. The emails we got were no longer a "testimonial material" but more of a "book of complaints" material. And I misinterpreted these signals.

Here are some things I learned these past few months and the past weekend:

1. When customers complain, it means they care

This is the first lesson we learned - when the customers take their time to let you know why they hate what just happened in the app they're using, it means they care. They really want this relationship to work. Thank them and get to work even more!

2. When customers still pay you, especially for a year up front, it means they care a lot

After sending the Newsletter with the "Black Friday" deal I realized there are many more folks out there who'd happily pay for another year of using Nozbe and they really care about us. They're investing one more year of their time (and money) to be with us and use our service. They know we're working hard on making this the best productivity app out there. And they vote with their cash. This was great. But there was more...

3. When customers who have plans valid through 2013 pay for an additional year on top of that, it means they love what you're doing

When I started analyzing the new sales I realized in many cases customers paid for an additional year on top of their subscription! Some customers have plans valid through 2014 and beyond now! This is the best vote of confidence I could have asked for myself and my company. It means people are with us in this for a long haul and they are really getting some serious things done using our applications. And it's way better than any "slapping on the back" or another kind of praise. This was the best compliment I could dream of.

Ask for the money and you'll know what people are really saying

This is why my gurus, the 37signals are so right. People may not say what they mean. They can write you the nicest-looking testimonial in the world but these are just words. This weekend my customers complimented me and my team with the best they had - with their money, saying: "Michael, we get what you're doing and and we're with you in this for the long haul"

If you're a small business trying to ask the potential customers what they think about the thing you're doing. When they say they love it, don't be afraid to ask for the money. They will tell you what the person really means.

If you're one of my customers using Nozbe you have no idea how big of a compliment you've given me and my team this weekend. I'm so thankful for having you on board!

Now it's time to roll out these great apps we're finishing (completely new iPhone, iPad, Android and web apps!) and reward you guys for your vote of confidence. We will not let you down!

Question: How do you measure your success? Aren't you afraid to ask for money? Why? How do you do it?

P.S. If you want to take advantage of our special offer, use the coupon code BLACKFRIDAY and you'll get a 15% discount over the already-discounted yearly payment plan of either Personal, Family or Team accounts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How to handle a crisis situation in a startup?

Let's not talk about the iPad this time :-) Two weeks ago our DNS provider company was attacked (DDoS). Many web sites (including ours) were affected and some were left unreachable for the whole duration of the attack (almost two days!). Fortunately we quickly managed to migrate our Nozbe DNS thus seeing only a minor impact on our sites but nonetheless, it was a big deal.

This post is inspired by the way Zerigo failed to handle the crisis, but I'm NOT writing this to criticize this particular company. I'm writing this to give us all here a blueprint of how to handle a problem like this. What to do when a service you're offering to your customers (and for which they're paying you lots of money!) is not available to them?! Well, here are my conclusions:

Image

Crisis can happen to anyone. It did happen to us few times.

At Nozbe we've got an amazing infrastructure yet problems did happen in the past (once, when I was on an intercontinental flight to Japan). Sometimes these issues are your fault, sometimes they seem beyond your control. So what to do first?

1. Someone must be dedicated only to communication with customers

When a crisis comes, the whole company wants to instinctively fix the issue but there should be at least one person dedicated to only handling the external communication channels with the customers. They should not do anything else. Let the support team handle the emails, programmers and sysadmins handle the problem... and this one person has to keep doing this:

The company, normally semi-transparent - must change to "fully transparent" in this moment. The "crisis manager" should be asking the rest of the team for ANY updates and post these directly to customers. They should reassure the anxious customers that their data is intact and that the company is working on a fix like crazy. It's all about trust at this point - and if the customers don't see updates from you, they stop trusting you.

Note: Zerigo did some of that, but they were posting updates every 4-5 hours... which is totally unacceptable when their customers' web sites depend on their fix. When we found out that they were not responsive and the crisis looked more serious, we quickly switched DNS servers in Nozbe even though some of their DNS servers were working and generally our users could access our services. They lost our trust at this point.

2. Send customers an email halfway through

Just send them an email explaining what's happening. Let them know you're handling this, you're in control. We're using an external email provider (GetResponse)and since we're kindly convincing our customers to sign up for our Newsletter - we can send them an email anytime as we're not using our infrastructure for that. So there is an email channel we can always use.

Don't send the email too soon, just in time you've got some new updates and are more-less in control of the crisis. Very few customers (relatively) track us on the social media so sending an email makes sure we can reach these who simply have no idea what's happening and haven't checked the updates on Twitter or Facebook or the status blog.

Note: We didn't get any email from Zerigo. Not until two days later when the situation was resolved. Too late in my opinion. Again, that's why it's important to have someone on the team as the "crisis manager" so that they can actually compose an email like this.

3. Find a solution "for now" - a backup plan

When you see the crisis gets bad, find out if you can offer a "hack" or some other "intermediate" solution to the problem. I know it's easier said than done, but prepare for that. In Nozbe we have our data geo-redundant so actually even if our whole datacenter would burn now, we'd be able to build "another" Nozbe in a different data center in less than an hour with all the customer's data intact. Yep, it's doable (we have our triple-backup system and that's why our customers trust us). If you can't do that (you really can't?) find some other solution - so that at least your users can access some of their data... enable them to do something... anything.

Note: Zerigo didn't have any backup plan - any backup DNS servers/infrastructure the customers could rely on. I'm not an expert in DNS (that's why I thought I was using experts). When they announced their servers would be unblocked in 12 (or more!) hours, it was devastating. Their competitors were offering a backup plan to Zerigo customers... I wouldn't want my competitors offering backup plans to my customers...

After the crisis: Figure out how to apologize and make it up to the customers

The crisis is gone, your service is up to speed. How to handle the situation now? What to do with all these affected customers? Again, contact them, send them another email, post a blog post, explain, find a solution for the future and find a way to make it up for the problem your customers were having - give a bonus month of service, maybe an additional feature, a free upgrade... anything that would entice your users to stay with you or at least come back to you after the dust has settled. I'd say a bonus, upgrade or additional feature would be better than just crediting your customers back for the "downtime". What's a few bucks if your web site that potentially brings hundreds if not thousands of dollars in revenue every day was down for a few days?

Note: Zerigo did send me an email (more on that later), they did post a blog post explaining what happened and how they're going to make sure this won't happen again. And I think they credited me a few bucks back for the "downtime" - yet it feels like a slap in the face instead of a reward.

When Emailing, be polite, apologetic and talk in the first person - be a friend who failed but wants a second chance

This is the email I got from Zerigo:

Sent from: noreply@zerigo.com
Subject: Zerigo DNS outage explanation

Dear Zerigo Managed DNS Subscriber,

On July 22nd at 8:30 PM PDT our global network of Zerigo nameservers became the target of a large-scale DDoS attack, saturating bandwidth in multiple data centers. This impacted availability of four of our six global nameservers as well as our management portal. We immediately applied our DDoS mitigation measures, and worked continuously with our carriers to restore service availability. Service was fully restored for all global nameservers, except Dallas and UK, at 12:50 PM PDT on July 23. Our Dallas and UK nameservers were brought back online at 8:00 PM PDT on July 23.

These kinds of malicious attacks are not new, however they are becoming more sophisticated. While no amount of protective measures are guaranteed to be 100% sufficient, we are implementing additional safeguards to protect the service from future attacks of this magnitude.

We sincerely apologize for the issues caused by this attack.

Sincerely,

The Zerigo Support Team
support@zerigo.com
+1-720-210-5439

It's not bad, but let me point out some problems I have with this email:

  • It's sent from "noreply" email address. It gives an image like they really don't want my reply... and yet it's me who is their customer (to their credit, they give email address and phone number at the end of email). If you can, swallow the "out of office emails" and don't send an email from a "noreply" address.
  • I'm not a subscriber. I'm your customer. Don't call me something I'm not.
  • Thanks for explaining what was wrong, but why in a mambo-jambo language so that I don't figure out you were out for two full days? I know you were. I suffered it. There's no reason to hide it.
  • Give more details on what's going to be done to prevent this in the future. What kind of measures? Show that you care.
  • Email sounds like "blaming on the other guys" - it's "their" fault. Always take the blame. Always.
  • How will you make it up for me? By saying you "sincerely apologize"? Not good enough.
  • Who is this "Zerigo Support Team" fella? I don't know this guy. Use real names, sign with your name, preferably the CEO or founder's name. Make it personal, show you care.

Here's my blueprint for handling a crisis. What's yours? What would you have done better or different?

Again, this post was not a way to trash talk Zerigo. I'm still their customer and we just moved our DNS servers back to them - I gave them a second chance anyway as they had a great service before the outage so I'm counting on the fact they learned their lesson. As I was watching how (pretty poorly) they handled this crisis I decided to write this post to make sure that when a crisis comes to hit my company, we have a blueprint and a checklist in place. Hope this post helps you and your company as well. And let's hope are not having any crisis anytime soon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bootstrapped - My European Pirate Summit Talk

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in the European Pirate Summit in Cologne Germany and the event was a blast. I gave a talk on Bootstrapping and here I'd like to post this talk's summary. The images I used are copyrighted by the owners of The Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise and hope they'll forgive me for using them - it's for educational purposes only. They were perfect for explaining my pirate, startup life.

Pirate-summit

Fights & Scars in the life of a Bootstrapped Pirate

As I started my journey of bootstrapping with my Nozbe startup, I learned a lot of lessons and fought many fights and I keep doing it. This is the life of a pirate with self-funding, self-investing, never-ending with problems vessel... and a life I wouldn't change for anything else.

Here are the 8 principles that drive me every day and make my pirate bootstrapped life a great one:

1. It's all about passion!

Pirate-summit

If you're not passionate about your business, industry, product, people... but you're in for the money - forget it. Pirates are in for the thrill of seeking and finding the treasure, not for the treasure itself. After finding one they'll search for another. It's passion that drives a pirate.

2. Your Vessel will not be pretty...

Pirate-summit

In the beginning a pirate doesn't have the best vessel in the world. He dreams about it but starts with something small that will help him find the treasure. When I launched Nozbe it was designed by me... and it wasn't pretty, but it was good enough and convinced users to buy a subscription and use it daily and launched my pirate journey. That's why start with a minimum viable product and go from there.... just start!

3. Follow your gut

Pirate-summit

The treasure is more powerful than any map or compass. Sometimes you just feel it and you don't need a map. Just go with your gut. When I built a mobile version of Nozbe (iNozbe) optimized for the first iPhone, I didn't have the iPhone to test it. I just built it and let my users test it on their iPhones. I was kinda-blind but it didn't stop me from doing it anyway!

4. Start "on the side"

Pirate-summit

Even Will Turner didn't start as a full-time pirate before he knew he had to commit. I started Nozbe as a side project and ran with it for an entire year before I decided to focus on it full time. By then I had enough revenue in order not to starve and hire my first developer (now he's my CTO). Build a product, run it on the side and when it starts to take off, dive deep!

5. Compete for treasure

Pirate-summit

Your focus is the treasure, not other pirates. Jack Sparrow doesn't care about other pirates, he runs for it. Do the same. Ignore your competition and focus on your expertise, vision and gut feeling. Go for it like a real pirate and don't obsess about others doing a similar thing as long as you know what you're doing.

6. Keep conquering

Pirate-summit

Don't settle for status quo and for winning your first treasure. You will see there are more treasures up for grabs. There's just more work. After almost 5 years Nozbe is by no means complete. There are so many improvements we want to introduce that we just need to work harder. We are about to launch Nozbe Desktop client (native app) and it's a big deal for us. New design, better UI, can't wait... we keep on conquering.

7. Maps won't confuse you

Pirate-summit

Things happen, maps break or get lost. And sometimes a language pops up that you don't understand. But move on and fight it. When Nozbe started being popular in Japan, I didn't know what to do. Now we have a Japanese operation, customer support and even a book about Nozbe (our first ever worldwide). It was a blessing that we got so successful there. Even though at the beginning it was confusing.

8. Guidelines, not rules.

Pirate-summit

My favorite scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: The course of the Black Pearl is between Captain Barbossa and Ms Elizabeth Swan when he explains that the famous "Pirate Code" is not an actual law, it's just a set of guidelines. That's what your journey is. Each piece of advice from a VC, mentor, Techcrunch post, or wherever is just a guideline, not the actual law. It can work for you but might not. The popular wisdom is just that, and nothing else. They told me I couldn't make it from Poland to have a global impact, I did. They said I needed a co-founder, I don't have one, I treat all of my employees (all 8 of them) as co-founders.... etc.

Anyway, this was my pirate journey and my small piece of pirate advice. Arrrrrrrr!

Related: I encourage you to watch this great video Mike Butcher of Techcrunch did on the Pirate Summit, an interview with yours truly starts at ~ 4:30 min.

What kind of pirate advice would you offer fellow startup/business founders?
I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Friday, May 6, 2011

My visit to 37signals Masterclass in Chicago

Earlier this week I posted my video interview with Jason Fried, founder of 37signals. It generated lots of interest and people kept asking me "how it was to meet Jason and the rest of 37signals crew" so I decided to write this. 37signals have inspired me to start my own web app Nozbe, they run a very popular blog and have some really cool business web apps. Let's start from the beginning:
37signals-masterclass
Beginning - how 37signals inspired me to start Nozbe

I heard about 37signals in 2006 for the first time when I stumbled upon their just-launched Backpack web app. I loved it and was a paying customer. The app was great and very versatile but the to-do part was just too simple. It was perfect for what Backpack was, but it wasn't good enough for my own GTD (Getting Things Done) system. I was building my own GTD system at the time just for myself and I drew lots of inspiration from Backpack - where I focused mostly on to-do section... and that later became Nozbe which launched in early 2007.

Don't get me wrong. I still think Backpack is a great product for what it is and I didn't want to compete with that. I was just inspired by Backpack's simplicity and AJAX techniques (Prototype.js created by Sam Stephenson) and decided to build a different, more focused niche web app for GTD afficionados like me. 37signals guys were very supportive for wannabe-startup owners like me and they were explaining their magic and JS techniques on their blog. I drew most of the inspiration from them.

Fast forward five years and I'm running Nozbe four years and it's been very successful. I love running it and I'm building a great team around it. 37signals is the coolest web app company there is and I still read their blog and get lots of inspiration from them.

November 2010 - 37signals Masterclass

Last October David and Jason of 37signals announced they'd be doing a "37signals Masterclass - How we work" in their new offices with only 37 seats available for $1000 USD. Given the fees for recent tech conferences (around $2000+ each) I thought it was a no-brainer and an easy excuse to fly to Chicago and meet the guys.

Important to notice: I'm a typical fan - I've been reading their blog for ages now, bought their Getting Real bookRework book (audio and hardcover), saw all their conference speeches (which were posted online), listened to their podcast... the whole nine yards. I thought I knew all about them so I didn't expect to learn a lot new things in the Masterclass. I wanted to pay homage to my gurus and personally say "thank you" to David and Jason for inspiring me to start Nozbe and for the great lifestyle I now have running it.

As it turned out I was the only participant who came from outside of the US to the Masterclass (and I flew all the way from Europe).

When the Masterclass started and Jason explained what they'd talk about, I was reassured I'd heard all that before. They wanted to talk about their Smileys project, Ryan Singer would talk about designing with forces and they'd analyze some ideas participants have submitted.

Well, I didn't expect it to be that good. Boy was I for a treat.

It turns out, it's different when you're with the guys... following their thought process in real time.

Yes, I've read about the Smileys on their blog and heard Ryan talk about forces... but it was different when they started digging deeper and explaining their thought process behind their decisions. I started to understand their rationale and decision-making a lot better. I started "feeling" them better. This is a big difference. You don't get it when you read a blog post or watch a YouTube video.

After the first half of the day I was blown away. We had a lunch and I had a nice chat with David and later with Jason. It was so cool to get them to know in person.

The second half and the part when they started analyzing the projects we submitted was even better. Now their thought process was even clearer than ever. Ryan was photo-shopping in real time and doing mockups based on audience's designs and we could understand 37signals a lot better. Invaluable.

When Masterclass ended we were given copies of Rework and guys gladly signed these for us:

Rework

Extra bonus - my 2nd visit to 37signals

After the Masterclass I had another great chat with David and Ryan and asked Jason when I can come to do an interview with him for the Productive Magazine (he already agreed in our email exchange before) - it was Friday and the guys were exhausted after the Masterclass so we decided to meet on Tuesday.

On Tuesday I met with Jason and we did the interview and enjoyed it immensely (I think you can tell from the video), later I had a great chat with my Javascript guru - Sam Stephenson and thanked him personally for "teaching me Javascript" through his Prototype.js framework. And as my last bonus I managed to convince Ryan to help me with some UX decision in my new startup idea. As it turned out I had one of the best web-app consulting/mentoring sessions in my life. Thanks Ryan!

I left Chicago empowered and inspired beyond belief

Don't get me wrong - it wasn't cheap to travel to Chicago, pay for the Masterclass fee and hotel (and my new Macbook Air - ok, this one wasn't mandatory :-) but it was so worth it. A lot more than any tech conference (which don't come cheap these days). I learned a lot from 37signals guys and when they do offer another Masterclass this year and you're in the startup game, don't even blink and secure your seat. Reading about 37signals on their blog doesn't compare to actually being with them and following their thought process. It is a real deal and is worth a lot more than their asking price :-)

Again, I'd like to thank Jason, David, Ryan, Sam and the rest of 37signals crew for this opportunity.

I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lucky number 7 for Magazine and Nozbe

Today is a great day for me personally and marks several milestones in my career. And this day has lots of "seven" in it. It's February 17 and we've just launched issue #7 of Productive Magazine and Nozbe now officially supports 7 languages... read on:
Skitched-20110217-215148
Productive Magazine hits issue number #7

This issue is important for several reasons:
  • I've interviewed Michael Hyatt - my role model, a person I've followed for a long long time and finally got to meet last November (we had a great lunch together in Nashville, Tennessee)
  • It's the first issue this year and looks like we'll make it a bi-monthly release cycle this year
  • We've got a great team behind me with Delfina, Lori and Piotr who help me make the magazine happen
  • We've got great contributors including Leo Babauta, Pat Brans, Chris Edgar, Mike Vardy, Michael Hyatt, Laura Stack and others... so the content will remain top-notch for the next 5 issues this year for sure :-)
  • Just stroke a deal with good guys from Macoscope who will help me provide the iPad version for free for your this year...

As you can see, the magazine is doing great and we've got a lot going on for you this year. We'll help you make 2011 the most productive ever!

Nozbe now supports 7 languages bringing productivity in native languages to millions

For the first four years of running Nozbe it was only in English... and now we also support Japanese, Spanish, Dutch, Polish, German and French. Moreover, we have dedicated support staff for all of these languages so if you're Japanese, you can browse our Japanese web site, sign up to Nozbe in Japanese (and you'll be able to pay in Yen soon) and if you have a question, write to us in Japanese and we'll respond to you right away in your language. It's awesome.

For a person who's born in Poland, has lived in four different countries in Europe until now and speaks fluently four languages this is a big deal. I wanted to make Nozbe more international and the dream is coming a reality.

I'm not superstitious but I like number 7 today

Yes, both milestones come in number 7 today and I like it. I'm very passionate about these two projects and they both define my work and daily activities. Thanks to Nozbe and Productive Magazine I happen to connect with great people all around the world and get to grow both personally and professionally. Yes, I really like number 7 today.

Did you download the magazine #7 today?

I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Your New Affiliate Partner is Apple thanks to Subscriptions

On Tuesday Apple announced a new revenue stream for them in their iOS Appstore called "Subscriptions". It basically means that if you're a web developer and charge the users a monthly fee, all new customers that come to you via your iOS app available in the Appstore, cannot be redirected to your site to purchase your subscription but need to buy it right there "in-App" and Apple gets 30% cut from this every single month.

First reactions of tech industry were quite harsh on Apple but some later realized that it's OK for Apple to take the cut... while others disagree. It's complicated... but the point is - Appstore is just one of the many revenue channels and it should be treated like this. It's like Apple becomes your affiliate partner.
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Why do you need an iOS app anyway? Ah, right... because you want new customers!

Let's start off by asking yourself this question - why a developer needs an iOS app? It is for two reasons - because they want to serve their customers with a great native iOS experience or because they want to tap on the great market Appstore has to offer them to get new customers for their business.

1. Because you want a great iOS experience for your users

Apple is not stopping you here. You can still offer a great iPhone or iPad app and ask the user to log in and when they do, they can sync their local data with your web app and use it on the move. It's what I do with Nozbe iPhone and iPad apps.

2. Because you want new customers from the big Appstore

Please be honest here - you want the new customers that Apple brings you, but you don't want to pay Apple for bringing you these customers? This ain't right. I pay my affiliates a recurring commission of around 25% per customer every single month, because I think it's the right thing to do. If someone brings me the customer via an affiliate link, I believe they should be paid for that and that's it. I wouldn't probably get this customer if it wasn't for them. Apple has just become a new affiliate partner for me. Not more not less.

It's not like the Appstore is your only revenue-generating place... and if it is, find new ones!

Apple doesn't limit you to selling your app exclusively through the Appstore. It'd be ridiculous. You are free to sell through any other channel you wish - your web site, your Android app, your Blackberry app... you choose. However, if your main revenue generator is the Appstore, then Apple should take the cut. It's their house and their rules.

When the Mac Appstore launched, I heard developers complain about 30% cut from their apps... but I don't think the guys behind Pixelmator (an image manipulation app) complained when they earned $1M in the first 20 days their app was in the store... and it was for an established app everyone knew about and presumably had before.

Appstore is like a busy shopping mall... but if you want to sell in the mall, you need to rent the place

What counts in business? Location, location, location - so if you want to sell in the busiest shopping mall, you need to rent a place there and very often pay outrageously high rent fee and even some revenue share in some cases. If you'd want to sell stuff there without paying these things, you'd be thrown away by the security guys. Even if you're an established business like "Starbucks" you can't just go in and say: "we're Starbucks and well coffee everywhere else, so let us sell coffee here without paying you a dime".

Appstore is one of the busiest "shopping malls" for software now and if you want to be there and get new customers thanks to Apple, then pay the price - again, it's simply one of your sales channels. If you look for customers on Google and use AdWords - do you get them free? No, you need to pay for these and they are a part of your "customer acquisition price". Appstore was long enough kind to let you "get around their back" to sell subscriptions elsewhere.

User Experience is great - for both customers and publishers

I'm constantly tweaking my Nozbe Signup page and Checkout experience and I still see people ordering and not completing the order... and I need to ask them for lots of data (credit card companies require it) and it's a process that I'm now optimizing even more to make sure I don't ask the same data repeat customers again.

With Apple's system it's just brilliant - people get your app from the Appstore, they use it and if they decide to go the subscription route, they just click one button and that's it. As simple as that. I'd pay 30% for this kind of ease of getting new customers. When my affiliates bring me new Nozbe users, these still need to go through the checkout process... with Apple it's so simple. One click, and bam, new customer! Nice.

There are some concerns though

The only concerns I have with the Apple's subscription system is their APIs and integration with our current web apps. We need to be able to refund users easily through some API calls, we need to be notified when the users stop paying, when they unsubscribe, etc. These tools need to be top-notch to make sure publishers can flawlessly integrate with their current systems. Apple is known for creating great user experiences for customers but not for developers (iTunes connect was really bad when Appstore started) so I hope they'd iron this out.

People seem to lose objectivity when it comes to money

As much as I respect my peers in the industry, some folks are losing their objectivity when it comes to money. Apple creates a new revenue-generator for us? Great. We need to share this money with Apple? Not so great. Come on, this is not right. We are in the software business where we can set margins as we like and where our fix costs are not as high as in the manufacturing business. For me personally Appstore has been a great experience so far - my iPhone and iPad apps haven't brought me many new customers but they have served well for my current customers and they'll continue to serve well for them in the future to come.

Will I have problems integrating new Apple's model into my own? Yes. Will it cause more work for me? Definitey. Am I not happy sharing 30% with Apple? Well, I'd rather share less.... but it's their house and I respect that. If they bring me new customers I'll happily pay their cut for as long as the customer stays with me. If they bring me 1M new customers, I will not complain. Nor should you.

HTML5? I love it, but native apps are just better and users seem to vote (with their money) on these and although the call is tough, we're leaning towards native experiences over web-based in our developments of Nozbe for this year.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Playing where the puck is going to be

We live in interesting times - where technology is so advanced and yet so "cheap" (relatively) that it's really hard to make prediction what will happen in a few years and which technology will take off and which one won't... or will, but later... it's hard to make bets... yet if you own a technology based startup company like me, you need to bet on the right technology all of the time, and according to the greatest hockey player of all time:

"A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." - Wayne Gretzky

Tennis-player
The dot-com boom of 2000 showed us that technology company were wrong before and now it's again going in different directions:

Cloud storage is picking up

Google has launched CR-48 Notebook which is entirely based in the cloud, they also launched Chrome Store and their Google Apps offering is taking off. People like me are using cloud apps like Nozbe, Dropbox and Evernote. Browsers are the new OS as they are even capable of going offline.

Apps are taking off

Contrary to Google's assumptions, people are downloading apps like crazy - the programs that you actually install locally - iPhone and iPad Appstore, Mac Appstore, Android Market and other "app stores" are taking off, so contrary to an all-browser solution do we need to invest in locally installed apps?

37signals way

A company I admire decided to go web-app only route and when they launched Backpack mobile they decided that it's the best solution for customers as they don't have to download anything and can use it on the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, etc... They decided they won't invest in local apps.

Evernote & Dropbox way

Contrary to 37signals, Evernote and Dropbox do invest in local apps - they build these for Android, iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC, etc... and they actually say they have dedicated teams for each platorms - "it's a headache but it's definitely worth it to make sure the user experience is way better" - so they say.

I have to admit I use both Dropbox and Evernote only locally on my Mac, iPhone and iPad... and I sync data between these... but I don't use the web app. Ever. (I only see my notes on the web when I browse through my Nozbe projects synced with Evernote)

Where's the puck going to be?

The first argument that Web apps will be more powerful has merit... HTML5 is taking off, local storage and offline work is getting support from various browsers (although some support it better than others) and it really is now possible to be only "online".

The dedicated app argument makes incredible sense, too. With centralized distribution channels like iOS Appstore, Mac Appstore and Android Market, many apps are being downloaded like crazy. Pixelmator earned $1M US Dollars in its first 20 days on the Mac Appstore, Evernote says Mac became their most important platform in terms of new users thanks to Mac Appstore... people do like to buy apps and the user experience of a local app can still be significantly better than the web app.

Will the browser be the next OS? Does it make sense to build dedicated apps? (we have already started this route by building Nozbe for iPhone, iPad and Android (almost done) apps already...) I'm still not sure, it's hard to decide either way.

Decisions, decisions, decisions... and what do you think?

I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Forget Crunchies. Let people vote with money.

It’s this time of the year that tech’s most popular weblog called “Techcrunch” is organizing their gala of startup awards called “Crunchies”, by some "industry experts" called the Oscars of the tech. I think it's a great idea that folks are organizing these kind of award ceremonies - some startups will receive recognition (others like Facebook or Twitter yet again) and some CEOs will receive a nice vanity boost.

I don't have anything against these kind of initiatives. I just don't understand why startup founders actually stress about these. They shouldn't even care. Here's why:
Crunchies
Awards are not real.

Awards are just that - awards - given by a few people who voted for your idea/startup/business and given the fact that most of the press and especially tech press is all about just a few companies like Facebook, Twitter, etc. than you even don't have a fighting chance. Their crowd is bigger. Like 500-million bigger. So what do these awards really mean? Nothing. They don't tell if the business that wins is really great or useful. It means there are a lot of people that voted for it. And nothing more.

Awards don't tell if your startup business is great or not. They tell if it's "hot or not".

Does winning an award give you more customers? Does it bring value to your company? Nope. It may give you a little more press than usual and a little more users than usual in short term... but it doesn't say if your business is really good. A vote for someone/something costs the voter nothing. They just decide what's hot and vote for it. It's free and that's why it doesn't mean anything. At least it shouldn't mean anything to you.

Voting for awards costs nothing. Paying for a great service costs real money. And means a lot.

Vote for awards are like thousands of users of a free service. It means that there is a crowd that's interested in something... but it doesn't say about that something's real worth. That's why I know my web application Nozbe is worth a lot more to tens of thousands of happy people. Because they didn't only show up on my web site and say: "Michael, your app is great". They actually confirmed it with their hard-earned cash by paying for a Nozbe account. This award means a lot to me.

When people award you with money - they mean confidence and trust.

This is the major difference. When people become your paying customers, they vote for your startup business with their own money. And that's not only a materialistic vote of dollars... it's also a vote of confidence and trust. They trust you and by giving you their money they hope you'll not fail them and make everything in your power to offer the best possible service to them. This is a special relationship that means a lot more than a "vanity boost" of an award. And it's something I experience every day and I love it. I know my stuff works because people use it and keep paying for it. I don't need any award to tell me that.

Here's one of the emails that really made my day. I received it recently from one of our customers:

"I signed up for Nozbe Sunday night at 11:15pm. By 11:45pm I was pulling out my credit card. By 3am I had accomplished all the actions I intended to accomplish all weekend and didn't. That was the best ROI on ten dollars I've ever received."

If you're in tech business you should care about changing the world.

That's really all you should care about. About making a dent in the universe and about building something great and beyond useful. That's all that matters. If you do build something great, make sure to let people vote with their money so that you know for sure if people are willing to part with their hard-earned cash in order to give you their vote of trust and confidence. And see for yourself if it doesn't give you a "vanity boost" many times better than winning an industry award... and the best part of it is this: it will not happen once a year (like most award ceremonies do)... it'll keep on happening to you every single day.
I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick - audiobook of the week

It's time for this week's book. Last week on my trip to Chicago I read (listened to) the "Facebook Effect" by David Kirkpatrick and I really enjoyed it. After seeing the movie "The Social Network" it was a very good idea to learn more about the Facebook phenomenon through this book.
Download_the_facebook_effect_t

Get this book on: Audible Amazon

Cool, but definitely not truthful

I totally agree with Michael Arrington's review of this book where he states that David is so much in love with Facebook that his objectivity is totally questionable and that his Facebook story sounds a lot like an authorized biography rather than a truthful narrative. I agree. But despite that, it's still a great read.

The way great products are made - with passion

Although we can question Mark Zuckenberg's (Facebook Founder) ethics when dealing with several individuals on his way to making Facebook what it is today, but it's hard to question his passion for creating a great social network. Many other networks have tried and failed (Friendster, MySpace, Classmates, etc...) and the author of this book gives good reasons why they haven't succeeded while Facebook has.

Mark's continued passion and drive for creating great user experience for his users to make sharing their stuff (photos, info, thoughts, whatever) as easy as possible proved to be a great business model. He made lots of mistakes (and some very grave, too) on his way, but the goal remained the same.

This book gives great insights of how normal people vs industry experts perceived Facebook and Mark's ideas. How he very often was thinking too much ahead and sometimes deciding he knew better what the users wanted... and all this despite criticism, backlash and name-calling by many. Mark's vision stayed the same.

From a "crazy teenager prodigy" to a "global leader".

Again, I don't approve many of Mark's moves and I question his ethics in many points of his career, yet I admire how this 19-year-old boy changed and grown up to become one of the leaders of today's Internet era. 

He took advantage of great opportunities that has been presented, like the fact that most companies CEOs wanted to talk to him. Despite his team disapproval and his hectic schedule, he always made time to meet with industry leaders and learn from them. This helped him build a network of mentors every business owner would wish to have.

Of course, as Facebook was getting bigger everyone wanted to him and he could've turned them down, but he didn't - he kept on having meetings to learn from the best. He didn't act like he knew everything. And he learned a lot. And it shows.

It's hard to question Facebook's success

Facebook became a de-facto standard for online communication and social life and it's really hard to question that. What is a little scary is the fact that one company will know all about Internet users and will become their data hub. David even writes he believes that being on Facebook will be "automatic" in the future just like "being online" and that Facebook's social graph will set the standard for our entire online communications. Let's see how this develops.

I can't recommend this book enough. Especially if you have hard time understanding the Facebook phenomenon or if you're a startup/business owner and are up for some great inspirational lessons from Mark. Plus the Audio-version is read by the author (which I like) and adds a bonus of author's interview with Mark's sister, currently Facebook's spokesperson and employee.

Are you on Facebook? Friend me and Like me :-)

--> me I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday links: Travel, Remote Working and Pirates

Let's get back with the Friday's tradition of sending you some of the most interesting things I read about this week and this time they relate to traveling, distance and ... yes, startups.
Skitched-20101112-201720

Are you a pirate? by Michael Arrington

You love him or you hate him, but Mike has his moments and this article is one of them. He captured the mindset of guys taking risks to run their own game... I'd like to think I'm also a "pirate" running Nozbe

Lessons learned from new way of working by 37signals

I really dig how these guys work. My team is all working remotely and we've grown bigger recently so we're also experimenting new ways to be more productive and more effective.

8 exotic destinations you can afford by Tim Ferriss and Tim Leffel

I love traveling and learning new languages and I've always been traveling a lot without spending too much money on it... this is an eye-opening guide :-)

Talking about me traveling, did you see my yesterday's Productive! Show video recorded over my recent weekend trip to London?

Have a great weekend!
--> me I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Enjoying Lifestyle Business

Last two weeks I've been traveling through my country of Poland, visiting different BarCamp meetings, talking to current and future startup owners and spreading good news about productivity and getting things done. I loved every minute of it and enjoyed the ride. Had 5 presentations in 5 cities within 8 days. Each presentation was followed by Q&A session about productivity and about my business of running Nozbe for the last 3.5 years.
Xraii_9_-_xraii_-_picasa_web_a
Does it make sense for me to travel and talk about productivity in Europe and create localized versions of Nozbe where most of my customers (and revenue) is in the USA and there is still more to get there?

Yes and no. Financially, I'm better off preparing new marketing campaigns and selling more Nozbe accounts in the USA. Definitely. Should my company had more investors than myself, I'd be thinking about "maximizing my shareholder value".

Well, I'm doing that, but not quite all that. I am preparing marketing campaigns for the US market and I am taking good care of my revenues... but it's not money that inspires people. Money doesn't inspire me as well.

Passion inspires people. I'm passionate about productivity and entrepreneurship. This is why I spend my time and resources compiling Productive Magazine and recording Productive Show. This is why I'm blogging here.

I was born in Poland and I feel very European. I live in Poland and have lived throughout my life in Germany, Spain and Belgium. I love learning new languages and getting to know new cultures and meeting some great people in our continent. This is why I want to focus my efforts on bringing Nozbe to as many countries as I can and to as many language versions as possible.

Even if these countries won't bring me that much revenue and will require more resources and more efforts. I have a healthy business and a mission to bring productivity to people all around the world. And I'm planning on enjoying this as much as I can :-)

This is the benefit of my "lifestyle business" - I'm actually enjoying it and I believe I'm changing the world by helping people get more done.

I might not sell my business for Millions (like you hear on Techcrunch), I might not have guys investing Millions in my business. Heck, I might not even be a Millionaire. I couldn't care less. I love my job and I'm enjoying my "lifestyle business" and I sincerely believe I am changing the world.

After my trips and presentations I got lots of emails and messages via social web from folks saying I inspired them to improve their productivity or to continue developing their startup. 

This is what keeps me going and what keeps me pumped up. This is what makes my life great and my business healthy. This is what inspires people.

I wish everyone would enjoy their business as much as I enjoy my small but healthy "lifestyle business".

--> me I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Readership: Seth Godin says we should ship now, ship often

This week's Friday Readership will be all about shipping - I listened to Seth's Godin presentation at the 99% Conference and it really hit home, as I'm about to ship our new online web app that and my "lizard brain" is not helping me much with getting the product ready. But this month we'll definitely ship the beta version. I encourage you to listen to Seth now:

Here's more from Seth about Shipping:

Pfffft, the danger of premature shipment

Here Seth says: "Just because it's easy to ship doesn't mean you shouldn't push yourself. The art is in ignoring the fear that pushes you to polish too much..."

But what have you shipped?

Here Seth's is motivating us to ship: "What have you done with your connection skills that has been worthy of criticism, that moved the dial and that changed the world? Go, do that."

Question: What are you shipping soon? Why not now? Now if I can only finish our product and ship it this month!

--> me I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.