Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Readership: Integrity and dealing with haters on the Internet

I feel really bad about neglecting my personal blog this month, but now I'm back!

Today is Friday, so I'm going with my regular Friday readership series where I'm posting a series of links that interested me this week... and interestingly enough it's about the "haters" - people who don't like what you're doing online and write it on your blog or forum in a way they'd never tell you the same thing in your face... here goes:
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Excellent article by Tim about how he deals with haters - he highlights it's important to know how many people do _get_ you and that 10% of people will always take things personally... and if we don't have haters, it means nobody really cares about what we have to say... and that we should live well and simply carry on. Anyway, great read, good advice.

These two great podcasts episodes are really cool - both David and Jason are addressing folks who don't like their book. I like it, I even reviewed it earlier this year and I applaud their advice and all what they've done. They actually inspired me to build Nozbe and I'm their fan. That's it :-)

It's one of the threads on my forums about Nozbe and sub-projects or sub-tasks and they won't appear in Nozbe. The discussion has been pretty hot and I was trying to keep my cool but the outcome was surprising - I got lots of emails from people applauding me for keeping my vision of Nozbe and I even got a cool suggestion by the user named Brian for doing a video on sub-projects and why Nozbe's way better without them. We're producing this video right now :-)

There will always be haters or people that simply don't agree with you. That's a good thing!

To conclude this blog post I just want to say thanks to everyone who's using Nozbe and who keeps on sending their feedback. I do appreciate it - good or bad - I do have my vision for Nozbe. I did launch new Unlimited Nozbe plans two weeks ago and new Nozbe application in the Appstore... and a tiny percentage of users is not happy with either of these two... or both - but overall folks love what we're doing and we love serving them... and this is what counts!

--> 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.

Monday, May 10, 2010

5 Tips on Creating Subscription Plans in a Startup - Nozbe case

Today I want to share 5 basic tips and tricks on creating good payment plans for an online service.

I've been running Nozbe for more than 3 years now and I'm still learning a lot about pricing and selling... and we've come a long way from first Nozbe beta, first 3 Nozbe plans through 6 Nozbe plans a year later... and we've just reduced the payment plans to 4, giving our users unlimited projects and contexts in the process and now if you go to Nozbe signup page, you'll see this offer:

New-nozbe-plans

Here are some rules when creating subscription plans:

1. Reduce the amount of plans to the minimum

We used to have up to 6 different plans for different kinds of Nozbe users. After we've investigated the sales and usage we found out, that these can be reduced to 4 plans... and maybe even more. The idea is that users should have a simple choice. The more choice you give to the user, the less likely they are to buy from you.

2. Avoid Excel sheets - focus on the essential

We used to have a real excel sheet on our signup page. Lots of features and lots of "ticks" and "dashes" showing you which plan has what, which doesn't have, etc. Very confusing and lots of reading for the user. When we reduced the signup page to the one you're seeing above, our conversion rate trippled.

3. After focusing on the essential, focus even more on key differentiators

Find out what's the main difference between your plans. We thought they were amount of projects and contexts you would create. Later we realized they don't matter. Now the main differentiator is the number of users you can sign up for Nozbe, the second one is file storage and the third some additional features.

4. When doubling the price, X-duple the key differentiator. Folks want good bang for the buck!

- In Nozbe, personal account for less than 10 bucks is for one user only.
- Pay twice as much and you can have up to 5 users.
- Pay 2.5 times as much as the last one... and you can get 4 times the user count.
- Pay twice for the Team plan and you get 5 times the users (up to 100)

Anyway, see the pattern here? Raise the price a little and give a lot more. I've seen many startups double their features when doubling their price... what's the incentive for the user to go for a more expensive plan then?

5. Include as much as you can in the basic product. Give the entry users a good feel of what you've got.

I used to save SSL connection for higher-paying users. Now even on the personal plan you can have full SSL encryption, unlimited projects and contexts. You have a fully working Nozbe for the minimum price. You wouldn't want to pay for half-baked product the entry level price. Later, if you want more users or storage (key differentiators we talked about earlier) you'll upgrade to higher plans. But because I give you great basics, you already know what you're paying for.

This way I have lots of users who start with "Personal" plan and later upgrade to Family, Team or even Business plans.

.... and there is one more thing - give a great Money-back guarantee

People are risking a lot by trying your online web app. And they don't want to risk their money, especially not in the economy we're in right now. This is why I'm giving full 60-days money back guarantee on all Nozbe plans. I'm letting my users test Nozbe for full 2 months and if they are not happy for any reasons, I refund all of the money.

This works miracles. People know I'm here for the long haul and I want to make them happy and productive. They know that they can take their time to take Nozbe for a full spin totally risk free. Believe me, you want your users to be really comfortable using your app and giving you money.

These are just basics

These 5 basic tips may seem obvious to you but I've seen many startups fail in creating a compelling product plan list. Make sure to go through these 5 steps with your business and make sure you're offering your users a good bang for their buck.

Please let me know what works for you and for your business. Which tips help you convince your users to give you a try and pay you for the service. I'm looking forward to your tips and tricks!

--> 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, April 16, 2010

Friday Readership: VC funding & web2.0 startup bubble starring Ning

This week I'll focus on the sick way the web2.0 startup world works thanks to Venture Capital (VC) money pouring in. I agree with 37signals and believe startups should be focusing on making money and not on burning other people's money. When you don't earn your own dough, the decisions you make can be really strange:
Ning_create_and_discover_ning_
Here you go, Ning and their VC-backed business backfired:

After 6 years in business and burning $120M of other people's money (VC) they discovered that eyeballs don't pay the bills and a free model isn't sustainable. They decided to charge each account now. Not a really nice move, now is it?

David has a great writeup on this subject: Eyeballs still don't pay the bills - draw your own conclusions.

As much as I respect Joel, I'm not sure he's going the right direction with their Stack Exchange web site - killing paying users and creating totally free networks? Well, just look how it worked out for Ning! Again, VC money and irrational decisions. Judge for yourself.

Anyway, I've seen this many times - first web2.0 companies give accounts for free, later they say, sorry, it's not sustainable, we need to charge you right now. It's cheating users. It's not good for customer trust and bad for overall user trust in the industry.

At Nozbe when we give free accounts, you know their limitations and you know they are free forever. If you upgrade, you know what you're paying for and we're trying to exceed your expectations. We actually care about our business model and about our users. We don't care about eyeballs all that much.

When a service offers free accounts and doesn't earn a dime, you should watch out, don't you think?
--> 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, April 9, 2010

Friday Readership: VC Roundup - we give big bucks to big Techcrunch'ed hype

Just watched the video interview of three major VC guys talking to Mike Arrington of Techcrunch and can't help myself notice that ultimately it's not about the products these guys are investing in... it's about the hype...
Fullscreen
Why are the VCs investing in hype?

Because they are buyers and sellers in one person - they want to buy the most overhyped deal in the world and later sell it at a bigger price to a bigger "fish" (i.e. company) or do an overhyped IPO. That's their goal. They don't care about the startups they invest in, they care about how much they can sell these for. And you can't blame them for that. This is why they don't buy similar companies with better products... if they don't appear on Techcrunch and are not overhyped, they don't matter.

More on VCs this Friday:

While I still advocate the 37signals way and don't search for VCs for my Nozbe or for the new app I'm working on, there are some valid points in the article like "the sole investor in 37signals is Jeff Bezos, who is in fact a typical example of VC backed startup which was running on losses for years to gain the market dominance" or "VCs are not for everyone" - but because of Techcrunch and overhyped stories of millions of dollars valuations, many startup founders believe the VC way is the only viable way. It's not. Trust me. Trust 37signals :-)

This is a very cool article by a wise man. I can't agree more. I see lots of talent go to the big companies and their startup ideas they might have had... simply die. It's even worse - I saw several times talented startup owners who accepted engineer positions in big companies and killed their startups (to a well deserved fury of the abandoned and cheated users). Especially in Europe people prefer to go for "security" of a steady paycheck than change the world.

Question: What do you think of VCs? Are you Entrepreneurial?
--> 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.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Friday Readership: TV, Stewardesses and best ideas

This Friday I've stumbled across several cool articles that caught my attention and the most interesting were:
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Seth says that anything is better than TV. It's better to do something else than watch TV. I can't agree more, I watch movies I rent or buy on Blu-ray and although we have cable TV, I hardly watch it... I will however watch it tomorrow to see the Qualifying for Grand Prix Australia in Formula 1... but that's about all I need TV for.

Neil is so right in his article about watching other companies and people doing their business, their marketing and learning a lot from them. Just like I wrote in my previous blog post about Switch, we tend to look at the bad things and we should focus on the good ones and find business inspiration around us.

David and Jason's book Rework includes insights like this one but it needs repeating - don't settle for doing something you "kinda like". Go for something you really want to do. Really want to build. Change the world, you can do it, too. This is why I'm so deep into expanding Nozbe and building a new and very cool web app that hopefully will make a lot more folks a little more productive :-)

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.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review of 37signals' cookbook called REWORK - getting business done

Today I read the new book by 37signals founders, David and Jason, called "Rework" and I'd like to share some thoughts on this mind-blowing book:
Rework_the_new_business_book_f

Get this book on: Audible Amazon

I'm a big fan of Jason and David

First off, I'm a big fan of 37signals and a regular reader to their blog "Signal vs Noise". I've been following them for more than 4 years now. They actually inspired me to build Nozbe which initially was nicknamed by some as "Backpack for GTD".

For everyone who's followed 37signals - the book's core messages are known to me 

As I mentioned, following the guys for so many years now, reading their blogs, listening to their podcast and watching their presentations on Youtube, the book has no new message for me. I've come to know their philosophy of doing business and I mostly share their ideas. If you haven't followed their path, you should. Follow them and get the book.

The new stuff - more real-life examples

For me the real cool stuff are the examples they are quoting. They actually did their homework and added more real-life examples of other companies sharing their visions and ideas. This is really cool and makes their points come across better.

Having entire 37signals approach to business in one book - great :-)

I wrote I knew their approach and shared it. I know it, because I've been following them for years, but now I have all of their business ideas in one place. In one book. That's a good thing to have. I've spent a few bucks on the audio version and I'll be buying the print one, too. Having all of this great business wisdom in one place is very very useful. And 37signals like "useful" :-)

This book is their cookbook - time for mine

Jason said he liked looking at great chefs releasing their cookbooks and they say Rework is their cookbook. I guess it's true. It feels like one. And a very good one at that. One of the best business book around.

Now it's time for my cookbook. I've been running Nozbe for three years now, I've been growing my company, my revenues and been making lots of mistakes (and successes) along the way and learning a lot from them. It's time for my cookbook which will be a lot different from Rework, but also share a similar approach. I'll focus more on productivity, tele-working and other aspects of running a startup. Stay tuned.

Question: Did you get your copy of Rework? Get it, tell me what you think about it. I'm loving it. Very inspiring.
--> 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.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

CEO of a small company needs to eat his dogfood. It's yummy!

A few days ago we launched Nozbe Translation Platform - a way for our users to help us contribute to Nozbe translations and help us bring our productivity app to their countries in their native language. As I've lived in Spain and speak Spanish fluently, I decided to contribute and help with the Nozbe translation to Spanish... and I've found very interesting things in the process...
Nozbe-translations-1
I'm the CEO who does the actual work, too

Nozbe is being run by a small team of three, there's me (CEO), my lead developer Tom (CTO) and my assistant Delfina (CHO - Customer Happiness Officer :-) so we're all working on Nozbe together. Resources are scarce by design - I love running a small company and getting the actual, meaningful job done - I know it may not be what they teach you in the management books, but for me a good manager delegates what others do better and does what he does best... and contributes where he can and is always there to help his team.

By doing the actual work, I became a translator myself...

That's the thing. By doing the translation myself, I became a translator, I've put myself in the translator's shoes and experienced all the positives and negatives of our translation system. I very quickly found out where the system is not clear about the translation, where things can be improved, how the whole thing works.

By becoming a translator, I quickly knew how to improve the system

The translation platform is an "app within the app", so it's a separate application within Nozbe, and it has to rock. After all folks are devoting their private time to help us translate and we should do everything we can to make their job easier and faster.

If I didn't try it, I wouldn't know about any of this

Translators would eventually send us their feedback, some already have... but it would take a lot more time and a lot of folks would get discouraged. By having me on board as a translator, I knew about the most important things first hand, sent my feedback to my CTO and we posted the improvements to the server today already!

Eating your dogfood is crucial to your success as a startup

I use Nozbe every day. We (the entire company :-) use Nozbe every day. I know all about the features there, bugs, glitches and because I use it daily for my projects and actions, there are no mission-critical bugs there and the most annoying bugs get fixed pretty quickly and the rest of them are being done in their due time, too.

Launch, use it, test it, iterate and keep on using

We launched the translation system, I've been using it, our customers have been using it, we quickly solved the first glitches and will keep on improving as we use it and bring more translations on board. It's fun, and it's really productive and makes sure our translators (myself included) do a great job.

Bringing Nozbe to the folks in your country is something I'm excited about!

I'm very psyched about this project. It's something I've always wanted to do: to bring the concept of Simple Getting Things Done to people all around the world who don't even know who David Allen is (and what GTD is). Nozbe will be the first truly global productivity app that will teach people the power of "Next Actions", "Contexts" and "Projects" and a regular "Review". I can't wait to make it all happen!

Sidenote: Don't worry about my Spanish :-)

OK, so I do speak Spanish very well, but I'm not native... but don't worry, my very good friend, artist Miguel Guia is helping me by going over my translations and correcting them for proper Spanish if necessary, and we've got other translators helping me out as well. Thanks everyone, you're doing a great job! It's a community effort and it's fantastic :-)

P.S. If you're interested in translating Nozbe, watch this video and read the tips and tricks I posted today.

Question: As a CEO/Manager, do you do the actual work? Do you sometimes get the real work done, aside from managing people? How does it feel? What does it teach you?

--> 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.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Friday Readership: Apple Mac by Microsoft guy, Business advice and Birthday

This Friday will not be about the Apple iPad, but the fruit company will remain anyway. Here's the roundup of articles that caught my attention, you can browse the other "Friday readerships" here:

2861564_blog

I had a pleasure of meeting Don personally twice during my most recent USA trip, we talked and laughed and I asked him about how it feels to be a Google guy after many years of being a Microsoft guy. This post explains it all and shows the conversion from purely Microsoft products to Google and Apple powered ones.

Neil did an interesting post on three-word business advice and most of it is really worth reading several times. He starts with "Time is money" and later continues with "listen to customers" or "use social media". Really great read. One of the people commenting added my favorite ABC: "Always Be Closing" (a sale).

37signals is my "guru" company and I admire them for what they are doing and how they've inspired me and other startup founders in the world. It's their Basecamp and Backpack apps that inspired me to do a GTD web app called Nozbe and find my passion in running it. Basecamp is double the age of Nozbe which just turned 3 which says a lot about how much time these guys are already making it all happen. Congrats guys and thanks again for... basically everything!

Are you also a Microsoft-to-Apple convert? What's your favorite three-word advice? Are you a Basecamp, Backpack or Nozbe user?

--> 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, February 3, 2010

3 productivity tips and tricks for open space workers in California's Silicon Valley offices

If you've been following my Twitter feed lately, you can see I've been traveling in Silicon Valley in California, visiting headquarters of the companies like FacebookYahooGoogleTechcrunchPlug and Play Tech Center and others... and most of these companies have office spaces that look like this:

Iphoto-1

"Open to everyone"... and everything - including distractions

All of the companies say this kind of office setup is cool and promotes openness... but what they don't tell you is that it's really hard to concentrate and get things done in a setup like this. The funny thing is that most of the guys who designed offices like this are brilliant people who might have even read the book "Peopleware" but they somehow forgot about the key advice from this book...

How to get stuff done in an "Open" environment?

OK, let's be constructive about this situation and embrace the "openness" and give some solutions as to how to be effective and productive in this kind of environment:

"Solution" 1 - use headphones

Yes, I've heard that before - developers and office workers use headphones to clear the noise, but many studies have already shown that programmers do a better and more creative code when they are sitting in silence than listening to the music. Music is usually a distraction as well.

"Solution" 2 - use 3 display monitors... or more!

The problem with working in a place like this is the fact that even if you've cleared the noise with headphones, you can still see everyone around you. To make sure you won't be tempted to look around and stare at other people, get as many display monitors as you can... and as big screen displays as can be - this way you won't be able to see people around all that much.

Using multiple monitor setup is actually a great productivity booster as such, but in an open environment it gives an additional benefit of being a barrier between you and the guy in front of you.

"Solution" 3 - embrace it (like you have a choice)

That's right, embrace the fact that most (if not all) companies in Silicon Valley prefer open spaces. That Venture Capital firms which invest in startups don't want them to "waste" money on private offices. Be proud of the fact that you work for Facebook in an open environment - after all it's the most over-valued and over-hyped startup in the world and they are allowed not to care about your working environment.

Finally, enjoy the good weather in California, maybe other programmers at companies like Fog Creek have great private offices, Aeron chairs and a overall fantastic environment (I know, I was there)... but they are located in the cold New York City.

The "solutions" described above won't help all that much

This is why they are written with ' " ' sign - these are not solutions but key problems I have with open spaces. Aha, and did I mention that it's really hard to get stuff done in an office because people can poke you and distract you all of the time? Well, in an "open" office constant poking is guaranteed.

I don't like open spaces and I think they're a contradiction to productivity. I'm just not THAT open - what do you think?

--> 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, January 20, 2010

Serious Corporations use "serious business language". They don't speak English

The problem with many startups and small businesses is that they want to be big... they want to sound big, because they believe that showing an image of a "big company" makes them more serious and trustworthy. While that can be the case in some situations, trying to imitate a big company can sometimes work against you... especially in the way you deal with your customers and language you use.

Iphoto

"We're sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused"

Big corporations use this language to "apologize" for a server downtime. Just read it again. "Any inconvenience"? Users can't get to their data, they are furious! "We're sorry"? Sorry doesn't mean anything - "apologize" means you really take the blame, how about this: "We truly apologize for the server downtime, we know you really need to get to your data and we're working hard to make sure we're up and running again and that this kind of error won't happen in the future. Please bear with us just another minute.". Take the blame, be apologetic, suck it up and be human. People understand if you talk their language.

The official online forms with lots of data and no sentences

Just because your "big" competitor has a signup form asking for a user's favorite color, doesn't mean you have to. Make the signup experience as simple and short as possible. When you sign up for Nozbe, I only ask for Name, Email and ... that's it. I ask for password only after you've confirmed your email address... and I ask for rest of the data on "as-needed" basis. Why ask for country or city? You can get this data from the users's IP address if you really need it. Don't make the barrier of entry too high for your startup!

Same with the lack of sentences - "Sign me up" looks a lot better on a signup button than "Save" or "Submit". Explain what you mean, speak English, not Corporate'ish.

The corporate way of treating people - bureaucratic customer support

Just have a look at how your mobile phone company is treating you. How your cable tv company is ignoring your requests. Look at these big companies and ask yourself, do I want my customers/users to be as upset as I am right now when this big company is sending me a letter I don't understand? A letter? In 21st century?

The other day I had a problem with incorrect invoices on my mobile phone bill, I called their call center and they said I had to write a formal letter to get this correction done (it's them who screwed up, and it's me who has to write the letter?)... so I wrote the letter. After 3 weeks they sent me a letter back saying, that in my letter I forgot to mention this and that data and I needed to send the letter again. Couldn't just they've called me? They know my number, after all they are my mobile phone company! Was this helpful? Was I upset? Is this the way to act if it's the company who makes mistake?

The Bottom line:

Don't be like big companies, use English language, take the blame even if it's not entirely yours. Just like Kennedy said: don't ask what your user/customer can do for you, ask what you can do for them.

Disclaimer: in the past I also admit I used some of the "corporate" phrases in my correspondence with my users... I apologize, this won't happen again, I will speak English.

Which of the companies you work with treat you well and with respect? What is there still to improve? How do you improve your company to server better your customers?

--> 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.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Friday Readership: Less is more, Android army and Amplifying complaints

Today I'd like to bring to your attention a mix of three totally different posts that really made me think and challenged my point of view...
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"I think I may have accidentally unearthed a whole new untapped population online: the Android Army." ... "And yet here is this new army of Google defenders, raising their spears and chanting as though you’ve insulted….Apple." - read the complete article where David talks about this new phenomenon.

"The easiest way to force the insight of what can be lived without is by playing a game of constraints" ...."It’s amazing how creative the cuts and sharp the sacrifices become when you’re backed into a corner. It’s when you have to choose that you make the best choices." - great insights by the other David - simply embrace the constraints... but first create them!

Amplifying complaints by Seth Godin

"Here's a common human trick: before you state your complaint, wind yourself up with a preface that makes your complaint even more plaintive and more vivid." - Seth explains how human language and pro-human approach can change the way people deal with you... and they'll actually help you! I'll talk about the aspects of language in business in one of my posts next week.

Have a great weekend! What caught your eye this week? What has inspired you or made you think? Let me know!

--> 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.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

URL shortening services just in time for short-cial media

With the boost of Twitter and its limitation of 140 characters, URLs need to be increasingly (decreasingly?) shorter. There is a grandpa among these types of services called TinyURL which used to be a leader but now as Twitter has assigned Bit.ly its official URL provider, some services like is.gd continue to operate, tr.im even died as a result (and later was resurrected, but for how long?), others want to win the crown over (Google's goo.gl and Facebook's fb.me) and organizations are also doing their own...

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Yesterday Techcrunch wrote about Bit.ly's PRO service to serve short URLs for big companies and they are giving it a shot.

Now, if you're a Twitter user, which service should you use? And how to use it?

1. First of all, don't use short URL's in blog posts and comments

I may change my mind about it but for now, I believe that real links should point to real destinations, without any URL shortening in between. You're not limited to 140 characters outside of Twitter, so use real links. I've already seen people using bit.ly links inside comments and blog posts and I have two problems with them:

- they hide the branding - if you're posting a bit.ly link, the person clicking on it is not sure where they'll be going. On the contrary, if you use the original link, everything's clear.

- they break the Internet's logic - Google's PageRank (tm) and all the indexing mechanisms as well as the whole logic of the Internet is based on good full-blown links and I like this logic.

My take for now - stick with the short URL's when in Twitter. Anywhere else use the original links.

2. If you're not a webmaster (or don't have webmasters working for you) - use 3rd party services like bit.ly

Bit.ly has all the statistics, widgets and all the mechanisms that help creating short links a snap. And if you're using Twitter clients like Tweetdeck, just give them our bit.ly username and they'll create short links for you automagically. Easy to set up and use. Go for it.

3. If you do have webmasters working for you and care about the links - get your own URL shortener

I know HTML/PHP etc. and still wanted to go with the 3rd party provider but when tr.im closed their doors and wrote their URLs will not be served past 2010, I decided I want to control the links better myself and cannot trust a free URL shortening services enough.

I built my own URL shortening service just for myself (with stats and all) to use not only inside my Productive Magazine but also to promote my web app Nozbe and other cool stuff. It took one week of development time so it wasn't that bad.

The advantages are really cool for me:

- I own the domain (pmagz.com) so I control the traffic
- I can customize the shortener and how it works (and I use it for various purposes)
- I can promote my brands on twitter by installing redirections on nozbe.com and other sites
- I can add other cool features (especially tracking for marketing purposes) as I need them, and I've already added a few

If you can't build your own but know some PHP, get yourls - it's a free script and you can install it on your server - I've heard good things about them. I didn't know about them prior to building my own service.

Disclaimer: I don't use my in-house URL shortener only when I post on this blog, as posterous uses their own (post.ly) for that purpose and I like the fact that it's automatic. This is the only exception to my rule.

Conclusion: Link shorteners will be popular as long as Twitter will be popular so it's good to establish your own URL shortening strategy to make sure people reading our Tweets do click through to the content we want to show them.

What's your take on URL shortening? What's your strategy for posting links on Twitter? 

--> 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.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Y-Combinator vs Seedcamp - Paul Graham nailed it?

Update September 2011: This blog post was one of the most popular on my blog because it was a rant. I will rant no more. I wrote about it because a few years ago I felt I didn't like what the Seedcamp was up to but it has changed since then. Both Seedcamp and Y-Combinator (along with TechStars and others) are great ways of stimulating entrepreneurship and I support them all. I didn't want to hurt anyone with this post and if I did, I'm sorry. This blog post is no longer relevant. The comment thread below it is still interesting and I recommend you go to comments directly. Thank you.
- Michael Sliwinski
--- Original post back in the day:
Last week while watching the talks from Startup Bootcamp by the founders of some really cool web apps like DropboxRedditJustin.tv - I couldn't help noticing that these are some really good web-businesses founded initially by Paul Graham powered Y-Combinator. If you add Posterous (which I'm using for this blog), RescueTime or Xobni to the mix, it's quite a lineup... whereas Seedcamp in Europe still waits for their startups to mean anything in the web 2.0 world...
Ycombinator
Last week's LeWeb conference tried to prove a point that we have cool startups in Europe too, and I think we really do (I'm European and I'm proudly based in Europe) but just as I mentioned earlier in my last blog post, there is still a substantial gap between Europe and the Silicon Valley in terms of entrepreneurship.
This year Codility - a company led by a friend of mine won Seedcamp and they moved to London so I'm hoping they'll be one of those Seedcamp winners who will prove to be really successful. Fingers crossed guys!
The curious thing is that Seedcamp actually failed in one regard - they evolved from an idea of a place where startup founders really start (the founders have roughly an idea and want to move to London to make it big) to "yet another startup competition" where all the startups have already launched, have customers and have even received a round of funding... In this case I'd probably could try to submit Nozbe (founded in 2007) to them and would have a chance to win :-)
I'm not saying it's really bad... but I really dig the fact that Y-Combinator has maintained its profile of being a seed funding for fresh-out-of-college founders who want to make it big in the web world. They have the energy and ideas, so they receive a few bucks from Paul and work together to make it happen... and as you can see from the list of startups I've mentioned earlier... some of them are pretty darn successful.
What do you think? Any opinions or experiences in submitting your startup to Seedcamp or Y-Combinator? Which model's better for you? 
--> 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.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Open ID is for geeks... Facebook and Twitter are not... and win!

Yesterday on LeWeb conference Michael Arrington interviewed guys from Facebook, MySpace and Linkedin (among others) about the quick adoption of Facebook connect as  a way to log in to different web sites without having to use new passwords... and he commented on some of the alternatives... and why they failed:

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Facebook Connect has taken the Internet by storm - because it's not for geeks

Almost everyone has an account on Facebook. Chances are that many people started using the Internet because they wanted to connect to their friends via Facebook. Not everyone has an account on MySpace (I don't!)

This means your regular mum and dad are using Facebook... and they know how to log in there.

If you know how to log in to Facebook, you know how to log in elsewhere

This destroys the barrier of entry for people - no need to sign up again, just log in with Facebook. It makes the barrier of entry even lower and helps crossing the chasm of getting not only geeks but also regular people to use your startup.

Twitter's log in is 2nd in the race... Google Account is in the middle and MySpace login and OpenID have failed

Facebok and Twitter rule the social media now and everyone has an account on either one or the other or... both. Google Account is also a cool way to log in, but frankly, it's kind of spooky to use Google for everything we do online. It's enough they have my Gmail, Google Reader and Docs...

MySpace lost their momentum last year and this is why they lost to Facebook and Twitter.

OpenID is for geeks. A no-geek will not understand it and this is why the adoption of this "standard" failed in the long run. Mum and Dad will understand Facebook login, they do it every day. OpenID is not for them.

Facebook Connect or Twitter login coming to Nozbe?

Probably, I'll have to test it and see how it works for us but I'm considering it now. If it makes the barrier of entry lower for non-geeky users, I'll be happy to give it a shot. We don't have the timeline for this yet, but watch out as we make it happen over the course of next months.

I'll include Facebook connect and Twitter login to the new startup we're working on... probably on day one already.

Do you use your Facebook Connect or Twitter data to sign in to web apps? Do you use OpenID? What's your preference?

--> 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, December 9, 2009

LeWeb discussions - where are multimillionaire startup owners in Europe?

I couldn't attend this year's LeWeb conference but I'm definitely going next year. As I can see from the live stream (thanks Loic for doing this - it's a great idea to have the live stream free for the rest of us!) the discussions are really cool and the list of speakers is amazing. What caught my attention is the Best of Europe panel where they talked about the fact that we don't have Sergeys and Larrys worth 16 Billion U$ each on the continent...
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I personally don't care about being a millionaire. I care about running a successful Internet startup and having tens of thousands of happy and productive users, but I'm not doing it to make millions or to sell out or whatever, I just like this lifestyle and it makes me really happy and gives me enough money to feed and maintain my family.
Where are the ultra-successful startup owners in Europe?
The fact is - the richest man in Spain is worth roughly the same as Sergey or Larry of Google, but they are young and run Internet company that is changing the world and he's old and he's running a clothing franchise called Zara.
So why don't we have Internet millionaires in Europe?
While I don't have all the answers, I think it's because of the following reasons:
1. We're Europeans, we prefer jobs, not risky startups
Not me, I've set up my company right after college (and it took me a while until I nailed it with Nozbe), but most of my friends wanted a nice steady job and started climbing their career path in a big company after studies.
Already during my studies I found out that most of my friends where dreaming of great jobs with great salaries, company car, mobile phone, laptop and all the benefits that come from working for a giant corporation.
2. No risk, no fun? Not in Europe.
Just as in #1, people in Europe are afraid of risk. Families find it really hard to borrow you money. Everyone's afraid of trying and failing... It took me a few years and a lot of hard work to finally create a startup that was successful. I had to do lots of client work to maintain my family and work on my startups in the evenings. It paid off, but most of Europeans don't want to risk it. On top of that my both parents are entrepreneurs, so I had their blessing and understanding.
3. Even VCs want a proven Google-killer
The funny thing is that VCs in Europe also want to invest in "proven" models (aka: copies of web apps from the US that worked there). They want us to make clones that have worked across the pond. They are VCs, they should be taking risks, it's their job, isn't it?
4. Entrepreneur in Europe is a 2nd grade citizen.
Sorry to admit that but I found it true on several occasions. It's better in Europe to say: I work for IBM, Microsoft, Sun, Procter and Gamble.... (put any big corporation name here) then to say - I work at home on a startup.
My mum once called me on the phone asking what should she say to her friends when they would ask her what I'd do for a living, because she knew I work from home and my entire team works remotely too... I'd reply to her: "I'm a CEO of a multinational company that is bringing productivity solutions to people from more than 100 countries in the world." - she responded - yes, this sounds really good, a lot better than: "I'm sitting at home doing something on my computer".
5. Europeans are thinking... small.
It's because of the fact that we have small Europe with really small countries with lots of language and cultural differences. So most startups start at home and provide solutions only locally.
It amazes me each time I'm talking about Nozbe with fellow startup owners as they would always ask me, why I didn't first start locally in our country and later went for the US market. They find it really amazing that for me it was an obvious choice - I read "Getting Things Done" by David Allen in English, I was reading US-based (mostly) GTD blogs, I knew GTD is most popular in the States, so why would I start a GTD app in my country where hardly anyone knew GTD? For me it was a no-brainer... See Apple's tagline: Think Different.
I'm already seeing a significant change and surge of entrepreneurship in Europe, specially thanks to all the "Barcamp meetings" being held throughout Europe. Things are looking up.
What do you think? Can we have another Google-like startup in Europe? Can Europeans make it happen?