Categories

My Annual Blog Entry

If past performance is indicative of future performance then this will be my only blog post for the year. Fortunately, all my stock prospectuses tell me that this is not the case so maybe I’ll keep up on it this year.

I can easily say that 2011 was a great year. There were quite a few life events:

  • My son, Drake, was born!
  • My family moved to an awesome new house.
  • I started a new position as a dev manager @ Quest.
  • Clare and I went to Las Vegas again with an awesome friend.
  • I became an uncle to a beautiful baby girl.
  • Wedplaces has been put on the back-burner. I will write about this sometime soon.
In 2012 I still have a lot going on:
  • I am working on an iPhone app — who isn’t?.
  • I am taking a 2nd trip to China for my new position.
  • I am learning Mandarin via Rosetta Stone — partially for work, but mostly because I want to learn it for Wes and Drake. Hopefully it will help get them into the Verona Area International School.
  • My family will hopefully be going to the Virgin Islands sometime this year.

 

I’d love to hear what you did in 2011 and plan on doing in 2012.

 

Do the hustle

The HustleThis week I celebrated my 29th birthday. I also read a blog post by Ramit Sethi where he challenged his readers to “hustle” and “Identify THREE people that could help you get closer to your goals” and “Find a creative way to meet with at least one BEFORE WED NIGHT”. Being a reader with a little “getting old motivation”,  I took this challenge.

I contacted a founder of WedGenius (which no longer exists) to see what advice he would have to somebody entering the online wedding industry and to learn from his past experiences. I asked to take him to lunch and he accepted for Thursday.

My meeting with him was awesome. Definitely worth the price of a lunch. He told me to look at major internet competitors and make sure that I’m not competing with them directly. He was able to mention a couple of [indirect] competitors that I didn’t see before. He also mentioned his marketing and roll-out techniques. He had great success with bridal shows and hand-written letters to vendors. He wished that he spent more time and money in SEO and getting a first page listing for common search terms like “madison wedding planning”. He seemed pretty critical of the industry saying that it was too saturated and too late to start in. I suppose that comes from his slightly skewed point of view. The best part is that he’s willing to answer any questions that I may have in the future.

The second person that I identified was actually a group, Capital Entrepreneurs. They are a local entrepreneurship group that meets regularly to help each other by sharing successes, failures, and resources. I contacted them expressing my interests in joining the group. They welcomed me without any reservations and I look forward to meeting up with them for the first time next month.

The final person I identified to help me with my goals was a multiple-choice peer. I was determined to meet the Wednesday night goal so I decided that I would talk to one of three people in the Madison Area Software Developers Meetup Group. I picked three people from the RSVP list to approach during the event and discuss what they have done with their software start-ups and what they think about my goals.

One of the predetermined people did not show up but the other two did and I talked extensively to Josh. He and the rest of the group gave me possible pivot points. They also gave me some insights on technical integrations like whether or not to use google maps. (Short answer is no).

As a bonus, I talked to Assaf (check out his site Clickdummy) and received some fantastic feedback on WedPlaces. He told me to focus my call-to-action to one single thing. For example, focus on gathering newsletter users until there is a working product then switch it to focus to only the search grid. He suggested asking a single question on the homepage to suck the customer in. For example, “How many people will be at your wedding?”. Finally, he suggested that I stop worrying about the revenue and start by tracking everything so I have competitive metrics to provide to wedding venues. This was the best advice of the week. He also got me the best birthday shirt ever. I’ll post some pictures of me in it soon.

So I did a lot of doing even if most of it was talking and meetings — apparently meeting can be productive.

A whole year later

I started this blog about one year ago. Lets see what’s happened since then.

On the personal front,

  • I started and finished doing some side-work for a small startup, MyPayNet. I learned a lot from this and will try to share more this year.
  • Clare, Wes and I went to France for 2 weeks. You can see lots of pictures on our Picasa site.
  • Wesley had his first birthday!
  • Clare and I went to Las Vegas  with family and friends. Hmmm, can’t find the link to those pictures — maybe that’s a good thing….
  • We put our house up for sale and hope to sell it and build a new one. We’re doing this, in part, because -
  • We’re expecting another baby boy around February 21st.

I have to say that that is a lot of doing. No wonder my blogging has slipped.

In spirit with my entrepreneurial side, I am creating a Wedding Venue Search Tool, Wed Places. I’m still in the exploration phase so I’m trying to find a business model around this idea. I’ll be providing more details around this soon. If you have any thoughts let me know.

Security is an online right

This is one of my pet-peeves courtesy of  37Signals (who I usually enjoy).

Security should not be an “upgrade” or an additional “feature” that needs to be paid for. Security should be considered an online right. When increased security is free everyone wins. I know that there is a cost associated with security (in this case SSL increases bandwidth).

Google gets it. They have https on by default for all gmail users.

Sorry that my first post in a while is a rant, but I figure that if this doesn’t motivate me to write a blog entry nothing will.

Start-Up Work Ethic

I’ve been thinking a lot about start-ups lately since I’ve been doing more doing. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the work ethic of employees in start-ups. And because successful blogs seem to draw crowds by writing lists, I give you 4 things that I think a strong start-up employee must do…

1. Expect to work more than “9 to 5″ if you want to succeed.

You need to be willing to put in that extra time. With modern technology this should not be an issue. If you are like me, you are probably working more in your current job than you have in the past and don’t even realize it. People’s personal worlds and professional worlds are blending more and more every day. You might take an extra hour in the morning to watch your child in a school recital but answer emails from your cell phone after putting the same child to bed. Being “on call” or getting in a little extra work (or extra time with the family) should be as simple as opening (or closing) your laptop. But in order for this to work you need to…

2. Care about what you’re doing.

If you don’t, you and your team will fail. I’m very fortunate that I get to do what I love at my current job. Sometimes I get pretty passionate about the issues (just ask Vladimir), but only because I care about my profession, my product, and my team. When you care about what you’re doing it will show. When you care too much, you need to be careful that you still…

3. Work on the basics first.

It doesn’t make sense to “gold-plate” everything you do. That gold-plating has a cost associated with it and often isn’t needed. Just get the basics done then if time or need dictates you can come back and make it better. Some people call this iterating while others just call it common sense. There are reasons that we ship software with bugs. Make sure that you can see the forest from the trees. If you can do this then you should also be able to…

4. Improve the company as a whole.

Actively seek things to improve the company even if they are not completely in your field of expertise. A start-up is small and fragile so it can use all the help you can give it. Even if you aren’t in a start-up, making overall improvements can get you noticed and minimize the bureaucracy that everybody hates.

Overall, finding the right person is probably the most important thing that a start-up can do. I think I can become the right person if I can do what I’ve described above. Start-ups need to value people over process. A smart, professional person can be trained to do just about anything, especially when he/she has a solid base to start from. Hoping that somebody that you like or somebody that has a particular skill set (especially in a start-up environment) is the right person for your start-up is short-sighted and will likely be the beginning of the end for that particular company.

What tips would you give to either a start-up company or somebody looking to join such a company?

Why I Now Have The Starwood Amex Credit Card

Update: If you like this article and decide to sign up for a starwood amex, please fill out this form: http://goo.gl/KS13L. You will get up to the 25,000 points mentioned in my post. I also get some points for referrals.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I just received my new Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express in the mail and can’t wait to use it! Not only because I’ll be booking my trip to Paris (Trip-It) with it but because it is a great credit card to have in my arsenal.

Benefits

  • Sign-up Bonus
  • Earn 1 Starpoints for every dollar spent and 2 points for every dollar at a Starwood hotel.
  • Transfer 20,000 points into 25,000 miles for almost any frequent flyer program
  • Starwood points can easily be transferred between any user in the same household with a phone call

Sign-up Bonus

After my 1st purchase I will receive 10,000 Starpoints and after spending $15,000 in 6 months I will receive an additional 15,000 Starpoints. What does all this mean? Lets break it down:

Looking at mid-April,

I could stay at W Chicago – City Center (category 5) for a weekend and spend 24,000 of my points (12k/night). This hotel has earned the AAA four diamond award for the last 3 years and costs $239/night. This comes out to $478 or a value of 1.99 cents a point.

More realistically I might go to Minneapolis and stay at the Westin Edina Galleria (category 3) for 3 nights and spend 21,000 of my points (7k/night). This hotel costs $104/night or 1.48 cents a point. This worse than staying in downtown Chicago, but still a good baseline value. (We’ll convert the value into cashback percentage shortly).

Finally, lets take a look at a cost comparison that better fits my hotel habits. Lets compare my Starpoints hotel stay to a travel site’s best rate of a hotel that I would typically stay at.

A few years ago Clare and I went to Disneyland in Orange County, CA. We stayed at a nice average/economy hotel Crowne Plaza Resort Anaheim Garden Grove (I think). If booked through travelocity.com for mid-april it would cost $105/night. Alternatively, the cheapest hotel I could get with Starpoints is 3,000 points/night [staying for 8 nights] (category 2) but realistically for this trip we’d still have to spend 7,000 points a night [staying for 3 nights] (category 3). This brings the value of the Starpoints to 3.5 cents or 1.5 cents respectively.

Looking at these 3 scenarios it looks like my Starpoint value is between 1.5 cents and 2 cents a point. Let’s break that down into something useful.

So how much cashback?

How much does a point cost when the 25,000 point bonus is included? How much without the bonus? How does it compare with my Schwab 2% cashback on everything credit card?

To figure out the cashback % I’m going to use the following formula:

dollars (cents)/point [OR value] ÷ point/dollars spent [OR cost] = cashback % [OR dollars earned/dollars spent]

but first we need to calculate the cost of a point.

Calculating cost (including bonus points)

To get all the bonus points I need to spend $15,000 in 6 months. Don’t forget, though, that I’ll get points for all that spending so:

Spending: $15,000 x 1 points = 15,000 points

+ Bonus: 25,000 points

= Total: 40,000 points for $15,000 in spending

=Cost [point/dollars spent]:  37.5 cents (to clarify this is how many dollars need to be spent to earn 1 point [OR 1x = 15,000/40,000])

Calculating cost (without bonus points)

Spending: $15,000 x 1 points = 15,000 points

= Total: 15,000 points for $15,000 in spending

=Cost [point/dollars spent]:  1 dollar

The verdict

Including bonus:

2 cents/point value: .02 ÷ .375 = 5.33% cashback

1.5 cents/point value: .015 ÷ .375 = 4.0% cashback

Without bonus:

2 cents/point value: .02 ÷ 1 = 2.0% cashback

1.5 cents/point value: .015 ÷ 1 = 1.5% cashback

Without a doubt this is a great card. It beats my Schwab 2% cashback credit card in quite a few scenarios. However, it doesn’t beat it in the most typical scenario of choosing a nice, cheap hotel outside the Starwood group without including the bonus.

But wait! I left out one of the coolest things about this card. Look again at bullet #3 in the benefits section. You can transfer 20,000 Starpoints into 25,000 frequent flyer points. That means for 20,000 points I can get a free ticket for Madison (MSN) to San Diego (SAN) through American Airlines which would typically cost me $423.80. Quick – what’s the cashback % of that?

$423.80 [value] ÷ $20,000 [cost] = 2.11% cashback

Now this is a better deal than my Schwab card for sure. Mixing and matching all the flexible options that the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express makes it easily one of my new favorites.

I just want to leave you with a couple of things to be careful about. There is a $45 annual fee but it’s waived the first year. Also, if you are like me you are thinking “Wow, this is a great deal but I don’t think I can spend $15,000 in 6 months – that’s crazy!”. This is why I have waited so long to get this card. If you want the full bonus and aren’t able to use this for company travel or something similar some planning will need to take place. I waited about 9 months until all of our Paris plans were gelling and this seems like it will work well for us.

If you’re interested in signing up for this card, please come back and use my referral link. At the very least I’d love to hear from you about your card experiences.

What are your thoughts on this card? Do you have a credit card that has an even better cashback percentage? Let us all know in the comment section below.

Exercising – New Year’s Resolution

As part of my new year’s resolution I started exercising again. But my resolution isn’t the stereotypical “lose weight” or “exercise more”. As you probably figured, it’s to Do More Doing.

As stupid as it sounds, I almost convinced myself not to exercise to not be one of the sheeple that make this resolution year after year. However, I took a step back and decided that I need to Do More Doing.

About a year and a half ago I had some great success hiring a personal trainer at Orange Shoe Gym. I lost nearly 30 pounds in 4 months! It was great and I thought I had successfully changed my lifestyle so that I would keep the weight off. I was wrong. I stopped working out only a couple of months after I stopped my personal training.

This time I’m taking what I learned from my personal training and trying again. There are 2 actions that need to take place to stay successful, cardio exercise 3x/week and maintaining an appropriate diet.

Exercise

The best way I learned to lose weight is to exercise for 30 minutes at 80% maximum heart rate several times a week. When I had my personal trainer, I used Polar F6 Men’s Heart Rate Monitor Watch (Black Coal, New Design) to make sure I was in the correct percentage or zone. It works great and you can use it no matter what exercises you decide to do. It’s pretty expensive, though, so if you are working out at a gym or have a treadmill I would recommend that you just get the Polar T31 Non-Coded Transmitter and Belt Set. You can wear this belt around your chest and it will transmit your heart rate to your exercise equipment. You don’t need to try to use the metal handles while you’re running and your heart rate is recorded the entire time.

Diet

In order to maintain an appropriate diet, I’m trying to use an iPhone app called Lose It!. After entering a bit of information, it will tell you how many calories you can consume daily and how long it will take you to achieve your goal. It  has nearly any food you can think of already programmed in it and you can add whatever it doesn’t have. In version 2.0 website synchronization (with additional charts and graphs), email reminders and summaries, social media integration, and friends have been added. These are meant to help motivate you to keep on keeping on. Feel free to add me as a friend and maybe we can motivate each other.

Another motivator is the current Million Pound Challenge that Princeton Club and Second Harvest are sponsoring. For every pound of weight lost they will donate 10 pounds of food to a pantry of your choice. Sounds like a win-win to me. You do not need to be a Princeton Club member to participate. (And on a side note, you will likely donate more food by using the “exercising” vs. “weight loss” selection).

Happy New Year!

Setting up my blog

So I’m currently in the process of setting up my new blog. I have added a feedburner feed and have started installing some cool WordPress plugins. If you’re an early adopter, please be patient with any and all updates in the near future.

I hope to discuss quite a few thing in the coming months. Things like 529 college accounts, credit card applications, crazy finance schemes (such as buying coins from the US Mint in bulk), folding@home, polyphasic sleeping, programming in .NET, ruby on rails, blogging (meta-blogging), windows home server, family, vacation and whatever else my heart desires.

I’ll attempt to tag these posts appropriately so you can ignore what you wish. My hopes are pretty high to think that other people will be interested in what I have to say. They’re even higher to think that my audience will be varied enough to have to categorize and tag appropriately.

Here’s to wishful thinking!