Monday, March 12, 2018

"The Subtle Art..." Response

When I found out Google Play was giving me a free audio book, I didn't know what to use it on. It was an odd coincidence that The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was one of the recommended options, since I planned on blogging about one of the extra credit topics anyway. So, my choice had been made and I began listening to the book during my 45+ minute commutes to and from school for a couple weeks.

One of the early topics discussed in the book is about “caring about less things”. Although this initially sounds abrasive and perhaps detrimental to being a good person, it has validity. As with everything in the book, the author explained the reasoning behind this very directly: you simply cannot care about everything, and many things aren’t worth caring about, so don’t. Constantly worrying about things that don’t matter takes time away from caring about the things that do, so you need to choose what is important and care just about that. It sounds weird to say that you shouldn’t care about things, but it makes sense to not care about trivial things that don’t matter and to get them off your mind.

Another topic that stood out to me in the book was that our values determine our metrics of success. At this stage in my life, my metric of success is largely tied to finishing school and earning my degree, which is a stepping stone to finding a job I enjoy that pays well. Someone else might have that same end goal but is working toward it purely from work experience or some other avenue. We each value different things in this situation; I value an education, whereas they value experience. The important thing regarding our differences is that we don’t think of each other as being less successful for not following the path we each believe is better (we shouldn’t even care what the other thinks in the first place, because it isn’t important) or consider ourselves less successful for not sharing their values.

Lastly, hearing that, by definition, not everyone can be extraordinary was refreshing. I’ve learned to accept that I am not and will likely not be the best at any specific thing, which is okay. That alone takes off a lot of unnecessary pressure.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Shadrach White Presentation

Shadrach White, the CEO of cloudPWR, was our final guest speaker. Despite being the fifth one, he had a lot of new information and unique experiences to share with us.

Airlift is a platform developed by cloudPWR that can be utilized in numerous ways by totally different companies. One of Shadrach’s overarching lessons was that he decided against tying the service to any one specific industry, such as medicinal marijuana. Doing so would have pigeonholed it into one market when it’s capable of serving so many more. One of Shadrach’s personal goals is to make the government more efficient, so Airlift has only been used in government-related fields. As he takes the company national, however, he explained that there is nothing stopping them from entering public markets as well.

Bootstrapping was a recurring topic throughout Shadrach’s presentation, which is when a company attempts to build value before seeking investments. Although waiting to ask for money seemingly makes it more difficult to start a business, he explained how bootstrapping allows the startup’s shares to gain value before they are sold or traded for investments, which allows for more of the shares to be retained. On a similar note, Shadrach discussed how angel investors aren’t really in it for the money, and how they don’t even invest in the company or the idea; they invest in the person. This was an interesting point, because although we learned about different types of investors in class, I hadn’t considered people giving entrepreneurs large amounts money without caring much about the return. This topic transitioned into Shadrach explaining that he has totally different pitches when talking to different kinds of investors; angels typically want to hear more about the person and less about a business plan (which he said should be much shorter in this case, like 6 pages), whereas venture capital investors want to know all of the details and expect the full report.

Much of Shadrach’s time was spent taking questions, and he gave many tidbits of knowledge while answering them. For instance, he doesn’t believe in building wheels, so cloudPWR partners with already established companies like Box and DocuSign. He talked about hiring people from his network and then hiring from their networks, which reinforces the idea that networking is one of the most important things you can do before/while job searching. One of his last comments was about interviewing the company you’re interviewing for and making sure it’s somewhere you actually want to work. When I’ve interviewed for any of my previous jobs, I never really thought about what it would be like to work at those places, because I didn’t have much of a choice – I just needed employment as soon as possible. Now that I’m graduating, I’ll (hopefully) be more desired in the workplace, and I’ll be able to look around a bit and find somewhere that really suits me. to Dot.Bomb

The lecture about the bubble’s five stages was an interesting one. I don’t recall any of my other instructors ever using toy dinosaurs to model a discussion, but they helped display the key takeaway.

The first stage of the bubble, called “An Innocent Beginning”, took place in the early 1990s. The internet was still very new during these years, and people were just beginning to realize how it could affect society. Prodigy, CompuServ, Genie, AOL, and Delphi were the first major online services, and each one was represented by a dinosaur during our discussion.

The “Boom” lasted for two years after Netscape went public in 1995 and immediately became one of the most valuable companies in the world. The graphical web browser changed everything regarding how the internet could be used, and the number of internet companies grew rapidly.

“Insanity” followed, from 1997-2000. All kinds of internet companies were gaining venture capital and public offerings, just from claiming to be internet-related. InfoSpace, which was essentially an online phone book, went public in 1998 and became worth more money than Boeing. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I think people should have realized something wrong was happening by that point. Going back to the dinosaurs, a new one called Yahoo showed up around this time but stayed out of the spotlight for the moment.

The topic probably wouldn’t be called a bubble without the “Bust”. In 2000, it’s realized that almost none of these companies are actually profitable when they start going bankrupt and closing. Aside from Yahoo, who was buying other companies during this time, any dinosaur that was still standing has now gone extinct.

2002 brought the “Crawl Back to Sanity” when things started evening out again. – a company that was, by all accounts, doomed to fail – posted a profit. Yahoo, the final remaining dinosaur, is still going strong. Ebay, Priceline, and Monster are some of the other survivors.

The point of the dinosaurs was to show that, aside from Yahoo, all of the major companies that existed at the start of the internet are now extinct because they didn’t adapt to the changes. I wonder when the general public realized they were living inside of a bubble, and if it would have been possible to mitigate the damage had it been realized sooner. This also makes me think about the leading companies that are around today, like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, and what they are doing to remain competitive and sustainable during changing times.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Vision and Mission Statements

The entire purpose of AutoTinker is to help people get into the world of tinkering and automation, primarily using IoT-enabled devices and gadgets like a Raspberry Pi and its components. Aside from simply being fun projects to work on, there are real uses for these kinds of things that can help make peoples’ lives better and easier. I admittedly purchased a Raspberry Pi 2 a few years ago before realizing I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. While searching for project ideas I found popular things like a network-wide ad blocker, videogame system emulator, and media server, but some of the most unique solutions came from searching what people have done with them, such as building a smartmirror, in-car computer, temperature logger, security camera, and much more. My point here is that they can be used for just about anything as long as you realize the opportunity and are creative enough to build a solution (which is one of the ways we help!).

AutoTinker’s vision statement is about the big picture and how the world could put our store’s products and services to use in a variety of ways. The mission statement is more grounded and specific about how we wish to achieve our overarching goals by mentioning a bit more about what the store will do.

Vision: Help the world build unique devices and solutions for any situation using a variety of gadgets.

Mission: Enable people to augment and simplify their lives through creative use of automated and specialized technology by providing a variety of equipment, knowledges, and services.

Protecting our Intellectual Property

First of all, I have finally decided on a name for my company: AutoTinker. It incorporates automation and tinkering, which are two of the store’s focuses. Planning the details of my business without having a name has felt weird, and now that I have chosen one I can more comfortably move forward.

Now, how will I protect AutoTinker’s intellectual property? As we discussed in class, the primary ways of doing so are through:
  • Copyrights (forms of expression)
  • Trademarks (unique identifiers)
  • Patents (inventions)
  • Trade secrets (specific things a company does to gain an advantage)

As a retail store, we will likely utilize all of these methods. “AutoTinker”, our logo, and our slogan will all be trademarked to protect our name and brand recognition. Forms and paperwork that we use for any reason, whether it be internal documentation or agreements/contracts with customers, will be copyrighted. Although many of the services we will offer will be based on pre-existing and open-source solutions, patents may be involved if we build anything proprietary that is either used for the business or offered for sale.

It might seem odd to consider well-trained employees a trade secret, but I believe that it would apply in AutoTinker’s case. Despite all retail companies attempting to train their employees (or at least saying they do), I would like to really make that topic a priority. Knowledgeable sales associates and technicians will have more information at their disposal while making sales and working with/for customers, and will earn more trust from them. Having everyone on the same page regarding product information as well as company policies and standards will also help create a more professional and inspirational work environment. So, because of how much emphasis I will put on training, I would consider that to be our primary trade secret in lieu of something like KFC’s special ingredients.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

John Dimmer Presentation

As with all of our guest speakers, John Dimmer had new and unique information to share with our class. One of his first talking points was about initially knowing that he wanted to run a business but also knowing that he wasn’t yet ready to do so, which is similar to how I’ve felt throughout this course. I enjoy leadership roles and believe I would be a good boss, but also feel like there is still so much more to learn before jumping into the real world of entrepreneurship. John discussed working at a few different jobs to gain the skills and experience he needed to help start a business, and I think that if I were to actually start a company, I would likely go the same route.

This got me thinking about something: How much value would there be in working in the industry and gaining skills/experience as a software developer when considering entrepreneurship? The accounting that John learned before helping start Free Range Media made him very successful; would a programming-type background have any similar benefit?

Much of the presentation was technical, and I’ll admit that I got sort of lost when it came to the terminology, so although it may not have been a relatively important part the next point that stuck out to me was about focusing on how to start and get out of a business. Starting a business is obviously one of the most important considerations in entrepreneurship, but I didn’t realize that you should think about an exit strategy so early. I know Andrew has talked about basically getting bored of companies and wanting to try new things, but I think that I’d want to hang on to my business for as long as possible if I were to get one up and running. Maybe I’m being overly sentimental (which is one of my flaws), but I don’t think I’d ever consider selling my shares, let alone the company as a whole. Regardless, now I know that having an exit strategy is important, and it’s another thing I’ll have to figure out for my business plan.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Business Pricing

After debating my business ideas and flipping back and forth between a couple of them, it's past time for me to pick, stick, and begin working out the logistics. As mentioned in my second blog post, my business idea is opening a hobbyist shop (which I’ll refer to as XYZ) that offers goods and services related to tinkering and automation. That’s a pretty broad field, so let me explain the idea before getting into pricing.

XYZ’s primary focus would be on things like Raspberry Pis, which are micro-computers that can be used for a variety of purposes, such as home data servers, surveillance controllers, game emulators, network ad blockers, and much more. We would sell the Pis themselves, as well as modules and accessories for them. As for the automation side, XYZ would also offer other products such as Google Home/Amazon Echo, smart bulbs/plugs, and maybe streaming devices.

Aside from simply selling products that people can already purchase at Best Buy or Amazon, we would offer workshops, set ups, and maintenance for projects. For example, consider a customer that wants to set up home surveillance with a few cameras around their house. They already purchased a Raspberry Pi, but all of the guides they’ve found online are now out of date. They are going on vacation soon and needed it set up yesterday (a typical customer problem that I’ve learned from working in retail for years). They could have someone from XYZ go to their home, install/configure the necessary software, and verify that everything works.

On the other hand, maybe someone has heard about the popular game emulator software RetroPie and would like to run it. However, they don’t own any of the necessary hardware, and would also like to set it up themselves. If they were to come in to XYZ, we would offer them a discount for buying the Pi, SD card, power adapter, and workshop pass all together. Entire kits could also be purchased at discounted rates, and I would like to work with schools and offer workshops for students.

Now that I’ve over-explained what the company does, let’s get into the numbers. To remain competitive, all of the physical goods we sell would have to be offered at MSRP: Raspberry Pi - $35, Pi Zero - $5, Pi camera - $10-40 (depending on quality), Google Home - $129, etc. These prices have already been decided for me, and although there isn’t realistically much I can do about them, I would aim for a 10-20% discount when bundling applicable items. XYZ’s pricing model gets much more interesting when including the services. House-calls would start at $400, plus $50/hour beyond 3 hours. I feel this is a fair price because it involves specially setting something up for long-term use, and it pays a trained employee extra for field work. Workshops would have variable time lengths and start at a rate of $30/hour, with discounted rates for larger groups of people (maybe $27/hour for 5+, $24/hour for 10+, etc). The same idea would apply when working with schools, but with some kind of travel and curriculum fees added in.

And yes, those prices would be marketed as $0.01 or  $0.05 cheaper than what I listed.