Busy Year

My schedule is looking daunting this year. Never have I traveled as much as I have since going full time with b5media, and the schedule doesn’t look to be getting better. I enjoy traveling, don’t get me wrong. I’m excited about the opportunities that I’ve been given. It’s just… alot.

Next weekend, we have the Maryland bloggers meetup at Red Brick Station in White March. Come on out on March 31st and meet some local bloggers, including a large b5media contingent. Details at Upcoming.org where I’m asking that you RSVP so we know how many people to expect. Red Brick Station is a local microbrewery that makes fantastic beer in a very laid back restaurantish environment.

In two weeks, I’ll be heading up to Toronto for a set of meetings. Darren will be back in town and Christina will be flying up from Texas. I’m hoping to meet David Kindervater and maybe finally get to meet Rick, one of b5media’s VCs. Who knows.

On April 11th, I’ll be flying back from Toronto directly into Washington, DC where I’ll be presenting WordPress that evening to the DC PHP Developer’s group. The meeting has been moved to the Martin Luther King Jr Library at the corner of 9th and G st in Northwest. Come on out if you’re local.

I’m home, then, until May 30th and 31st when I’ll be in Toronto again. This time for the Mesh Conference, Canada’s premiere Web 2.0 conference.

July 21st and 22nd, I’ll be back to the Bay Area where I’ll be attending WordCamp 2007. Details on venue and official RSVP list not yet released – but b5media will be there. :)

In August, it will be back to the west coast – this time to Seattle for Gnomedex 7.0. You might recall I posted how I wanted to go to this. Well, I’ll be attending. Never been to the Emerald City, so this should be fun.

In September, I’m locked in as a panelist at Secure Development World in Alexandria, VA. This should be fun as I’ve never been a panelist before. My role is an advocate for open source development.

b5media is sponsoring a big event in October that I’m not at liberty to speak of yet. But it looks like… Miami? :)

November 5-10 is looking to be a crazy few days as I’ll be back at Ad:Tech NYC and then out to Blog World Expo in Las Vegas. Not sure how insane that trip will be yet, but hopefully that will be it for 2007.

Whew.

CULT OF STEVE: Apple's mantra

I told you the whole thing is a cult.

You gotta love this. Straight from Valley Wag:

CULT OF STEVE: Apple’s mantra:
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Steve Jobs, since his triumphant return to Apple, has become a latter-day deity, worshipped as much by techies as the shareholders he’s made rich. So much so that his admirers, from product designers to rival execs, orient themselves, not entirely jokingly, by asking: What Would Steve Jobs Do? Seen here, the question, spotted on a Silicon Valley vanity plate by Buzz Anderson.”

They even have membership plates. Like the ones you can get as a college alumni. I am waiting for the one with the little silver Apple on the side.

Business Plan Series: Part 2 – Market Analysis

In my previous post I discussed the basics of framing your plan and how to set it up.

Moving forward, I would like to take more of the startup/entrepreneur/VC type of plan approach and start with the market analysis. This is because if you started with the corporate overview there wouldn’t be a whole lot to talk about at this point and if there was and there were prior rounds of funding I might start with that. If you are doing something really different you need to give it context and tell the story of why you should exist. I will of course cover the Corporate Overview section later.

You will also notice that I skipped the Executive Summary. Since it is a summary of everything I will talk about this last once we have covered all of the sections.

There are some basic things you should try and answer with the market analysis:

  • Do you have a market?
  • Is there a viable niche that makes sense to focus on first?
  • Does your product or service fill a need or solve a problem?
  • Can you appeal to cross-segments within your market by highlighting different aspects of your product?
  • How should you price your product or service?
  • Who are your potential customers? What are the various customer profiles?
  • How will you deliver your product to the customer?

I break down the Market Analysis into four sub-sections:

  1. Market Overview – describe the market you are in or the market you are planning to enter: product coverage area, environment, additional product area if necessary and potential customers.
  2. Market Background – This provides historical data (i.e., market size, demographics, psychographics), needs and trends; buying patterns; preferences and market growth
  3. Market Challenges – Here is where you analyze data and focus on the unique issues that create the challenges and problems you see could be solved.
  4. Market Opportunity – This is where you used data in the previous to explore the problems and expose the opportunities that exist to discuss the opportunities to be solved.

NOTE: Remember to properly cite your sources of information within the body of your Market Analysis as you write it. You and other readers of your business plan will need to know the sources of the statistics or opinions that you’ve gathered from others. This is important that they see that the basis for your analysis comes from well known sources.

NEXT TIME: COMPANY OVERVIEW – After you have explained how compelling the problems and needs are, you will need to pitch who you are and what you do.

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Review: Dan Rather

Dan Rather Keynote SXSWi 2007
Photo: Texas Amy on
Flickr

Continuing my thoughts from last weeks SXSW trip, I want to talk about Dan Rather’s keynote interview on Monday Afternoon. I admit to being pretty soured by the trip by Monday afternoon, so perhaps my thoughts are a little skewed. Going into the address, I did find it massively ironic that bloggers were largely responsible for Dan Rather’s fall from grace at CBS, yet here he was talking to new media experts in a keynote speech. To be fair, not everyone at SXSW were bloggers but it has become increasingly difficult to find people that matter in the industry that don’t blog.

Within the first 30 seconds of the speech, I realized that this was not the same group of people that chased Memogate down. I’d even go as far to say that most did not really care much about real journalism. This was a hero in their eyes. An idol. A god. Hey, I have to give credit where credit was dfue – Dan Rather truly was a legendary journalist. Yet his credibility remains unexorably flawed due to Memogate.

With catchy strains of R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency Kenneth” (video clip) pulsing through the Hilton Ballroom, the congregated masses gave Rather the one and only standing ovation of the entire conference. I literally could sense the collective gasps of awe as he emerged on stage.

On a personal level, I admit being pretty impressed by the guy. He spoke of real journalism – of research and persistence; of tough questions and tough answers; of sources and drive. His words were the epitome of what real journalism is all about. However, the moderator for the event, Jane Hamsher, continually did NOT ask tough questions. It was really a love fest. An interview composed to make Rather look wonderful. The truth is that while Rather was pleading with reporters to ask tough questions, Hamsher was asking softball questions. It was really very bad form.

In my opinion, it’s easy to ask tough questions and still have utmost respect, love and admiration for someone.

All in all I was impressed with Dan Rather, but I was not enamored. He will always be tainted by Rathergate. He will always be the guy who defrauded the national public for political gain and maintained his quest for 12 long days despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He will always be that guy. But that does not overshadow decades of quality reporting, nor does it diminish his quality as reporter in general.

Overall, I rate Rather Unremarkable with a strong thumbs up for his appearing at SXSW.

Listen to the whole interview here or the direct MP3 link.

b5media Hitting WordPress 2.1

We grow. We suffer usage fees. Those fees come in database overhead, CPU utilization, etc. We’re hitting a number of incremental optimization targets in the next 3 weeks (by the time I go to Toronto in April, I hope) and one of them is moving the network to WordPress 2.1. Really, I’ve been very patient in not jumping the gun, doing quite a bit of testing but somewhere in the back of my mind, I still wanted to practice an overabundance of caution because unlike one blog, if something goes wrong on 175+ blogs, well…. I don’t need to tell you the amount of work I’ll be putting in, not to mention the amount of complaints I’ll be recieving.

We decided to bite the bullet and incrementally upgrade the network. So far, Arts & Design, Celebrities, Beauty & Style, Writing & Literature as well as Travel & Culture have been bumped. It seems only minor blips have occurred and I have been able to squelch those bugs fairly quickly. Tomorrow and Sunday, I’ll be bumping more channels and (knock on wood), we’ll have a smooth transition by Sunday evening.

Yay!

Review: The Hampton Inn

In my ongoing review series from my SXSW trip, I’d like to turn a negative eye on The Hampton Inn. As most business travellers, I receive a per diem and with that and additional funds I had in Paypal, I was secure in knowing I had $1000 in Paypal for my trip. Nothing that could come up could put me in a financial jam. That was the assumption I made in going to Austin and oh how wrong I was.

From the start, we had reserved rooms at the Hampton Inn in downtown Austin (San Jacinto and 3rd St, if you’re taking notes) via the SXSW housing desk. Our reservations were placed under the same card that we registered for the conference with. So arriving at the Hampton on Friday morning, I checked in and presented my Paypal card as the card for incidental expenses. Nothing was said about the charges for the entire stay being placed on my card, and admittedly I didn’t look at the card I was signing. So half of this was my fault to begin with. Shoot, not even that – maybe a third or a quarter. Isn’t it normal policy to ask something along the lines of, “Would you like the charges to apply to the credit card on file?” Instead, the Hampton charged my Paypal card and essentially drained my entire expense account. I was not aware of this until late that night while I was out with Jeremy and Jim Turner when my card was declined.

When I approached the Hampton about this, they were happy to shift the charge to the company card, and called Paypal to reverse the charge. However, when the weekend passed and I had not seen the money, I called Paypal myself. Paypal acknowledged that the Hampton had called on Friday, three days prior, but said that the Hampton had not done what they needed to do in terms of authorization to reverse the charge. Paypal needed documentation of the charge, merchant authorization number. Perhaps because my card is a Paypal debit card, I don’t know.

I notified the Hampton of the requirement and they faxed the paperwork over. Paypal assured me the charge would be reversed by the end of the day. By the end of the day, I still had no money so I called Paypal back. They went looking for the fax and told me that they needed the paperwork signed.

Back to the Hampton. The original person who was helping me had left for the day and was about the only person on staff who was in the least bit helpful. The front desk staff person glared at me with disdain but signed the paperwork and faxed it back – to the wrong number. Three hours later, I found that out because I had to call Paypal again.

Can someone tell me why I have to do the Hampton’s job?

Naturally, I did not see my money until Tuesday when I arrived back in Baltimore. Thank you to Jeremy for covering for me for the entire trip. He has been reimbursed as well.

I rate the Hampton Inn completely Unremarkable and will never stay there again.

Review: United Airlines

I’ve been quiet for the past week and a half and a lot of that had to do with me fgoing to SXSW this past week. It really was the worst trip in my life but it wasn’t all bad. I am home now and catching up on a large list of to-dos that have accumulated in the past week. Maybe I’ll be up to speed by tomorrow afternoon. I still haven’t recorded the Suicide Fan weekly podcast, and that was due today. Maybe tomorrow.

Instead, I’ve got tons of reviews from the past week – some products, some companies, some people, some positive and some negative. This is open ended as I’ve really found out a lot and have a lot of thoughts. So I’ll probably do these reviews for a little while until I get bored. :-)

United Airlines is the airline I choose, if possible, to fly. Particularly their cross country flights are great – and entertaining too. They have XM satellite radio piped into the plane so I have the ability to really listen to the music I want to on the flight and since my iPod is smashed, this is a good thing. In addition to the XM, I think it’s very cool in a very geek way to be able to listen to the flight deck speaking to air traffic control. Did you know that the tower does not bring a plane in on it’s landing path. In fact, it is not until final approach that Air Traffic control, which is generally regionally based, passes the plane off to the airport tower. Cool stuff.

Anyways, United is what I flew on to Austin. As usual, great friendly people who are more than happy to accommodate. My flight went through Chicago O’hare where I transferred to a regional jet for the flight to Austin. Smooth as usual, and I’ve had some non-smooth experiences (Can I hear someone say Continental Airlines at Newark Liberty?)

I had a bad luck trip all around, so when I arrived back at the Austin airport to fly home on Monday, I was alarmed when the flight from Chicago to Baltimore was canceled and they had to put me on an American Airlines flight. That was scary as I was positive my luck would continue to play out and my bags would not arrive in Baltimore. Fortunately, I was dead wrong.

So I give a rating of Remarkable to United Airlines. Customer for life.

Business Plan Series: Part 1 – Framing your plan

First, let me start by saying that by the time you are done with your business plan your first draft will look completely different than the one you share with everyone.

There are a few different forms that your business plan will take:

Business Plan Type #1 – Business Plan for You
Essentially a data dump with headings, this is the one that gathers your thoughts and gives you peace of mind if you are a “J” on the Myers Briggs. I always think that these should be written first because it is essentially a knowledge dump and since there is no audience but you there are no limitations.

Page Range: NONE

Business Plan Type #2 – Business Plan for Internal Strategy and Operations
I call this type of plan the “roadmap plan”. Think of this a providing your company and board with a look inside your brain and the brains of your management team. This type of plan is about alignment and communication of vision. It goes into deeper depth of product roadmaps, long term operations and greater performance planning. This means that the products and services section along with the competitive and operations sections will go a level deeper.

Page Range: About 60 pages but it depends on the maturity of the business so it could be longer.

Business Plan Type #3 – Business Plan for Investors and Raising Capital
This plan is what I call the “money plan” and many VC’s will say that they don’t read them, most see the value in them and all say that the exercise is necessary and important to address any issues that may arise in due diligence. Just because investors may not read them doesn’t mean you don’t have to do them. While this may be true for more experienced investors and an executive summary is good enough, you can bet that those on the the committee who need to be convinced to approve the investment will want to read it and the associates at the firm will be reviewing it in detail and putting their “quant jock” hats to run the numbers to see if something weird pops up.

Granted, this type of business plan is half sales pitch/half business strategy and it must communicate that not only is there a market for your products/services but that there is a HUGE need for your product, it is scalable with the right investment, you have an A-team to execute and that you will be able to exit for a large amount that will see a double digit return on their investment.

Page Range: About 15-30 pages depending on how developed the business is and how complex the product/service offering is that you are providing.

SO WHAT SECTION DO YOU START WITH?
Because each version of the plan has a different audience you will want to start it differently. Granted, the Executive Summary comes first but for an operational business plan it is good to start with the company summary to establish the vision and mission for internal reader. They want to have context and see how you are going to execute on the vision and plan you have placed in front of them.

For investor focused business plans you need to start with the problem which means that you need to talk about the market and the analysis you have done to conclude there are problems which will lead to the next section about how you will solve them. So start with Market Analysis. You might need to educate some investors on your market so don’t assume they know your business or sector.

WHAT ELSE GOES IN THERE?
There are many different books and resources with their own format, I don’t prescribe to one but I would include, not in any particular order, the following to start with:

  • Market Analysis
  • Management Team
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Operations
  • Implementation Plan
  • Products and Services
  • Marketing and Sales Strategy
  • Technology and R&D
  • Financial Plan and Projections
  • Funding Requirements and Exit Strategy

Making this a team exercise
I have found personally that when you are a lone entrepreneur, you have no one to do this with but yourself. As you add people to the management team and advisors get more involved they become critical to bring in different expertise and perspectives to make the plan complete and presentable. If the team is established, I find that this is the best way to have an off-site strategy meeting. You should have each one of your management team take a crack at writing the plan or improving on the previous one. Publish an outline they have to stick to but other than that, they are on their own. It will be interesting to share and extract the points that everyone likes and can debate about. You are the ultimate and final decision make but this is far better than having people work in a vacuum in their departmental silo.

Also, hire a third party to run the session, gather notes and lead the session. You don’t want to be doing two jobs and participating is far more important than managing the meeting.

NEXT TIME: We discuss “Market Analysis”. Most plans need to detail the situation, the problems and the market potential.

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