Trick er Treat

Drunk Zombie
Man, I’ve been there buddy!

This Halloween though, I dressed up as a computer nerd that sits in front of his computer all day long stressing about a deadline he can’t possibly meet. Actually this is the first Halloween in a long time that I didn’t dress up and go out on the town. Which is a tad depressing, but the good news is I worked my butt off and got very little accomplished. Now, according to this blog, “time is up” and I am supposed to be launching the Appetizer off into the great wide web world today (wait, did I get that right?). Unfortunately though, if it was to launch now, it would crash before it even left the ground (aka. fall over). How’s that for a trick kids? Enter excuse…

My projected deadline has proven a bit too optimistic. I underestimated the complexity of this application and the amount of time it would take to do some of the cool stuff going on with it. Approximately 200 hours of straight coding has been clocked in already and there’s probably another 50 or so to go. So apologies, but the deadline will need to be pushed back another 28 days. It will be well worth the wait though, I promise you. If you’re paying attention, this means the new target launch date coincides with my 30th birthday. Old Geezer day doesn’t officially happen until 5:24 a.m. though, so the new target launch time is going to be 5:23 a.m. Ha! Young Zack will get the credit for this puppy yet.

So, now that I can breathe again, let me tell you a little about where we’re at with this thing and where we’re headed. Scott (my trusty designer) has been working diligently on the logo and has produced a very nice selection of samples for me to choose from. He’s done a great job helping me figure out what the heck I want, which isn’t easy let me tell you. For the passed couple weeks, we’ve been tossing ideas back and forth and working iteratively towards the final product. We should be finished in the next day or two and ready to show it to you guys.

Once the logo is complete, Scott will start on site design, something we’re both excited to get moving on. The bulk of the back-end should be built this weekend, so I can focus on working with Scott to get the front-end user interface put together. It will be time to start stepping out of geek mode and into creative mode, followed by business mode, followed by (hopefully) R&R mode. The remaining non-backend tasks (that can be disclosed with you good people – hey, I have to keep a few tricks up my sleeve) are as follows:

  • Apply for a trademark on the logo
  • Design and build the user interface
  • Write the final draft of the copy (display messages, about page, FAQ, etc)
  • Select a web host and move stuff over
  • Find a good attorney and discuss legal ramifications
  • Draw up legal documents w/ attorney (terms of agreement and privacy policy)
  • Find a good accountant and setup book-keeping system
  • Get a payment system in place
  • Finish writing my marketing/business plan
  • Get some initial advertisers on board
  • Test, Test, Test

Oh yeah, did I mention register and setup my business? Should probably do that too eh? That’s quickly becoming a higher priority now that the end of the beginning is drawing near. I’ve held off on it to avoid slowing down and killing momentum. Once the application is complete though, it will be time to get the business side of things inline. Fortunately the expenses have been fairly minimal to this point, so write-offs aren’t much of an issue just yet. Once this is built, the next stop for me will be the Small Business Development Center, to find out what they have to offer…free of charge.

Yep, it’s going to be a busy November for yours truly. I’ll keep you updated on my progress provided I don’t become too senile along the way ;).

Happy Halloween Everybody!

Oh, and if you’re in the Portland area, you should go check out the Davis Graveyard. I went the other night and was very impressed with how elaborate it was, definitely worth the trip.

DreamHost vs GoDaddy

Alright, so I’m in search of a hosting company to serve my web apps and these are the two that have grabbed my attention. I need a host because, unfortunately, my personal web server and broadband aren’t going to cut it for real world stuff. Therefore, my home server will become my development server and I’ll let the big dogs handle production and the insane amount of traffic my apps bring in ;). Does anyone have experience with either of these companies or with another company of preference?

I’m leaning towards DreamHost right now because they seem to offer much better access via FTP and SSH and higher bandwidth to boot. They also seem to have a superb reputation in many of the discussion forums I’ve read through. Having my own web server by my side and being accustomed to easy access, I might go into convulsions without SSH, so that’s a big one for me. GoDaddy offers less in terms of accessibility, disk space, and bandwidth. However, they also offer a lower price and no setup fee. Other than those items, they are pretty comparable. So, it breaks down like this, depending on which tier you look at:

DreamHost (Tier 1 of 4) = 200GB Disk Space + 2TB Bandwidth + SSH Access – $49.95 Setup Fee – $9.95/month

GoDaddy (Tier 2 of 3) = 100GB Disk Space + 1TB Bandwidth – $6.99/month

If I prepay for 1 year, the setup fee for DreamHost goes away and if I prepay for 2 years the monthly rate would drop to $7.95. They’re also offering the tier 3 plan (“Code Monster”) at half price. So I’m considering going that route as well.

A path of some resistance

I was just pondering some of my old jobs today and thought I’d share a few with you fine people. It’s interesting to reflect the work path that got me to where I’m at now. There have been some pretty worthwhile stops along the way but not so much to keep me from moving on. I’m positive there’s something better up ahead.

Farm Hand → House Keeper → Hayer → Car Cleaner → Seed Sacker → Forklift Operator → Train Operator → Lumber Grader → Coach Builder → Gas Attendant → Bullet Inspector → Customer Relationship Associate → Ranch Hand → Database Wizard → Desktop Support Specialist → Web Developer → X

What comes next I wonder?

Wait, does that say “10 days until I launch”?!?

Huh, how ’bout that? It turns out X = Heart Attack Victim!

Ad Revenue?

Well, looks like another weekend of nothing but coding for me as there is much to build yet and little time. Fortunately, the weather is supposed to be pretty crappy this weekend so that should cut down on outside cravings and permit me to sit in my cave guilt free.

I have a question for all you web developers/business owners/advertisers out there. What advertising model has worked best for you? A good chunk of my income (perhaps all of it) from the appetizer app. will come from advertisers, and although I’ve been trying to push most issues of business and money to the side for now, this has been on my mind quite a bit the last few days so I thought I’d post about it. I am debating whether to:

A. Set up my own pay-per-click system
B. Charge a set fee (regardless of clicks)
C. Use Google/Amazon ads
D. All of the above

I’m leaning towards using a mix of B and C, but curious what your thoughts are?

Web Developers/Business Owners: How do you go about selling ads on your site and how do you accept payments? Do you provide advertisers with a request form and have them contact you that way? Or do you have an automated system that allows them to provide credit card information and be added to the queue on the fly? Do you have them use PayPal or do you accept other methods of payment? How much do you generally charge?

Advertisers: Which methods do you find most attractive in list above? How do you prefer to pay? How long do you generally run your ads for? What do you look for in a site and how much do you generally pay?

These are all questions I have running through my head right now that I will need to find answers to fairly soon. But for now, I will just add them to the rapidly growing list of future Zack’s problems and focus on building this thing. After all, without a finished product I don’t have any of these other issues.

To the cave…

The Designer

Behold, my trusty designer Scott Wills. It’s now official and I am thrilled to have him on board. He brings a great amount of experience, creativity and enthusiasm to the table and we’re both anxious to get a move on. So contracts have been signed, initial installment has been made, and design has commenced. He’s working on the logo as we speak in fact, and hopes to have something to show me later on in the week.

Design Contract and Non-Disclosure Agreement
In addition to the contract, Scott has agreed to sign (and actually took the liberty of drafting) a non-disclosure agreement. It’s not that I don’t trust him, it’s just that I am a paranoid person with an idea that could very easily be copied and I feel better having an agreement in place. Idea secrecy may not always be the best approach, as explained here, but this project is relatively low-risk and I have a good feedback network of close family providing honest criticism. Plus, its how paranoid freaks like me roll. Just ask Harvey Danger

Paranoia paranoia!
Everybody’s coming to get me,
Just say you never met me,
I’m runnin’ underground with the moles,
(Digging holes)

I don’t think I have it quite that bad though. So as I was saying, the designer has been sworn to secrecy and has endured a series of lie detector exams, torture endurance tests, and other CIA tactics that I have made up. He’s been surprisingly cooperative and even seems to respond well to the self-destructing emails I send him (zing, watch out for that one folks)! Seriously though, I know we’re going to make a great team. Yesterday, I briefed him on the appetizer idea and he feels he has enough information to begin branding.

Here is some of the design specs I have given him (excluding idea specific info):

This is a fun and entertaining app so I’d like something creative, new, and exciting [in a logo]. Something that will outlive fads. “Simple, Clean, Crisp, Shiny, Fresh, Fun, Abstract” would be good words to describe the logo in my mind. Simple with an edge, if that even makes sense. I really like the design work done on cork’

And here is our current plan of action:

As you said, I would expect us to get the branding out of the way first and then move on to layout and page design. I also have sketches of the basic components on each page, and I will get those to you when we get to that point. Of course, these will just be there to give you an idea of components, not as a design/layout reference. You will have creative control to move things around as you like and we can go from there.

Scott and I have agreed to the following payment plan: 40% up front, 40% on delivery, and 20% on go live. As I mentioned he received the initial 40% yesterday so the design work is all systems go at this point. There’s no turning back now!

$goodCodingMusic =

My iTunes Library

Two of my favorite new albums are “Blue October – Foiled” and “The Fray – How To Save A Life”. Both kick ass the whole way through and are awesome to code to. Good music like this helps me get into the zone, forget about my surroundings, and bang out some great code.

Your results may vary!

28 Days To Go

Zack Appetizer
sketch of home page

Unfortunately, I had to push the deadline again for the appetizer release because, well, I’ve got tons to do yet and little time to do it. Go figure. So trick or treat, my new target launch date for this thing is Halloween, who who ha ha ha! I added a couple countdowns on the side bar here, check em out. I sincerely hope the top number (appetizer) never gets bigger than the bottom number (birthday) as I really want to release something before I hit my midlife crisis (although I think I’m already there).

To meet this deadline, I have spent the last couple weekends doing nothing but coding, debugging, cursing, researching, and occasionally sleeping/eating. I put in 11 hour days last weekend and rarely left the computer’s side. There are still lots of coding hours ahead but I’m making good headway and getting this new framework figured out, slowly but surely. Most of my shared components are put together, so the groundwork is pretty much complete. All that remains is actually building the individual pieces.

So “the programmer” (aka me) is plugging away on the behind the scenes stuff and the other part of the equation, “the designer”, should be starting any day now. We are still in contract stages but these should be signed this week and I’ll have him on board stat :). He is a super talented designer and I’m excited to have him on the team. In addition to the images on the site, he will be taking care of the overall site design and blog skin as well. I’ll give him my sketches of the basic components and let him take it from there. I’m sure he’ll do a much better job laying them out than I, and that’s why I’ve decided to leverage his skills on the entire site. This will also save me a lot of time and free me up to focus on the programming and business aspects.

Man I’m getting excited about this. I can’t wait until all the pieces come together and I’m able to share the mystery application with you guys. But I’ve got lots to do in the next 28 days to make this a reality. And a lot more actors to work with: the lawyer, the writer, the host, the trademarker, the shopkeeper, the mystery team (under wraps for now), the accountant (possibly), and so on.

With so many specialists, I feel like I’m pulling off some sort of a heist! Whatever that feels like?

Hotmail Must Die!!!

Why must hotmail suck??? I’ve spent the last few hours trying to get them to accept emails from my application and am on the verge of mental breakdown! Sometimes it lets them through and other times it rejects them without any explanation. I can’t seem to find anything that resembles rational behavior what so ever. Seems to me they are using some sort of robot/algorithm on crack that scan’s subject/message/sender for god knows what and then just randomly selects who can pass. Gmail and Yahoo don’t seem to have a problem, so why you gotta be like this Hotmail? Is it because you suck? Is that why?

At this rate I may just have to deny Hotmail users all together and possibly even call them names while I’m at it. Just kidding, of course, but if you do use Hotmail, make the switch to Gmail or Yahoo today! Hotmail is slow, convoluted, ancient, and utter crap in my book. Take it from me, an ex-hotmail user, it sucks. These days I only use mine as a spam trap and even then I run into problems as some apps don’t accept Hotmail addresses when registering. Hmmm…wonder why? Switch to Gmail and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. The sun will shine brighter, food will taste better, music will sound better, people will respect you more, it’s quite nice!

Plus, you’ll be able to use my appetizer worry free. If only everybody would make the switch right now, that would sure save me some time. But, as usual, the selfish world just won’t revolve around me, so I guess I’ll have to find a workaround.


Lesson of Patience and Commitment

Google Analytics

Every morning, more or less, one of the first things I do is check my blog statistics on Google Analytics and Feed Burner to see how I’m doing. This usually serves as either a pat on the back or a slap in the face depending on the results.

Feedburner Stats
double ouch!!

The problem is, I focus too much on this and not enough on staying the course and maintaining a consistent quality blog. If I see that my numbers are way up, I can get a bit cocky and sloppy with my posts. If my numbers are down, I can get depressed and careless with them. This isn’t an exact science or anything, but checking these numbers regularly seems to cause me more harm than good.

Google Page Rank

All the ups and downs is just no way to keep a consistent blogging mood. Now I’m not saying this blog should be drama free by any means. This is the story of my first business venture and that would be neither realistic for me or entertaining for you. The point is that there are enough mood swings when starting a business, I don’t need any more fuel on the fire unless it’s going to do me some good. That being said, I do benefit from tracking these stats semi-regularly, so I’m certainly not going to quit all together. I’ll check them weekly from now on rather than obsessively.

This is something I’m learning as I read my new Guerrilla Marketing book by Jay Conrad Levinson. He writes in detail about the importance of staying committed to your marketing and keeping consistent rather than shifting from one message to the next. Marketing takes time to see results so while it’s extremely important to measure your performance, you really can’t expect instantaneous success.

Create a sensible plan, then stick with it until it proves itself to you. How long might that take? Three months, if you’re lucky. Probably six months. Possibly as long as a year. But you will never, ever know whether the plan is working within the first sixty days.

He goes on to talk about one of his clients that dropped a plan too quickly and failed versus a client who stuck out their plan, even though it wasn’t getting great results at first, and was a big success. It just goes to show that you can’t be too hasty to react and judge when it comes to seeing a marketing plan through. If you know it’s good, stick with it. I enjoyed the following quote from his book, so I’ll share it with you. This is me quoting him quoting Thomas Smith in London in 1885:

  1. The first time a man looks at an ad, he doesn’t see it.
  2. The second time, he doesn’t notice it.
  3. The third time, he is conscious of its existence.
  4. The fourth time, he faintly remembers having seen it.
  5. The fifth time, he reads the ad.
  6. The sixth time, he turns up his nose at it.
  7. The seventh time, he reads it through and says, “Oh brother!”
  8. The eight time, he says, “Here’s that confounded thing again!”
  9. The ninth time, he wonders if it amounts to anything.
  10. The tenth time, he will ask his neighbor if he has tried it.
  11. The eleventh time, he wonders how the advertiser makes a pay.
  12. The twelfth time, he thinks it must be a good thing.
  13. The thirteenth time, he thinks it might be worth something.
  14. The fourteenth time, he remembers that he wanted such a thing for along time.
  15. The fifteenth time, he is tantalized because he cannot afford to buy it.
  16. The sixteenth time, he things he will buy it someday.
  17. The seventeenth time, he makes a memorandum of it.
  18. The eighteenth time, he swears at his poverty.
  19. The nineteenth time, he counts his money carefully.
  20. The twentieth time he sees the ad, he buys the article or instruct his wife to do so.

So for now I’m just going to keep on keeping on and let the numbers do their thing. The stats posted above are pretty much live data. I suspect my numbers are down because I’m extremely busy and not able to post as often as I’d like. I’m not letting them affect me much though. Soo my subscriptions have dropped 50% in the span of a day, big deal, their just silly little naughty numbers, they’ll go back up. It’s all good. Could you excuse me a moment…


…Yep, I’m just going to keep on keeping on!