Announcing the Launch of Programming Classroom


So, I finally did it. My company Twin Roots has launched an actual product. Well, not a product exactly; more like a service. Along with my outside partner in crime, Rex Jaeschke, we planned a website where we are providing a service geared towards programmers.

Programming Classroom is the result of this effort.

Rex is well known throughout the programming community, especially in the standards world. He is also highly regarded for his live programming seminars where he teaches classes in C, C++, C# and more.

We thought it would be a great service to offer the seminars that Rex uses in his live classroom teachings to the general public in electronic format. These are the exact same materials from documentation to example source code. It is just that it is at a much lower cost than a classroom setting because it is self-paced learning. You will find seminars on C#, C++, Java, Visual Basic, and C. You will also find some freebies like sample chapters and tips.

So check out ProgrammingClassroom.com and let us know what you think. Needless to say, I am very excited while very nervous at the same time.


OnLive - Intel, AMD, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo Had Better Be On High Alert

I was listening to Windows Weekly the other day, and the topic of OnLive came up. Maybe I live under a rock, but I had never heard of OnLive. Well, I have now. And if their vision comes to fruition, there better be some companies that better get in gear or start to s#%t in their pants.

OnLive, in a nutshell, is a "cloud" video game service. In other words, all video games live on their servers and you subscribe to the ones that you want to play. But you don't download the games to your machine and play them locally. You play them on *their* servers, and they push content back and forth to you through your web browser via your broadband connection. In other words, your computer now becomes a glorified dumb internet terminal that receives the images of the actions you perform in the video game; the OnLive servers do all of the heavy lifting of graphics processing.

So, the theory is that you can have a NetBook or an old Centrino laptop and you can play Crysis!! Crysis on a NetBook?!? I don't effing believe it. But that is their vision, and with the way the video game companies are signing up in droves to be a part of this service (can you say EA?), this vision may actually have legs.

And if it has legs, oh my, how that changes things for companies like:

Intel, AMD: Video games are the most processor intensive applications in the world. If OnLive is successful, that opens the flood gates for more processor-intensive subscription-type markets. People can buy less powerful machines, but still get top quality functionality. That could eat heavily into the Intel and AMD profit margins -- although, Intel and AMD should hope that OnLive buys their processors for the OnLive servers.

Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo: Well, this is simple. The video game console becomes obsolete. As Paul Thurrott alluded to in Windows Weekly - 'Microsoft just wasted $5 billion in their XBox investment'

Now, of course, broadband would need to be plentiful. Quality of Service would need to be guaranteed. As they alluded in the Windows Weekly show - hey, Comcast, are you listening? And, there are other hurdles to overcome. They were talking about Amazon buying this service being a good play. I am not 100% convinced right now of that being a smart move; but if this does what I think it might do, then yes, any company should buy OnLive if they had the resources.

This is definitely something I will be keeping tabs on because this could be a "game changer" (pun absolutely intended). And I don't say that often.


Back From the Dead

Well, back at least from a blogging perspective. It has been a long time since my last post. What to say about why that is – well, mainly I was taking care of some personal work and also finishing up a consulting gig.

It has been a successful first “out of a corporation” year for me. I have made some money and made some great contacts.

So where do I stand right now?

I am in a state of flux. I am between consulting/contracting opportunities and I have not made much headway on any micro-ISV product (mainly because of the consulting work, but also for some other reasons).

I have some decisions to make.

Here are my current options:

  • Flesh out 1 or more of 5 possible product ideas, if for anything to get me back in the programming “spirit”
  • Do some side, primarily non-programming work that has been offered to me, more for the experience and satisfaction than any monetary reason.
  • Work on some technical articles or books that I have been floating around. as possibilities I have some possible leads for publications, but some other things have to fall into place, which I am working on.
  • Look for some more consulting work – I may have a possibility in January, but I am not sure I can 100% count on that.
  • Go back to school to earn my Masters in Computer Science or MBA or, at the very least, take some courses to get the brain juices flowing
  • Look for a full-time job

Now, the options above are not necessarily exclusive, but I do need to prioritize and make a decision. And make a decision is exactly what I am going to do now…..

……well, after I watch my Buffalo Bills hopefully beat the Browns tonight!

Go Bills!

Buffalo Bills logo

UPDATE: The Bills lose on another "wide right" field goal. Bills fans know those are the two most dreaded words a Bills fan can hear :-(

State of the Me - Quick Hits

It has been a while since I have given a progress report of where things stand for me professionally. Back when I worked for Intel, I was mandated to give monthly status report. I am feeling nostalgic today.

Here is  quick bulleted list.

  • I am still consulting, but, unless I am told otherwise, my current work is ending fairly soon here (maybe in the next couple of weeks).
  • I told you about a month ago that I figured out the product I was going to develop to start my micro-isv. My progress on that front has been limited. However, I am fleshing out a new idea that would make that product a subset of this new, what becomes an overarching, idea. I won't say much now other than say I am looking for a couple of partners and it includes, but goes beyond, software development into the world of internet media and other information dissemination mediums.
  • I am exploring the options for a webhost. I believe I have narrowed my choice down to 1, but I have an outstanding question to their sales department before I can say for sure. The hard part was to choose to go with a Linux based host over Windows because Windows is what I know.
  • When I choose my new webhost, I believe I am going to move this blog from its current home (Wordpress.com) to the new webhost via Wordpress.org. The reason for this is two fold - (1) Consolidation of all blogs and websites at one place (2) A learning experience about Wordpress.org and the migration process. I have never self-hosted a blog before.
  • I have gone totally Mac. Well, that is a little disingenuous, I suppose. I am running Mac OS X Leopard as my primarily operating system and running Windows Vista via VMWare Fusion (primarily because my current consulting gig requires it). This configuration is just awesome!! I love it!!! I am beginning to love Mac OS X as much as Windows. Also, I just bought a 20" Apple Cinema Display on Ebay that I expect to get today or tomorrow.
I will provide more detailed posts on any of these bullet items as warranted.

My First Micro-ISV Product Ideas

[Note: I have a phone meeting on Wednesday with an old colleague where the result could change my plans. I will keep you posted]

OK, here it goes....for better, worse or the other, I am letting the world know my first product ideas. We'll see if announcing these now was a good idea or not. ;-)

Before reading my specific ideas, make sure you obtain some context by reading my previous post about goals.

As you will notice below, I am entering into pretty saturated markets (i.e much competition exists). However, I have subscribed to the theory that while a totally unique idea that is a hit may provide the best overall outcome, those come very far and few between. Instead, it is much more normal to add value to existing ideas, and let the execution and marketing of the added value bring success. Looking at it from the glass half full perspective, having competition means that people want the product or service (i.e. there is a market).

Also, I have a motto that I want to develop products that *I* will use on a daily basis. That is important to me because it makes me my own customer -- and I don't want to use crappy products either.

So without further ado, here are my product ideas for the next year or so. Again, these products align with my goals.

 

RSS Reader (Desktop)

Yes, there are many RSS readers out there, both web (e.g. Google Reader) and desktop (e.g. FeedDemon) based. I am going to enter my hat into the desktop ring. I will offer the basics, of course. But, I do have some ideas that I hope, in conglomeration, will differentiate mine from others. One is having both a Mac and Windows reader, with the same user experience. The second is being able to sync your feeds (e.g. read/unread) so you can be up-to-date no matter which computer you use the reader on (this requires some sort of web-based storage solution, probably). The third is being able to....well, I don't want to give this one away yet :-)

Business Model: Free basic version; Fixed-price premium version [Note: I am still working out if the free/premium model is the best way to go.]

 

Fantasy Football Information Web Site

Two of my many passions are sports and technology. I figured, hey, why not merge the two. I love playing fantasy football (NFL). There are many fantasy football websites that offer information about who are the best players to play during a given week, game previews, answers to emails, draft software, etc. Some of these sites are from the big boys (e.g. ESPN) and some smaller, yet popular, folks (e.g. Fantasy Football Today). I figured I would offer the same sort of valuable information and tools, but try to do it better and/or differently. In the end, when it comes to sites like these it is all about providing good, relevant and as accurate as possible information.

Business Model: Advertising

 

Package of Tools and Utilities for Windows

I have always like building small tools and utilities. Most of the tools I have built, either for my own uses or for work, I was doing back in my corporation days. I have had folks appreciate the tool work I have done. So I figured why not come up with a list of (hopefully) useful tools and utilities and offer them up free for people. I don't consider any of my ideas here earth shattering, nor unique, but just things I have found a need for. I don't plan for these tools to make money, nor get bought out by Microsoft like SysInternals. I just want to provide them for fun and test an open source business model -- where my goal wouldn't be to make money, but more just get my name out there. Here are a few examples I am thinking of implementing (and, yes, initially these will be Microsoft centric because that is what I know)

  1. An Outlook mail component that makes sure you actually have an attachment in an email that is supposed to have an attachment.
  2. A component for IE7 that automatically puts widely used links in the Links portion of the IE7 browser and makes sure they are bubbled to the "top" of the Links portion (e.g. they are visible in the max screen browser window)
  3. A small utility that allows a user to increase/decrease the number of simultaneous downloads allowed from IE7
  4. A tool that finds all the files where there are multiple instances on your computer (this could be Mac and Windows)

Business Model: Free, Open Source

 

I will provide specific details on each of these efforts as I move along the development path. Right now, I think I am going to work on the Fantasy Football website first so I can have it ready in time for the next NFL Fantasy season, which begins in full force around August.

So there you go. The cat is out of the bag. :-) Now it comes down to execution. Also, I am not adverse to discussing/collaborating/partnering on these ideas or any other ideas. So if you have any thoughts you want to share with me personally, feel free to contact me by email or leave a comment.

Goals For My First Year In Business

I have been convinced, after a blog comment conversation with another fellow Micro-ISVer, to let the cat (or cats in this case) out of the bag with the ideas that I am targeting as I get my Micro-ISV business off the ground.

The specifics of those ideas will be my the focus of my next post. There will be a couple of teasers in this post ;-)

But before I reveal the ideas that I have been keen on, I wanted to set some context about my goals that I want to accomplish as a result of developing these ideas.

I have 3 ideas that I would like to flesh out and develop by the end of 2008 / beginning of 2009, if not sooner. One is, for the most part, an informational website idea. Another is a desktop application. The third is still a bit fuzzy, but the idea lies around downloadable tools/utilities.

Of course, as with any commercial business, a main goal is to actually make some money. However, for my first foray into this "run my own business" process, it is not my only goal. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that making money isn't my only top-tier goal.

My goals as I get my business off the ground are the following:

Tier-1 Goals

  1. Develop products that I myself am excited about and would use
  2. Determine the best business model(s) for me
  3. Learn how to run a virtual business
  4. Answering the "Is being a Micro-ISV right for me?" question
  5. Make money

Tier-2 Goals

  1. Ensure I remain technologically relevant
  2. Get my name out there (not just through the products, but by participating in forums, etc.)
  3. Balance contracting/consulting, other business opportunities with a Micro-ISV business
  4. Determine if I need/want/can support a partner(s) or employees 
  5. Answering the "Can a Micro-ISV succeed in markets that already exist?" question
  6. Find the right Micro-ISV resources to utilize (e.g. is Microsoft's Empower program worth it?)
  7. Help other Micro-ISVs as appropriate and as best I can

There may be a few other goals that I am missing, but I think I have covered the major ones.

Let discuss some of the Tier-1 goals just a little bit.

Develop products that I myself am excited about and would use

I think this might be the most important goal. I believe if you don't like the work you are doing, the product quality suffers. And when that suffers, it is like a domino effect to all other goals, including making money. Also, I believe if you develop a product that you will personally use, you tend to put more of your heart and soul in the product because, hey, you want to use good products too, don't you?

Determine the best business model for me

Web-based applications with advertising and/or paid subscriptions? Desktop applications for sale? Open source / shareware applications? Donationware? Freeware? Which is the best route to go? Do I develop for both Windows and Mac? The three ideas that I am considering will each showcase a different business model.

Learn how to run a virtual business

Right now I am a one-man show (although I may have a partner for one of my ideas). I have to not only develop the products, but also market them, support them, maintain a good website, keep the financial books in order (assuming I make any money ;-)), etc. Do I need to hire a website designer? An accountant? An attorney? This is my first time doing this and this first year or so will be a learning experience more than anything.

Answering the "Is Being A Micro-ISV Right For Me?" Question

I am going to use this opportunity to decide whether I am cut out to be a Micro-ISV; or whether I am better served to be a contractor/consultant -- or -- a corporate employee full time. Many factors go into answering this question, not just the product development work. For example, how does the Micro-ISV lifestyle affect my family relationship?

Make money

All three of my ideas have been implemented before in one form or another. So I will not be making any money because I am inventing a totally unique product. However, I want to see if I can make money by adding interesting, unique features to the products, along with providing ancillary value through pricing, support, etc. So, I am hoping that it is not just the product that people look at, but also the total business package.

I may go into some descriptions about my other goals (e.g. Tier-2) in a later post. Let me know if you are interested.

To summarize, I want to use this first year as learning experience, first and foremost, so that I can better prepare for my business future.

I am hoping this a worthwhile strategy for me. I guess we will see, huh? :-)

The Essentials For Starting A Business

I am trying to come up with a list of essentials that I need in order to officially start my business. I need to keep in mind that I will be doing "as-desired" consulting in addition to producing my own ideas; thus I will (hopefully) be bringing in some money even if my own ideas do not become fruitful. In fact, I am doing some consulting work right now. Below is my list thus far. A couple of caveats: (1) The categories here are relatively generic that can be applied to most any business. I did not include specific software development essentials (that is for a future blog post) (2) It reflects, for the time being, a one person business that will either be a sole-proprietor or LLC:

  • A good business idea: :-) 
  • Accounting Software: QuickBooks Simple Start 2008 (FREE) -  I will at least need to create invoices for my consulting jobs and hopefully have other uses for when my own ideas come to fruition
  • Tax Software: Turbo Tax Home and Business - Right now, I don't have an accountant, and I plan to do my own taxes (as I have always done). I figured as a sole proprietor or an LLC, the taxes won't be overly more complicated than they are for me without the business.
  • Task Management Software: Master List Professional - Just to keep your business life in order
  • Company and Tax Information Resources: Surprisingly Simple: Independent Contractor, Sole Proprietor, and LLC Taxes Explained in 100 Pages or Less (and for me specifically as well, Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality)
  • Health Insurance:I will probably go with a high deductible insurance plan (with HSA) for me an my family. Maybe from Blue Cross Blue Shield.
  • Legal Help and Advice: LegalZoom.com - This can help me create my LLC, get my trademark, etc. The question is, do I really need an attorney?
  • Computer Backup Software: Right now, I backup my laptop up to an external hard drive. I think I will also start creating a regular DVD backup that I place outside my home (maybe in a P.O. box or something). Does anyone recommend online backup services? The thing that concerns me there is privacy.
  • Domain name: Nowadays, this is a given and a must for any successful business, even for brick and mortar type businesses.
  • Web site: I am going to have a web site. I may develop it myself, but I also may hire someone to do it for me. If you have any recommendations of a good site developer and/or you are one yourself, let me know in the comments or at constantflux(at)joelmarcey.com
  • Web host: I have tried HostGator. It is OK. But after trying it, I think I want a Windows-based host, since I am quite familiar with the Windows platform. Or at least a host that offers both Linux and Windows hosting. Any recommendations?
  • Business Credit Card: Can anyone tell me what the best one is?
  • Business Bank Account

What else needs to be added to, deleted from, or changed in this list? For example, are business, disability, life insurances essentials? What about belonging to a self-employed organization like an the NASE (National Association for the Self-Employed)?

 Also, in the list, are there better products to use for each category than I came up with?

Changing Tactics On My Approach To Starting My Business

I wrote this post yesterday. I then posted this question on the Business of Software Forum soon after.

I am now changing my business planning a little bit.

Initially, I was very surprised at the responses about how one should go about planning to start a Micro-ISV business. I don't believe anyone said using the 10 Steps To Open For Business was *the way* to go. I heard everything from the list was a "load of rubbish" to it not being a bad list, but you need to be careful of over-analysis.

The overriding theme was that, in this business, you need to find a pain point and bring a product to market as quickly as possible. None of the other stuff matters if you don't do this.

I now understand the responses, and now tend to agree with them. And, after re-opening my Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality book by Bob Walsh, I am going to deviate from my plan to use the 10 steps and basically use the book as my guide, but start working on product as quickly as possible. The software business moves so quickly that I believe the person who mentioned over-analysis is right on. I already have a product idea (or two), I know where I want to be with my life, I am bootstrapping the business myself -- it is time to "Just Do It!" (sorry again Nike), and I have joined that line of thinking.

The 10 Steps To Open For Business

I am using StartupNation's 10 Steps To Open For Business to get my business started. Here are the 10 steps:

  1. Create a Life Plan

  2. Choosing a Business Model

  3. Create a Business Plan

  4. Select a Business Structure

  5. Create Key Business Assets

  6. Find the Funding

  7. Organize Logistics

  8. Find Great People

  9. Establish a Brand

  10. Market and Sell

 I am in the middle of step 3, but I update my life plan as necessary. It is a living document.

The big question I have around these 10 steps is if they are applicable to all types of businesses, particularly, in my case, a Micro-ISV. It looks like the steps are generic enough to be able to apply, but I would like to hear from any software entrepreneurs who have used this methodology successfully (and also unsuccessfully).

There is also school of thought that says "Just Do It" (sorry, Nike), which basically means develop your product first and foremost, because doing anything else is just fluff if you don't have a developed and marketable product.

What attracted me to these 10 steps is the organization of them. It is a nice cheat sheet to ensure you are covering your basis. I tend to think the 10 steps and the "Just Do It" philosophy are not actually mutually exclusive.

What are some other methodologies?

My next post will talk a little bit about the Life Plan and how it specifically relates to starting my business.

I Hit the 1000 Blog Visit Milestone!!

OK, it is not a defined milestone. I am sure that is not such a wonderful feat, and my hope is that 1/2 of those aren't my own visits ;-) , but according to my WordPress statistics, I have had 1002 visits to my blog. I am hoping the next 1000 comes much quicker. My blogging is going to change gears a bit from my previous topics about leaving my former company to now starting my own business. After a lot of thinking, and a couple of possible opportunity requests, I have made the decision to go it alone (for now) and try to become a Micro-ISV. I will continue to contract as good opportunities arise (I am currently doing one now), preferably part-time, but my main focus over the next 6 months is going to be getting my Micro-ISV started.

My next post(s), which I expect to today, will be about the methodology I am following to start the business.

Well, I Am Off To Smaller and Worser Things

People always say they are off to bigger and better things. Since I don't really know if that is going to be the case, I figure I would mix it up a little bit. :-) So, I am officially corporately unemployed. I had my exit interview today at 10 AM. By the way, that really wasn't a pleasant experience. More on that later, maybe.

Anyway, I have some temporary contract work lined up for the next three or so months to keep "putting food on the table" while we get our life in order. Where we go both professionally and physically is still up in the air though -- it can be anything from staying put in North Carolina and both of us starting our own businesses, to moving west with one working in the corporate world and the other partnering up on an opportunity, to other combinations (although it looks like it will only be North Carolina or the West coast)

A lot will be known in the next few weeks, possibly days.

And, yeah, I know "worser" is not a word ;-)

How To Go About Getting a Micro-ISV or Software Company Started

I posted this on the Business of Software Forum today: <Update: One of the replies to my post was that I was to the effect of me looking for free work while I sat back lazily and rake in the profits. My reply was basically that is ridiculous. I am taking a huge risk here, so why would I even think of running the business from the sidelines. I am a software engineer at heart, so I will be deeply involved in that and all aspects of the business. It would be a horrible mistake on my part to even think of running my business with the "Someone does all the work while I make 1/2 the money model" --- the business would die a fast death.>

Hello,

A little background. Next Friday is my last "cubicle" day. I needed to end the madness. I am going out on my own. I believe I have a temporary contract lined up in the next couple of weeks where I can work part time for a few months while I get my business started. I am super excited (and nervous).

So, I have some software ideas. 40-50 maybe. From really tiny components, to full-fledged, I would need a server farm type of app. Some are surely non-starters, some might have legs. Some could beget future ideas and products. That is what brainstorming is all about. I even have the beginnings of a business plan -- it needs a lot of work.

Now, I consider myself knowledgeable in many areas (an advanced jack of all trades, if you will). However, while I can hold my own for sure, I don't consider myself the best programmer in the world. And I surely would prefer to work with somebody in starting a business and doing development. While others have proven otherwise and will disagree, I believe having the right partners and team can only be a benefit in any business.

I want a partner or two. I want some people that have ideas like I do, where we can choose the best one or two to go after and sell.

I am all about sweat for equity here. I couldn't afford to pay anybody, nor would I expect to be paid.

So how do I go about finding a partner or two? I have a couple of colleagues that I have pinged, but it hasn't really gotten off the ground.

I sort of wish there was this virtual place where aspiring software/micro-isv entrepreneur's could get together and try to form a business. I have not found that place. Maybe this is that place. Or maybe such a virtual place is an idea all of its own.

What are your thoughts? If you really had the itch to start a micro-isv/software company, had some ideas to bring to the table, wanted to work sweat for equity, but wanted to partner up with some folks who also may want to start a micro-isv/software company, who you could bounce ideas off of and also listen to their ideas --- how would you go about it?

Anyway, this is my thought for a Saturday morning.

Joel

P.S. I do have a meeting next week with an old acquaintance of mine where we are going to discuss partnering up, but, like anything, nothing is for sure.