Archive for February, 2007

Speaking engagement

Posted in Daily Entries on February 23rd, 2007 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

I’ll be speaking as part of a Digital Marketing Series offered by the Regional Technology Corporation in Springfield, Massachusetts next month. Cohosting with me will be Bill Bither of Atalasoft.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the event is already sold out!

Next time, we need a bigger venue.

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Offshoring… sort of

Posted in Daily Entries on February 15th, 2007 by Mike Taber – 1 Comment

Fellow blogger Rob Walling posed an interesting question in his post titled “The Next Frontier in Offshoring“, and asked me what I thought of the idea of “Offshoring” business to rural Mississippi.

I’m going to call it outsourcing, since it’s not really offshoring if you don’t go offshore. For the record, I don’t think Hawaii should count as offshoring although by definition it probably is.

This is a fascinating question so let’s look at this. The salaries are lower, thus the costs of doing the outsourcing are lower. There are a lot of potential benefits, including the fact that some government contracts require the use of US citizens to write the code and do the work. So, will this take off? Why don’t we answer Rob’s questions to find out.

1) Is it a good thing that development work is moving to low-cost areas, but staying within the U.S.?
Yes. I think this is a great new development. Instead of sending money overseas to other economies, we’re keeping it here in the US and thus bolstering our own economy. We all know that the US economy isn’t in the greatest of situations right now, but it could certainly be much worse and we all know that. While just a few companies doing this isn’t likely going to push the economy over the hump, there are secondary effects of outsourcing in this manner. First and foremost is that people are staying employed. By definition, they’re not on unemployment and are contributing to economic development. Probably more importantly is that we’re keeping these people employed in technical jobs where they might otherwise leave the field of software.

Now, I’d be the first to encourage someone to leave the field if they aren’t really any good at it. The fact is that getting rid of the ‘fat’ is a good thing for the entire industry. But on the other hand, the number of people entering the technology field has dropped dramatically over the last several years. It’s scary to think of what could happen in the software field in the US if the rate of people leaving the software field dramatically exceeds the people who are there now.

So yes, I think this is a good thing.

2) Is this a savvy business move made to keep a company competitive, or a devious, greedy move made to take advantage of developers and pocket fistfuls of cash?
It’s probably a bit of both. I could make some convincing arguments either way. On one hand, it’s a competitive move. Who else is building these outsourcing companies in Mississippi? Not too many I would imagine. Sure it might cost a little more than outsourcing to other countries, but look at the benefits. The primary language of the people you’re dealing with is very likely to be English. They’re in the same time zone, or near enough so that you’re not leaving messages that someone will get back to you in 12 hours. That’s a huge benefit right there. And with the much lower cost, how can you go wrong? Technically a lot of ways, but let’s stay in the honeymoon phase of this relationship for the time being.

On the flip side, what if the company is just trying to take advantage of developers? According to Salary.com and ignoring the obvious inaccuracies of their website, the middle range of a Software Engineer IV is between $75,902 and $93,423. In Boston, the same is between $90,853 and $111,825. That’s about a $15,000 difference in cost and more than $1,000/month over the course of a year. The outsourcing company is going to build in a 25% margin to turn a profit. That means that middle of the road cost for the company purchasing this outsourcing talent is going to be around $125k/year.

This is far more than outsourcing overseas, but probably much less than that of hiring a Boston based consultant. Realistically, I don’t think the price could go much higher before the clients start looking locally for consultants who work in the office or hire full time.

I rather doubt that companies are doing it to be devious or greedy or attempt to take advantage of developers. Lets face it. Developers aren’t stupid. They’ll know if you’re taking advantage of them and will leave if you do.

3) Would you be interested in moving to a low cost area of the U.S. (read: the middle of nowhere) and working for less money, but having a better quality of life with no traffic and cheap housing?

No, certainly not. For me, moving is about relocating to a place where there is more opportunity, not less. I lived in Rochester, NY for a very long time and quickly became what I would call a big fish in a little pond. I was great at what I did, but finding a new job that I was interested in was next to impossible. Eventually, I ended up moving to Boston where there are plenty of jobs and plenty of opportunities. There were nowhere near as many opportunities in Rochester, and I suspect the same would be true of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

What happens in five or ten years when you get bored and want a change? Suddenly, you’re at a much different point of your life with a family, a house, mortgage, car payments, etc. Where do you go? Where can you go? The answer is nowhere because now you can’t afford to, both literally and figuratively.

Less traffic and cheap housing doesn’t change the price of a lot of things. A MacBook Pro is still going to cost you $1,999 and anything you order over the internet is going to be roughly the same price, whether you live in Hattiesburg or in Boston. This might not affect you if you don’t order things over the internet, but a lower cost of living doesn’t mean that everything drops in price.

An important point I want to make is that low traffic and cheap housing certainly aren’t the only factors when looking at quality of life. I’m not sure I would say I had a better quality of life if the nearest place to get Mexican food was 90 miles away. I’m just not about to give up my burrito addiction, much to my wife’s dismay. Your opinion on that will certainly differ.

Let’s look at it from the perspective of an employer. As an employer, I would have serious concerns about relocating my business to a place like Hattiesburg. Sure, hiring  employees is going to be cheaper, but are they going to be as good as they are in other parts of the country? This is a strike against them from their clients perspective as well.

Why isn’t there a MIT (Mississipi Institute of Technology) in Hattiesburg, and an additional fifty bazillion other well known and generally respected colleges. It raises concerns about the future of the company and where the talent is going to come from. How much is it going to cost to recruit more talent and do you really think you can attract enough attention to your company and to the area that developers are willing to relocate there from places like Boston, Atlanta, or San Francisco?

I don’t think so.

Ultimately, I think this will pay off for the company building the business in Hattiesburg due to the volume and the margins, but I don’t see this being some sort of unforseen runaway success. There are too many factors working against them and I for one, will not be drinking the Kool Aid.

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The Lifestyle Entrepreneur

Posted in All Articles, Lifestyle Entrepreneur on February 15th, 2007 by Mike Taber – 1 Comment

Some 20 years ago, I knew I wanted to own my own company. At the time I couldn’t differentiate between being the CEO of a company and owning the company. As the years went on I began to realize the differences, but it never changed what I wanted. Throughout college, I watched as many of the people I knew seemed to be doing just about anything they wanted after starting their own businesses. They had nice houses and drove nice cars. A $200 bar tab on a Thursday night was no big deal, even on a regular basis. They did what they wanted, when they wanted, and didn’t let the little things stand in their way. It seemed like quite a nice life to lead, but how to get it was always the question. I mean, knocking one of them off, taking over the business, and snuggling up to their lady friend wasn’t exactly an option. At least not a reasonable one.

As I graduated college, the sad realization eventually crept into the dark recesses of my mind that I’d have to do somehow manage to put together a successful business myself. But where to start? Do I really want to do all that work? Wouldn’t it just be easier to stash my money away and invest it over time, gradually dragging myself out of the lower class of society? The short answer was no. The longer answer was that money was not the problem. I had a well paying job in Rochester, NY where I made more than twice the median household income. My rent was a mere $250/month and I regularly spent between $2,000 - $3,000 every month on miscellaneous ‘crap’ ranging from new computer equipment, to very nice dinners at 2 Vine down by the Little Theater, new DVD’s for my collection, several road trips, an interesting vacation to Trinidad, and frequent outings to the bars.

But I wasn’t particularly happy. I made more money than most of the people I hung out with on a regular basis. I never had a problem getting a date, whether it was the weekend or not. I generally did whatever I wanted and whenever I wanted. So what was the problem? Very simple. My 20 year old dream lay unfulfilled.

On the surface, this idea seems to be a bit foolish. Why break your back starting a new business if you already have the financial freedom to do pretty much anything you want? Why indeed? The bottom line is that money doesn’t equal happiness. There are a lot of things we developers want more than money. That’s not to say that we don’t want money at all. It just means that money isn’t everything. Somewhere out there, someone has an uncontrollable urge to email me to tell me how wrong I am or call me and scream like a madman “Forget happiness, show me the money!”. That person is probably living paycheck to paycheck and just barely getting by. Sooner or later, your circumstances will change. Then you’ll understand that when you have enough money to live comfortably, other things become more important.

As I was saying, my dream lay unfulfilled. I wanted something different, but I still didn’t know what. I just knew that making more money than most of the people around me wasn’t making me happy. I moved to Boston where I worked at a venture capital funded startup company. After a year and a half, it was bought out. The company founders cashed out a short time later and retired. To many developers, this is a dream come true. You work hard for a few years, your company sells for millions, and you can retire to do anything you want.

From a strictly financial point of view, this is a great way to become financially independent if you can pull it off. I think that if given the option, most people would sacrifice two or three years of working very hard for an amount of money that was from five to ten thousand times more than they would make in their entire live at a typical job. Alas, not every startup company is successful. The truth of the matter is that very few company founders are really that lucky and many walk away from the experience with not much more than their paycheck and battle scars.

This process appears to be more about luck than anything else. If it were indeed based on skill, there would be groups of people who did nothing but churn out successful companies every 2-5 years. The few people who have several successes to their credit seem to be an aberration in the statistics rather than in possession of an abundance of business savvy not found elsewhere. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks that government run lotteries are skill based, yet people have won large prizes multiple times. Are they more ’skillful’ than other lottery players?

The answer is no. Admittedly, this is a somewhat poor example, as venture capital funded businesses (VCFB’s) have the ‘collective wisdom’ of all of the investors who must think something is a reasonably good idea. And they’ve seen other business plans than yours, so there must be some experience that they’re drawing on to make that determination. The people executing the business plan also have some degree of experience. On the other hand, playing the lottery is just blind luck. The point would be better made if it were compared to a card game such as poker, where elements of both skill and luck are present. You can be well acclaimed as the best poker player in the world but if you bet it all and your rookie opponent has a straight flush, you’re probably going to lose and it doesn’t matter how good you are.

An example of how bad luck can play a part of the process is available from just a short time ago. Kiko was a web based calendar funded by a Boston based Venture Capital group called Y Combinator. Obviously, people thought that a web based calendar was a good idea. Then Google released their own calendar. In short order, Kiko closed up shop, sold the source code and moved on to something else. Paul Graham, one of the VCs behind Y Combinator, stated “This is not an expensive, acrimonious flameout like used to happen during the Bubble. They tried hard; they made something good; they just happened to get hit by a stray bullet.” Getting hit by a stray bullet is what I would call bad luck, which merely emphasizes the role that luck can play.

Thus far, we’ve determined very little more than the idea that having money doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy and that a VCFB can make you filthy rich. But if you are filthy rich and you’re still not happy, then it doesn’t make any difference how much money you made. So if all that money isn’t going to make you happy, why should you bust your ass for anywhere from 2-5 years, working 60-80 hours/week only to end up unhappy at the end, or worse: unhappy and without all that money you tried so hard to make. Until you decide what is truly important to you, you should wait before starting your business. That is true whether you plan to self fund your business or whether you want to pursue venture capital funding and shoot for making gobs of cash.

Scene from Office Space:
Peter Gibbons: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you’d do if you had a million dollars and you didn’t have to work. And invariably what you’d say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you’re supposed to be an auto mechanic.
Samir: So what did you say?
Peter Gibbons: I never had an answer. I guess that’s why I’m working at Initech.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve realized that money isn’t everything. There are other things that are far more important and money is a means to an end, not the end itself. The reasons for starting your own business vary widely from one person to another and while some people choose to start their own business solely for financial reasons, a much larger percentage of people choose to start a business for lifestyle reasons.

What is a Lifestyle Entrepreneur
A Lifestyle Entrepreneur is someone who has decided to build a business to make a living and satisfy his own personal motivations. Personal motivations will vary from one LE to another. One LE might start his own business to cut down on the travel that he must endure to spend time with his family, while another LE might start his own business to increase the amount of travel she must do in order to see the world. Still others might decide that working in the corporate world has essentially sucked their will to work there any longer and set out to build a company where they want to work instead. A Lifestyle Entrepreneur doesn’t start a business to work less. It’s a lot of hard work, especially in the beginning. But assuming you’re reasonably successful and good at what you do, you can eventually set things on cruise control and coast along, living the life you want while not reporting to people whom you probably never liked much anyway.

I started Moon River Software out of a burning desire to be in control of my own destiny. Recently, I had a consultant on site who was amazed that we worked from 8am-5pm. Currently, he works from around 6:30am to 6pm five days a week. He also works at least every third Saturday, sometimes every other Saturday. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not going to work ghastly hours for someone else’s benefit when I’m not getting anything in return other than gratitude. I wouldn’t expect my employees to submit to that either.

In the past, I’ve watched as corporate projects stretched for days, weeks, or even months in just the design phases while people decided what they wanted to do. Meanwhile, I sat idly twiddling my thumbs waiting for someone to make a decision so I could get some work done. I’ve done this so many times I could be captain of the U.S. Olympic Thumb Twiddling team without a problem. It goes without saying that the ability to make a decision and just run with it is also what drives me as a Lifestyle Entrepreneur.

Something that many people overlook is the money aspect of being an entrepreneur. Just because I’m a Lifestyle Entrepreneur, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to make money. Far from it. I want to be financially successful just as much as the next guy, but I also want to be in control of my future. In Massachusetts, employer rule comes first and all employees are at-will. Which means the company can fire you at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. The current unemployment rate in the US is hovering around 5%. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of people lose their job at some point in their lifetime. Whether you get lucky and are laid off from your high school job and that’s it, or are laid off after working for Kodak, Xerox, and Paychex in three consecutive years is a matter of luck. My little brother was seven when he ‘lost’ his first job. He used to take the trash out for a nice lady in town who was a friend of our grandmother. Eventually, the woman died, and he wound up ‘unemployed’. Don’t think it can’t happen to you.

As the business owner, the company could fold and I’d be out looking for a new job, so owning the business doesn’t make me untouchable. This way, I’m at least in control of the situation and wouldn’t be blindsided by a corporate cutback or a corporate buyout that I didn’t see coming. For many people, being laid off is what helps nudge their entrepreneurial spirit out the door. The cold steel door of the corporate office slamming behind them is a reminder of what can happen when they aren’t in control. With the average American family having only about $3,800 in the bank as of a year ago, losing your job can be terrifying on many levels. If you have time to plan for it, at least you could make ends meet. But to lose your job without warning is going to be a bit stressful.

Something that’s really nice about being a Lifestyle Entrepreneur is that the only person you need to work hard enough to please is yourself. You don’t have investors peering over your shoulder, questioning every action, or every business deal you make. So long as you’re making ends meet for the business week in and week out, the pressures of being the business owner are minimal. You aren’t bound to impress others, or make shareholders happy. Your quest lies with making ends meet such that it fits your lifestyle requirements. Anything beyond that is considered to be profit.

How do I know if being a Lifestyle Entrepreneur is for me?
If you’re asking this question, then you’re on the right track. The best way to find out is to ask yourself just one simple question. Am I happy? If the answer is a definitive no, or “I’m not sure”, then you should write down what’s making you unhappy and figure out whether owning your own business would solve those problems. If owning your own business won’t solve those problems, then don’t start a business. Over the course of my career, I could have made the following list of things that was making me unhappy, and most of them were associated with my job or my career.

1) I don’t feel like I make many meaningful decisions at work.
2) The hours of this job interfere with what my life is really like.
3) I’m not empowered at my job. I spend most of my time waiting for other people to make decisions before I can get any real work done.
4) This company is making tons of money and they’re too cheap to buy me a decent chair or a decent computer.
5) I have no idea where the future of this product/company is going. No one else seems to know either.
6) That lazy, good for nothing $&*#$*#. Am I the only one who sees this?
7) I don’t get paid enough to deal with this garbage.

If your list of gripes looks anything like this and you want the power to get these things fixed, then being a Lifestyle Entrepreneur could be for you. I left out a lot of personal things that were goals rather than gripes. For example, several years ago I wanted to own my own house. But when your rent is only $250/month, it’s hard to justify a $1,250+ mortgage. I wanted the house, but not the mortgage and that just wasn’t going to happen. Don’t be afraid to put personal items on your list. It’s not as if you’re publishing them like I am here. But don’t think for a minute that personal things don’t affect your happiness. If you’re in the middle of a divorce, it could get ugly, and a job change isn’t going to make a difference. On the other hand if you don’t see your kids enough, then starting your own business could be the change that you’re looking for.

What do I need to be a Lifestyle Entrepreneur?
I’m not going to lie to you, becoming a Lifestyle Entrepreneur is hard work. Making ends meet isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. There are a lot of naysayers who try to bash the Lifestyle Entrepreneur, while misunderstanding what it means to even be a Lifestyle Entrepreneur and attempting to further their self interests. My favorites are the people who say that a single founder business can never work. But I know a lot of people who are doing it quite well. I can name a half dozen off the top of my head and know at least a dozen others whose names I’d have to check my email to remember.

The most common factor among all the Lifestyle Entrepreneurs I know are passion, drive, and common sense. Even when things don’t seem to be going well, the ability to buckle down and do what needs to be done has kept these people going and has kept their businesses afloat. The ability to persist in the face of failure is essential. There will always be someone out there who will tell you that it can’t be done, or that your way isn’t going to work. Who are they to tell you that? I bet nobody ever thought it was possible to build a multi-billion dollar business starting in a college dorm room, but Michael Dell did it. Nobody ever thought you could build a computer business in your garage but Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did it. I read time and time again how I’m going to end up failing because I’m running a single founder company.

Whenever someone tells you that something isn’t possible or isn’t a good idea, try to look at it from their point of view so you can understand why they might think or say that, knowing that they’re not necessarily the same reason. Just this past week, I announced Moon River Software’s Goals for 2007. Within 24 hours, I received an email from a friend warning me of some of the pitfalls of my future plans, specifically in reference to Goal #2 of Moon River Software no longer accepting or doing contract work. While I certainly appreciate that he was willing to share his own experiences, there was no cause for alarm. A quick email to him privately explaining the circumstances and he quickly understood what I was doing and that it made sense.

The bottom line is that you know your business better than anyone else. For someone else to look at your business without knowing everything and tell you that it’s not going to work is somewhat ludicrous. When you look at it from their point of view, ask why they think that. Are there things you know that they don’t? Are you willing to share those things? And while you should take their warnings with a grain of salt, you should never disregard them entirely. It’s quite possible that they’re right. You could be so tied to your business plan that you just don’t see how people wouldn’t want an Oompa Loompa doing their dishes, nevermind the fact that every Tuesday, the kid with a marble up his nose disappears for a week. After all… the dishes are clean and the house is quiet. What’s not to like?

Where to now?
If you’re considering starting your own business, my advice to you is to stop waffling and get started. Mike’s first law of business applies here. A business not doing anything will continue not doing anything until you get off your duff and start pushing. Once you’ve started, you will find that over time it becomes easier and easier to keep your business going day in and day out. Just make sure you remember that getting it rolling will seem impossibly difficult. Every day, make an incremental improvement in your business. Eventually, instead of pushing your business forward, you can guide it from the sides as it rolls down the hill. The avalanche of success will eventually follow.

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Goals for 2007

Posted in All Articles, Moon River Software on February 9th, 2007 by Mike Taber – 1 Comment

Just before last year, I set forth my Goals for 2006. I haven’t yet formally done that for 2007, but I’m only about a month late so lets get to it. I think we need to start off by taking a look back at the goals for 2006 and see how I did.

Goal 1: New logo and new web site by January 9th, 2006
Goal 2: Start advertising ‘Milestones‘ on January 13th.
Goal 3: Design a new product by January 20th.
Goal 4: Complete Beta 1 for the new product by the end of February
Goal 5: Launch new product by the end of March.
Goal 6: Design new products in April and July. Launch these products at the end of June and September, respectively.
Goal 7: Become completely self sufficient on software sales by the end of 2006.

I accomplished Goals 1 & 2, but didn’t come close on any of the rest of them. I think the entire plan pretty much went to hell on January 2nd when I received a phone call from a company I was being subcontracted through that the client was shafting us both. I didn’t write about it until months later when the dust settled, but it completely blew apart my forecast and all of my business plans. The bottom line is that things failed pretty miserably right out of the gate. I’d have done well to adjust the goals on January 5th, but I didn’t. By that time, my goals slid back to simply staying independent and making ends meet.

Today, things are much better than they were exactly one year ago but that just goes to show that even the best laid plans and goals can be shattered by a single wrong move. I know for a fact that I’m in a similar situation right now, where a single client could blow me out of the water, but I’m much more comfortable with where things are today than last year. So, with that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and set forth new goals for this year.

Goal 1: Launch a new version of ChitChat by the end of Q1.
Background: In January/February of last year, I purchased some forum software called ChitChat.net from a fellow blogger named Rob Walling. I received all rights to the ChitChat.net code, all rights to a product called SPROC Function Builder, and the clickcess.com domain name. In many ways, this was an experiment of sorts to see what I could do with someone else’s software. In other ways, it was a quick and dirty way to test the waters of a new line of software products without investing a whole lot of time into it. Over the course of the past year, a number of different marketing tests and various customer inquiries, I believe that I’ve found a place in the market for the software. Unfortunately, the software is written with a slightly older version of Visual Studio and there have been a lot of inquiries about converting it to work with Visual Studio 2005.

Now the easy answer would simply be to use Visual Studio’s conversion wizard to upgrade the project and call it done. But realistically, that simply doesn’t cut it. The fact is that ChitChat.net had a lot of shortcomings. For example, the installer was an msi file only. There was no ‘zip’ version of the software for those people who didn’t own their own servers. Also, the setup of the software was a bit messy. For example, even with the msi installer, you still had to browse to a web page and do all kinds of funky stuff to get it working properly, after which you had to upload a new web.config file. Last, the error messages simply blew chunks like Lardass Hogan. As an example, when you try to create a new account, if the SMTP server wasn’t set correctly, the user would get a cryptic “Internal error: Please contact the system administrator” error. And if you were the system administrator trying to create a personal account, this created either a support call if the person was patient, or a lost sale if they weren’t.

Most of these things were relatively simplistic fixes, but they would still take time and the code was sort of a mess. No fault of Rob Walling, as he acquired the code from someone else. But over the course of 2006, I learned a lot about what people were really looking for in ChitChat.net and it gave rise to the idea of a rewrite. It’s nearly time for that rewrite to come to fruition. For the past few months, I’ve been working with an old friend of mine who used to work at Clearwire with me back in the late 90’s. He still does a lot of web based programming, and was more than enthusiastic about helping out with the project. The fact that I was paying him for his time certainly didn’t hurt, I’m sure.

Within the next couple of weeks, the final version of this rewrite should be feature complete. We’ve got some cleaning up to do, and some bugs to fix, but overall the project is coming together pretty well. It makes use of a lot of Visual Studio 2005 constructs like master pages, and data adapters, etc. All of the front end code is separated from the business and data logic layers. It’s very well organized, and documented pretty well. The database uses consistent naming conventions, as do the controls on the various pages. It’s quite the upgrade.

The goal is to relaunch ChitChat.net by the end of Q1 under the Moon River Software name rather than the older ‘Clickcess’ name. New code, new name, new product. Short and sweet. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this little gem. I have a good feeling that this is going to corner a niche of the market pretty well.

Goal 2: Stop doing consulting work as Moon River Software.
Background: This one is straightforward and is largely complete. A previous subcontracting arrangement has been terminated, largely due to differences of opinion on what is and isn’t fair and how a ‘potential partner’ should be treated. On March 3, my contracting agreement runs out with the last of my clients and it will not be renewed with Moon River Software, which is entirely my choice. There’s a distinct business plan behind Moon River Software and it in no way, shape or form coincides with consulting. There are other, more sinister forces working behind the scenes, but this isn’t the time or place to discuss them. I can’t give away everything, can I?

Goal 3: Turn a profit with Moon River Software on software sales alone.
Background: Last year, Moon River Software turned a healthy profit though mainly from the consulting business. This year is going to be much harder. Without the consulting income to prop up the company, the rewrite of ChitChat.net is going to need to pull its own weight. If it doesn’t, the business will likely tank. This is technically a huge risk, but it’s one that I’m willing to take. The software sales model absolutely must work. If it doesn’t, then I don’t have much of a software company now do I? I do have plenty of money to help get me through the next several months, but March 15th is coming up fast. That’s when business taxes must be filed. My estimate is that my business taxes are going to take roughly half of what I have in the bank, possibly two thirds as I turn away consulting income and prop myself up in the meantime. We’ll have to wait and see how all this pans out.

Goal 4: Evangelize the single founder startup
Background: This is something of a personal goal, rather than a business goal, but there’s a lot of merit to publicly stating it. There’s a lot of talk about how it’s so much harder, bordering on impossible to build a technology company as a single founder. With the guidelines that most people enforce on what constitutes ’success’, I would tend to agree. To many, if you build up a company but never sell it, then you have somehow failed. That line of thinking is thoroughly flawed in the sense that it doesn’t take into account what counts as a success. If I quit my job, and am able to build a business that has supported me financially for the last 18 months and is still going pretty strong, have I failed? I should think not.

<BEGIN RANT>I have absolute control over my future. I decide what I do and don’t do. I make the decisions about what constitutes a work day. I decide the chairs that I buy for myself and my coworkers. (Aeron’s if you’re wondering) I decide where the business goes and the future directions. Is that not considered a success? Just because I didn’t sell my company to Google for $1.65 billion doesn’t mean I’m not successful. I am master of my own destiny. And in my book, that’s what constitutes a success. I’m pretty sick and tired of people telling me that ‘it’ can’t be done, or it’s so much more difficult without a partner. It’s only difficult if you let it be difficult. Make a clear vision of what you want, then determine how to get it. I want freedom from the corporate BS that rules most companies. I’ve built it here at Moon River Software, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave it to be another cog in the wheel at some visionless company where the employees are treated like interchangeable parts in an assembly line. Kapiche?<END RANT>

I see a lot of people out there who want to start their own companies but simply don’t know where to start, or they’re thoroughly smitten with the idea that they need a partner to somehow be successful. No, you don’t. You need the drive. You need the passion. You need to want something different so badly that you’re willing to work all hours of the night doing what it is you do best to get it. Wake up, smell the coffee and get out there. Trust me, if I can do it, you can too. I’m a reasonably intelligent person, but I’m definitely not the smartest person I know. Far from it in fact. I have a friend who is a bone fide rocket scientist with a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from Virginia Tech. Yes, he’s that smart. Far smarter than I am. But he’s driven to learn about B-splines and heat transfer on the wings of a rocket traveling at supersonic speeds. I’m driven by the passion to live my life on my own terms, away from the corporate world where the dollar is king.

I could say so much more about the subject, but I’m going to stop there for now.

Goal 5: Hire 2 more employees by the end of the year.
Background: I’ve already hired one employee and he’s working for me full time. I have a consultant working for me (my friend from Clearwire) who came out to my office a couple weeks ago. I put him, his wife and their son up at a nice hotel nearby. She toured the area for the week, getting familiar with it while he and I worked our tails off trying to finish the next version of ChitChat.net. I think they’re convinced that it would be a good transition. It’s just a matter of making it financially feasible for them. They live in Buffalo, NY so the cost of living is a bit higher. I also have another Senior developer waiting on the wings to join my team. That will round out my team of 4 total employees, including myself. I expect that would take us to the end of the year and don’t forsee the need for any more employees, but you never know what will happen. At a minimum, I’d like to see them both join my team before May. So long as I can make ends meet and pay their salaries, I don’t think either one of them will have a problem joining the ranks.

Goal 6: Look the part of a full fledged business
Background: The Moon River Software website needs an overhaul. It was initially built from a web design template, and that shows. It doesn’t look nearly as professional as it could, or as it should. Up to this point, I’ve been using a combination of 2Checkout and PayPal to process orders. I think this is turning away some people. I just don’t think that some people appreciate that it’s really a business behind it, rather than looking at it and thinking to themselves that it’s some guy working out of his basement. That was true at the beginning of last year, but I’ve had an office in downtown Worcester for the better part of 6 months now and things are growing substantially.

A lot of things have changed, and the website needs to reflect that change. First impressions mean a lot, and a website is no exception. It needs to be more than functional. It needs to look and be professional. No ifs, ands, or buts. This is something of a top priority, although it will likely take some time to complete and get it right.

Goal 7: Review current products and future product ideas
Background: SPROC Function Builder and Moon River Milestones are both products that are also sold under the Moon River Software name. These aren’t exactly breadwinner products at the moment, and decisions need to be made about what to do with them. It will take market analysis and hard work to figure that out.

In addition, there are half a dozen other product ideas floating around that need to be reviewed for feasibility. Whether any of these product ideas come to fruition is a decision that needs to be made from a financial and marketing point of view. If they stand a chance in the market, then they could be some pretty serious contenders for full fledged products.

Summary: Well, that’s about all I have for my 2007 goals for Moon River Software. I think it’s always good to put these kinds of things down on paper… or bytes on a hard drive connected to the internet by loads of transistors, as the case may be. None of these goals seems so far out there that I think it’s in any way unachievable. I’ll keep everyone posted with the progress of them, and you can be sure I’ll check back on these goals in 2008.

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