We Are Not THAT Good…

If this would be on a resume cover... what would your expectations be?
If this would be on a resume cover… what would your expectations be? Used under Copyright.

Quite recently I was approached by an acquaintance who  is high up on the food chain from one of the world’s largest media companies. And although there was a certain goal to the conversation, the thing that stood out the most is the sharing of our experiences in how the world of IT is a handful of people who are really good at what they do, and the majority is just a lot of hot air.

Being in the IT Design & Development industry for over 2 decades, I still tend to be over impressed with someone when I hear their credentials and skills. Maybe because I might take it all a little bit too seriously, or maybe because I simply want to believe it all. I don’t know what it is in other markets – but I am afraid it is more of the same – but it often feels as if the world of IT has the undying ability of generating new terms and abbreviations to simply to impress.

I have been updating my resume of late, and I am then pondering over the fact if I should really add in all the so-called skills that really are not necessary. I still want to believe it is not required to add in UML if I also write HTML or XML. Heck, just any *ML will do – know one, you know them all. I remember when I was young, my father who was Vice President at one of the country’s largest banks, was impressed if a secretary that applied for a job has simple ‘writing’ skills.

I am not writing ‘Graphical Editing’ skills. No, it has to be Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, PS Touch, PS Express, Corel, Painter… am I not saying the same thing with 7 things? An believe me, I have seen many resume mentioning PAINT. Yes. Honestly. And even I have made myself fall for the OS skills to name all the versions in the past: Windows 2, Windows 3.1 & WorkGroups (3.11), Windows 95, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 – oh, it looked so good to have so many skills. Wake up! I know Windows. Good for me. And then of course the Mac OS 8, OS9, OSX… and let’s not forget that I installed Ubuntu successfully once! That adds at least Linux and Ubuntu on there as well. Hmmmm…. wasn’t that built on Unix? Wasn’t Mac OS also built on Unix. And NT? I don’t even know anymore; why not just put Unix in the mix as well.

It is so easy to be impressed with a resume from someone in IT, especially if they do any kind of development, because the list keeps on groing: HTML, HTML5, XML, AJAX, JavaScript, CSS 2, CSS 3, VBscript, ASP, ASP.NET, .NET, SQL, T-SQL, C#, C# Desktop Apps, C# Phone Apps, C# Store Apps, jQuery…

It is this crazy thing that looks impressive, but really is not. I am sorry, but ASP, ASP.NET and .NET are no languages at all and don’t require any skill but to create a page with an extension .ASP or .ASPx on a Windows Server. But it always looks so impressive.

But besides the whole skill tree that bursts from someone’s resume, it is that it might work if you were the only one polishing up their resume like that, but everyone is. So in order to stand out, people keep adding more and more to the mix, and a lot of people hiring who do not really know what it all means, are usually over-impressed and might hire the wrong people.

When I had to hire people, especially in my field, I always was somewhat scared. Because I make no assumptions; I know what I am doing, but I don’t have the idea that I am better than anyone else in this field. And I am always scared that the person hired lives up to his or her reputation and I cannot keep up. In my exact field, that only happened once, and I was greatly impressed and knew that fear is unfounded.

During this interview a young man, early twenties, was looking for a temporary position as a front end developer. Polite, suited up, and not making any statements he could not make. His resume was short and he mentioned he did not know everything and hoped to learn on the job. This ‘kid’ came in between about 10 others with the buffed up resumes, but there was something about him. We hired him, and he learned, and he learned quickly. So very quickly that I still believe that he will become a well-known name one time in the industry. Because, not only did he learn things fast, he knew how to use it, and how to bring things together in such a strong way. He lacked the skills still of working with legacy technology, which left me to let him go at one moment, but I hated every moment of that.

Everyone working in the industry and working a lot on creating and managing productions knows this all too well; there will be people in the workforce you encounter, that simply impress you, and they will stay there. And those are the people I learned and still learn from, and I know that I will grow more simply because of meeting other people who will teach me new things every single time. In my opinion, I am good, but not great or a master.

So, recently, when working on my resume, I made the move to rewrite it according a new template in which it is all about selling yourself. Not by skills and abilities, but by being a match to a company or business, a project or production, and deliver proof that supports it. Gone is the whole history of all the jobs you worked for, the extreme long lists of programs and operating systems. It is a type of resume that simply shows who you can be for the project or company you want to work for. And let them come up with the questions.

Why? Because if everyone was as good as their resume tells them right now, especially in IT, wouldn’t it be the end of Cyber Terrorism, ID theft,  viruses and Malware, data breaches and photos of celebrities from their cloud drive posted on the Internet? Because, everyone would be that good?

Some people are that good. But most are – just like me – just good. Some not even. But as long as top IT people keep writing their passwords on a memo and stick it to their computer, network controllers keep shutting their firewalls down because it blocks traffic and hinders some board member’s NetFlix connection, or programmers using untested libraries that will form the foundation of what they do… we simply have to assume, we still have a long way to go to become as good as we say we are.

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Windows 8, 8.1, iOS, OS-X, Windows Phone, Lollipop, KitKat… ARGH!

It is all about the foundation... even though it might not be pretty.
It is all about the foundation… even though it might not be pretty.

Finally, Verizon is distributing the Windows Phone Denim update across its phones, and the Icons, one of which is in my possession, is scheduled for an update early next year. Wow, only half a year late. It is still a good thing, because I gave up on Android after Verizon refused to update it to a somewhat more recent version after even two years.

Ditch Verizon? Well, no. I am happy with their stability, their service and their coverage. I actually never had problems with them, so, why switch. And I personally prefer the Windows Phone OS. After dealing with Android, and still with IOS, for my daily use I prefer the solution Microsoft delivers. After two years of using it, I am still happy with it, and have hardly any complaints in its usage or speed. My daughter still uses my old WIndows Phone for her gaming and email, and it is just as fast as it was now a little over two years ago.

But, I was frustrated to find out, when I upgraded my phone to Verizon’s Windows Phone flagship, the Icon, that it was not running it’s latest version 8.1. Verizon had not rolled it out yet to make sure that it was fully compatible with their own apps. That is nice and all, and actually to be appreciated, but once there is a marketing push that there is something new, you don’t expect your ‘new’ thing that falls within the category, to be an older version. Still good, still excellent… but not what you expected.

It is like buying that new car at the dealership, and then driving away with last year’s model. Still new, still 0 miles on it. But not what you expected.

This is exactly the point I am going to make in this posting. People like something new. We get bored easily. We need something new, something exciting, and most of all, something to keep us busy. We like to say to others; ‘Did you see this already?’. Why else are car manufacturers producing new models every year that are hardly any different that the year before? Because everyone always knows; something new will be coming, and you want to upgrade.

We like the change, but only for things that we don’t have to use. If we have to use something, like for work, we like stability. Consistency. There we don’t like surprises, only if they increase the way and productivity. But it should not take us time to learn it.

Microsoft’s take on the Enterprise business is in that perspective absolutely spot on, and most likely the reason why Windows is still the Enterprise platform. Companies rather not invest billions of dollars to upgrade and train their personnel when a new update is rolling out. It takes time, frustration and a lot of money. People don’t want to be trained for their work, only if it will be during the boss’ time, and even then, it is often extremely hard to keep your mind to it. Keep in mind, most people are not excited about their work. It is a daily drag, and they are counting down till that little hand point to the 5.

For personal use, everyone uses their systems differently. I honestly am always excited about a new platform. I don’t care what it is. I grew up on Windows and MacOS. I like them both, although I personally prefer Windows and PC’s. Windows Phone is the first mobile platform that I think is mature enough to understand not everything evolves around small apps.  This is my problem with iOS and Android; the whole eco-system is based on these small programs that run on their own. Office is the first real big production rolled out over the mobile platforms, that really integrate an Enterprise solution. Sure, I know and use Google Docs, but sorry, in my opinion, Google Docs is not yet near a threat for Office.

But there is an interesting shift happening in Operating Systems. They are becoming real platforms now that will be scaling itself across any device. Windows 10 will be the first full-scale OS platform to put itself in this position, where the foundation between desktops, tablets, televisions, consoles and phones will be sharing the real foundation. All will have a similar experience, and developers can develop once, and port their productions to the different devices.

It sounds so logical, and if that foundation is stable, and it really works, it will be revolutionary. Not that it is a new concept. Microsoft has tried this over and over and failed and failed to do so. Windows Phone 8 was already planned to be this, until it was simply not ready for it yet. The experience between phone and desktop and console are similar, but simply not the same.

Which is not a bad thing. Like I mentioned in my earlier posting about Responsive Design, every device has a different target audience, and a different user group. It actually might be good to have different devices work a bit differently, with a different perspective.

But my biggest worry is that if it actually does work as it is intended. That it works flawlessly and without any bugs (oh, if ever!) and indeed across all platforms and devices that there will be another issue; user fatigue. Once something is around too long, and doesn’t really change, people get tired. Positives turn into negatives, and they will keep looking around in jealousy is someone else has something different. Hey, it is a reason why we use the proverbs: ‘The grass is always greener…’ and ‘You don’t miss it until it is gone.’ We are, in the end, never happy with what we have.

Apple is smart enough to introduce something new once in a while. They cannot turn around their whole iOS system, but they sure can add new functionality. And although a lot of people and professionals don’t really grasp the idea why some software functionality is only unlocked on newer models is a simple marketing trick, to make sure that even if you have a similar device (and iPhone) you still want the newest version.

But overall, not a lot is changing in user experience. iOS is basically the same since it’s launch in 2007. Tiles, small sandboxed apps, and you do one thing at a time. OS-X, Windows95, Windows8 are actually the only platforms, outside of the original, that really changed things. And out of those, only OS-X and Windows95 were really successes. And Windows8 was a good attempt, but simply not well thought out for a desktop environment.

What I am worried about, when there is talk about moving to a new device-wide platform, is that it will actually not change a thing. Even when they will be automatically updated like most browsers do nowadays. Windows 10 will be the ‘last’ Windows version? I have to see it to believe it. Eventually, time will have introduced so many new technologies and requirements, that the foundation has to be changed again, and there will be Windows 11. Or people simply want something new, since they will get bored with it.

Sometimes, thinking back about the DOS time is nice and comfortable. The DOS was simple in design: Black. White letters. Done. That graphic designer must have had a real eye for things. The usability was also simple… just type. You want to run a program? Know the name, and maybe it will run. Done. Oh, and if your program didn’t run, try making it’s own computer start-up files. Ah, starting a game was half the fun!

But, there is something very important to DOS. The Operating System was there to make the computer do things that you actually bought the computer for. I don’t have my computer to run Windows. I don’t have my tablet to marvel at iOS. And even though I like Windows Phone a lot, I don’t have a phone to awe at live-tiles. No matter how there are fans defending or attacking an OS or platform as much as they can; it is about what you do with it. An OS supports productivity, but it should not be the productivity.

In that perspective, a very broad OS that is able to support all the apps and the platform itself is native on many devices sound like a great idea. I hope it will work out. And if it does, I hope carriers will honor the concept and just go with the flow.

Where Is The Caffeine? I Need More Buzz!

(c) Scott Adams, Inc. from the always accurate Dilbert comics.
(c) Scott Adams, Inc. from the always accurate Dilbert comics.

I am finally making a switch to using HTML5. For the last half-year I have been transforming productions I have made before into the new platform. Not because I did not know about it, but because finally it is stable enough to be working with it in my opinion, and delivering a big enough level of improvement over ‘old’ HTML that it is worth spending time and money on. It is not so much the HTML that I like compared to the use of CSS and JavaScript + AJAX.

No clue what I am talking about? Not to worry… it is just showing that I was not jumping on the band-wagon right away with implementing HTML5 websites. The main reason was actually way more simple; there was always a group of users, usually within the clients’ circle, that held on to their old Windows XP computers, and not being able to work comfortably with a HTML5 compatible browser. And I hated every single bit of that, but hey, if that is where the money is coming from, I have to adept from time to time.

Yesterday, a colleague of mine at another company was wondering why we had an open, listening FTP port on our server, and he began preaching of the potential security breach that might be. And he is right, I do not deny that. But, if you have to work with people or a company, especially if they pay the bills, that do not want to, or do not understand anything of technology and only have FTP available to provide data, and you do not know when, and they can do it from anywhere, any time, there are only so many options left open. So, yes, we have an open FTP port, on a non-critical server. If something happens, it is sandboxed, and something happens. Too bad 😉

And here we are getting a little bit on the turf of my subject today. I do not know how it is in any area of expertise except technology, design and photography; but everyone is always trying to show how things need to be done, and what is the ‘right’ way to do things. I do agree, there is always the ‘has to’ version of things. Security, coding regulations, data management. But in the end, most of the work has to do with the environment you are working in.

Yesterday, on a tv-program about building a house in the Mojave Desert, it was shown that before a house can be built, tests need to be done on the structure of the ground, the presence of clay in the ground, to make sure you can build on it. Coming from the Netherlands myself, there is not a house being built without giant rods into the ground to support the foundation because the ground is so very unstable because of the clay and the fact that most of the country’s ground is below sea-level. Building houses have to adapt to the environment. It might not be the best scenario globally, but in a certain situation, you have to adapt.

I can preach whatever I want to a client of how things need to be done. But in the end, if the Mexican Standoff is that it is their way or the highway, having me missing out on a huge payment; I rather do the best I can in the environment that I need to work with, than just not doing it at all. Am I a sell out? I don’t think so. I think I am someone using my expertise and skill to do the best job that I can in the area I am in.

When I build my own productions, things are a complete different story. I love to experiment with new things, combine them with the old that are stable, and try out whatever I can do. There I have the free reign of how to handle things. I love it. Working partially with cloud services, but using the power of local client systems, and dedicated servers since I still prefer them over cloud servers (but who knows, next year)… it doesn’t matter, I can work how I want to do it.

And there, I can decide what technology to use. And even there, there are some current day buzz words in technology that I simply cannot support. I think one of the ones that is closest to what I am working with every day is ‘Responsive Design’. For people who know the word, but do not really know what it means; Responsive design is the way of building the site once, designing it once, and have the design automatically adept to the device and orientation of the device you are working with. Before it finally became something interesting this year, I have, as some other developers and designers as well, building technologies to do that before with simple javascript, different stylesheets and you were done with it.

Then why do I call it now very negatively a ‘buzz word’? Because it is. Everyone is mentioning that they want a Responsive site. Which is actually fine. My only issue is, as any designer+developer knows deep in their hearts; A responsive site is not always the right way to go about things.  Why?

A responsive design simply mentions that the site acts and behaves the same, it just visually might be different to accomodate the device you are working on. Perfect. Except… some small issues.

A phone is not a phablet, a phablet is not a tablet, a tablet is not a TV, and a TV is not a desktop. It has nothing to do with resolutions; it has to do with interfaces. On a keyboard I have 102 keys, over a billion of different combinations of interactions, and multiply that by factor 8 if I add my mouse to it. My phone has about 12 with multi-touch, maybe 25, or what do I know, but also on a much smaller screen. My phone has a higher resolution than my tablet, which can, or can not, have a keyboard attached to it. My console has a controller, 12 buttons, about 860 different possibilities. Also, when I am behind my console I am sitting in a wingback chair, relaxed. Behind the desktop, I am at my desk, surrounded by four screens at the time. My phone? Anywhere… waiting at the gas pump in the car, in the train or simply a last check of the day in bed. My tablet? usually during breakfast to read up on the news.

Every device is simply a complete different thing, connected to a different use pattern and a different environment. Even though there is a Photoshop Touch, which is pretty good, it will not even get close to the regular Photoshop at my desktop. Of course, this is an unfair comparison, since Photoshop touch is only meant for small time edits, and the regular Photoshop is a powerhouse. But, it does put a spotlight on the issue.

In my opinion, if you work on a site, and you design, you design the experience. Not so much the site. And every device has, as pointed out earlier, a different use pattern. Although I do agree that you do not want to develop your production twice, you should also not sell yourself short by ‘just implementing a responsive design’ that simply make the site appear different on different devices.

True, Responsive design might be the right way to go for your project, but it is not automatically so because ‘the world asks for a responsive design’. In a lot of scenarios, a Responsive Design might be actually locking you down to create a better adaptable version of your website.

It is the same thing with all the ‘buzz words’ going around. Some stick, some die out over time. I love it how Netflix responded in Europe to the request of having downloadable files; their answer is that it is not going to happen. The reason is not that the technology is not available, but that the time and money spent in it now, will be useless since the speed of networks in Europe is growing so fast, that by the time they are well finished, it is something that no one is asking for anymore. It is not worth it to always do exactly what people want right now.

Why Cyber Terrorism is the 21st Century of Terror

The Interview, (c)2014 Sony Pictures
The Interview, (c)2014 Sony Pictures

The cyber attack on Sony Pictures might not seem something really to worry about to the general population, but this is possibly showing the real threat of what terrorism is evolving into, and why we should really worry.

Howard Stern spent a good portion of his air-time yesterday discussing, and defending, his comparison of the Sony cyber-attack to 9/11. The New York Daily News had published a post earlier that day more or less calling the shock jock an idiot for making this comparison.

The frustration of Mr. Stern is understandable; not so much for being made out to be an ‘idiot’ and describing the inability to compare a cyber-attack to a vicious ‘real life’ act of terror where people lose there lives. To the general public with less knowledge of what a cyber-attack like this actually means for us and our freedom, the comparison of Mr. Stern sounds like idiocy. And that audience will indeed see it like that; Stern, Seth Rogen and James Franco, and Sony Pictures for financing and distributing the movie ‘the Interview’ make a fuss about nothing. Because, how will an attack like the Sony cyber-attack change their lives like 9/11 had done?

Sadly, more than the people would like to know. In this blog, over the years, I have mentioned multiple times the issue of security, anonymity and piracy and privacy online. It is something in which my personal opinion of being working in this field for over two decades, is a delicate balancing act. Sometimes I shift to the less privacy, more security side, the other time to the more privacy, less security. The problem is, there is a lot going on hidden under the digital shroud called ‘the Web’ than we would like to know.

Halfway through the nineties, when my job was to do web development and design for a major Internet Service Provider, we received a court order to dig up some guy’s email that was hosted with our free email service at that time. The reason? There was the evidence of a person using our free email system plotting by email to murder someone.

At that time, it was the first time I started to realize that underneath this whole wonder that is called the Internet, was a very dark and shadowy place. The coming of Napster which brought the attention to illegally downloading actually illuminated this area a little more. Not so much because of the downloading, but how active people were supporting a criminal act. Sure, on it’s own it was not something major, and it pushed the digital evolution in a way it needed to go to offer us now elements like cloud computing, media streaming and social networks.

But it also showed something else; nobody really understood the foundation for what we knew about media was shaking. The Internet was not of one country, and so it could not have laws. And a minority, but a very vocal minority, was – and is – very much hanging in there to support that thought; the Internet is the area where there are no laws and you can be whoever you want to be.

And ‘sadly’, that is reality. ‘Sadly’ because the power of the Internet is also the biggest threat. Just like how the ultimate form of democracy is allowing the people to vote to get rid of democracy, the ultimate version of the Internet is it being unmetered and unfiltered. A place where systems can communicate without boundaries.

What the general population see as the Internet, the thing you go on with Google, Bing or Yahoo!, is only a thin layer. It is not about websites, social networks and your iPad being able to stream YouTube videos. The Internet are all computers connected to it, able to communicate with each other. Computers. Not just the browsers running on the computers. And computers are more than machines that allow you to read the morning news; your smart phone you own today might have the power of all the workstations that were needed to land Neil Armstrong on the moon. Let’s think about that or compare it to something else; your phone, the one in your hand right now or in your pocket, is way more complicated and powerful than the Voyager that recently left our solar system.

And those powerful machines can talk to each other. And we love the conveniences that can bring; Internet Banking, online auctions, checking your mortgage, requesting your vehicle registration online, checking your medical records, and finding the phone number of the girl you secretly like so much (creepy!).

Better yet, we are relying on these things. You want to know in a minute if you can get a credit card, can afford that car or house, or even shop for that new dress on Amazon during your boss’s hours. But in the meanwhile, that space that is the Internet is also handled for other actions. Some quite more shady, and secretive.

The issue is that the Internet is not a country, it actually doesn’t have police and law didn’t catch up with it yet. It is the first global nation, and it should be treated that way. But that means that a lot of people are sharing, people with different opinions, values, and feeling of pride or patriotism.

Real life terrorism; where 9/11, but more recently also the public school drama in Pakistan, are major examples of are so terrifying because they form an easy identifiable threat to life and our way of living. We can connect it to religion, and give it a global location that is – hopefully – always far from our beds. And I understand that, but at the same time we have build the foundation of our way of life very effectively online and on the Internet; which is also the way to go (don’t get me wrong there). But it is a foundation that is accessible to anyone, to use, or abuse.

So why is this Sony cyber-attack such a show-case of the future of terrorism, that most likely will be way more effective than ‘real-life’ terrorism? Simple, it can be done from a safe distance anywhere in the world, and the world of the Internet is still evolving. It is not even close to whatever it is going to be. And with that evolving come wonderful opportunities, but also a lot of threats. A lot of things are done for the first time, and because of that, a security issue. People, and the systems, are not yet able to really be safe, simply because the way it is evolving is done by making mistakes.

The Sony attack might not even have been a technical advance feat. Stealing a laptop and discovering a file called ‘passwords.txt’ might be all that was to it. But look at security threats like the heartbleed leak that caused so much trouble earlier this year. Security has come so far already, but it is not even close to what it will need to be. And until that time (and even then) there will be threats. Hacking to retrieve personal information, even stolen identities, are a threat now that people start to realize and understand, but will be ironed out relatively soon. It shows the holes in our system of identities and relating it to financial situations. That will be taken care of.

But the Sony cyber-attack also came with another message; a real-life threat of terrorism at any cinema that will show the movie ‘The Interview’ from Seth Rogen and James Franco. The premiere in New York has already been cancelled. It might be a hoax, it might be nothing, because an online threat is easily made. But a company like Sony has to respond in the right way; and like it or not, they did the right thing to take no risks; and allow any cinema to not show the movie even if they already got it. Seth Rogen and James Franco already cancelled their interview to promote the movies. And this is the threat; in the wake of real life terrorism, we will not take any risks. We cannot afford any risks of some lunatic threatening us. Maybe the hack was done by hackers from North Korea to boycott the movie ‘The Interview’ which was originally called ‘Kill Kim-Jong Un’, maybe some lone wolf out there just making a mess (do not always suspect that security in these big organizations to be top-notch). No matter what, we, as a people, cannot take those risks. Because only one out of a million stupid threats issued online each day to people has to be the real thing to become a very scary thing.

This is the reason why I am not pro- but also not completely against what the CIA tries to do online. Someone needs to be a cop in this area, and even though what they are doing is unethical, maybe, at this time, it might prevent us from worse. I honestly do not know. But ignoring the threat of cyber-terrorism will destroy our way of life eventually.

The internet needs to evolve much more than it already did. And the threats and insecurity come with the benefits that we all enjoy. So we need to be careful, and realize what it really is, it is a dangerous, but beautiful place.

And with this, I also show my active support to Howard Stern; because the man understands this issue much better than the Daily News clearly does.

Focus, Don’t get distracted & Just do it!

Blank piece of paper
Blank piece of paper
Yes, this is where it all begins…

A repetitive subject about my posts is about what might be important and what might not be in creating a new production. Everyone with experience in the field will give you advice that, as a start-up, might seem to be too much. One is mentioning how important SEO is, the other one how important building an audience through grassroots methods is, then you should have it running in the cloud, build an app, and then apps on this or that or that platform.

And then we did not really even get into SEO yet; because are you aiming for natural searches, inbound links, link sharing programs, advertisements…

STOP right there. We now only talked about getting noticed online. And yes, there will be enough people telling you success stories about all these methods, but these days, if you start something new, sit before that blank canvas of a project, lose all that advice. It is not about all those things at all. You have to start all the way at the beginning, and right now, you are focusing all the way at the end.

Before you think about deploying it to certain platforms, talk to markets and think about selling; you first have to go back to the drawing board. The idea. The spark.

I mentioned the SWOT analysis earlier on, which of course is part of any good business plan. Again, for an investor, never spend any dime in a project or a business without a correct honest SWOT, but also for you as the owner of a company or the creator of a new project; don’t spend any time on a project if you have not SWOTted it out first.

But there is no project that should not have a business plan as well. But it is all based on the idea. And if you do not have the luxury of a complete marketing machine behind you, and capital of your own that can simply make you create anything and give you the luxury of maybe having a miss or two, you need something good. The idea.

A lot of people who want to do something, have a real plan, get the idea nowadays in the media that you have to start big. How many times haven’t you heard that the times from working in your attic or basement are over? Don’t let anyone fool you, these days more success-stories are written in those attics, bedrooms and basements than every before. People that simply have an idea that will not let go, and they simply have to build it. No matter how.

And people who know the creative process know that kind of idea. Out from nothing, suddenly there is the hint of an idea, and it will not let go. You have to work on it. And it will grow, it will become like a very logical idea. But it will not be forgotten. Even after years, if you don’t do anything with it, it will still be there.

Those kind of ideas are different from the ideas created because of a need. You can create something new because you think you need it, but the lack of that passion compared to the idea that you have to make, might make all the difference. How many companies are spending tons of time and money into creating things that they think they need to get an audience, or that can prove some other project can work?

If the initial project is good, the original concept that started it, everything will come together. Then, suddenly, once it is there, you will understand what to do with building up an audience. Build it first on the web, available to all platforms. And then, you might start thinking about moving it into an app, doing SEO, building up an audience.

But who am I writing this to? Because once you have that have to idea, you probably already know what I am talking about.

Success!

The Hard Lessons In Business: Give Up + Adept = New Possibilities

Never gave up on the Rubik's Cube yet...
Never gave up on the Rubik’s Cube yet…

People who have read my blog for a while know that I knew how to run my first business into the ground pretty effortlessly. At that time, my friend and I who ran the business knew what we were doing to build our products, but not how to get paid for it. Ah, a slight oversight.

We learned from that, and learned that without help in all the areas, chances that you will fail are much higher than when you are well prepared. We were not. A lot of money in debt and paying back everything later, the company is there again, and this time building, doing research, and still stable until it will finally have its products ready to publish.

In the meantime I have been doing what everyone else needs to do to make ends meet; work. I love working, I have no problems with it, and wake every morning up early and work with my clients to get everything done. And then besides that, I do the research, the building, the hosting and numerous trial and error loops with my own company, sometimes deep into the night. It is a passion that every entrepreneur has. It cannot be turned off, if you have that feeling of your own business in your blood, it will not go away because of a setback. It will actually make you want to try again, and do better.

But, life also progresses. When I started my business with my friend, and eventually had 11 people (including us) working with us, we were young, single, and we had no responsibilities whatsoever. Now, 15 years later, I have been married for over 10 years, a wonderful daughter, a mortgage… the whole shabang. Which makes taking the risks a lot more difficult.

And you hear from all the people around you, and the success stories in the media; you have to take the risks! No Nuts, No Glory! That might work if I was a complete sociopath and did not car about my wife and family. But sadly, I seem to be a more normal kind of person, so I decide not to take all the risks at once. So, that has me working double time, or make that triple time. By now I own a photo studio, and IT company and my wife runs a pretty successful store as well. And the clients are not the smallest around,with a couple of businesses rendering my company’s IT services and design services that belong to the biggest of the world, who are very well aware of the business being ran from an attic. But the quality they are used to, makes up for that little fact.

But there is a much better reason why I do not take the risk and make my business my full-time job yet. Back when our business tanked, we did not know that we were going to learn the best lesson business can ever deliver you; taking responsibility. Somehow, the only thing we knew is that we did not want to go bankrupt. We did not completely understand why, but it was taught to us; do not go bankrupt. So when we saw that our debts were getting too much for us to handle, without any know-how to survive it with the company, we sat down with the team, and decided to call it quits. My friend and I looked at the debt, split it in two, and decided to carry our own weights and pay back all the money that we owed.

One of the big lessons learned was that I think it was a good choice to at that moment finance the business ourselves. Sure, it hit us hard, but we also left with a clean slate. I have been working with clients who have less an idea what they were doing but doing that with money that was not theirs. And then you notice how easy it is to burn your whole network, how your name can become smeared, and your good reputation is gone.

Also, it taught us clearly what things cost. We had our logo designed with a fantastic team. The logo was superb and we had the best style guide for our business. But, well, that came with a price. And let’s recap; I am a designer myself. The reason why I did not do it is simply because we were putting our attention in our projects. It is nice to outsource, but only when needed. And to be honest, we should have done it on our own.

Just like owning the office building when we actually did not yet need one. Of course, it was ‘cool’ to have one, but it actually got us nothing but extra bills, while we had the whole network in place. For crying’ out loud, we were a technical company with the know-how to set up flexible work places.

But a lot of those things we have learned, and our friendship endured, and regularly we are going through what needs to be done to launch the company’s products. Right now, we have done close to half a million dollars in research and development, but taken it over time, working hard, working late, and making sure everything happens correctly. And we absolutely hope that this time it is more successful.

But in the meantime, working with clients, there are more lessons that are so valuable. And I learn more from the things of what not to do, than success stories. You can find success stories everywhere, because everyone loves to brad about success. But sitting down, and seeing that the focus on the wrong part of the project – like putting a lot of time in development and modifications without having an audience – or financing departments that are not even needed, trying to build everything custom while there are perfect off-the-shelf deals available, even if they don’t meet all your demands – they are just a couple of examples.

But most of all, what still amazes me, I hardly see people give up. And this amazes me because giving up on a project doesn’t mean shutting down and start working at your local grocery store. But it is to cut your losses, learn and stand up again, and be stronger this time.

But, you know, maybe that is me.

SWAT the SWOT?

Ka-Schwatt! Another one bites the dust!
Ka-Schwatt! Another one bites the dust!

It happens so often that it still stuns me, companies that love to change their whole business plan to match what will work for them at that moment. And I haven’t seen it happen once or twice, I have seen it dozens of times. And I still cannot get my head around it.

In the late nineties when I started my first business, my partner in crime and myself had worked so long and hard on our business plan. We thought we knew what we were doing, and of course, one bank after the other trashed our plans. And every time, we got valuable advice, and we went back to the drawing board, look at what we were doing wrong, and then rethink that before modifying it. In the end, when our real business plan was fine, we realized that we had to have it worked out by a team of accountants, who actually made our ‘numbers we believed were right’ actually viable.

We walked away with a wonderful business plan. Perfect. And around that time, or not much after, we decided to quit. Why? Oh, simple, we were not ready yet for what the business would bring. Here is the thing; the business plan showed us what we were up against, and at that moment, two guys with a plan but no money at all, we were simply not ready.

We decided to cut our loses made so far, and not quit, but put the plan in hibernation. It would happen, but when we would have the right people and the right assets. It eventually became the most expensive, but also most important lesson in business anyone could ever ask for. And over the years it has prepared myself for continuing what I wanted to achieve. Because one thing I always remember were so important; A goal, A plan and the SWOT.

Most of you probably are aware of the SWOT Analysis, which should form the basic self-reflection tool in your business plan. Everyone always has a plan, and everyone always think they will succeed. Oh, we lied on our SWOT. Because we wrote our plan to appease investors and banks. But we learned the valuable lesson that the SWOT is a self analysis. And that the whole business plan should be something that takes you yourself on a journey of discovery through your own company and plans.

For the ones who don’t know the SWOT, it is an analysis of your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. For example, if I want to build and launch a new CMS tool, my Strengths in that plan is that I have a good understanding of the relations data need to have to become as useful as possible, and I can build it, prototype it and have a strong network to have it built for production. A weakness is, at production level, I need help I might not have in time. The opportunity is maybe a new client that is willing to pay a lot for it. The threat is that development of said CMS tool might take longer than the client is willing to wait and have them chose for an off-the-shelf product.

This Analysis for this little project would already raise enough questions; The Strengths and Opportunities give the reason why I can. The Weakness is the thing I have to work on to make it not a weakness anymore, and the threat needs to be eliminated. If I cannot fix the weakness or I cannot eliminate the threat, this production is not worth my time. Simple.

Makes sense, no?

Why is it then that I still see so many companies, even when they are years in their existence, rewriting their whole business plan to just make things look good. Of course I know the answer, and it frightens me. First of all, not everyone running a company might be as professional as we hope them to be. Secondly, a lot of people owning a company simply do not want to see something bad in what they are doing, or being faced with their weaknesses. That, on it’s own, is already the weakness in the business plan.

I have made countless new plans, and it showed me over time the progress that I had made, and when it was a good time to reboot the company.I still have massive threats and weaknesses, but the strengths and opportunities have also become so much better, and the weaknesses are all having solutions. New ones will show up though, and that will prepare me for more. It should never go that easy.

The worst part is, I also understand that there are enough people investing money in companies who do not do the research themselves. Sure, there are companies without a good plan that rise, but most of them don’t. For every success story there are a hundred failures. And you know what? It should be.The real entrepreneurs will try and try again.