Friday, August 31, 2012

The Other Side of the Booth

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending CoderFaire Nashville. I've been to a lot of great conferences, but this one was different for me on a few levels:
  1. My good friends Cal Evans and Jacques Woodcock organized the event which made me feel like an "insider." 
  2. I got to see my friends speak, and they were all really good! Tim Moses, Ben Ramsey, Jason Myers, Eli Tapolcsanyi (say that name 10 times fast!), Jim Siegienski ("Jimski"), Jon Shearer... loved them all. I missed Kevin Powell and other friends, but I heard they did great as well. 
  3. My business partner, Brett Florio, flew in from California so we got to enjoy the conference together.
  4. My company, FoxyCart, was a lab sponsor.
Let me start off by saying the conference was a huge success. The Nashville development community has been growing like crazy and desperately needed their own conference event. There's been a lot of back and forth on social media about BarCamp, PodCamp, and other conferences some argue have been "taken over" by marketing professionals. Regardless of that debate, there was no denying what CoderFaire was all about.

For a first year conference, I was amazed at the turnout, the quality, and the smoothness with which everything was done. The result was a testimony to Cal's many years of conference experience combined with Jacques, Kathy and the volunteer team's pursuit of excellence.

Well done!

But that's not really what this blog post is about. I wanted to highlight #4 above. I've been to a few conferences now (JavaOne, AdobeMax,, PHP Tek, BarCamp, PodCamp, etc), and I usually follow the unspoken rule when it comes to vendor tables: Get in, get your free swag, get out, and, no matter what, do not make eye contact!

No one likes to be poorly marketed to. It makes you feel like a roast pig on a spit.

For the first time ever, I was on the other side of the vendor booth. FoxyCart was a proud sponsor of CoderFaire. Look, we bought a banner and everything! We're a real company now! (after only 5 short years). The genius of the setup was we weren't allowed to "sell." We were lab partners, there to answer questions about our service and equip others to build awesome.

This is the way it should be done. Vendors should think of their conference presence as an opportunity to serve their community in person. To put a human face on the awesome support they already give, day in and day out.

I think we've all been trained by bad vendor booths. People hawking their products and services to anyone and everyone: bribing you with a t-shirt and shaming you for not signing up for the newsletter.

Cal and Jacques: Thank you.

Thank you for showing us all something different. It's hard being on the other side of the booth. It's hard to get past that unspoken rule and let coders know, "We're here to help. Really." But you made it possible.

We had some great conversations and hopefully sparked the beginnings of some new partnerships. The feedback I got at Tuesday night's NashCocktail and last night's CentreSource Interactive Mixer from CoderFaire attendees was incredible.

They loved that we, as a vendor, were there for them. We participated in the hackthon (more about that later... I'm going to turn that thing into a business). We attended sessions and asked questions. We, as developers, were part of the community, not a parasite feeding on it.

The next time you attend a conference, look for the vendors that genuinely want to serve you. Thank them for being there. Tell them you enjoy doing business with real people who care about their customers.

I know it will mean a lot to them because the feedback we've gotten has meant a lot to us.

(Note: All of these pictures were blatantly stolen from Cal and Jacques. They both know where I live, so they can come beat me up if they don't like me using them).

Did you attend CoderFaire? If so, what did you think?

Got an interesting conference story involving vendors? Please share it in the comments!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Does Your Business Care About Profit?

2016-08-27 Edit: A version of this post now lives on Steemit! Join up and give it a vote.

Q: Why do companies fail?
A: Because they don't have any money.

Q: Why not?
A: They spent it all. There was a bucket they pulled from to do their business, and that bucket is empty.

Q: How do you keep the bucket from going empty?
A: Profit

Profit is an ancient, seemingly forgotten equation that many Internet startups have never known. Centuries, even millennia, of business wisdom have followed this simple idea:

Profit = Revenue - Expenses

(Sure, you can get more complicated by calculating your break even point, analyzing fixed costs, variable costs, marginal revenue, equilibrium price, supply and demand, etc... but let's just keep things simple).

If you don't have profit, you might just have a hobby.

If you convince others to invest in your hobby or buy it completely, it may be a ponzi scheme.

I'm concerned for my industry. For some reason, it seems we didn't learn from the dot-com bubble. We somehow think if we get enough people "interested" it will make up for not delivering real value. The service provided to the customers should have real value. Someone should be willing to be pay for it (customers, preferably, but advertisers get in the game as well).

If "going public" or "selling the company" is your company's only strategy for making money, it might be worth asking, "Are we bringing real value to our customers?" If you're pouring your heart and soul into building something, make sure it's something that will last. Make it something people are willing to pay for. Work hard to keep it that way.

Don't pull money out of a bucket to run your business. Instead, do something awesome your customers will tell their friends about. Meet real needs in the marketplace and continue to evolve as the needs change.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin calls a dollar bill a "certificate of appreciation."

Your doors are kept open by the appreciation of your customers.

Do something worth appreciating.

It won't be easy, and it won't happen overnight. In fact, it will probably take years of trial and error.

Dave Ramsey talks often about losing it all. After becoming a young millionaire, he went completely broke. He then spent years meeting with and learning from millionaires, decamillionaires and a few billionaires about how to do things right. The recurring theme he saw over and over again can be explained in a children's book.

The tortoise always beats the hare.

Warren Buffet (quoting Fred Brooks from the Mythical Man Month) said it well: "You can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant."

Spend the time to grow your business the right way. Meet needs, deliver value, and profit.

This post may rub some people the wrong way. It's just my opinion. I welcome yours in the comments below.

P.S. I can't tell you how thankful I am for our FoxyCart customers. They have given us their appreciation and referrals since 2007. Serving them is the reason our company exists. I'm glad we spent our time in the hobby stage because we focused on the needs first. We're now a sustainable business meeting real needs for thousands of people, and I feel like we're just getting started.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Curious About Curiosity

When shuttles tragically fail, Hubble can't take pictures, or missions don't go to plan, I hear friends talking about how we should redirect NASA funding to feed the hungry.

With the success of Curiosity's landing last night, now I hear calls to increase their funding.

I guess we Americans just want to celebrate success.

Don't forget, failures always line the path to great accomplishments.

As for my opinion, I don't think we would have been given such a big backyard if we weren't meant to explore it. I believe these moments will mark the timeline of humanity while many other things will be long forgotten.

What's your opinion?