with 'business' tag

the state of things

just over seven years ago, i mentioned that i had decided to switch over to using scat, the point of sale software that i had been knocking together in my spare time. it happened, and we have been using it while i continue to work on it in that copious spare time. the project page says “it is currently a very rough work-in-progress and not suitable for use by anyone.” and that's still true. perhaps even more true. (and absolutely true if you include the online store component.)

it is currently a frankenstein monster as i am (slowly) transforming it from an old-school php application to being built on the slim framework. i am using twig for templating, and using idiorm and paris as a database abstraction thing.

i am using docker containers for some things, but i have very mixed emotions about it. i started doing that because i was doing development on my macbook pro (15-inch early 2008) which is stuck on el capitan, but found it convenient to keep using them once i transitioned to doing development on the same local server where i'm running our production instance.

the way that docker gets stdout and stderr wrong constantly vexes me. (there may be reasonable technical reasons for it.)

i have been reading jamie zawinski’s blog for a very long time. all the way back to when it was on live journal, and also the blog for dna lounge, the nightclub he owns. the most recent post about writing his own user account system to the club website sounded very familiar.

sometimes you leave money on the table

some people can’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea that an event like the red bull soapbox race isn’t a free pass for the nearby businesses to rake in money, much like the downtown art walk isn’t.

i have probably been guilty of making similar statements about other people’s businesses before, and will be in the future. but it is good to remember that leaving money on the table is often reasonable and justifiable.

the art walk experience

loftseven, a relative newcomer to the downtown art walk has announced they will no longer be participating because of vandalism and crowd control issues. bert green fine art closes at 6pm on art walk nights. (notable because the gallery is right on 5th and main, considered by many to be the hub of the art walk, and bert founded the art walk.) we no longer stay open late on art walk because of the issues with dealing with the crowd.

but the downtown art park seems to be going strong, and there seem to be spaces willing to host no end of one-day gallery shows while they wait for the right permanent tenant.

and you can’t walk a block with running across at least one gourmet food truck. (ah, for the heady days when little radio and tom gilmore tried to chase off the fabled kogi bbq truck before they were quite so fabled.)

i’m not sure what my point is. perhaps just that the art walk experience is an evolving one, and it isn’t for every business.

own a bar in downtown los angeles

this craigslist ad for a cafe and wine bar in downtown los angeles has been getting posted regularly for a while now. i am not sure exactly which one it is, but i have a good guess. i do know for sure that it is not banquette.

bill gross no longer has my money

i don’t know if it is at all related to my blogging about how bill gross has my money last october, but not only does bill gross have less of my money, now he doesn’t have any of it. idealab made a tender offer to its stockholders, mostly to clear out the small ones like me, and i opted to sell my shares. it wasn’t a lot of money, but it is nice to have it liquid again.

let the sun shine in

i completed all the paperwork to accept my new position at sun today. now i just need to drop it off at a ups dropbox or have ups pick it up. at least they didn’t ask me to fax anything.

for a hardware company trying to become a software company, you would think the process of “onboarding” would not involve writing your address on a half-dozen different forms.

i will be a “member of the technical staff 4 - software.”

yeah, they say that they are working on updating the titles and such for everyone.

bill gross has less of my money

i wrote before about how i had idealab stock with no real prospects of seeing value from it. i don’t know what prompted it, but the brainiacs at idealab decided to pay out a dividend after the internet brands initial public offering.

for a very minor shareholder like me, it is an absolute pittance, but it is nice to start getting some of my money back on this investment.

the amazon web services startup challenge is a great idea. the top prize is $50,000 cash, $50,000 of amazon web services credit, and the offer of an investment in the amount to take your idea to market (more or less — read the rules).

just for entering, you get a $25 credit for amazon web services for usage from now until the end of the year.

the entry deadline is october 28.

random business idea

provide an online backup service, but part of the startup is sending the user an external hard drive that they use to do a full backup and return to you before they start doing incremental backups over the network. for 40GB of data, it takes 10 days to upload at a fairly typical (but optimistic) 384KB/s.

mailing a hard drive can have much better throughput than pushing data up through adsl connections, but i wonder if the economics work out.

startup la

startupla is a conference happening october 25-26 at ucla’s anderson school of business. there will be some keynotes, some panels, and some unconference time, and presumably will be a good place for networking. i may even be on one of the panels, unless they come to their senses.

$2 billion for old baggage?

as reported when editor dean baquet was ousted, the los angeles times enjoys a 20% operating profit:

The Los Angeles Times reported that its operating profit margin was 20 percent, higher than that of the average Fortune 500 company.

david geffen made a $2 billion offer for the paper, but all i can do is look at the price tag and think how much more sense it would make to just start a new paper with that. don’t for a big-bang launch, but ramp up the editorial production over a couple of years (web-only, at first). i suspect that if there is room for the los angeles times to grow, there’s no reason that another player couldn’t grow into that space. and both papers would be better for the competition.

if he really wants to leave a legacy, geffen should found a los angeles version of the poynter institute.

i don’t think that deal means what you think it means

so blockbuster and the weinstein co. have announced that blockbuster signed a deal to be the exclusive renter for weinstein co. films.

too bad there is no such thing as rental rights. i suggest some of the people involved may want to read up on the first-sale doctrine.

all i can see this meaning is that netflix will end up paying less favorable rates for the weinstein co. films that they choose to stock, and weinstein co.’s less successful films will have even poorer distribution. but if weinstein co. releases a successful film and ever sells it on dvd, there is no way that netflix is not going to carry it.

it’s nice to be on top

herbalife is moving their headquarters, not to a site built using using the massive waste generated by their low-level suckers, but into la live, next to the staples center.

everybody gets cake!

it’s been a little over a month since it launched, so i guess a report on blog-la-sphere is appropriate: 1,049 visits, about 15 average daily visitors, $1.47 in google adsense revenue. i’ve added about 150 new blogs since the launch, and posted a dozen times.

wearing your price tag on your sleeve

dropsend is a web-based service for sending large files. carson systems, who created and run the service, are in the process of selling it. they’re blogging the process.

it is sometimes hard to not feel like i am wasting my time (again) in a company where i hold a very small equity stake. (technically, not even that. just options on a very small stake.)

but there are more important things: two months, four days.

web sites are expensive?

reporting about david geffen’s apparent bid for the los angeles times, nikki finke says “He’ll ratchet up the Web site (even though he hates how prohibitively expensive it is to do that).”

prohibitively expensive? i guess there is still a lot of stupid money flowing into web properties. i’m in the wrong line of work.

a strange little side-note: mysql’s website gets more traffic than latimes.com, according to alexa.

don’t knock the laundromat

”bitter brew” is a slate article by michael idov about his failed effort at running a neighborhood coffee shop. he makes a comment that “none of us would ever consider opening a laundromat,” but someone once told me that laundromats can actually be cash cows. here’s an article that suggests they can yield profit margins of 25 to 35 percent.

the person who told me this had looked into buying one, and found that one way to evaluate the business of an existing laundromat was by the amount of water they consumed. (because it is a cash business, relying on the accounting can be tricky.)

maverick: the success story behind the world’s most unusual workplace by ricardo semler is another book about the history and philosophy of a fascinating company, this time the brazilian manufacturing company semco.

it is a pretty amazing story, and it sounds like an amazing company. one of the central notions behind all of the changes was to treat the employees of the company like adults, and the hurdles that had to be crossed to do that can be surprising at times. the guidelines in the company’s survival manual might be something every company should adopt.

let my people go surfing: the education of a reluctant businessman by yvon chouinard, founder and owner of patagonia, is as good as i thought it would be. he lays out the history and core philosophies of patagonia, and they are certainly admirable.

one idea that i especially liked is his explanation of how zen archery has influenced what he does — focusing more on the process than the goal. and thus by perfecting the process, perfecting how the goal is reached.

another is why they devote one percent of their sales to environmental causes: if given a chance to allocate how their taxes were spent, people would jump at the chance, and by taxing yourself you can do exactly that.

downtown business idea

a mail boxes, etc. or generic equivalent. i spent way too long today trying to find a (stocked) fedex drop box. there is supposedly a fedex kinko’s at 110 e. 9th street, but i couldn’t find it. i finally found a drop-box in the back of the los angeles law center after an elevator repair guy pointed me in the right direction. the first place i went is the post office at california plaza, which also has a fedex drop box, but it was out of envelopes.

tools for the community or vice versa

this wired article about myspace is interesting, but what really caught my eye was justin’s comment about it: “interesting, MySpace has evolved into "indie music + SNS", like Flickr is "photos + SNS"; also, each of the SNSes seems to have found a niche.”

i was thinking almost the exact same thing this morning, but in relation to yahoo! groups. where the groups concept is “form a group, here’s tools for them to use,” the new model appears to be “here’s a tool, form some groups around their use.”

this los angeles times article about the cost to invest in the new restaurants from nancy silverton and mario batali reveals how much a share in a top restaurant in los angeles goes for: between $25k and $50k. this is the exception, with shares going for $100k.

i also had to laugh at the concern about the names for the three parts of the restaurant all ending in del latte. it certainly is a big warning sign to this lactose-intolerant member of the public.

weblogs.com was acquired by verisign. congrats to dave!

when leonard got in touch with me to pick my brain a little bit about the blo.gs acquisition experience, i didn’t have an inkling that he would be joining yahoo! along with the rest of the upcoming.org team.


when i look at the hobbled state of blo.gs, i lament, a little bit, my decision to not go to yahoo with the site.

ugh. so much more i could say. but no more angsty bullshit.

at some point, the historic downtown los angeles retail project snuck online with a website. los angeles downtown news reports that the project helped twenty new businesses open since it started two years ago. still no video store, though.

the moxie cinema is an independent movie theater that opened today in springfield, missouri. the best thing from this distance is that they blogged the whole experience of opening the theater. it’s a great story. more small businesses should do something similar.

democratizing development

democratizing innovation by eric von hippel is a fairly dry, academic business book, which made it tougher than i had expected to get through. there are some interesting observations and insights in the book, but they are perhaps too few and far between. you can read the book online.

over on planet mysql, the related topic of distributed version control has gotten some attention, with some shout-outs to free tools for doing distributed development. (i’ll add one for mercurial.)

ian bicking tries to argue in favor of centralized scm systems, but i think he’s neglecting the cost imposed on the center of the project by such centralized systems that the distributed systems do a really good job of distributing — you can impose something even better than his proposed “we don’t accept patches, we only accept pointers to branches in our repository” — “we don’t accept patches, we only pull changes from publically-available repositories.”

i can’t imagine the security nightmare of providing global check-in access to everyone, and the complexity of tools that would be required to manage the layers of dead-end branches.

mark nottingham’s rumination on who is really taking the risk in a business is good food for thought.

it’s an interesting idea to feed into my ongoing deliberations about my current employment, what sort of opportunities i may be forsaking for the opportunity i have, and the relative risks and payoffs of those.

disneywar by james b. stewart is a blow-by-blow account of michael eisner’s reign at disney, right up through last year, when roy e. disney and stanley gold’s fight with the board was getting under full steam.

it is an exhaustive account, and not very many of the players end up looking that good. the deception (and probably self-deception) at the higher levels of disney is just stunning. the machinations of who-reports-to-who, especially as abc enters the picture, represents a level of political intrigue way beyond anything i’ve seen.

high stakes, no prisoners: a winner’s tale of greed and glory in the internet wars by charles h. ferguson is the story of vermeer technologies, the company that created that created frontpage and was acquired by microsoft. it’s a very personal account of the story, and it’s a good read. ferguson is quite a character, and his characterizations of various dotcom celebrities and microsoft insiders are entertaining.

the book was written about six years ago, and some of his predictions have fallen short in the meantime. microsoft hasn’t really claimed a huge percentage of the server market, and the frontpage server extensions certainly haven’t done much to drive iis adoption.

slack: getting past burnout, busywork, and the myth of total efficiency by tom demarco is a book that evan williams, one of the founders of blogger, recommended recently. to briefly and perhaps badly reformulate it, the main lesson of the book is that there is an efficiency vs. efficacy trade-off that needs to be acknowledged, and something that can increase efficacy (even if it decreases short-term efficiency) is to leave some slack. that’s not to say you should work 20% less, but that you may want to spend some percentage of time not working directly towards your main goal.

you can see this reflected, obviously, in google’s 20% time, where employees are free to spend 20% of their time working on whatever they want. but there’s a lot more to the book, and i don’t want you to get the idea that it is just a validation of the idea of google’s 20% time or anything like that.

like most good business books, it is a fairly quick read and at the end of it you’re left with the vague feeling that you knew, or should have known, all of what you just read.

here’s a quote that struck me as noteworthy: “it is success in the absence of sufficient power that defines leadership.”

i sometimes feel a little silly about reading management books like this since i’m not management, and don’t particularly aspire to be. but that quote puts in perspective why i read them anyway. and although i don’t aspire to management, it is still a subject that fascinates me. i guess the role i aspire to is consigliere. at least when sinecure isn’t available.

paypal now has a all-in-one payment processing interface, which means you can handle credit cards without even bouncing to the paypal website. i’m amazed this didn’t happen ten years ago — the existing schemes with distinct merchant accounts and gateways has always been dodgy.

you do have to use their express checkout thing (which does bounce to them, and lets users use their paypal account directly) in order to use the direct payment api. it’s $20/month and 2.2-2.9% + 30¢ per credit card transaction or 1.9% + 30¢ per paypal payment.

the best part may be that paypal is a company that seems to know where its towel is. what i’ve often heard from people working with existing providers is that they’re either morons or crooks. (or in the case of verisign, both.)

blo.gs has been acquired by yahoo!

the sale of blo.gs has been completed, and i'm proud to announce that yahoo! has acquired the service. as of right now, give or take a few minutes, yahoo! is running blo.gs.

this is the sort of good home that i was looking for — yahoo! obviously has the resources to run and improve blo.gs in pace with the incredible growth of blogs (and syndication in general), and in talking with them it was also clear that we had some of the same vision for the future of the service and the ping/notification infrastructure.

for users of the website and the cloud interface, nothing much is changing. the service will continue to be completely open, and both yahoo! and i hope you continue to use it and help it grow.

even though i’ll no longer be operating blo.gs, i'm not going to disappear from the community. i’m still very interested in blogging and syndication, and believe that blo.gs will continue to have a major impact as a key player in the evolving ping and blogging infrastructure.

some people have asked about the privacy policy during the transition. yahoo! is keeping the blo.gs privacy policy. the data collected on blo.gs will continue to be subject to that privacy policy and you will be given the opportunity to consent to future changes.

more: some thanks for those who made this all happen.

downtown los angeles is the hot new place to open a bar according to this article in the los angeles downtown news, including news that cole’s p.e. buffet has been purchased by marc smith, one of the co-owners of the golden gopher, and it is one of the three new bars he is opening in the downtown area. it doesn’t sound like many of these new places are planning on featuring live music, which is kind of a bummer. (but who am i kidding? i wouldn’t go even if they did.)

matt welch has another good opinion piece on the los angeles times, this time about the city of los angeles and how it keeps handing money to poor hollywood companies. the title itself is pretty brilliant: “the rubes in la city hall have swallowed hollywood’s hard-luck story”.

kragen sitaker wrote a great explanation of the meaning of “enterprise software”.

does anyone else find it odd that nobody who is participating y!q for publishers beta has disclosed that they’re getting paid to put it on their site?

(and why do the results pop up in-page on the page i’ve linked to, but not on anybody’s blogs?)

rob and george make the new york times. and the hallowed paper made a mistake: knowledge adventure is based in los angeles, not that other city.

price vs. personality

i’ve finally gotten through the first wave of emails from people interested in blo.gs.

one of the reason i kept blo.gs going as long as i have is that i’ve liked having it out there as an independent service. it’s always been a neutral ground as far as the various vendors of blog publishing software, or blog search engines.

there’s one other crowd of people interested that i have very mixed feelings about: the “search engine optimization” folks.

there’s four components to the site that has people interested:

  1. the database of users
  2. the database of blogs
  3. the ping.blo.gs endpoint
  4. the service

my impression of each interested party is strongly colored by the interest they demonstrate in each component.

fortunately, it appears that there is enough serious interest from people and companies that i would be happy selling out to that i won’t really have to wrestle with this issue too seriously.

and here’s one thought that i passed along to a couple of people: united airlines lost $326 million last year, so perhaps your lowball offer “because you’ve lost so much already” (paraphrasing) would be even more attractive to them.

on losing money

one of the dumb things i did on the initial page about the blo.gs sale is just put the overall expense and income figures for the site, without listing the monthly net income (which is there now). i know better than to throw out numbers like that, and it has certainly influenced the numbers that people have thrown back at me. (one somewhat remarkable thing is how many people have picked the same number.)

i have a hard time writing and talking about this because the notion of not talking about money is so deeply ingrained in me. this came up in conversation with my parents last weekend, when my mom was talking about a neighbor who was very free with how much their kids made. i’m pretty sure my parents haven’t known how much i make since i graduated from college.

in any case, it should be pretty apparent that “losing” money is not a big deal for me. there are people in the world who put the accumulation of money at or near the center of their life’s agenda. i’m not one of those people. (and somehow i keep falling ass-backwards into it. go figure.)

why sell

there have been two common responses to my decision to sell blo.gs. the first has just been “why, the hosting costs or the time?” the short answer is the time. while i tossed out the number of $3500 of what the costs of the service have been, it’s good to realize that goes back to november 2002, and includes the original cost of the server that it is running on. cash-flow wise, the service loses about $20 per month (together with this site, since they’re hosted on the same machine and both run google ads). if i keep this server, i’ll actually be spending more on hosting once blo.gs is gone.

but that’s not to say that the site takes a lot of time, either. the only real ongoing maintenance is handling requests to clean up duplicate or bad entries, and dealing with the occassional database hiccup. but it could take a lot of time, and this is where i think the site would be better off without me. i’m just not willing to put in the time to make the site and its services better.

so that brings me to the second common response, which has been offers to host the site while letting me keep control of it. as you might guess from my time vs. money explanation above, that doesn’t do anything to address why it is i’m selling the site. so while i appreciate those offers, they don’t interest me.

i’m sure i’ll have to say more about this later. the response so far has been interesting.

crystal ball

i look forward to the future articles about how ibm is going to control php.

congrats to mark fletcher and the bloglines team on being acquired by ask jeeves.

once upon a time, a business development person at ask jeeves called me to talk about blo.gs. as i recall, the gist of the conversation from my side was that the site made no money, i spent no time on it, and there really wasn’t much to it.

this is another of those obvious-in-retrospect services that i can now kick myself for not building. having the vision, courage, and patience to execute on the idea is the hard part, of course.

at last year’s foo camp, when the limping feedmesh thing kicked off, someone suggested that we set up a yahoo group for discussion, and i made some comment about preferring something “more real.” a funny thing to say when one of the guys who built it (mark) was in the room. but in hindsight, i’m glad nobody wasted the time trying to create anything more real.

who’s next? i would think pubsub.com would be a likely acquisition for someone.

i also find this acquisition funny because there was a time when i almost ended up working at ask jeeves because i knew the ceo at the time. i got an early-morning call (or what was early-morning for me those days) where i agreed to fly up to interview, but i turned around a few hours later and cancelled, once i was awake and realized that i had no desire to work at a place using iis and asp, or relocate to the bay area.

the founder of go daddy has a blog where he says something very interesting about their super bowl advertising: “There was also one other benefit -- it’s tax deductible, so the Federal and State governments will pay a little more than 38% of the cost.”

advertising is tax deductible? what kind of insanity is that?

while i like the spoof-the-censors spirit of the commercial, i have to say i found it pretty weak, even in the extended version.

left hand, meet the right hand

james gosling, who inflicted java on the world, had some interesting things to say about open-source companies:

Open source vendors also came under fire, with Gosling sideswiping MySQL, JBoss, and Red Hat: “They say that they are running their businesses based on services.

“These businesses are more hype than reality. If they don’t have a [longer term] economic model…they are going to have a really hard time.”

apparently he didn’t get the memo.

but i guess if anyone would be an expert on companies that lack financial viability, it would be an executive at sun.

i also love the other juxtaposition in the article: mysql isn’t open source because “no one is allowed to do check-ins,” but java is open-source, because the source has always been available.

as reported by the los angeles downtown news, the city council has passed a measure preventing new bail bond businesses from opening in little tokyo. while the article cites community concern about the “negative air” such business bring, the people best served by this measure are the existing bail bond business, who will now face less competition. it makes me wonder who spurred jan perry to put the measure up before the council.

rumor du jour

rumor has it that six apart (makers of movable type blogging software and typepad blogging service) are going to buy live journal (and by live journal, i think they mean danga interactive). it seems like it would be a good fit from what i know of the people involved in both companies and their development platforms. (they’re both perl shops.) and six apart would be getting some of the folks doing the most interesting low-budget, open-source web scalability work that i’ve seen.

rumors that anyone is about to buy blo.gs are completely untrue. unless they aren’t.

2005 prediction?

preshrunk is a new blog dedicated to cool t-shirts you can buy online. i bet we’ll see a whole lot of these blogs focused on little niches like this. (with the existing ones like pvrblog and the gizmodo and weblogs, inc. empires being the pioneers here.) here’s one i thought up over pancakes this morning: a blog dedicated to american animation. anime is well-covered, i think, and i don’t have any interest in anime.

oh, and many of these will be obvious-in-retrospect sorts of ideas. i pointed out the up-swing in online t-shirt retailers back in october.

evan williams says faxing sucks. i agree completely. organizations and people that ask me to fax them something make me nuts.

the new york times looks at whether the low-carb boom is busting. from the outside, it certainly does look like there are vast numbers of “low carb” products that are just a bad idea for someone who is actually trying to lose weight.

the new york times weighs in on the electronic arts situation.

another smart thing livejournal does

this entry from a livejournal user about someone paying for a year-long paid subscription for someone else is an example of the livejournal folks being smart. this way their users don’t have to set up dropcash-style fundraisers, well-wishing users can just swoop in and give the money to livejournal directly. blogger’s free blogspot hosting used to do something similar to remove the ads. sites like flickr would be smart to roll out similar systems. (the one thing not addressed by livejournal is doing the payment dropcash-style, where multiple people pay into the account, but i can see why it might be desirable to avoid that — what do you do with partial payments?).

electronic arts is being sued over overtime, a case which sounds like it has been ongoing, but only came to light after the livejournal posting from the spouse of an ea employee. it makes me wonder what is happening the knowledge adventure employee who is (was?) suing his employer over the same issue.

here’s one passing thought on the ea_spouse thing. where does the author say they’re female (or married)? i haven’t dug through the comments, but the text of the main post itself manages to not say it explicitly. (and the gender genie guesses that the author is a male.) it doesn’t matter, of course, i just think it would be funny if all the press it has generated that says “wife” turned out to be wrong.

these stories from the last original nullsoft employee and the developers of audion are fascinating. good reading for small tech business owners.

in the year 2005

fast company has a list of 101 ideas, people, and trends to watch in 2005 (via jason kottke). max barry’s next book makes the list at #8. the navigation of the section is annoying (no “next” links on each page, so you have to keep bouncing back to the index).

ron gilbert does the math on developing a 2D adventure game (via nelson minar), and it ain’t cheap.

i tell you, once i win the lottery, i’m going to get a lot of cool stuff done.

i’m gradually turning into one of those people who registers a domain name when any sort of business idea pops into their head. each time, thinking “maybe this will be the one that goes somewhere.”

this article from business 2.0, “the new road to riches”, discusses the build-it-small-and-get-acquired method of business development. fabulous idea.

this being october, the intertwined topics of what i want from my life and what i should be doing with my life are on my mind. there is little question to me that i am underachieving right now.

jason fried’s missive on not forgetting the human side of scalability is another good lesson to be stirring into this pot. but is a team of one too small?