Category Archives: Uncategorized

My First Customer

I’ve been reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, and in the first few pages he makes a comment about his early entrepreneurial endeavours.  It made me think of something that I haven’t recalled in years.

When I was about seven, I started by first business.  My family had a record player, and we were getting ready to get rid of it.  It was the early 90’s and audio cassettes were clearly here for the long term, so we were starting a project to pick our favourite records and record them on tape.

Naturally this struck me as a business opportunity.  Tapes were less annoying to use, and I had a Fisher Price tape player that ran on batteries.  You didn’t even need to come into our house to listen to a record – instead I could play it for you on our front step and you could enjoy the music.  Clearly a foolproof plan.

With a reckless disregard for business paperwork and music licensing law, I took to our front yard with a cardboard box to stand behind and a sign.  I was charging ten cents to listen to any of our records – once we’d finished putting them on tape.

It took only minutes before my Mom started wondering where I’d gotten off to, and to find me in the front yard.  Nobody had come by, so I hadn’t made any sales.  Mom carefully explained that maybe we should wait until I had something to sell before I took to opening a storefront.

That said, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to test out the idea on some of the people we knew.  So that night, when we walked down the block to visit my Grandma, I gave my pitch and walked out with five shiny dimes.  I gave her yellow paper slips that I’d made with shaky printing that entitled her to listen to our tapes.

Grandma died a few years ago.  She never cashed in those slips, though I know that they sat on the table next to her armchair for as long as she lived in that house my Grandpa built for them.

Thank you Grandma.

Update on codeless

It turns out that I’m pretty bad at developing codeless in public.  Luckily I’m half-decent at developing software.  I’m trying to be better at both.

As you might recall, codeless is a different kind of app design tool.  It works with native elements, directly on an iOS device to create an interactive prototype that can be exported to code.  After getting frustrated with the number of static mockups I was seeing, it seemed like the obvious thing to try.

Happily, it’s coming together.  If you’ve got four minutes, check out the quick screencast I put together of a basic maps interface.

It’s getting to the kind of place where we should be collecting email addresses for a beta in a couple months.  If you’re interested, ping me at <a href=“”></a> and we’ll get you on the list.

Human Error

A few minutes ago I got a call from our new apartment manager asking if we wanted to schedule a move-in time for this weekend.  This is especially vexing because we did that last week, arranged the truck and friends to help, and set our schedule around it.  But it never got written down.

I’ve been on both ends of this situation.  Nobody likes getting caught with their pants down because they forgot to write something on a calendar or put the task on their todo list.  At the very least, it ends up breaking somebodies expectations, and the first rule of business communication is to be clear about expectations.

Process is about minimizing human error.  With some companies, no meeting can be scheduled without going through the scheduling software.  I’m not a huge fan of that approach – every layer of process you add removes a bit of versatility.

As a rule, I avoid process unless we’re being consistently hurt by the same stupid mistake.  Something should have to impact you multiple times before you put a process in place.  Otherwise it’s just following a fallacy where you assume the exceptional case always has to be accounted for.  And that’s just human error.


As we pack up the apartment in preparation for a move at the end of the week, I’m struck by how it’s increasingly looking like a student’s apartment.  We’re giving away some furniture, so in the last couple days I’ve seen my dining room table, my bookshelves, and my spare bed go away.

I’ve been clearing out closets, so my living room is crowded with bicycles and sports gear.  My TV is balanced on an endtable, since we gave away the stand that supported it.  Everything looks a little rawer and more exposed.  The only things escaping the boxes are essential right up until the day of the move.

It only gets more disorganized from here.  It’s like we’re getting all the entropy that was spread around, squeezing it out of almost everything so my things fit in boxes, and that’s what’s left lying around.

Moving Soon

I’ve been boxing up books in preparation for our upcoming move today.  I’m reminded of a Spider Robinson quote: “Two moves equals one fire.”

Humans Are Expensive

There’s a video going around right now called Humans Need Not Apply.  It’s by CGP Grey, and it’s about the rise in automation and how that’s going to continue to impact the availability of human jobs.

When I was a kid, my Dad asked me to guess what the most expensive part of running his print shop was.  I looked around the warehouse, thought for a few seconds, and decided that the heating bill was probably the worst of it.  Dad laughed, and told me that staffing costs were actually the most expensive part of running almost any company.

Humans are amazingly expensive.  Salary is just the start.  It costs money to train them, keep them comfortable, keep them motivated, keep them from moving across the street to your competitors office, etc.

‘Cheaper and with less staff’ is just a way of saying ‘cheaper and much cheaper’ in a way that resonates with business owners.  Of course businesses are going to trend towards using more automation.

There’s always going to be a business that’s willing to reduce staff costs and pay a (lower) equipment cost, and that business is going to be the cheapest one on the market.  In the same way that Walmart drives local businesses to lower prices, automation is going to make it impossible to compete unless you’re willing to go along with it.

Four Phrases

A friend once told me that running a business is like volunteering to be bipolar.  You alternate between incredible highs and lows.  The highs are worth the lows, for me at least.

You develop coping strategies to help get through the rough times.  I like to keep a file that reminds me of why I do this in the first place.

Here’s an excerpt from that file.  These are four phrases that I use to help ride out the rapids.


Here’s to the Crazy Ones

This is from the famous “Think Different” campaign that Apple ran.  If we aren’t trying to make a dent in the world, then we need to change what we’re doing.  It may be an ad, but it’s a good reminder too.

A Ship in Harbour is Safe, but that’s Not What Ships are for.

This one is a quote from William G.T. Shedd.  Every time I find myself thinking that a 9-to-5 job might be the way to go, this helps remind me that I’m here for a reason.  I might limp back to harbour after this is all said and done, but I’ll limp back proud.

He Taketh with him two angels, inspiration and perspiration, and worketh to beat hell.

The copy of the poem I have claims it was written by James X Cahill, but Googling says it’s anonymous.  My Dad sent me a copy of this when I asked him how to learn more about sales.  I’ve read an awful lot of books and gotten a lot of advice, but nothing makes success actually happen except getting out the door and working hard.

You could have been a fire truck all along.  (There’s still time)

Another poem that reminds me to dream.  Before you start a company, you spend a lot of time dreaming and picturing the future.  Somehow you get bogged down in the day-to-day details and don’t spend near as much time refreshing that ambition as you should.


Of course there are other things in the file too, but if I had to throw everything else away, these are the four phrases I’d keep.  Reading through these is usually enough to get me over whatever bump I’m stuck on.