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What am I up to?

The short answer? A LOT! Seriously, I’m overloaded with things to do. There’s a lot going on here alone at LandlordMax. Lots of things going on behind the scenes, lots that’s already been publicized here through this blog, and a lot extra curricular items as well. Today I’m going to make a list of it all. Mostly the reason I’m writing it here is because I’m asked so frequently that it gets too long to say it all. “Lots” just doesn’t work anymore as an answer. So here goes:

LandlordMax – Version 3.11d

We’re planning to release an updated version of LandlordMax (version 3.11d) later this week. This is an updated version of the main 3.11 version and includes a few bug fixes.

The first and largest is a fix for Windows Vista and user access control (UAC). UAC is a new feature introduced by Microsoft for Windows Vista that is causing a lot of people grief with a lot of software, including LandlordMax. This update is going to specifically address this issue. It’s not a complete solution, we’re working with Microsoft to “properly” code where the database of LandlordMax should be stored on your computer. but for now this will correctly deal with this issue.

As well, this release also fixes a few other minor issues. For example one is a small error in the vacancy report when you have an evicted tenant assigned to a unit at the same time as a “current” tenant (the unit appears as vacant when it has a actually has a “current” tenant).

This update is already finished, we’re just in the final testing phase. I suspect it will be available within the next few days.

LandlordMax – Website Re-Design

We’re working very hard on redesigning the LandlordMax website to make it friendlier as well as better selling. I’ve been reading (and re-reading) a lot about web usability and sales & marketing. and there are many improvements we can make. For example we’re going to move away from using so many colors on the main page to instead using whitespace more effectively.

Don’t Make Me Think Call To Action

As well we’re hoping to address many of the same pre-sales questions we continually get. One of our most common question is how to implement re-curring accounting entries (rents, mortgages, etc.). Although the software does a great job of it, it’s not always obvious to everyone (especially if you come from another software and expect us to behave in exactly the same way). We currently have an animated tutorial that walks you through the process but it’s only available in the View new features in version 3.11c. With the re-design all such pre-sales animated tutorials will be available on the home page. Basically we’re doing a lot of cleanup to try to answer as many of our pre-sales questions on the home page as possible (without cluttering up the page). All at the same time trying to make everything easier to do.

We’re also hoping to add a lot more screenshots on the main page. Or at least what we call “shorts”. These are cut-outs of screenshots which showcase something. At the very least, if we can’t put a screenshot, we’ll put a link to one or an animated tutorial, whenever we state something. So for example if we say “Easily show a list of tenant’s that are late paying rent” we’ll either link it to a “How-to” or an animated tutorial.

The re-design is going to happen in three phases. The first is going to be a large revamping of the website, especially the home page. In phase one, we’re not going to really change our shopping cart, that going to be pushed to phase two. I’d rather release phase one sooner than wait for phase two to be done. Why wait? So phase one is all about the home page and the new look and feel.

Phase two will be all about the shopping cart. We’re hoping to drastically reduce the number of choices, go from six choices to one with a few “options” (for example shipping). We’re also hoping to refactor the shopping cart for some future additions and options.

Phase three will be the completion, cleaning up the rest. This includes updating the user manual the FAQ, and so on. Adding a lot of animated tutorials. Basically enhancing the content.

LandlordMax – Version 4.xx

We’re also working on the next major release of LandlordMax! We’re hoping it will be available before the end of the year, at least that’s the plan.

The list of new major features for this version has changed quite substantially since we initially started working on it. For example, we anticipated offering QuickBooks support but that’s been postponed to another future version. The costs to benefit just doesn’t align right now. Integrating with QuickBooks is just too expensive and time consuming as compared to the number of requests. We even looked at purchasing third party components to alleviate this but we’ve only had limited success. We’ve already spent a significant amount of time and money on this feature and its unfortunate to have to postpone it again. I’m just glad we’re able to avoid the “sunk cost effect“.

One feature though that’s looking like it will make it into the next major version is check printing. Although its not official yet, and nor will it be until it’s completed (remember our QuickBooks experience), we’re making some good progress here. Another major feature that we’re pushing for is integration with Outlook. Being able to pull out your contacts, put in new ones from LandlordMax, send emails, etc. There’s obviously more, but for now that should give you an idea.

We also have quite a large list of smaller changes we’re planning to implement. Simple things such as having the lease automatically fill in the tenant’s building for you rather than having to re-input it when possible. In other words many many UI improvements. My feeling is that this version will have fewer new major features and instead it will overwhelm you with sheer number of significant UI improvements. Things that will make your life simpler all around.

LandlordMax – Mac version

This version has currently been postponed. We use to get a lot of Mac requests but recently they seem to have fallen (not sure why). We did have a large push for a Mac version, we bought all the necessary Mac hardware to go forward, and so on. We got quite a ways forward but then we hit a few roadblocks (code and image conversion costs). Nothing insurmountable, but enough that I’ve decided to postpone this effort because of the cost to benefit ratio. I really do like the Mac, I’m actually working on a Mac right now that was purchased specifically for the Mac version. Unfortunately Mac support has been postponed. We just have too many other higher priority items. I don’t have the time to manage an outsourced resource to solve our remaining issues. So for now this is on hold.

LandlordMax – Real Estate Analyzer

On the LandlordMax website we currently offer a free real estate analyzer as a traffic generating tool. When we launched it I mentioned on this blog that I’d like to expand it, possibly offering a more advance paid option (maybe even integrating it with LandlordMax). We’re looking into this.

LandlordMax – Browser Based Version

Probably the biggest item here today! We’ve been really really wanting to do this for over a year now, almost two really! We actually almost started the whole thing as a web application. Anyways, our interest in offering LandlordMax as a web application or online service has been increasing with time as more and more people keep asking us about it; they love the software but need a networked multi-user version.

So far we’ve done a lot of research and prototypes to see which path we want to take. My personal training and experience is with J2EE, so I’m a little biased this way. Before I start a holy programming language war, I’d just like to say that J2EE done right can perform very fast and not hog all your resources. The problem is many people don’t do it right, they often try to over engineer everything which is bad.

In any case, just because I’m J2EE biased it doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for us as a produce or company. The reality is that we’re probably going to build it as a PHP based web application. This decision wasn’t easy, it took a lot of time and effort.

The quick of it was that J2EE let us share the current code base (huge factor). It gives us an amazing path to AJAX support (IceFaces – if you’ve worked with it you know what I mean by how impressive their AJAX support truly is). And I know J2EE very well.

The downside is that if we offer it as a web application rather than just as a service, hosting will be an issue for many people (few hosting providers offer J2EE hosting). We looked at Ruby on Rails and decided against it for this very same reason. PHP removes this very large hurdle (don’t try to downplay it, hosting options are a very important factor). PHP is pretty much available everywhere. We can re-use a decent percentage of our code base (at least the SQL queries which are often times pretty complex to figure out). But what really got me excited about PHP is CodeIgniter and their framework. I’m very impressed by it!

Of course just looking at a framework is not the same as really using it. So we’ve since built 3 small trial web applications. This is where WhichJar.com came in for example.

In any case, offering LandlordMax as a web application is not a small effort. It’s going to take some time. We’re working on it simultaneously with the other items listed here today. It’s going to take some time, no doubt about it. With limited resources choices have to be made. It will be available, and right now my suspicion is closer to 2008 than 2007. But we’ll see…

WhichJar.com

As I’ve already mentioned, we’re expanding our reach beyond just property management software. I truly believe a business should focus on it’s core competency, no doubt about it. I’m a strong proponent that businesses should spend a certain amount of their time and energy on other endeavors to expand themselves. For us, that’s about 10% (1 day every other week) on side projects. This is where WhichJar.com came from.

Right now WhichJar.com is stable in terms of code base. What we’re trying to do is grow its database by adding more Jars. For this I’m looking to outsource the database population. The only issue is that I don’t have the time to manage it as I initially anticipated. So right now it’s moving pretty slow. Hopefully this will accelerate sooner than later.

FindYourWeddingDress.com

FindYourWeddingDress.com

Another project that’s about to go live soon because of our policy to spend 10% of our time on side projects. This is a simple site that lets you search for and look at wedding dresses. It’s a large database where you can filter out the information (or browse through it all). The site will not sell anything (other than put ads on it when I get a chance) so it’s really about getting pictures and information of wedding dresses to upcoming brides.

Right now this site is somewhat live online (very small database but that’s changing). It hasn’t been marketed at all because we’re in the process of filling it with real data to showcase to perspective companies/designers. That is to say, we’re seeding it with real wedding dresses so that we can show how it works when we contact companies/designers for permission to display their dresses (and get updated information on their wedding dresses). I believe that if they can see it live they will be interested, otherwise it’s a hard sell.

So right now we’re at the stage of getting someone to populate the database with real data. As it’s still in the “side project phase”, this is moving along slower than any of our LandlordMax efforts. However I’m hoping that by sometime next month we’ll have enough data to start contacting designers.

So please feel free to go and check it out. Let me know what you think.

Online Sales and Marketing Book

And you thought that was it! I really am a busy entrepreneur. On top of all this I’m working on a book for smaller online businesses to help them better market and sell themselves. I’ve started writing it, I’m almost done the second chapter now. I was hoping to allocated more time but the Windows Vista UAC bug I just mentioned has really been taking up a lot of my time. This and some other personal things I’ve had to take care of.

FollowSteph.com

As well as the usual article writing like today, I’ve been looking at ways to enhance this blog. One item I’ve really been considering for some time is podcast interviews. I’ve already lined up one person who’s willing to do a podcast interview with me about his online company (it’s a company that offers a different type of service, so it’s interesting). All that remains is making this a reality (figuring out the details). So hopefully you’ll see that sooner than later.

That’s All Folks

I have no doubt I’m leaving something out, maybe even a few items, but at least this gives you an idea of what I’m up to. Yes, I’m definitely keeping busy and I’ll continue to be busy for some time. But as you can see from the list, there’s quite a lot of diversity in everything I’m doing. And that’s why I love being an entrepreneur!



 
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Comments:

  •     Scott Meade
    · June 26th, 2007  · 8:19 pm  · Permalink

    I agree with you that CodeIgniter is impressive and would be a good choice. Just to clarify though, Rails will run in most any *nix environment. There are companies that specialize in Rails hosting, yet I don’t see any reason a Rails app could not be deployed to any *nix host on which you have root access.

  •     Steph
    · June 26th, 2007  · 9:06 pm  · Permalink

    I agree with you Scott that Rails will run on any *nix, and many hosting companies do support it. The same is true for J2EE actually.

    It’s just that virtually everyone supports PHP. You don’t need to configure it or install it. PHP is already all setup for you. That means one less layer of support to handle. You don’t have to explain why they need RoR specific hosting, or root access, or how to install and setup hosting for RoR.

    Otherwise honestly I’d be looking at J2EE because of the great MyFaces and IceFaces implementation. Those really simplify implementation, are quick, and the biggest reason is that we already have a large portion of that code written from the current application (it’s a Java Swing application). However again it’s the same issue. We have to specify J2EE hosting, or explain how to install Java and Tomcat/JBoss…

    Basically I’m removing a larger barrier to entry. I find that RoR and CodeIgniter are very similar and both allow you to do some very amazing web application development.

  •     Andy Brice
    · June 28th, 2007  · 3:35 pm  · Permalink

    The wedding dress site looks interesting. I assume it will be financed by advertising? Probably not much potential for PerfectTablePlan ads – brides tend to look for dresses long before they do table plans.

  •     Steph
    · June 28th, 2007  · 10:45 pm  · Permalink

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks! And as for how it will be financed, I haven’t really decided yet. Right now I’m leaning towards advertising, but we’ll see. I’m still in the testing phase.

    The good news though is that so far by only putting a link here on my blog, embedded fairly deep in a long article, it’s already starting to get some significant traffic. It will easily hit in the low 4 figures of unique visitors per month for July! That’s not bad for zero marketing and only one highly embedded link.

    Anyways, I’m sure there’s some potential for PerfectTablePlan. I was actually thinking about you and your company when I originally came up with the idea. We can continue this offline by direct email, but I’m sure we can work something out that benefits both of us. I’ll contact you shortly.

  •     Louisville Realtor
    · June 29th, 2007  · 8:33 pm  · Permalink

    I’m a big fan of Krug’s work as well. Sounds like you have some really interesting plans, I look forward to seeing the finished product!

  •     Steph
    · June 30th, 2007  · 1:50 pm  · Permalink

    Krug is a great writer. It’s not just his content, but also his presentation. Even if you’re not interested in the topic, it’s still a very interesting read.

    And thanks! So do I.

  •     FollowSteph.com » What is Scope Creep?
    · October 10th, 2007  · 9:14 pm  · Permalink

    […] the next major release of LandlordMax. We wanted to offer Quickbooks support but that’s been postponed because of the scale. We also wanted to offer check printing but that’s been pushed to a future version as well. […]

  •     FollowSteph.com - What am I Up to?
    · April 22nd, 2008  · 11:40 pm  · Permalink

    […] it’s been almost a year since I last posted what I’ve been up to, and what a year it’s been! I’ve been just as busy this year as last year, if not […]

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