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Archive for June, 2006

Google Page Rank Update is in Progress

Looks like Google might be in the middle of a new Page Rank update, which is very important for those of you concerned with SEO (Search Engine Optimization). These updates usually happen every 2-3 months and can greatly affect how a site is viewed by the search engines, especially Google. For details on what Page Rank is and how it can affect you, Darren Rowse of Problogger.net has written a very good Google Page Rank introductory article.

Although it can take several days for the Google Page Rank update to fully propagate, there are some online tools that might be able to give you an advance idea of your site’s Page Rank. This particular one will hit many different Google servers at once in the hopes that some of the servers have already been updated. If you see discrepencies between the results, this means your site’s Page Rank has been changed but that change has not fully propagated through all the Google servers.

Google Checkout

Some VERY VERY interesting news from Google today. They just announced that today they will be releasing Google Checkout as a new online payment service, very similar to Paypal. However it comes with some huge twists!

To quote the article:

“Google will waive some or all of the transaction fees for companies that buy advertising from it.”

In more detail:

“For every $1 a company spends on search advertising, Google will waive the fees on $10 worth of purchases. Factoring in the 2 percent fee, that represents a rebate of at least 20 percent of advertising spending.”

To help with Google Checkout get higher sales conversions Google will:

“Advertisements on Google.com from companies that accept Google Checkout will display a small image of a shopping cart. Clicking on the ad will take customers to the advertiser’s Web site, as it does now. When customers decide to buy something, they will be offered the option to sign into Google Checkout and use the credit card and address information on file there. Customers that do not have accounts with Google will be encouraged to set them up.”

Considering the amount of money we spend at LandlordMax on advertising with Google Adwords each month, it definitely makes me think of what can and probably will happen. If I ever saw an incentive to use a product or service, this sure is one!

However before we jump on the Google Checkout bandwagon at LandlordMax, we’ll wait a little bit for things to settle down. When Google offered free analytics (which was done by buying a company that charged $500/month for the same package a year earlier), the demand was so great that they had problems with their servers and the metrics were many days late updating in the best of cases.

Anyways, it looks like Google’s jump into another market space is not going to be subtle. It’s going to be very interesting to see how it plays out.

Weekly 7

Starting this week I’ve decided to to post links to the top 7 articles (in no particular order) I find each week, hence the “Weekly 7”. Why 7? So that you can have at least one article to look at each day. So without further ado:

Confessions of a Car Salesman
A journalist goes undercover as a car salesman and tells us about his day to day experiences. Very informative and detailed. He really conveys the car salesman culture so that it’s more understandable to outsiders.

Implementation is more important than idea
Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s the 99% perspiration (implementation) that will get you there.

10 Stupid Mistakes Made by the Newly Self-Employed
Some very common mistakes made by those who are self-employed. I personally believe that it also applies to pretty much every business.

Warren Buffett gives away his fortune
Warren Buffett stated to the world this week that he was going to give away 85% of his wealth (which is a tremendous amount considering he’s the second richest man in the world). 5/6th of it will go to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Perception A Reality In The Customer Service Experience
Bottom Line: Consider how your customers perceive you, your business, and your employees. Then do something about it.

How much Traffic does Being Ranked 1 on Google Bring?
The 80/20 rule applies to SEO (Search Engine Optimzation). Someone has a 60% difference in traffic between position 1 and 2 in the Google search results.

What’s a buyer to do?
This article shows the importance of creating an common connection with the seller of a property. Sometimes this connection can result in getting a property without being the highest bid.

Interview with John Lusk (The Mouse Driver Chronicles)

The MouseDriver ChroniclesSeveral weeks ago I posted an entry about the book “The Mouse Driver Chronicles” which I’d read and really enjoyed. Since then I’ve been in contact with the authors of the book, in particular John Lusk. In one of our last email exchanges I asked him if he would be interested in an email interview and he accepted my offer. But before I get to the interview, let me give you a brief introduction about John, especially for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the book.

The book “The Mouse Driver Chronicles” is the story of John Lusk and Kyle Harrison, both graduates from the Wharton school of business, who decided to start their own bootstrap company at the very height of the dot com mania. At the time, to their fellow graduates, this seemed very odd (remember this was at the height of the dot com era). They skipped out on some very lucrative offers to start their company Mouse Driver, a company whose sole product was a computer mouse in the shape of a golf club driver. The book is their story of coming up with the idea, creating the product, manufacturing it, marketing and selling it, and all the possible road bumps they encountered on the way of which there were many! This story even became reading material for some college business classes. I personally enjoyed their story very much and I’d recommend it to everyone.

John And Kyle
John And Kyle

Now that you have an idea of who John is, although trust me when I say that a paragraph doesn’t do justice to reading the book, here are interview questions I sent him and his replies to them:

Hi John. I’ve been thinking about which questions to ask you and of course the most obvious is what’s happened since the book was published? How is company growing? Is there a Mouse Driver 2 product in the works? What’s happened to the two of you?

We sold the company to a large gift distributor on the East Coast in late 2003. Our exit strategy was always to sell the assets of the company and that’s what we did. Before we sold, we put together a few MD II prototypes that were a bit more ergonomic, utilized USB vs. PS2 and had a more sleeker design. At the time of sale, we turned over these prototypes to the acquiring company.

How has the book “The Mouse Driver Chronicles” impacted your lives and your company?

The book as been a very positive impact on our lives. Not only can we say that we’ve written a book, but our story continues to inspire, motivate and educate people all over the world. It’s been published in Korea, Taiwan, China and the UK and is required reading in over 100 universities/MBA programs in the US. We receive emails weekly from people who have been impacted by the book and just knowing that we’re helping others b/c of our story is just phenomenal.

Having read the book and the Insider Newsletters I found there was a lot of great information about succeeding and starting a business. If you had to give one piece of advice for someone going through it, what’s the one piece of advice you would give them?

You’ve got to believe in yourself and your company. As soon as you start having doubts, it’s time to get out.

Seeing you had a lot of difficulty early on in getting a mentor, what advice can you now give people in this regard?

Get a mentor or an advisor!! Do whatever it takes to find at least one person who can help you through some of the decision making. We never brought an official mentor on board and we paid for it.

From your book I gathered that you highly valued social networking. It seems to have been a substantial factor in your success. What advice can you give entrepreneurs in this respect?

I think that networking in general is always a good thing…but you’ve got to have a purpose in terms of why you’re networking and who you’re networking with. My biggest advice is to make sure that you make in networking ‘meeting’ beneficial for both parties. Put yourself in a position where you can also help the person that you’re networking with.

Mouse Driver

You mentioned to me in a prior email that you were planning on starting up the Insider Newsletter again, is this for certain? I know I enjoyed reading them, as I’m sure many of my readers here too did, which leads me to ask you when do you think the next one will sent out?

I’m still planning on it, but it needs to be the right time and moment. Right now, at Microsoft, what I’m doing from a work perspective wouldn’t make for very exciting reading (smile).

I noticed in the book you were fans of Guy Kawasaki (which I am too). Other than his online blog, what other online resources would you suggest your fellow entrepreneurs look to for getting information and advice (other than the Insider Newsletter of course) on running their businesses, marketing, sales, etc.?

We utilized Inc.com for a bunch of our stuff and marketingprofs.com to help marketing creativity

What do you believe the future hold in store for you? Do you still see MouseDriver as just a stepping stone or has it grown to more than that?

MouseDriver as a company is pretty much done. The book continues to do well but overall, the entire experience was just a stepping stone. Both Kyle and I are taking reprieves and work at Google and Microsoft respectively. We’re both that the skillsets and experiences that we’re gaining will help with whatever career move we make next.

I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book “The Mouse Driver Chronicles“. Is there any chance that we’ll see a second “The Mouse Driver Chronicles 2” book?

🙂 I plan on writing another book….just need to figure out what it’s going to be about!

Thank you John for taking the time to answer all of my questions, it’s very appreciated. I wish you and Kyle the best success in the future and many other successful endeavours. And please let me know when you publish another book, I’ll be very interested in reading it!

The MouseDriver Chronicles

LandlordMax Size and Complexity

There are many ways to measure the size and complexity of a software package, and all of them have their pros and cons. Although not entirely accurate, lines of code is one such standard metric, it allows you to see how large the program is growing. For those of you not familiar with lines of code, this is the count of the total lines of written computer language in a software application.

Of course I understand it’s not accurate, every developer writes code differently. For example one person could write a piece of code in 10 lines and another the same piece of code in 100 lines. Maybe one developer’s code is brutal to read and the other easy. Another’s is convoluted, overly complex, or is overly written because of bad architecture (or vice versa). For you non-developers, think of it this way, how many lines does it take you to tell a story? For Tolstoy (War and Peace anyone?), probably a lot. For another writer maybe it only takes a small fraction, a few pages.

In any case, it’s a good enough metric for us because we really push high quality code that is succinct, maintainable, and standard (for lack of better term). We prefer to refactor when the architecture is no longer sufficient. We don’t like to leave loose ends or to keep a larger code base (the code base is the total amount of programming code to make LandlordMax possible).

That being said, here’s LandlordMax’s lines of code growth curve over the last 4 major releases (omitting the minor updates) :

LandlordMax Property Management Software: Lines Of Code

I have to admit that I myself was quite surprised at the “linearnous” of the graph (how straight it is). I suspected it was going to be much less linear, with “jumps”. But it makes sense if you think about, as we release each new version the code base gets more and more complex (there’s simply just more code) so it takes a little longer to build up on it. This is especially true when we need to make architectural refactorings that result in significant code changes with little or no additional lines of code added (sometimes the lines of code even get reduced). We had at least two of these significant architectural changes that I can quickly think of in the last major release: we changed the database engine and implemented table column sorting throughout.

Anyways, it’s just interesting to see how much LandlordMax has grown over time. The total lines of code may seem small for some developers/projects, but I think that’s because we spend a fairly larger amount of time on the architectural aspects of the software. I’d rather spend X amount of time now so that we save a larger amount of time adding new features today and tomorrow. Otherwise you can quickly and easily get caught always writing quick fixes and patches for one more feature after another until the system becomes completely unmaintainable. Not to mention that adding each new feature in the interim in such a system becomes exponentially more expensive!

If you’re interested in measuring your projects lines of code and you use cvs for your source code repository, there’s a great open source framework called Cvsplot which can produce some amazingly detailed graphs and text data file reports.

HelpSpot Versus FogBugz

Although the title of this entry is HelpSpot Versus FogBugz, I really don’t think it’s exactly appropriate even though almost everyone seems to want to compare the two head to head (and I have to admit I was somewhat guilty of this last year too). Even Ian, the creator of HelpSpot, goes so far as to say that HelpSpot and FogBugz are 80% similar. I’m going to disagree with him and say the reverse, that they’re only about 20% similar. My company LandlordMax currently uses both of these systems and they’re both great, they both help us tremendously. I can’t imagine being without either.

Now the first thing you should notice is that I said we’re both using them simultaneously. How’s that possible if they’re competing products? The truth is that they do have some overlapping features, there’s no doubt about it, but their core competencies are very different. HelpSpot‘s core competency is customer service. This includes support (email and online form), customer facing (presentation), user manuals, forums, etc. FogBugz is mainly about bug tracking and project management (which in themselves are huge). The overlap is because FogBugz also includes as part of their package a customer service system, and this is where the confusion begins.

When we initially were trying to decide, we went with FogBugz for the simple reason that we got a customer service system with a bug tracking and project management system. We basically were able to get a lot of bang for a lot less buck. FogBugz does a great job of project management and bug tracking. It lets you create multiple projects, move cases between projects, set priorities, estimate times, capture screenshots and create new cases directly in the system, link your cases to your version control, create release notes from the cases, link the cases internally, etc. This is all great! it’s saved us a tremendous amount of time and really helped streamline our development process. The only thing I’d like see is more reports, right now this is very basic or you can purchase a third party software such as Case Detective and DBxtra for FogBugz.

Initially for customer service we also used FogBugz through email. That is as it received emails it would then classify them as new cases within the Inbox (which is basically the same as creating a new case for project called “Inbox”). From here you can treat it as another project case, with the added ability to respond to it (i.e. email the customer).

This worked for us for a while. In the last month or so we started to notice that several of our customers weren’t receiving their reply emails. The issue was because some of the larger email services started to classify some of our emails as spam (probably because they contained terms like mortgage, real estate, etc. – remember our domain is property management software) and move them to their junk folders, at which points many people simply didn’t see them there. I can understand this, it’s the reality of emailing and spam. However understanding and dealing with it were two seperate issues. In our case, it ended up with me sending them a personal email from this domain (FollowSteph.com) explaning what was happening. After several of these, we decided we needed to take more proactive actions.

Initially we looked at FogBugz to help resolve this as it had served us well in the past. However after some emails with the FogBugz support staff and a lot of digging, we found that FogBugz was limited in two respects for us. The first was that if we were to put an online form, FogBugz only has the option of sending an email with the link to the response page. It’s not possible to immediately forward the user to the response webpage (so that they can bookmark it and return to it later should the email get wrongly filtered). Secondly, we quickly found out that FogBugz was not designed to be customer facing. As soon as we started to try to change the look and feel of the system it got very difficult. There are a lot of files to modify with a lot of code and it he presentation logic appears intertwined with the backend logic. For example, a lot of the code goes through a default.php file which is very large file.

All things considered, I can completely understand why FogBugz never really took the time to design their system for customer facing. Remember their core competency is bug tracking and project management, both internal functions. Customer service is mainly done through email, which you can see if you deal with FogBugz themselves. They do provide the functionality but I personally wouldn’t present the interface as it is to the client, even assuming that the layout looked the same as your website, because it’s a fairly advanced user interface.

This brings us to HelpSpot. We re-evaluated HelpSpot and we noticed it did this and much more in regards to customer service. It’s core competency is customer service. Ian, the founder, even mentions that HelpSpot can forced to be a bug tracking system, but it’s really not meant for that. HelpSpot is a customer service system. It provides all the functionality for email support (for example you can have part of the request be private whereas in FogBugz everything is public). It provides enhanced request support, reporting, etc. It also has an easy to use method of tracking tickets online, so that if the customer’s email is filtered as spam and therefore missed, they can just go back to the response web page (with a bookmark) to see if their request has been answered. HelpSpot also offers automation rules on just about anything, which is very handy for customer service (for example we have it that tickets that have no activity from either us or our customers for at least 7 days get automatically closed).

HelpSpot also really shines when it comes to customer facing. Because it’s core competency is customer service, it’s expected that many of HelpSpot’s customers will want their support system to be accessed directly online by the public, so this has been built into the design. HelpSpot calls it “Portal” functionality, which in essence means that they’ve built the ability to template it. What’s great about this is that it’s really easy (I did the customization of HelpSpot for LandlordMax myself) to change the look and feel in minutes. All the files are located in folder called “custom-templates” and there are about a dozen. As far as I remember, almost all of the files are down to one page and self-explanatory, containing only the presentation logic. They aren’t litered with all kinds of business logic. So for example, if you decide you want to move the search form to the top of the page, all you need to do is copy/paste a line to the location you need. If you want to “skin” the website, there is one header, footer, and navigation files which you can edit. The beauty is that you don’t really need to understand the backend or worry about moving around the code, it just works.

The other part where HelpSpot shines is the “Knowledge Books“. This might not seem like such a big feature at first, but once we integrated the LandlordMax User Manual into it, the whole user manual was searchable. Not only that, we’re also in the process of adding our FAQ (Frequetly Asked Questions) and it will search through both documents showing all the results. This is very handy since a lot of our customers often ask similar questions. For example some of the most common pre-sales questions are: How many units can the software handle? Do I receive any upgrades with my purchase? Both are answered on the first page but not directly (for example “No need to worry about getting the latest version. You get every release for 1 year”). In either case, since people ask us these questions, it means that we’re not answering them clearly enough (we’re continually working on this). The good news though is that if you go to the “Get Support” page, you will be able to enter in the search field (coming this week) “How many units can the software handle?” and one of the first search results you’ll see is “FAQ ~ How Many Units Can I Enter?” (as well as several references to other similar topics).

As for discussion forums it appears that HelpSpot is more advanced, but I can’t say for certain as I haven’t used it. I have used the FogBugz discussion forum in the past for FollowSteph.com, at least until I converted it over to WordPress, and it worked as expected. It’s a very easy and simple discussion forum. I have no complaints, it did what I needed it to do.

As you’ve probably noticed from this entry, I’ve talked a bit more about HelpSpot, and that’s because I’m trying to write a HelpSpot Versus FogBugz entry, which means I need to focus on the similarities. Overall, where they overlap, HelpSpot seems to be ahead. That being said, do remember that FogBugz’s core competency is not on the aspects that they overlap. HelpSpot is about customer service and FogBugz is about project management and bug tracking.

At the end of the day, my recommendation is this. If you need a project management system and bug tracking system use FogBugz. If you need a customer service system, use HelpSpot. In retrospect, I believe we made a mistake in our initial decision of just purchasing FogBugz, we should have purchased both systems initially rather than to try and save a few dollars. We would have been much further ahead as we needed both. So plain and simple, use each system for what they are meant to be used for. We use them both because we need both functionality and prefer to have better tools. It might be a little more expensive than just using one, but the difference in functionality and how much they can help you is definitely worth it!

The Database Engine Used by LandlordMax Will Now Come Bundled in the Java Language

It’s just come out recently that the next Java version (Mustang) will include Derby as part of the language itself, calling it “Java DB“. Yes, you read me right, it will be part of the actual programming language! Apparently the Java committee is so impressed with Derby that they are going to integrate it into the language itself and therefore support it. As far as I can tell, the main development effort will continue to be done by the Apache Derby Group, but it will then be repackaged as “Java DB” into the Java language.

This is great news! It definitely validates our choice of using Apache Derby as the database engine for LandlordMax. It means that Derby will continue to received substantial development efforts as it’s now going to be part of the actual Java language. If you think about, it also means that Derby has to be a pretty good database engine to become part of the language…

How will this affect the continuing development of LandlordMax? Although I can’t say for certain, I suspect that this was a great stroke of luck for LandlordMax! It can only positively affect the functionality and quality of our embedded database engine (thereby making LandlordMax an even better product).

It’s great to get such a positive boost of good luck out of nowhere once in a while!

10 Questions to Ask When Choosing Your Real Estate Agent

House For Sale SignThere’s an interesting little article on the Dumb Little Man blog listing 10 questions he recommends you ask your real estate agent before choosing them. Each question comes with the standard answer you will likely get from the agent, as well as a “Tip” on how to probe deeper and what answer you really want to hear. Although I agree that they are all good questions, I don’t know that I’d ask each and every one of them myself. In any case, it’s definitely worth reading.

LandlordMax User Manual

As many of you may have already noticed today, we’ve really been ramping up LandlordMax‘s online documentation. The user manual is now fully updated with all the new features for version 2.12b. In addition, rather than only offering a PDF version of it on our website, we’ve now converted it completely to html. By doing this we’re seperating it into smaller pieces so that is’ easier to get at for those who don’t have higher speed internet connections. I do undertand that many people liked to print out the full user manual and read it at their leisure, and that’s why we also have a “Printer-friendly” version of all the online documents (one for the User Manual and one for the FAQ‘s) to replace the PDF version. You can find the “Printer-friendly” links at the end of the indexes.

We’ve also added the ability to search the online documentation such as the user manual (and all other online documentation such as the FAQ) for any search term or terms. Because of this you can now look up very specific tidbits of information without having to dig through the whole user manual, the website will do that for you! I suspect this will greatly help a lot of people.

In addition we’ve just started to update and ramp up the FAQ. And as bigger news, we’re planning to introduce a completely new “How do I…?” online section with animated tutorials to answer specific questions that don’t exactly fit in the user manual (for example “How do I find out what rents are due next month?”). You should see some of this trickle in on the website over the next month or so.

Of course we have other items to update on the website, for example the screenshots web page need updating, but all in all as you’ve noticed we’re really ramping up on all of the online documentation to make things easier for everyone.

Please feel free to let me know what you think of our new user manual and it’s new features.

LandlordMax Technical Support

As some of you may have already noticed, we’ve done some modifications to the LandlordMax technical support aspect of our website over the weekend. Up until this weekend, the only way to contact the LandlordMax support team was through email. We’ve changed that because of several issues we’ve started encountering with email spam filters getting too aggressive on some of the larger free email services (for example Yahoo has been particularly troublesome for several customers in the last month or so).

In any case, you can still directly email us, that hasn’t changed. However now the email will also include a link to an online webpage where you can also see the status of your request. Also, as an additional option, you can now also submit your support request directly through a very simple online support request form. With this scenario, you can now bookmark the resulting request page to return to anytime to view how your ticket is progressing. You no longer need to wait for an email reply (which you will still receive), you can just as easily go back to that bookmarked webpage to see if your question has been answered directly online.

Although it might not seem so significant at first, this should greatly reduce the effects of emails that get wrongly filtered as spam and are therefore missed by our customers (which is not really their fault). By having the ability to bookmark the page, they now have the option of also coming back directly through their web browser anytime without having to wait for an email to see the progress of their support ticket.

Although this is one of the bigger reasons why we made the change from our current technical support system to the new one, it’s not the only reason. Later this week in another blog entry I’ll go over it in more detail as to why we changed our technical support system to use HelpSpot rather than FogBugz (which by the way we’re still using for other aspects of our business).



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