Although blogging protocols strongly recommend that you should never apologise for not having written in a long time, I nonetheless believe it’s important that I do since it’s been over a year now. This is completely my fault and I don’t have a good excuse. All I can say is that I’ve been incredibly busy and as a result I’ve had less time to blog. I tried to start up last summer after a hiatus of a year but it ended there as I quickly got too busy again. I don’t plan on making the same mistake again.
Since then a lot has changed, especially in regards to my company LandlordMax. At the time of my last post we had just released version 11.05 of LandlordMax about a year earlier. I’m happy to report that version 11.05 has gone through several updates and is doing very well. Version 11.05 was a massive release! Each of our releases (new major versions) is bigger than the previous one and version 11.05 was once again our biggest release so far.
Since version 11.05 was released I’ve transitioned to the upcoming major new and exciting Edition of LandlordMax called the LandlordMax Cloud Edition. Although it’s not yet available we’re now officially starting to talk about its release. Just to quickly re-iterate for those who aren’t aware, it’s our policy that we do not officially state release dates. We will talk about how we’re progressing in the email newsletter and I will give updates here on my blog but due to the nature of how software works we do not give out official release dates. One of my favorite articles on this topic asks you to estimate the time it would take to walk from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I have no doubt that the answer, and article, will very much surprise you. I have yet to meet someone who comes close to a correct estimate.
But getting back to the topic at hand, the Cloud Edition of LandlordMax, I’m proud to announce that we’re working on this brand new Edition of the software called the LandlordMax Cloud Edition. The Cloud Edition will be web based and will be available as a cloud service only. In other words you won’t have to install any software, worry about backing up your data, etc., everything will be managed for you and be accessible directly through the website from any computer on the internet.
We have been working on this Edition for some time now. And just like all our previous releases this is going to be our biggest release ever in terms of scale and effort! Not only will the Cloud Edition offer the same functionality as the current software but it will also enhance many of the existing features as well as add some new major features!
Now before I begin please note that all the following are being actively worked on and although we’re officially working on a Cloud Edition the features mentioned below are unofficial and therefore may be subject to change. We don’t expect any changes because most of what will be mentioned is either already either completed or well on its way to being completed, but we still nonetheless need to state it just in case something changes between now and the release date.
That being said one of the major new features of the Cloud Edition will be the ability to filter/search on a per column basis. In other words instead of the Data Filters that are currently available you will be able to manually type in the header column what you want that column to be filtered on. So for example if you only want to display the accounting entries for the tenant named John Smith you can type in his name John Smith in the name column header and only accounting entries for John Smith will appear. If you want to further restrict the accounting entries to just the tenant John Smith and say entries where the Description field includes the word “Utilities” then you can additionally enter in “Utilities” in the Description column header and now only entries for John Smith and “Utilities” will appear in the accounting table. In other words all columns are searchable/filterable. You can even select ranges of values where appropriate, etc.
Another major feature we’re working on is a brand new templating engine for almost everything that’s printed. This includes everything from workorders, invoices, receipts, etc. to reports, and so on. We’re working on a built-in word processor which will allow you to edit the templates and generated documents directly within the system. You’ll be able to completely customize them as you wish directly in the software. If you want to include your mailing address in the invoice template then you can do so. If you want to include a specific notice on all your receipts, you can do so. You will have full control of the output printed out in a built-in word processor.
In addition to editing the template you’ll be able to select what data (within some constraints) will appear on the invoices, receipts, workorders, and reports. So for example if you want to include different values in a report than what is currently available you will be able to do so. You will be able to select which columns appear. I won’t get into the specifics now because we’re very much actively working on this and deciding the details, but let’s just say you can decide what data you want presented where in the reports within reason. You won’t yet be able to create a new custom report but you’ll be able to select which data is outputted, how it’s formatted, etc. For example maybe in the rent roll report you want the cell phone number and email, maybe you want the address, maybe the security deposit amount, etc. You can basically decide what data is presented for the available reports.
Keep in mind that in addition to selecting the data you can also select the formatting, which means that if you want the text to wrap you can set it up so that the text wraps rather than being truncated as it is now (with the three periods at the end). You will also be able to select the font type, font size, etc. amongst other goodies.
Now because you can create and edit your own reports, templates, etc., the software will also have the ability to manage these templates. As a result you will be able to save your report templates and select the ones you want to use when it comes time to print the report, which means you can have multiple report templates for a single report. You will also be able to select from the list of invoice templates you’ve customized, and so on. You could have 10 different invoice templates which you select based on the specific tenant, it’s completely up to you. We’re trying to make it as flexible as possible.
We’re even taking it a step further where you will be able to generate documents such as lease agreements based on your templates. In the example of the lease agreement the software will automatically generate and populate it based on your tenant’s information in one step. You will then be able to both store and print the generated lease agreement all directly within the software. The same is true for notices, and so on.
Now what happens if you need to make an edit to the lease agreement after it’s generated? Well you’ll be happy to hear that we’re also working on post-generation editing. In other words you will be able to edit the generated lease agreement after it’s been generated from the template in case you need to make some specific changes to just that single lease.
These are just a few of the things we’ve been working on in addition to creating the Cloud Edition. There is quite a lot coming and this effort has been massive, and hence why it’s taking longer than expected. It’s also why I’ve been so busy and haven’t had the time to focus on my blog or our company email newsletter, for which I apologize. From now on I will be updating you with more details as we progress through the development of the new Cloud Edition. I also plan on releasing some preview videos in the near future.
There is a lot coming down the pipeline and I’m exciting to see what 2017 holds for LandlordMax!!
Yes I’m still alive and well. I know you’re not suppose to post a where have you been or sorry for not writing in a long time, but I’m going to break the rule since it’s been over a year since my last post.
So where have I been? Working very very very hard. It’s not an excuse for not posting yet at the same it is. I’ve been so overwhelmingly busy that I just haven’t had the time to post. Each post takes me about a day to write, well this one is an exception, but on average they take me several hours to about a day to write. I wish I had more time but I just don’t. As my company LandlordMax continues to grow I find that my time is more and more limited.
I’m not the only one, I remember for example reading Joel Spolsky’s blog JoelOnSoftware on a regular basis. I just looked at his blog recently and he’s only written two blog posts in two years, which made me feel better for not having as much time myself. He’s not the only one, it’s actually quite common, he’s just the one that came to my mind first as I was writing this. Unfortunately this is one of the side effects of growing your business. I’m of course going to do my best to be the exception to the rule!
That being said LandlordMax is now on it’s 12th year of business! We’re preparing to launch a web based cloud version of our property management software LandlordMax very shortly. Our current goal is before the end of the summer and we’re working very hard to achieve this goal!!
This obviously opens up a number of questions, such as what will it cost, and so on. All that I can say at this time is that we’re working out the details of our business model. A web based cloud version is very different than a downloadable version, there are different cost factors and so on to consider. So although we’re ready to announce that we plan on offering a web based cloud version very shortly, we’re not quite ready to announce it’s pricing model yet. That being said we’d love to hear your feedback and comments so please feel free to contact us.
That being said you should expect to start seeing some previews of the new web version shortly, including video previews. We’re not quite ready yet but it shouldn’t be too much long. The previews will not just be here but also through our email newsletter. I have to admit our email newsletter has also fallen quite behind but I plan on resurrecting it very shortly. And the closer we get to the release the more details and information I will be able to share.
So in the spirit of breaking the blogging 101 rules, here’s to apologizing for not posting more often and that I plan on posting more in the near future! Your classic Blog faux pas.
It’s that time of year again. Our fiscal year just closed and like I’ve done every year, at least for the past 6 years (since 2007), I’m posting our sales revenues graph and highlighting some of our achievements over the year. And like every year before, with no exception, this year we achieved another record fiscal year!!
But before I begin, here is the link to all the previous years posts:
- LandlordMax 2011 – Another Record Fiscal Year!
- LandlordMax 2010 Best Fiscal Year Yet!
- A Year in Retrospect
- LandlordMax Revenues Update
- Status Update
- LandlordMax Sales Revenues
- LandlordMax Sales Revenues
First things first, this is our 10th year anniversary!! It’s amazing to think we’ve been in business for 10 years already. That’s a long time in the software world. So firstly I will self-congratulation LandlordMax for its 10th year anniversary.
Getting back to the post, to all those naysays that say desktop software is dead, it’s very well and alive!! In some categories owning the software and your data is much better than using a web based hosted subscription service. It can actually significantly lower your risks and costs compared to a hosted subscription service. Yes I’ve talked about this a number of times, but for those who are new, when it comes to the critical data of your business, where losing the data is not an option, hosted services can come with very high unexpected risks as I’ve outlined in this previous article. There’s also a new article that just just came out titled The Unprofitable SaaS Business Model Trap which I recommend reading that explains why we see so many hosted services come and go. So although SaaS have pros most people kinda forget there’s one very very very big con that comes with them until after it’s too late to do anything.
And now onto our achievements. This year our biggest achievement has been the release of the all new LandlordMax Network Editions of the software! In addition to these Editions, we’ve also added some new features to the Desktop Edition to match the new Network Edition (which is included as a free upgrade for existing users of the 6.05 Desktop version). The release of the Network Editions has been our biggest ever in terms of effort and scale. We’re very excited by it and we’re already seeing a very noticeable impact. It’s only been a little over two months and we can already tell that next fiscal year is going to be exciting.
Above the software of course we’ve also had to implement a whole slew of other items. For example the website purchasing system has gone through some major changes and improvements to support the new Editions. The user manual has been updated. Basically everything that goes along with such a major launch has also happened along with the release itself.
Beyond that, and I hate to admit this, we didn’t execute many new additional marketing initiatives this fiscal year. Most of our efforts went into getting the Network Editions released. This was a big effort. I know I’ve said it before that a lot of work went into it, but a LOT of work did go into it. As a result a lot of our other initiatives were put on hold as we re-allocated efforts to the release of the Network Editions. For example marketing projects were transitioned to release efforts. You may also have noticed that I didn’t publish any posts here for almost 6 months, this is why. It was an all hands on effort to get the Network Editions released. No one was spared. So our marketing efforts stayed pretty consistent with the previous fiscal years (neither up or down).
And on that note I do want to take a minute to thank everyone who helped us release the Network Editions. Above those who worked beyond their job roles and descriptions, we also had a lot of people who volunteered their time to help us in our testing efforts. To all these people I personally thank you very much.
Since the release of the Network Editions our main efforts have focused back into the next major “feature” release of LandlordMax. That is we hope to release a major new version of LandlordMax Property Management Software before the end of the year, possibly within as little as a few months. It will include many new features and lots of new functionality. Not only features, but we’re streamlining a lot of the processes within the software so that many actions will be even easier and quicker to process. Basically more automation in your regular tasks along with new features and functionality.
For example, and this is still unofficial because as a rule we do not officially state anything until it’s fully completed to avoid any vaporware statements, we’re working towards offering a built-in word processor with the next major version, which will potentially include “templating”. The major benefit of this feature is that you can import your legal documents into the software as “template documents” from existing Word documents. From there, you can say go to a tenant, create a new lease agreement, and the software will grab your templated lease agreement from the templates, fill in the tenant’s information, and then save the new lease document under the tenant, allowing you to print it, export it, and so on. This is really beneficial in that it lets you manage all your documents with your data, from tenants, property owners (for property managers), etc., all within the software.
And this is just one of the features we’re looking to implement for the new version. There’s a lot more where that came from!!
In addition to the new release, we’re also planning to really ramp up our marketing efforts this fiscal year. Like I just said a few moments ago, our marketing efforts did not increase much during 2012-2013. Yes we’re still marketing at the same levels as the previous year, but we didn’t really grow our efforts with new initiatives. Which on a positive note says a lot about our revenue growth in the last fiscal year. People like the software. We know there’s a significant amount of word of mouth promotion going on from our loyal customers. People recommend LandlordMax to other people. And that’s where most of our growth for the last year has mostly come from. So one of our big goals this fiscal year is to really improve our marketing efforts beyond what we’ve done in the past. In two years we’ve doubled our revenues, it would be nice to be able to double them again but in just one year this time.
And on that note, I really look forward to 2013-2014. There’s absolutely no doubt we’re going to have another record year. We’ve just launched 3 new Network Editions. We’re on the edge of releasing a new major feature release. And we’re planning on significantly improving our marketing efforts. And we’re already seeing an upswing from the new Network Editions in just a couple short months. Fiscal 2013-2014 is going to be exciting.
After 10 years I continue to be excited by our progress and how love there is for LandlordMax. Here’s a sample of some of the new testimonials we received just last month (July 2013):
“I have been using LandlordMAX for a little over 18 months. Not only was the program easy to setup but has made tracking of expenses, late payments, etc. much easier. With quite a number of apartments on our books it was always difficult to see when payments were not made. The year end accounting has been a dream. My accountant no longer needs to go through our books to get the EOY numbers. Also I wanted to add that customer support has been terrific. And best of all when I have reasonable suggestions for improvement of the program they are made within weeks.” – Murray Acheson
“I have been looking for a program for the past couple of months and was getting very weary and discouraged. Especially for a ‘smaller’ complex, such as ours. It seems the market for automated recordkeeping has gone to mostly online with monthly cost, which is probably great for large complexes but not economical for us small operations. I have been relieved to find your program and the great support from you as I learn the program.” – Ann Noel
“Love the program!! JERRY” – Jerry Carr
“Knowing that I have Help/Support for the future is like having insurance on your car.” – Gil Rheaume
“And again – thank you for the absolutely amazing customer service and product support” – Doug Doody
“Once again, thank you for the outstanding customer support. It’s incredible easy to use. Using it is very intuitive. When I run into a problem or have a question, I can always count on FAQ, discussion forum, screenshots and an outstanding customer support to solve my problem and/or answer my questions.” – Christine Chan
I also want to include one of my personal favorites we received just the month before:
“I’ve been using your software since 2007. I was one of the ones that started asking about a network version long ago. Even on its first release, your network Landlordmax software is awesome! It does EXACTLEY what I was hoping for. I’m a tech geek, and I’ve been willing to pay any amount for good property management software for my brokerage. I’ve tried every other competitive solution (all of which charge substantially more), even the big name networked versions, which charge outrageous monthly fees. Yours outperforms them all. Really brilliant software. You did great Steph. You’ve really helped my brokerage succeed as it rapidly expands. My employees all love it too, and it save’s me a king’s ransom in training cost for new employees do to its simplicity.” – Ed Dimarco
Printing on the Mac OS with Java 7 has been broken for a long time, months in fact. I don’t understand how this can possibly happen. After all printing isn’t exactly a small issue, and the Mac isn’t exactly a small market. So how can this be? For months? I don’t get it…
Specifically the font attributes are not honored on the Mac OS. Java seems to make the proper OS calls but for whatever reason the Mac OS just ignores those calls. Here’s the official bug report. To quote:
“Call to MacOS native function CTTypesetterCreateWithAttributedStringAndOptions did not produce the expected result. Although the font dictionary was passed in options, for unknown reason, it is ignored. Fix is to add the font dictionary in the attributed string and use CTTypesetterCreateWithAttributedString.”
And this only affects the Mac, it works fine in Windows or with Linux. The following code shows how to replicate the Java 7 printing bug on the Mac OS:
Font font = new Font("Times", Font.BOLD, 24);
Graphics2D g = (Graphics2D)graphics;
g.drawString("Hello World", 10, 10);
// Increase font by 10 - Mac OS ignores this next line of code.
g.drawString("Hello World in a bigger font", 10, 100);
The weirdest part of this whole issue is that it’s really only broken in Java 7!! Of course it’s the only stable release of Java. How does that make any sense? It still works on Java 6 which is no longer supported (past it’s End of Life). For Java 8, which is still in beta and does NOT have a stable release, it seems to be working. However for Java 7, nope. Nothing. Nada. Huh???
In case you want to read further information from the better links I found on the issue, they are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Just a few links. So it’s not exactly an unknown issue. Many people are struggling with it.
That being said, several people have found workaround solutions, including us here at LandlordMax Property Management Software. A common solution I’ve heard is to create an image of what you want to print and print that image. It makes sense and it will work because you’re bypassing the font attributes. I’m not a big fan of this solution, especially since it doesn’t really scale well to multi-page report printouts that we need in LandlordMax.
So what we’ve been forced to do is create a temporary PDF file of the report, ask the Mac OS to print the file using the system command
lp filename.pdf, and then delete the temporary file. This works pretty well, the only downside is that the Page Setup and printer setting options that comes along with most programs are not available because we’re not really printing from the software itself, nor can we pass them on to the system command. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only way to print within Java 7 on the Mac OS.
We added this workaround in the software with Java 7 Update 17. Unfortunately s far as we can tell the bug has been around at least since Update 9, but probably earlier. I just checked and we’re now at Java 7 Update 25, and guess what. Still no fix! No mention of the issue either.
The big question now is whether this is a Java (Oracle) issue or a Mac (Apple) issue? In either case, I would think both companies should want to fix this issue right away. It’s not exactly a minor issue. I don’t understand what’s holding up a resolution to this issue. It makes absolutely no sense to me. This is core functionality that affects both their users in a big way. It’s not a little bug, it’s huge! Printing is important, even in today’s digital world.
Hopefully Apple and Oracle can put their differences aside for a little bit and resolve this issue. It’s affecting a lot of people and we don’t deserve to be the collateral damage to their war against each other.
Again, just like last time, I completely agree that Lines of Code (LOC) is not an ideal metric to measure the scale of a system because of all the varying factors. However this is all I have so I’m going to do the best I can with what I have.
As many of you already we’re hard at work on a networked and multi-user version of LandlordMax to which you can see the daily status update here. It will be released as a minor update, that is a letter increment rather than a full version number increment. The main reason for this is to assist people in moving up to the networked version with the lease friction and costs possible.
In any case, I thought I would share with you today the scale of this effort. Yes again I do realize LOC is not the best metric, but it’s really the only metric I have which can show the scale of the effort. As you’ll see, the amount of new programming code included between each version is fairly close. This is NOT intentional by any means, and I hadn’t realized it until I generated this chart today, it just happened that way. Anyways as you’ll quickly see, the difference in LOC between the last version, version 6.05d, and the upcoming version 6.05e is about the same as a full version number release!
Of course a lot of that effort is specific to the networked offering and the as such the desktop offering will only get some of the benefits, but regardless it’s still a major effort.
All that to say the upcoming networked version 6.05e is a major undertaking, probably more than most people realize. Offering networking capabilities along with multi-user support is definitely a lot more complex than just letting multiple users connect to the same database, especially when you’re dealing with complex data that many of the users connected to the same system at the same time will be sharing and modify on a regular basis. You have to deal with a lot of synchronization issues, especially when it comes to modifying and saving existing data which I won’t get into today.
And if anyone has any suggestions on other interesting metrics I can fairly easily, please let me know. I’m always interested in learning more about our system.
Before I begin let me share a story that some of you might have already hear, at least in some variation of another. A woman sends her husband to the store to buy a ham, but she specifically asks him to have the butcher cut it in half. Of course the husband forgets to ask the butcher, so when he gets home his wife is not too happy that she has to cut the ham in half. The husband then proceeds to ask his wife why she cuts it in half, to which she responds that her mother has always done it that way and that was reason enough for her.
Luckily for the husband, his mother-in-law is there visiting for Xmas. So he takes the opportunity to ask her why she always cut the ham in half before cooking it, to which she replies because that’s how her mother also always did it.
Still not happy with this answer the husband convinces his wife to call her grandmother to try and figure out this mystery. After all, this is now three generations that have always cut their hams in half before cooking it, and no one knows why. It baffles him that no one has ever asked why. Well thankfully the grandmother finally had the answer, it was because her oven was too small to cook a ham in one piece, so she had to cut it to make it fit. A simple solution to a simple problem that was no longer true.
The moral of the story of course being that everyone just did the same thing because that’s how it had always been done. No one ever questioned WHY it was done that way, they just went ahead and continued to do the same thing.
And this is at the heart of the incredible tip I’m going to offer you today on how to increase your PROFITS, not your income, but your profits, by a pretty significant amount!
As many of you already know, my company LandlordMax Software sells property management software (also sometimes refered to as rental property software, landlord software, and so on). One questions we get asked often enough is if we offer check printing. Which leads right into the tip on how to significantly increase your profits while at the same time reduce your workload!!
Why do people need check printing? Seriously. Think about? Why? Do you really need to have software that prints out tons of checks each month these days? When is the last time you looked at automating their bill payments? Most property managers and landlords just continue to write and send checks for their bills, but why? Because that’s how they’ve always done it. But is it necessary?
Today many many many bills can be completely automated. If you cover the utilities for your tenants as part of the rental agreement, then each payment to the different utility companies can be automated, avoiding the need to write and send a check to each company. We’re not talking just one check here, possibly quite a lot. Today most utility companies have some kind of method or other to have your bills automatically paid.
If you’re a property management company that sends checks out to the individual property owners, there are a number of other options you can exercise. Most banks and financial institutions have all kinds of ways to send money digitally that will save you time and money (and fees). For example most employers these days no longer pay their employees with checks, most just do direct deposit. I’m not suggesting you take their route with your clients, only that there are options out there. When was the last time you looked?
How much of a difference can it make? What is the cost of writing and sending one check? My personal ballpark figure is about $1-$2 per check. This includes the cost to order the checks themselves, then there’s envelopers, stamps, bank fees, etc. I’m also ignoring any penalties for checks lost in the mail, which if you send a lot of checks, you’ll for sure have had some checks lost in the mail.
Above this I’m also not including all the labor costs. Sure the software can automate some of this, but you still need to load your printer with special checks which you probably had to order at a marked up price to match the specific you’re using. Then there’s the time of putting each check into the right envelope, making sure there’s no mistakes along the way. And don’t forget preparing the envelopers and so on. Printing all those mailing labels, sticking them on. It adds up faster than most people realize.
And I haven’t hit the price of the software. If you have a professional property management software solution then you’re easily looking at the thousand dollar or more range. If you’re using a small business accounting software with check printing, then it’s at least some hundreds. If you’re not using any software, then how long does it take you to manually write all those checks? In either situation there is a cost.
With all that in mind, if you have over 100 tenants (an easy round number) at 5 checks a month per tenant on average (plus one property owner payment), you’re looking at spending anywhere from $500-$2000/month of total expenses on just producing checks! Over a year it can easily get into the five figures! I do strongly recommend you look at your own full costs for writing all those checks, don’t just use my numbers. Do your own calculations.
And don’t forget to include the time costs, I can’t imagine an effort like that takes one person less than a full day to accomplish if it was all done at the same time. Over a year that adds up to 2.5 weeks business weeks of full time effort. Yuck. What a waste of time! I don’t know about you, but I have much better things to do. Especially if this can all be automated.
Now imagine that all it took was a day to automate almost all of this effort. No more need to print and/or send checks. Even if you can just automate your regular bills, and for property managers the need to print checks for your clients, how much money and time would you save? And again, this is PURE PROFIT! You’ve just reduced your costs, and not only has it not reduced the quality of your business, you’ve actually increased it!! All this because you’ve finally looked at WHY it’s always been done that way before!
To answer my question about our software, no we currently don’t offer check printing. We would like to, and do plan to eventually offer it (even after all I’ve said). However it’s not normally something you’ll see in competing solutions anywhere our price range. It’s much like a tenant asking for an in-unit hot tub while only paying an affordable rent. You can definitely get an apartment that offers in-unit hot tubs, but you should expect to pay quite a bit in rent. The same is true for check printing. However when people ask us, the answer isn’t really no, it’s more why do you really need check printing? Wouldn’t your time be better invested in researching what you can automate rather than just continuing to do what you’ve always done. Not only will you save on the price of the software, but you’ll save money each and every month from now on! And as an added bonus, the cherry on the whipped cream, you’ll have more time to grow your business rather than spend it on busywork that offers no real and lasting value.
About once a year I try to post how we’re doing here at LandlordMax, and it’s again that time of the year. But before I do, for those of you who are interested, here are the links to my previous yearly posts. And please note that although LandlordMax was originally founded in 2003, I only started sharing the revenues in 2007:
- 2011 – LandlordMax 2010 Best Fiscal Year Yet!
- 2010 – A Year in Retrospect
- 2009 – LandlordMax Revenues Update
- 2008 – Status Update
- 2008 – LandlordMax Sales Revenues
- 2007 – LandlordMax Sales Revenues
And now for the updated revenue graph which includes the fiscal year of 2011-2012:
As you can quickly see, we definitely grew some more this year, to the tune of about 65%. Another really exciting and good year!
And similar to last year, this all happened during a recession which is continuing to see a lot of weeding out of our competitors! So we’re very excited about these results.
The biggest improvements for the company this year were mostly internal, although there are some improvements which are visible from the outside.
In terms of visible changes, we completely redid the LandlordMax website (long overdue) which resulted in a marked improvements in sales almost immediately. Above that we released an update to the software which was pretty significant in terms of scale and effort. The update not only fixed some issues, but it also included a number of big improvements and features. We completely re-wrote the user manual from the ground up which resulted in a significant decrease of 80% in technical support levels! That’s a huge win!! We started a newsletter for the company which is growing by about 20% a month! In less than a year (closer to half a year) the subscriber count is already in the solid 4 figures and we haven’t marketed it one bit. The only way to find it is on the footer of the company website (there isn’t even a dedicated newsletter page yet!). So having that level of subscription growth is quite impressive in so little time considering there’s also been absolutely no marketing effort. We completely revamped RealEstatePigeon.com and brought it to it’s own home rather than being hosted by a third party service. There’s quite a bit of work left there, but it’s a good start for now.
Internally, and much less visible, an incredible amount of effort has been put into releasing the networked version of LandlordMax. And I do mean an INCREDIBLE amount of effort. This release has almost doubled the size of our code base! In other words, it’s almost doubled the size of the programming code behind the software! That’s huge! I only wish I could properly express the amount of effort that’s gone into this release.
Above the effort to release the networked version, we’ve spent a lot of effort improving our internal systems and processes. I won’t go into the details here because it’s probably not very exciting for most people outside of the company, but I can tell you a lot of things have been improved and streamlined quite a bit. A lot of things that could be automated have been automated, much more than before. This has helped improve and increase our overall productivity significantly.
Our marketing efforts have also expanded quite a bit. I won’t go into the details here either, but I can tell you that we spend more a month now on our marketing efforts than we did in our whole first year.
All that to say we’ve been very busy. This year has probably been the more busy for me personally than I’ve ever been in my whole life! And I can’t wait to see how things will change for us as a company once the networked version is available.
Through my company LandlordMax I hear lots of people asking if we have a cloud offering (in case you’re wondering, we don’t yet). The thing is that most people ONLY look at the benefits, very few look at the potential and catastrophic issues that you’re at risk of. For LandlordMax we use several online (cloud’ish) solutions, and it’s great for many things. The problem is that you also have to be careful because for some things the downside can be catastrophic! Even possibly terminal to your business! It can be much bigger than you realize and I’ll explain why in just a bit.
First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what cloud offerings really are. So what exactly is a cloud offering? Most people today have come to define a cloud service as a service that’s hosted online. Although not exactly right, it’s pretty close. And for the purpose of this post we’re going to define cloud services as all online services. In most cases these are just going to be websites that offer services. Again, although not technically correct, it’s close enough for today. And anyways this is what most people understand cloud services to be.
If you’re interested in the exact details, Wikipedia has a nice article about cloud computing. As well you’ll probably want to check out their article about SaaS (Software as a Service), which is actually closer to what people really mean when they say cloud services.
In any case, let’s start with the benefits, so we can understand why people are so interested in these solutions (including myself):
- Affordable: You don’t have to invest in any infrastructure, computers, etc., it’s all taken care of for you and amortized over time.
- Automation and Maintenance: You don’t have to manage any computers, servers, upgrades, etc. It’s all taken care of for you.
- Mobility: You can generally access the service anywhere there is an internet connection.
- Focus on core competencies: Instead of spending time setting up your infrastructure, computers, etc. you now have the time to spend on where your real value is.
- Scalability: Most online solutions will offer a significant amount of growth. You just move up plans. Amazon’s EC2 service recently had an amazing example where a system scaled up to 50,000 CPU cores within 3 hours.
- Easier: If you don’t have to set up anything. You don’t have to figure out how it works. It’s all done for you.
- Vendors are more experienced: In most cases, the service you’re using is the vendors bread and butter, they work in these systems all day, so they know their stuff in and out whereas for you it’s just to get the job done.
- Quicker: You can generally sign up and start using the solution within minutes. If you have to set it up, it can take days, weeks, or more.
- Less commitment: Maybe you only need the service for a month, half a year, etc., which means you can save from having to invest in a ton of infrastructure for a short lifespan.
As you can see, all of these are great benefits. Who wouldn’t want them? Especially for a smaller company, the benefits are incredible.
Of course, like everything else in life, you can’t have everything. Cloud services do come with costs. Not so much in terms of dollar costs, but in terms of very huge potential UNSEEN RISKS. This is especially true if you have to store data!
There are a few other cons, such as you can’t access your data without an internet connection, and so on. But really there’s really just one very big con, and unfortunately it’s generally unseen until it happens. That’s the worse kind of con! What’s worse is that most people don’t really talk about them, mostly because cloud services are still fairly new enough that most people haven’t really had a chance to experience this very big and potentially catastrophic con.
But before I explain it, let me give you an analogy that’s probably closer to home, and that you’re likely to have already encountered.
Most people store their pictures on their personal computer hardrives. Hardrives do fail. Google published a groundbreaking research report and the results were quite troubling. Basically you can expect drives to fail at a pretty predictable rate. And unfortunately it’s not just hardware failures that you have to deal with, all kinds of things can happen such as a virus corrupting your system, power surges, and so on.
In any case, before there were digital cameras, most people really didn’t have that much data, so all their really important data could usually be backed up on a CD or DVD (or if you’re old enough to remember this, floppy disks or tapes). It sucked to lose your saved video game files, or to have to install your applications again, but you usually could. Sure you’d lose some data, but usually it wasn’t that critical. Most important was generally backed up on floppies, CD’s, etc. because it was quick and simple.
Nowadays with everyone having a digital camera, there’s lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of pictures saved on people’s computers. Pictures they really don’t want to lose. The data is now much larger and generally more valuable. There’s so much data these days that in many cases you can no longer just back it up on a CD or DVD. But even at that, because of the quantity of data, most people just simply don’t do any backups at all, they expect their computers will just continue working. And computers usually just work until one fine day where it eventually fails and everything is lost. It’s terrible and catastrophic. Years of pictures lost in an instance!! It’s devastating. Yes there’s other data, but for a lot of people, their pictures are their most important data.
And so as cameras have become more common, we’ve started to experience more the pain of computer failures. And as such, it’s now much more common for the average person to have an external hardrive to backup their data. 5 years ago almost no one did this. Although not everyone still does this, it’s much more common. And its definitely going to be that much more common with time. We’re learning from our experiences. Once you experience it you vow never to let it happen again. It always takes that first time to wake people up, myself included.
I’ve been backing up prolifically since as long as I can remember because I’m one of the lucky ones to have experienced my first computer failures eons ago. And in 2006 I even wrote a post called 4 Simple Steps to Protect Your Data From 99.9999% of all Computer Failures which is still as true today as it was back then. I still mostly adhere to these steps, with the exception that I do even more today than I did back then
So why did I go on such a tangent with digital cameras and data backups, because when you use a cloud service to manage your data you’re basically exposing yourself to exact same risks!! You might not realize it, but with most online services you’re basically running without a net. There’s no backups. If anything happens, it’s the same as a computer failure with your digital pictures. And if the data is critical to your business, it could be catastrophic. What’s worse of all, there’s often no warning at all before it happens.
So let’s get into this con in much detail.
For the cloud services you use right now, do you have a backup that you can use if they close down or you decide you want to move elsewhere? In most cases you have no way to extract your data at all, nevermind moving to another service. In those situations that you do, can you actually take that data file and use it anywhere else? Maybe in theory yes, but can you really in practice? If you can’t, then you might as well not have any backups at all. Why fool yourself into feeling more secure when you really aren’t. And this question leads us to some very interesting and provocative questions.
What happens if the company closes or decides to no longer offer their cloud service? All I can really say is good luck with that! Imagine for a moment that you have a contact management system and you have tens of thousands of contacts stored, with all their interactions, etc. The company that hosts the cloud services suddenly closes. What happens the day after the company closes? If it’s a service, the service is shutdown immediately. You’ve just lost all access to the system and your data overnight. Ouch!!
Online services that manage and store data have a lot of additional and very high risks. The scenario I just described is the same as if your hardrive just crashed and you just lost all your pictures and documents without any backups. However in this case, maybe your business relies on the data and system. It sucks to lose your pictures, but you can and will survive. Can your business survive? What is the impact on your business?
If it’s just a backup service of your data files, then it’s not a big deal, you can just re-create the backups with another service. Sure in the meantime you have no backups, but it’s quickly resolved. However if it’s all your customer and vendor contact information, communication histories, contract negotiations, etc., then the impact is going to be huge. What if you were using an online property management software system to manage hundreds or thousands of units and tenants and suddenly you have no access to anything. The impact could be severe enough to cause you to go bankrupt (you may not be able to properly collect your rents on time to pay all your bills, or even know what all your bills are)! That’s a huge risk. A risk that’s so large that it overshadows all the possible benefits!!
Which leads me to my next question, how much warning do you think you’ll get if the company hosting the cloud service closes? I can’t imagine a company that’s managing contacts, emails, projects, etc. publicizing that they’re on the brink of closing. Most likely you’ll have absolutely no warning. One day everything will be fine and the next day the system is down never to come back up. And to be quite honest, I don’t know that there’s much you can do to prepare for this anyways, even if they gave you a warning. How are you going to extract your data? What are you going to do with that data?
Following this, what happens if the service you’re using significantly changes it’s pricing model? It’s not uncommon for an online service to adjust their prices, there are many stories of significant increases in prices. Especially for newer companies, which most cloud based services are. Or better yet, what happens if the company gets acquired? Will the pricing models change? Other than paying what they want to charge you, what option do you have? Sure you can move, but can you really? What is the cost of transitioning?
And what will happen to the could service when it gets brought into the new company as part of an acquisition? Will it stagnate? For example Mint was acquired by Intuit in 2009 and a year later the comments weren’t that great. What if the new company is a competitor? Will they force you to transition to their service or you lose all your data? One of our big competitors has been doing this with the competitors they acquire. They’re basically closing the solutions they acquired and are forcing everyone to move to their cloud based solution. Not everyone is happy about this. It’s yet another very big risk of using a cloud service?
Which leads me to my next big question. Do you trust this company over the lifetime of your own company’s needs? In other words, will they offer the same quality of service in 2-5 years? What about in 10 years? If transitioning is next to impossible, which it is for most online cloud services, then you’re at their mercy. They could never upgrade or improve the service, or worse it could become slow, buggy, etc. with time. What recourse do you have other than completely starting over?
With a solution you install and manage, you don’t ever have to upgrade if you don’t want to. In fact, the company has a very strong motivation to improve their software because they generally only get paid when a new version that has enough value to upgrade is released. If it’s not good enough, people just don’t upgrade. And with time, the value of upgrades becomes more and more significant. In other words, the company’s motivations are probably much more inline with yours when they aren’t cloud based. They need to convince you spend more money on them, that the value is worth it.
Unlike pictures where it would really suck to lose Johnny or Susie’s 1st birthday pictures, the impact to your losing your data could be so significant as to destroy your business. I’ve already given a couple of examples, and it’s pretty easy to come up with additional ones. Basically anywhere you store data that’s critical to your business is at high risk.
Therefore I would now recommend you look at what services you use and determine what the costs would be if they suddenly went down tomorrow. Is that cost worth the benefits? In some cases yes, absolutely, but in other cases no way would you ever even consider it if you had thought about it first.
The thing is that today most online services are still fairly new, and most really haven’t had the chance to close. Although cloud computing isn’t new, it’s really only been in the public’s attention for a short time. And as such very few people have experienced the downside. If I was to guess, I would suspect that most like you haven’t either.
I’ve personally only experienced it once, and it wasn’t with one of our core products, but even then it was pretty painful. I learned my lesson. Never again. And thankfully it wasn’t a service that’s core to my business. And because of that I’ve since been very careful with what online services my company uses.
Anything that can severely cripple us has to be done internally. It has to be installed and managed internally. This doesn’t protect us 100%, but what it does offer us is a buffer. If something happens we have some time if the company closes, collapses, changes, etc. We can at least still continue to use their software until we find an alternative solution, even they don’t exist anymore. We can’t use them indefinitely, but we do have some time to transition to another system. We might not be able to transition the data, but at least we can continue to access the old system if need be. And because we have some time, we can always hire someone to help us in moving data from one system to the other, even if it’s manual data entry. The key is that we at least have options. And most importantly that we’re not without our system overnight.
And with that, I will say that my company probably uses close to a dozen online cloud services. Am I a hypocrite? Am I willing to take those risks? Absolutely not. Each service we use would not cripple us if they closed tomorrow. It wouldn’t be fun if they went down, but it definitely wouldn’t be catastrophic either. There’s only one online service we use which I’m planning to push to an internally manage solution sometime this summer. It also wouldn’t be a catastrophic loss, but it would definitely be more painful than the others. It’s the only solution left with data that we’d need to extract that we wouldn’t be able to. However if we lost the data, it wouldn’t be catastrophic. It wouldn’t be pleasant either, but we could manage without too big a hiccup.
To give you an example of solutions we manage outside, internally we communicate using HipChat. Well at least until last month, before that we were using Campfire. Obviously we were able to transition because we’ve already done it. Losing either of these services overnight wouldn’t be fun, but neither would really slow us down much. They’re very useful and do increase our productivity internally, and losing the chat histories would have some costs because some info would have to be re-communicated, but as I’m sure you can appreciate, the exposure is pretty minimal compared to the costs and risks.
Another example is that we use Aweber to manage our company newsletter. Before I begin, let me just start by saying I chose them because of their reputation and my belief that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. In any case, if something happens, yes we’ll lose the latest email subscribers since our last local backup. That’s a cost, but really it’s not that big a deal. Yes we’ll lose our stats over time. They were nice, but we can live without them. The biggest pain would be importing the mailing list with a new service. Most likely all our subscribers would be emailed to confirm and verify they want to be subscribed to the new service managing the newsletter. So as part of this effort, we’ll probably lose a percentage of our subscribers. It’s not pleasant, but by no means is this catastrophic. We can definitely recover.
If however I was a real estate investor, or a property management company managing properties for others, losing all my data could be extremely catastrophic. All of sudden I no longer know which tenants owe me what amount of money (rents, back rents, damages, late fees, etc.). I now have to find all the signed lease agreements and go through that manually just to calculate this month’s rent roll. If I have 300-500 tenants, I might not be able to process all that information in time (I might have 5000 tenants on file but only 500 are currently active). What about all the workorders I have on file, all that information goes away. In some cases a request to fix a leaky sink can just be re-requested by the tenant, but what if a workorder is critical and it gets lost (for example a vacant unit needs a roof repair otherwise it will collapse, a leak that goes unchecked escalates, etc.). If I’m a property management company, I might have obligations on when I need to pay the property owners their rental revenues so they can meet their mortgage obligations, but if all my information is gone, I might not have the time to manually process everything. And when I do find a new system, in this example I now have to enter 500 units worth of data, 500 tenants contact info, 500 leases, etc. How long will that take? I might not be able to survive the 1-3 months it takes me to recover from my online cloud service disappearing on me overnight.
Using an online solution in the above example could be very catastrophic. In this case the risks just aren’t worth the benefits. In this case you’d most likely want to acquire a system which you can manage internally, so that if the software company closes, decides to stop selling the software, gets acquired, changes prices, etc., you can still continue using their software until you find a proper replacement. Otherwise you could come in to the office one day to find yourself in a world of hurt.
Online and cloud services can be very beneficial. They definitely have their merits. We use many such cloud services here within LandlordMax. However you always have to be vigilant in terms of what and how you use them. They really only have one con, bit it’s a whopper of a con! Which is that your data is at their mercy. You generally don’t have backups or anyway of transferring it. So always, and I mean always, make sure that a permanent disruption of the cloud service you’re looking to use isn’t going to destroy you. And if you’re already using it, then you should already start to make preparation plans just in case the worse does happen. Don’t wait until it’s too late because by then it will be too late!
As many of you have probably noticed, I haven’t posting nearly as often as I used to on my blog this year. The reason is that I’ve just been way too busy with my company LandlordMax, and with good reason. We just closed up our last fiscal year with an increase in revenue of about 40% over the previous fiscal year! Not only that, but in regards to our calendar year, we’ve already beaten our complete revenues for last year, and it’s still just the summer. Which means that our next fiscal year will be even better. Right now we’re looking at a 100% growth in revenues over last year assuming no further growth for the remainder of the year.
What’s really cool is that this is all happening in a recession, with the real estate market being one of the worse markets. In the last few years alone 3 of our very big competitors have closed up shop. Well one was discontinued because (and this is a quote from their website before it was taken down): “it is not the quality of product we think it should be”. But nonetheless 3 very big competitors have completely disappeared from the market. There’s a shakeout happening right now.
So I’m pretty excited about our prospects for this upcoming fiscal and calendar year. Not only are we very close to releasing a multi-user version which should significantly and positively impact on revenues, but it’s also looking like we’re going to break our monthly sales record again this month.
Although these are tougher economic times, hopefully the success of my company can be a shining beacon of success and light to help motivate you too. I know that it helps me to see what others are achieving. It’s not all gloom and doom out there, there are definitely pockets of light and success.
On another note, because of all the above, it’s going to keep being insane for me until at least Xmas. And with that in mind, I hope you can understand and appreciate that as much as I’d like to write blog posts on a weekly basis like I use to, I’m going to have to fall to a less time intensive schedule. My new goal is going to be once a month because there’s just no way I can achieve once a week right now. My blog posts take me a minimum of several hours, some as much as a several days. I just don’t have that luxury right now. But I am looking forward to coming back in force in the new year. And although I won’t post as frequently, rest assured the quality of each post will continue to be as high as ever.
You would think that as summer is just starting things would be slowing down as they usually do around the summer months for us, but this June and July have probably been the busiest months for me in years! Above working very hard on the networked version of LandlordMax, we just released a major website upgrade of LandlordMax a few weeks ago. This was the culmination of many months of hard work, and I’m happy to say it’s a huge success.
Of course as with all new releases, there’s always a lot of follow-up work involved. Some features we wanted to release as part of the website had been postponed so that we could release earlier. Now please do pay careful attention here, the website wasn’t released before it was ready, it wasn’t all buggy and nothing worked (we did have some minor bugs like all new major releases), but rather we omitted some nice to have features which we released shortly thereafter and are still continuing to release today. We’ve almost had a silent website every day since we initially released. That’s the benefit of automating your releases!
Right now our biggest push is to improve the videos. Although very accurate in their information, some are a bit dated. Not only that but the sizes of the videos aren’t as consistent as we’d like (some are smaller and others larger). So we’re working very hard right now to clean all that up. That and we’re going to add many new videos over the next few weeks and months.
Another major enhancement is that the videos will no longer be popups. We’ve been discovering that too many people either turn off popups or quick disable popups when asked by any website. Once this action is done, or the feature is disabled, the videos no longer work for these people. And unfortunately enough people don’t fully appreciate what the issue is and therefore we’ve decided to adjust the website so that it works for everyone. These changes are coming very soon!
There’s a few other enhancements we’re working on, but overall we’re very happy with the new website. And best of all, we’re already seeing very positive and measurable results! It’s the best I could’ve asked for. And I’d also like to take a second to show my appreciation to Reuben for all the extra efforts he did in helping us realize the website. Thank you Reuben for all your hard work!!
|NEXT PAGE »|