We’ve packed up and migrated!

July 10, 2008 by

We have shifted ourselves over to our new home at pocketsmith.com – thanks to all the fans of the early edition of our blog here at codenameplannr!

We will not be posting here anymore, so keep up to date at http://www.pocketsmith.com/blog/.

See you all there real soon :)

Vodafone NZ’s iPhone 3G plans – an exercise in profiteering

July 8, 2008 by

Sticking with my 2G, thanks!

Sticking with my 2G, thanks!

So I’ve been taunting James with this thing since last year, and we’ve both been vaguely interested in picking up the 3G model when it comes out this Friday, July 11 (early birthday presents perhaps!). The iPhone has its fair share of detractors, however coming from an iMate SP5 running Windows Mobile, this device is easily the most lovely, fun and engaging thing I’ve ever owned. I’m not saying it’s the best cellphone ever invented – to each their own for sure; but for me, this has everything I need to keep me going:

  • It syncs with Outlook – contacts, mail and calendars – through iTunes
  • Now all my mail accounts are on Gmail, and it easily gets those over the wire
  • Phonecalls with the supplied earphones are really comfortable
  • Text messages are fun and accessible
  • iTunes, camera, Google maps, Safari, iPod, etc etc
  • ..and I haven’t even tapped Installer.app that much either, so I doubt I’ve scratched the potential of third-party apps

I could go on forever, but there’s no point. I <3 my iPhone, but this post is not about the phone itself – Vodafone announced their iPhone plans an hour ago, and to my dismay, they’re pricier than expected. The Vodafone site is was currently inaccessible, but Geekzone has a running post on it.

Here’s the gist – you can get one for NZD199 (yay!) but you’ll be held to a 2-year contract at NZD250/month (zomg). This is the biggest plan, which gives you 600 minutes, 600 texts, and 1GB of data. The smallest plan will set you back $80/month for 120 minutes, 600 texts and 250MB of data. 250MB of data is probably equivalent to the size of some of my friends’ Facebook pages – you know who you are! Okay, perhaps not completely relevant as Facebook has an iPhone interface without all of that stuff – my point is (as if it wasn’t obvious enough), you’re not getting much for your money here in NZ.

Compare these plans to the ones offered by Rogers Wireless in Canada: the biggest plan is CAN115/month for 800 weekday minutes, 2GB of data, and 300 text messages. The smallest plan is CAN60/mo for 150 weekday minutes, 400MB of data, and 75 text messages.
 
Here’s the thing, see. Both plans offer unlimited evenings and weekends.

The Canadians are up in arms over these plans, and are considering boycotting the iPhone until prices come down. The Americans considered the original AT&T iPhone plans pretty pricey too. No, don’t look at them, they’ll break your heart.

Well, here in New Zealand, we’ll just be grateful that we have cellphones at all! Surely the luxury of being able to make a phone call when away from your landline is nothing short of sheer wizardry.

I guess I’ll be sticking to my trusty 1st-generation iPhone for now. I guess I can put up with its recessed headphone jack for a bit longer.

Update, 2.37pm: Kiwis have started a petition! Currently 276 signatures and counting. I don’t think I’ve seen the words ‘rip-off’ mentioned so many times on a page.

Secret Squirrels

July 8, 2008 by
Francois

Francois

One thing we’ve discovered amongst us is that we each have varying levels of paranoia around discussing the nature of our application with the wider community. Francois is on high alert; James is reasonably cautious; I have a propensity to flit around and tell all and sundry. Ask me nicely, and I might even give you our source code to date.

How cagey should one really be about their business idea? There are a couple of conventional schools of thought in this area: one is that the startup’s idea is not worth the paper it’s written on, and that execution is the key determinant in the success of the startup itself. Furthermore, while it’s tempting to think that an idea is completely unique, it probably isn’t. I place a lot of value in a team’s ability to not only pull it off in the initial stages, but to continue to innovate and provide a unique solution to a problem from a best approach possible.

The other school of thought of course, is the cynic’s standpoint: everyone’s out to get ahead, so keep your treasures close to your chest for as long as possible. Perhaps it takes one who’s been around the traps for a bit to fully appreciate this perspective, however I’d hate to be in this camp. I have faith in people.

I had a good chat to Bhavneet and Tim about this yesterday; both have been brewing ideas and wearing the entrepreneurial mindset for longer than I have. One obvious solution is to pick who you have your conversations with. I believe that having conversations about PocketSmith as we go forward is important from two perspectives:

  • It helps us continue validating the product in the market as we build it, before we launch. While we’ll conduct market research surveys over the coming weeks, it’s equally important to gauge initial reactions to the idea and take them on board as we ramp up to PocketSmith’s closed beta.
  • I think it’s important to start building a community of supporters who have expressed an interest and early affiliation with the product. Expressing thought leadership in a field is one thing, however one should never discount the wisdom that the community will bring to the table.

Dunedin’s a fantastic place to test this theory. The networks here are great: people are supportive and enthusiastic, and there is a enough diversity in entrepreneurial ventures and a healthy amount of respect for the range of different ideas in the community.

At some point soon I’ll write a bit more about what PocketSmith is, in order to provide the reader with some context. But one more point that illustrates why community support has been great.

Last Friday evening, I had beers with our friends at Enabling (they’ve got some great digs down at the old Wilson’s Distillery building), and the conversation circled around cashflow and financial management for individuals and small businesses. Their expertise extends to the enterprise level, and is a good blend of having strong development capacity as well as understanding business requirements when it comes to accounting software.

It was really good to connect with them and share some insights; I think they’re as excited as we are to see what becomes of the application. I took some thoughts away as well as an invitation to present a beta to them when we’re ready. Enabling might be becoming an adoptive big brother to PocketSmith!

I’d like to think that the presence of an idea in the mindshare of its community is in fact some protection of its own. Through greater transparency in the initial stages, the product should start to build its own identity and grow into its own skin.

James gets back from Auckland in a couple of hours. I wonder if I should greet him at the airport with a bunch of flowers and love-heart balloons.

I miss you guys!

July 6, 2008 by

I must confess this second week has been pretty crazy for all of us! I have to say we are sorry for the (obvious) lack of feed this week! But don’t worry, it only means we have been really busy working on the beta version of PocketSmith. Let’s have a look of what happened this week:

  1. James went to Auckland to spend some time with his family. It might sounds like good times but in fact, James spent most of his late night rocking piece of code on dial up *sigh* :) Eventually, we bounced up ideas  until 5am to get the first mockup of what might PocketSmith splash page look like! James has this unique perspective on problem-solving, which has proved in many time to be or a great advantage for the team.
  2. Jason has been a good boy and got his Ruby on Rail exercises done! Actually, he has been fantastic (as usual) being able to learn more coding tricks, getting his hands on the beta version, and promoting PocketSmith within his network! I suspect him to have two brains (at least)! He also managed to get an appointment with the National Bank which will become our (lucky) bank! We are just waiting for James to vome back and we can officially open our bank account. First of all, I must confess I have been impressed by the warm welcome from Matthew Elliott, our banker who is professional and friendly (welcome to New Zealand ;) The funny story is Jason start pitching him about PocketSmith and he seemed really interested by our idea! He understood it and immediatly saw its huge potential…Sounds good ahah
  3. I have been myself involved in a networking event this week as I attended the Dunedin ICT group meeting on Wednesday. Basically, it is an initiative by three agencies: New Zealand Trade & Entreprise (NZTE) ,Upstart and Otago Polytechnic to create an ICT cluster in Dunedin. The idea is to create a brand to promote Dunedin vibrant IT sector. I found this idea very promising and I am looking forward to see what concrete actions this group of CEOs will intend in the future. I believe Dunedin is a great place to start a business, especially if the business is as sexy as PocketSmith :)

We all have been juggling with other commitments as well as Jason and I still need to study (hard ahah) to get our final diploma. But I found that the biggest difficulty we have encountered this week has been being far away from each other! Even if we all understand we need to focus on our own missions, teamwork is really important within our small-and-strong team. I personally feel more inspired and motivated to work hard when Jas and James are in the same room!
In conclusion, the three of us will start working at James place after he installs our “super-office” :) Can’t wait!

Simple values matter!

June 28, 2008 by

In my precedent post, I have discussed the importance of using a step-by-step attitude once you get your objective. One method we have adopted has been to create three free accounts to Basecamp, a simple project management tool that allows us to make do-to lists to keep track of what needs to get done and who is responsible. That helps us to get a better idea of the (huge) mission we have in front of us! In fact, we are only using this feature so far. We might make use of milestones later to track when things are due but it’s not our top priority right now.

There are heaps of project management software or web-applications available for single user to multiple thousands users. Having worked within commercial companies before, I have witness people using such tools in Sales, Marketing or Development departments. My (really modest :) experience push me to say that it doesn’t really matter how flash these applications look and how many features they have. In fact, it’s all about simplicity, intuitivism and needs-fulfillment.

I think the three of us share this idea of creating simple, easy-to-use, web applications that respond to real needs. It might sounds a bit naïve from three “newbies” but we are confident that having these simple values will help us to stay focus. At this stage, I am tempted to say “customer-focus” because I truly believe that we should build something that we will enjoy using ourselves. In fact, we are our first customers ;)

Let’s celebrate!

And we present to you… PocketSmith!

June 27, 2008 by

So we finally have a name that we can be proud of, rally around, and generally pimp to the world at large. After an extremely long process, PocketSmith was struck upon by Jason after some intensive brain storming with his (far) better half evil arch nemesis.

Our brand name has got to represent the most important qualities of the product and the value that it add to our users. It is extremely easy to cram a buncha descriptive words together and wack a .com at the end of it, but we need to take thing a step further in order to communicate more about what the brand represents, and get some feeling to it!

This is not to say the brand has been developed. Now with a name that has a whole grain silo load of connotations with it, the fun part begins. We can now progress with developing the message and feel that we and our product are going to present to the market; making the PocketSmith brand whole.

We found that this one little nugget hadn’t been squatted upon, and we could secure the domain name. So now we have our domain, email all rigged up, and are ready to be moving onto the next phase in our brand development.

Big things!

The importance of getting the numbers right

June 26, 2008 by

…and I’m not even talking about market research, pricing, pre-money valuation or venture capital here. No, nothing quite as sophisticated as that. We’re starting up from scratch, and so we went in to establish a relationship with our new accountants at HLB Smeaton and Co. yesterday.

The World Bank ranks New Zealand as the number 2 country for ease of doing business, right behind Singapore. So the steps we’re taking are not revolutionary, really – a good number of New Zealanders know the processes of setting up a business and the tax and accounting implications that come with it like the back of their hand.

What does that phrase mean anyway? I can’t say I’m too familiar with the back of my hand, but whatever.

But we three are novices, despite having managed a publicly-traded company. After all, we had specialists – a highly capable financial administrator, gorgeous accountants and auditors, all paid to take care of the nitty-gritty. But now that we’re adopting a back-to-basics, grassroots-development, good ol’ can-do, Kiwi DIY approach to setting up our very own small business (never mind that Francois and I are dirty migrants) – we’re having to learn a bit about the administrative stuff.

And so it’s important that we get the numbers right. 

Especially when we consider the nature of the application we’re building *wink*

How to do it right from the start!

June 25, 2008 by

It has now been two days since we started the company. After so many hours spent thinking about this project it finally comes true! Armed with laptops, Jason, James and I spent these two days sharing ideas and opinions about our product and slowly but surely we are walking our way… However, one question seems to always come back to my mind: How to do it right from the start? The process of growing a digital products company is something I have never learnt at school. Worst, it is something none of us has never tried before! So how are we going to tackle our relative lack of experience?

First of all, by learning from others people’s experience. There are plenty of articles out there about creating a new business and we found some of them really useful (Check the YCombinator Library for useful information). We got inspired by articles such as “Ten Rules for a web startups”; “How to start a start up” and “Building your own start-up technology company”). But you know what? You can read thousands of articles and still feel lost the first days of the creation!

Creating a business is like writing a book, you know what you want to achieve but the amount of work you have to put in seems so massive that you don’t know where to start! Consequently, I had to have a deep thought around what to do first to make things right from the start:

  1. Ask simple but essential questions: What are we? Who are we for? How are we different? What are we called? What are we like? What are we trying to achieve? All of these questions should be answered honestly and shared by people in your organization. It will help to create consistent goals to achieve (Check “Why Do Web Startups Die? Lack of Alphalpha” to read more about the importance of these questions).
  2. Once you have identified your objective and you get a better idea of the big picture, it’s important to adopt a step-by-step attitude. Remember that even the small steps and little victories along your path will lead to great success.
  3. Focus, focus and focus! Once you have a rough idea of what you need to do, just do it. Being honest, it’s easy to say but hard to apply. In fact, it’s all about finding the good balance between sharing, communicating and getting things done. Only experience will help us finding the right alchemy :)
  4. Finally don’t forget one thing: there is no better organization and management structure than your enterprise’s own business. In other words, don’t be afraid to experience your own way to do things because that is the way to learn! But make sure to learn from your mistakes, fast ;)

Stay tuned for more experience sharing!

The press

June 24, 2008 by

Today we had our first encounter with the press, as I returned a phone call from Danielle at DScene, Dunedin’s new weekly paper. Not that we’ve been seeking press attention at such an early stage mind you, but I gathered from our conversation that she was writing an article about eMedia’s recent acquisition – this is the web development firm James, Francois and I came from. Given I was the firm’s exiting General Manager, she wanted to hear my thoughts on the next stage in the company’s life.

We also spoke briefly about this project, and with any luck, we might speak again once we have something a bit more concrete to demonstrate. Perhaps the timing was serendipitous after all.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not particularly comfortable around the press given my limited experience in dealing with them. This will all have to change of course, especially if we’re keen on taking our product global. As a matter of fact, media-savviness was a part of the focus of the NZTE Escalator workshop I attended last week on web businesses (I’ve just discovered the presentation notes too).

The three of us here spent most of yesterday morning going over some of the conventional wisdom offered by the presenters. I particularly enjoyed Tim Norton’s story on how he took PlanHQ to TechCrunch40 last year – check him out on this video: so comfortable and articulate in front of the camera! And such a well-presented young man too! Why do I sound like an octogenarian all of a sudden?

It’s cold out, but I have my feet by the fire, a glass of Jameson 12 Year Old on the rocks and an evening of Rails ahead of me. Now, where did I leave my glasses?

Squat that domain, squat it good.

June 24, 2008 by

So in the throes of finding an exceptionally excellent name for our product, we have been trawling domain names fairly extensively. This is one of the most frustrating processes that I have ever undertaken, simply due to the blight of domain squatters slaughtering the quest to be able to find that perfect name, describing both what we are building and the values that we are bringing to the table.

Domain squatters take it upon themselves to purchase domain names in bulk, combining either words or misspellings of common words and brands, and buying the .com domain at least – often when registration of such a name lapses. Then they hold these, displaying links to feed traffic off to other “search portals” like itself, or generate revenue through cost-per-click “sponsored listings” from third-party providers. Apple were clever enough to buy www.aplpe.com, however they didn’t quite catch http://www.appl.com in time (no way do I want to link to icky-yucky pages like that).

Three key problems here:

  1. Some internet users who are slightly less savvy may believe that these “Search Portals” will actually lead them to the information they seek, whereas they at the very least will send them in a frustrating loop; reducing the positive user experience of the internet internet for that user
  2. Legitimate start-up companies are forced to second guess every name due to domain squatters turning gold into a dirty ol’ link farm
  3. Existing brands whose value is damaged by visitors being sent to a pop-up ridden search portal due to a mis-type. This has got to have an impact on brand perception, no matter how small. But not relevant to us. Yet.

Many of these companies of course offer these domain names for sale; this is one of their revenue models. For example, the owners behind appl.com would be making a fair bit of money should Apple decide that they must purchase this domain – having said that they probably make a bit of money off the ads clicked by visitors. So a win-win then.

A startup is not able to afford the massive sums that these squatters ask for. We hit upon a name, a moderately good name, and saw it was squatted upon like so many… I’ll leave that one there. Clicking the “Enquire about purchasing this domain” presented the information that the minimum offer was $500 US. So hey why not give it a shot? Surely it would be near the mark; this was no weddingshoes.com.

The reply came back and said the selling price was $10,000 US. For a moderately good domain name. Sure, please take away a substantial chunk of our hard-saved seed capital for what is only a moderately good domain name. Please do.

So why don’t we go for a .net or a .info? Aside from the grotty Microsoft connotations of the former, most people will “default” to a .com and we wouldn’t want people to end up at a link farm in trying to get to our site. But more on this later.

So for now, we’ll keep right on searching and cursing.


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