Changing hosts – please let me know if anything is broken.

Since I finally posted today the last podcast of the Startup Success Podcast and moved it to a longterm home where it can digitally live forevermore, I decided it was time to cut the cord to WP Engine and consolidate to one host. While WPE is a premium outfit, Bluehost.com has been my equally excellent host for a dozen or so sites.

So, please give me a shout at bob.walsh@47hats.com if you see any major holes here. And I expect to be blogging again in the the near future.

Hello Again!

After spending the past six months focused on two different Ruby on Rails contracts, I rebooting my site, clearing out the old, making room for the new and going mobile. 2012 is in its last hours, I’m really looking forward to 2013, and at least two major projects for me.

If you’re reading this on my new site, you probably noticed the tagline as headline above: “Living at the intersection of Startup and Productivity.” I mean it.

There’s easily a thousand times more startups now than when I started down this road in 2005, and we’ve become the darlings of the business world. From well-funded, “We’re the next Google!” enterprises to what the unstoppable Patrick McKenzie calls “solo entrepreneurs”, startups are remaking what we can do and how we do it.

On the other hand, being productive day in and day out still is more dream than reality for most people: it certainly is for me. Email is the monster that will not die, all the online distractions now live in a little black phone we never, ever are free of, and we’re being cooked in boiling information day in and day out. Our attention has been sliced and diced, monetized and commoditized into a thousand data points others use to market to us. This is not a happy state of affairs.

I hope in the year ahead to chronicle plenty of interesting stories about the startup world and being productive. Perhaps a useful insight or two, undoubtedly thanks to talking with some of the really smart people out there. Thanks for reading, and be seeing you here soon!

 

 

Here, we go, again.

Whirr. Click. Clank! Reboot complete – 47hats is back! Having taken a long virtual walk to clear my head about what I want to do here, I’m writing again about what matters to me (and hopefully you): the Startup World, productivity in the early days of the Internet Age, and sundry other topics.

Redoing this site has been very much a case of eating my own dog food (or in my case cat food): I’ve been taking my own advice from WordPress for Startups, my next book. WordPress is an awesomely powerful codebase for anyone who wants to build a great site for their business without spending huge amounts of time and money. But like a lot of the progeny of the Internet, understanding some of the deeper truths about it helps:

  • A lot happens in a few Internet years. The workflows that made sense a few years ago can come back to bite you now. Case in point: Featured Images in posts, added to WordPress about two years ago, gave theme developers lots of new functionality to work with. That’s the good news. The bad news comes in if you’re ignored this new feature. If you just keep adding images to posts the way you used to pre-Featured Images, you could end up a corpus of 700+ posts that as far as modern themes are concerned are just so much text. Ouch. Which brings me to point 2:
  • Look within your given online community for who’s already solved your problem. The number 1 reason to do you site in WordPress has to be the hundreds of thousands of developers, designers and artists who are part of the WordPress Community. For example those 700+ posts I’d have to go through manually to generate featured images for. Let me introduce you one of the 16,000+ WordPress Plugins: Generate Post Thumbnails. Install it, run it, and let it do the heavy lifting for you.
  • When adopting major software, or components for that software, there’s no such thing as having too much support. It can be an enlightening experience as software developer when you start getting jabbed in the side by some other developer’s idea of what you should be doing with their creation. If there’s one thing 30 years of dealing with software has taught me is that every single application has built into its core a set of assumptions about the world, what problem it is solving and what is the “right” way to solve that problem. If you situation is different, you’re mileage will vary. A lot. And that when you are going to want help.
  • Accept un-perfection and move on. There will be times when the effort cost of fixing something is way too expensive. For instance, either manually editing and resaving each of 700+ posts to not use use features images when displaying just the post, or running a fairly complex SQL query on my (don’t touch it!) WP database to generate the needed records in wp-postmeta. So, I’ve done the last dozen or so posts, and the rest will have to wait for a while.
Anyway - So how do you like the new look and feel of 47hats?

Outsourcing 101 for Startup Founders

By Aymeric Gaurat-Apelli
Founder, Task Army

Many people are attracted by the idea of outsourcing but starting outsourcing can be quite daunting. Where to find the right people? How to make sure they will produce the results you expect? How much to pay?

I will try to answer these questions in this (lengthy) post.

I. Where to go to find a remote contractor?

There are different approaches you can take, all with pros and cons.

I.1 Local forums
You can post your job to local forums. For example, if you are looking for someone in the Philippines, you could go to local Filipino job forums.

Pros: cheaper, there is no middle man.

Cons: it is riskier because you have no way to access previous customers feedback and ensure the provider will be good. You will have to spend more time making sure the provider is qualified.

Example of websites:

I.2 Placement services
You can use placement services that will find a the right service provider for you.

Pros: Quality is usually higher.

Cons: Expensive because of the overhead of finding the providers for you.

Example of websites:

I.3 Outsourcing marketplaces
On these websites, you post a job and service providers submit their quote in some kind of auction. Quality varies from a marketplace to another. Elance tends to be best to find quality providers but is more expensive. These platforms can be a bit overwhelming because you receive 100s of applications that you have to filter through.

Pros: Many service providers for a wide range of skills. It is good for bigger projects when you want to ensure the quality of the service provider and to make sure the provider has the right skillset.

Cons: Unnecessary and overwhelming hiring process for smaller tasks.

Example of websites:

I.4 Micro-job marketplaces
You can buy services like if you were at the supermarket. The services offered are well defined and small.

Pros: Depending on the size of the task you need done, this is a good compromise between removing the overhead of finding the right provider and yet not adding a huge extra cost.

Cons: Works only for smaller tasks.

Example of websites:

  • Fiverr (be careful with what gigs you buy, you might get penalized by Google)
  • TaskArmy.com (focuses on tasks that will improve your website and online sales)

Note: TaskArmy.com goes one step further by manually approving the services and service providers to remove all the crappy services.

I.5 Niche websites
Some websites focus on a specific kind of experts or services.

Pros: They usually make the process much easier or the quality of the providers is much higher.

Cons: If you hire more than one contractor with different skillsets, you will likely have to manage them across different platforms.

For writers

For designers

For developers

  • ODesk is usually the best place.

II. Hiring process

II.1. Favourable criteria
Country of origin: Based on my personal experience, I tend to prefer people from Philippines for general assistance and from Eastern Europe for development: you have a higher chance to get someone reliable and honest.

Responsiveness is essential. If someone takes two days to answer your emails, it will slow the project a lot. Timezones are already challenging, having someone who is not online most of the day is an unnecessary pain.

English skill. Depending on the type of task, you don’t need perfect English (except for writers). You just need to make sure they understand your English, ask them to re-explain what you have given them to work on in their own words.
For a writer, be VERY picky with their English. If they don’t capitalize their “I”‘s (as in “i am” instead of “I am”) for example it is a big red flag. Also, if you can find typos in their conversation with you, it is another red flag. A good writer must be anal when it comes to typos and good grammar.

II.2 Outsourcing the hiring
Hire one or two people from Philippines for $3/h to help you hire someone. Ask them to post your job on the different websites I cited above and to filter the good from the bad based on the criteria you give them.

I found my own Ruby on Rails developer this way and we have been working together two months and I canít be happier. It costed me $20 to get two people look for a developer for me.

II.3 Some more tips on how to hire

  • You can decide to pay the service provider to take a specific test on oDesk. They have a wide range of tests for all disciplines.
  • Verify they have done similar work or that they have the skills required
  • On Odesk, you can look in the history of closed jobs. You can find closed jobs similar to yours and approach people who got a good feedback directly
  • Give a mini project. The mini project should be totally independent to not have to give away too much and yet should be useful to you. It shouldn’t be bigger than a week worth of work though to waste any time if youíd decide not to go ahead
  • Go with your gut: if you feel the provider isn’t responsive or you have a bad feeling, move on, you are probably right.

III. How much should you expect to pay?

I assume here that you outsource offshore:

What How much
General assistance
(link building, customer support, web research, etc…)
$3/h up to $10/h
Developers from $12/h up to $30/h for great developers
Designers Outsourcing design is tricky because usually you want Western web 2.0 style (a la 37Signals) and it is hard to find someone offshore. This is one thing that I would consider doing onshore.
Writers Articles you buy at $5 won’t get you natural links from the readers but will help with organic traffic from Google. To get better quality articles that readers will actually like, it will start at $20 per article up to $120. The higher the cost, the more following the writer should have to help promote your content.

IV. Recommended virtual assistants to start outsourcing now

If you want to try your hand at outsourcing, Iíd recommend starting with small tasks to slowly acquire the outsourcing mindset and make it second nature. Karissa and Joni are two virtual assistants on TaskArmy that I recommend if you want to start outsourcing.

Any questions?
I will be following the comments so please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions in the comments.
—-
Aymeric is an French entrepreneur based in Sydney (Australia) who has founded TaskArmy.com in 2009 to make outsourcing online easier. If you’d like to share your lessons learned, domain knowledge or relevant product (translated out of Marketize), how about doing a guest post for 47 Hats? Email me.

I’m Back. Here’s Why.

For the past two months, hell for the past 3 decades, every time I sit down in front of computer to create I have to push myself to do it. It’s like a force field or some sort of invisble mind-sucking SciFi monster pushing me away from creating. I can spend all day answering emails, surfing the web, looking for new Mac or iOS apps to buy, doing essentially worthless things. But try and write, try and create, and a truckload of rationalizations, excuses, distractions, emotions and other crap springs out of my screen like some sort of weird airbag.

For months I’ve known StartupToDo.com was deader than the half-eaten lizards one of my cats likes to bring in. I’d even figured out what I need to do to “Pivot” (polite-speak for dumping this baby into the garbage and starting over) and just maybe ship something that people want. And for about the same time I could not bring myself to posting to this blog.

As creatively constipated as I’ve been, there would be days, or at least hours, when I could confront my own Resistance and it would fade for a time. And during that time, I could create, I could have a few brief hours of just being able to make things to have fun we were all promised as children.

So how and why am I writing this?

The how is simple: Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work. Kindle version free at Amazon for another 18 days. It’s my garlic and Star of David to wave in the face of all the rationalizations and excuses Resistance puts in front of me.

When I think, it’s not the best time of day for me to be creating, or that I need to check email again, or I’m too tired, or that I can’t succeed because I’m whatever, or I really should go do this or that instead; when Resistance in its seductive voice whispers, “relax, take it easy, you can do that later, you can’t do it at all” I think of this one short book I’ve read a dozen times. And I pause – is this reality or just Resistance?

Nearly every time, it’s Resistance, that enemy with a thousand faces and 10,000 lies. It will fuck up your head, play on your self-doubts, do what it takes so you can’t do what you can do and create something.

The why is simple too: When you look, really look, at what’s in your way, at the excuses/rationalizations keeping you from creating, they fade. This post is my way of looking at Resistance in the face. One small victory. Think of it as a small note smuggled out to the prisoner in the cell next to mine to not give up hope.

If you’ve read this far, but you haven’t downloaded Do the Work, ask yourself why.

It’s not the cost – it’s free, thanks to a bit of unexpected corporate generousity. It’s not that you can’t read it – you’re reading this, afterall. It’s not that you don’t need any self-help crap, or you’re too busy or you should be doing something important, or you’ll get to it next week, month or year. Unless you are doing this instant the one creative thing that above all else you exist to do, you’ve bought into the same con that derails so many of us.

If you’re pissed off, indignant, angry that I just wasted your time, as yourself why – I’m just some guy with a blog.

The one thing good about Resistance is it’s the ultimate game cheat – the more it pushes you away from something, the more likely that’s what you need to be doing.

Useful or not?

As you may have noticed, I’ve been fairly quiet here of late. That’s changing, but as part of that change I need to know if continuing the weekly MicroISV Digest is of value to you. If it is, let me know, and please vote!

Snow in Sonoma?

Woke up to a light sprinkling of snow here in Sonoma, CA – something that happens where I live about every three years. Took a quick pic as an MMS to text to various friends, got busy coding and testing a big batch of enhancements to my startup app. Keep coming back to coding after various calls, noticed the last of the snow melting early afternoon. Next time I came up for air, it was 7:05 pm.

When you’re brain-deep in coding, you can really lose track of time. Hence, this week’s MicroISV Digest and Startup Success Podcast will be delayed, but should be out tomorrow.

Allow me to introduce myself…

It’s been a while since I’ve explained who I (Bob Walsh) am and what I do regarding microISVs and startups and it seems this blog has picked up a lot more readers recently, so here goes. Please feel free to skip this post!

1. You’re reading my blog 47hats where you’ll find hundreds of posts on topics that concern microISVs and startups by myself and others. If your startup/MicroISV is launching, releasing a major update or making a special offer, please let me know by emailing me at bob.walsh@47hats.com and I’ll probably include it in next week’s MicroISV Digest.

2. Have a listen to the Startup Success Podcast – interviews with successful startups and companies doing interesting things for startups. Please contact me if your startup relates to others or you’d like to help other startups by talking with myself and my cohost, Pat Foley about your startup’s experience to date.

3. The Web Startup Success Guide just came out – just about everything an aspiring web software company founder needs to know. What you’ll learn:
• How to define the value your web app will deliver to its users
• Evangelizing your startup via social media—from Twitter to Facebook, from YouTube to your own social network
• Which web app pricing strategies work, and which don’t
• What alternatives to traditional business structures will let you launch and run your startup without all the legal mumbo–jumbo
• What services and web apps exist today to help your startup succeed
• How to get meaningful online press for your web app

Plus, interviews with David Allen (Getting Things Done), Rafe Needleman (CNET), Marshall Kirkpatrick (ReadWriteWeb), Guy Kawasaki (Garage Technology Ventures), Dharmesh Shah (OnStartups, HubSpot), Joel Spolsky (Fog Creek Software), Eric Sink (SourceGear), Pamela Slim (Escape from Cubicle Nation), and 40 other people who can help your startup succeed.

4. If you’re microISV is built around a desktop application, you might want to read my book, Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality. While it’s a few years old it’s still the best single source of information for the aspiring MicroISV desktop software founder.

5. Join the conversation of your peers at the Joel On Software Business of Software forum. I and my fellow co-moderators work make sure you have a spam-free, high-quality forum to discuss the gambit of issues facing small and not so small software companies.

6. Purchase and read my ebook ($19) on what microISVs need to know to improve their web sites, MicroISV Sites that Sell!.

7. Want to know more about getting started with Twitter for your microISV or startup or yourself? Check out The Twitter Survival Guide. Tools, interviews, insight and more by myself and leading news blogger Kristen Nicole.

8. If you don’t have a blog for your microISV or startup, my book, Clear Blogging: How People Blogging Are Changing the World and How You Can Join Them will show you the value and get you started.

9. I provide consulting services to startups and microISVs including web site copywriting, market positioning, social media and product strategies. See http://www.47hats.com/consulting-services/ for details.

10. In August StartupToDo.com (a training/productivity community for startups and microISVs) will launch. Be Successful Faster.

A very personal post…

(Please skip if you don’t know me…)

Sake

Dear friends,

It is with great sadness we need to let you know that yesterday we had to put Sake to sleep. After 22 years and ten months, he’d come to his time. He will always be in our hearts; please say a short prayer for him today.

-Bob, Tina, Sammy and Squeaky.

A nasty, nasty bug!

brain sucking bugJust spent a couple of hours tracking down why readers of this blog using Internet Explorer were suddenly unable to access this site – and the culprit turned out to be my latest Firefox extension! Here’s the gory details for anyone with a WordPress blog and your readers start getting “Internet Explorer Cannot Open the Internet Site- Operation Aborted” errors when they try to open your site.

What’s happening is Bit.ly’s new cool Firefox extension is writing errant bits of JavaScript – JavaScript that will cause IE to fail – to the posts you’re writing behind your back while you’re working in WordPress.

Specifically, Bit.ly released two days ago a new Firefox extension that pops up the full URL of a URL shortened with any one of a number of popular URL shortener web apps like TinyURL.com, Bit.ly, etc. It also pops up on a Twitter page the short profile of any referred to user – @bobwalsh. That’s also very handy.

What’s not so good is if you are writing a post in WordPress (self-hosted, probably wordpress.com given it’s the same basic codebase) and you click the Save Draft button, the Bit.ly extension inserts into your post a line of JavaScript code:

script src=”http://s.bit.ly/bitlypreview.js” /script [brackets removed to prevent it being js.]

And this code in your post triggers this “problem behavior” that happens with all versions of IE except IE8 beta.

If you Save Post while writing in Visual Mode, you won’t see this code added because it’s code, not displayed text. If you Save Post while in HTML Mode, you will not see the code added, because wordpress after saving the draft automatically switches to Visual Mode.

An altogether nasty, nasty bug – and yes, I call writing out code without permission a bug.

So for now, the Bit.ly Firefox extension goes away – and I will be much less likely to install FF extensions no matter how shiny they are. Thanks Bit.ly!

Update: Here’s a video capture of the bug